I recently had the honour of interviewing Donna Benton, Founder and Chairman of The ENTERTAINER. A highly energetic, fascinating personality and the creator of one of the most successful digital businesses in the region.
Her lessons learned and views on business and life are truly inspiring. But you know what? Check them out on your own!
Natalia: You have built an impressive empire over the last years, Donna. When did you feel for the first time that your business would not only succeed but also grow beyond your wildest imagination?
To be honest, I was hugely passionate about the concept from day one and I really did believe in the product and that I could make it a success in the UAE. The first meeting I managed to secure was with the marketing manager of the Marriott in Deira to sign in some of their restaurants. He signed up 7 venues on the spot. That was a huge boost and gave me the confidence to really push myself to set up meetings with fantastic merchants and to stick to the model I knew I wanted – always buy one get one free offers, valid 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. It meant I had to turn some huge brands down in the first year – Jumeirah being one of them who only wanted to do offers for lunch – but it set the right foundation for the business.
When the books first hit the market in 2002 and people really saw that it wasn’t ‘too good to be true’ and started telling their friends about how great it was – that’s when I know it was going to succeed.
When the Abraaj Group acquired 50% of the company in 2012 and we had the investment and support to launch the app and to launch in Asia, Africa and Europe – that’s when I knew that it was definitely going beyond where I ever thought it would.
It’s pretty crazy that 16 years ago I was in my local internet café researching merchants and putting together the first book – and here I am today, the Chairman of a data-driven digital company. That was definitely beyond my wildest imagination.
Donna Benton’s Personal Brand
Natalia: Authenticity and knowing yourself is key in today’s everyday life and business. What does the personal brand Donna Benton stand for?
Donna: To go far in life you’ve got to lead yourself along your own path, rather than follow the crowd – so I believe in being brave, taking risks and that everything happens for a reason.
Passion, strength and confidence will get you a long way in life. And making sure that you’re nice to everyone along the way.
Life is about building relationships, putting your trust in people and being loyal to those around you. I believe you have to ‘lead by example’ at all times – and that goes for both my business and personal lives.
Natalia: In your role as a Founder & Chairman, you often need to speak in front of big audiences. What is your advice to people who face stage fright?
Donna: Everyone gets nervous about speaking in public when they start out. But it gets better with practice so throw yourself into it and learn from each time.
So firstly, put yourself out there and don’t avoid it because it scares you.
Once you’ve decided you’re going to go for it. Preparation is everything. Make sure you know your subject well, what you want to say and how you want to say it. Practice with people you know are going to give you honest feedback.
And lastly, be yourself. People are engaged by those who share real experiences and real emotion.
Donna Benton on storytelling & her fave social media platform
Natalia: The art of storytelling is another essential part of every successful personal brand. How do you introduce yourself to people (e.g. at a conference) who have never heard of you and your work?
Donna: In the UAE, I’m fortunate as a lot of people have heard of and used the ENTERTAINER. Of course, I never presume that they do know what it is – so I usually start with ‘Have you heard of the ENTERTAINER?’ and if they haven’t then I explain what it is and that I was the one who set it up.
Telling my story is really about sharing my experiences and what I’ve been through over the past 16 years. I lean towards being honest and frank. I want to use my experience to encourage others to take the leap and start their own business, as long as they have a great idea and viable plan of course. That’s what makes me want to share my story.
Natalia: What is your favourite social media platform for business purposes and why?
Donna: I know people don’t think of it as a business channel, but I love Instagram. It’s not always easy to visualise what you want to say with an image, so I actually think people take more time and effort thinking of what to post on Instagram than anywhere else. You also have to get your point across quickly and avoid waffle.
Donna Benton’s “to-do-list”
Natalia: The ENTERTAINER keeps on growing and reinventing itself. What is the next skill YOU would like to learn or invest in?
Donna: I love trying new restaurants and different cuisines, as well as enjoying my home comforts. I love socialising with friends and family and I’d like to spend more time cooking for them and picking up more skills and recipes. I have to admit that my repertoire in the kitchen is limited and there’s plenty that I would like to explore.
Natalia: If you ever co-write a book, who would be the co-author and what would the book be about?
Donna: Oh that’s a tough one. I’d love to write a book with my mum, it would open up some many great conversations, reminiscing about my childhood and sharing experiences and comparing notes. Her life has been very different to mine, yet we’re still so similar. It would probably be about the lessons life has taught us. So far, that is.
Thank you for your time, Donna!