The interview for today is a captivating story of a woman who started very small and, through incremental success, made huge empires. She started her business in a foreign country and went on to other successful ventures. Under her reign, “The Entertainer” app took its first breath and then got sold; however, she was again reinstated as the CEO of the company by the company's new masters.

“The Entertainer” was conceived in 2001. Since then, the company has evolved into a groundbreaking lifestyle app. Initially started as a two-for-one deals bookstore, it seamlessly transitioned to a digital platform in 2011. The application provides substantial discounts on dining, attractions, beauty services, hotels, etc., spanning over 15 countries globally. Donna’s visionary approach has redefined the intersection of luxury experience and affordability. “The Entertainer” is an indispensable companion for anyone seeking value.

Therefore, let’s learn about Donna Benton's entrepreneurial journey without any wait. However, before that, let's learn a little about her professional career.

Who is Donna Benton?

Donna Benton, born in 1975, is an Australian entrepreneur and the founder of the “The Entertainer” app. She initially moved to Dubai for a job. However, she pivoted to her own business. Benton initially served as the CEO and chairman of “The Entertainer” app, but she sold 85% of the company to GFH Financial Group. Currently, she is also serving as the founder & CEO of two successful ventures, i.e., The Benton Group and Capa Caho.
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1) Before getting into the nitty gritty of your lifestyle business aspect, we want to know who Donna is outside the corporate world.

I have two children, aged 13 and 10, outside the corporate world. I think I am a fun and laid-back individual. I love to travel, exercise, and keep an active and healthy lifestyle. I am known for being friendly and caring. I enjoy spending time with both friends and family. Overall, I consider myself a nice person.

2) We heard you came to Dubai as an adventure traveler. Can you tell us how this business happened? Also, how is your business filling the gap between luxury lifestyle and affordability?

Well, to be honest, I didn't come to Dubai as a traveler. I came for a job when I was 26. Fortunately, it didn't work out, and that is when I started the Entertainer. This was only the second time I had ever traveled out of Australia; the first was to Bali, and the second was Dubai if we talk about international destinations.

I didn't travel much initially because I had to build up the company and sacrifice that. However, I traveled extensively as the Entertainer grew and expanded into 15 countries. So, I didn't come to Dubai as a tourist; it was a work opportunity. The Entertainer was a significant part of my life for 17 to 18 years until I exited.

Afterward, I ventured into the luxury world of swimwear and restaurants, drawing on my experiences with the Entertainer. It was a new challenge that I felt compelled to explore after my long tenure with the company.

3) What exactly is “The Entertainer” app?

The Entertainer offers a variety of two-for-one deals featuring discounts for the best restaurants, cafes, nightspots, attractions, beauty services, and hotels. For example, you and a companion can enjoy a buy-one-get-one-free deal on main courses when dining out.

Let's say you order a main meal valued at $45, and the second one, equal or lesser value, would be free. It would effectively reduce the cost of the cheaper main course from the bill.

This concept extends to attractions and activities as well. Whether it's playing a round of golf or visiting a water park, you pay for one person, and the second one gets in for free. This allows individuals to save significantly and generates foot traffic for merchants, including restaurants, attractions, beauty services, and hotels.

The Entertainer started in 2001, with our first product launched in 2002 in Dubai. Over the years, we have expanded our reach to 15 countries, employing over 300 staff. Our annual contribution to the economy amounted to $1.3 billion, and we collaborated with around 12,000 merchants. The model successfully fostered savings for consumers while supporting the growth of businesses in multiple other sectors.

4) How did you develop the idea of “The Entertainer”?

It's amazing! The Entertainer started with a book, believe it or not. Around 2011, we transitioned to digital, so I sold the company five years ago. However, I'm back again, not only as a shareholder but also as the CEO. I had a 5-year break from Entertainer. You can draw the analogy of it as a Steve Jobs story. I missed it, and now I'm back. The format has evolved; it's just the app now, not the book, but the essence remains the same with all the buy-one-get-one deals, and we are still operating in eight countries.

5) What triggered the thought of selling the stakes of the “The Entertainer” app?

In 2012, another private equity company acquired 50% of the company. The deal for the second exit took place in 2018. Honestly, after doing it for so long, it felt like the right time. I was going through a challenging phase in my personal life, and, honestly, it was a move for security for myself and the kids, which was a long-term decision.

After the sale, I didn't take a five-year break. Instead, I invested in and started other companies, forming the Benton Group. We delved into various businesses and startups. One notable investment was in the restaurant business known as the Sunset Group, which owns brands like SUSHISAMBA, M32, Aura, Black Tap, and Luigi. However, the primary venture I initiated was a swimwear company called Caha Capo.

I noticed a gap in the market for vibrant and functional swimwear for men, women, and kids. That's when my focus shifted, and we're still running and growing that business. It's become one of my other commercial babies, and I'm passionate about filling the void for colorful, quality swimwear in the market.

6) Was selling the stakes of “The Entertainer” in 2011 difficult?

Regarding the first exit, nothing is ever easy. It typically takes around a year, to be honest. We weren't even actively looking to sell, but this company approached us. They were one of the prominent private equity firms in the region, and it turned out to be the right fit at the time. They conducted their due diligence and their presence in various countries. It included Asian regions like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, aligned with our expansion plans. It worked out well.

However, it's important to note that we also had interest from other parties, and it didn't materialize with everyone. When I say we exited, it wasn't a straightforward, one-hit wonder transaction. Chemistry, vision, and the right people all play crucial roles. Exiting a company involves more than just the financial aspect. It's also about the company's future vision and aligning with the right partners.

7) What exactly was your vision when you left “The Entertainer” for the first time?

I knew; I'm not that coffee morning mom. I wanted to take some time out first to decide what to do. I didn't take that much time out. I think it was about two months. Then, I thought of the swimwear company, Caha Capo, and set that up. 

I had a team of great people. A lady from Hong Kong ran our creative team, and there were local girls handling marketing. Everything was in-house, so we got a great team together. We produced quality swimwear with Italian fabric from the same factory as Seafolly. There was a need for women's, men's, and kids' swimwear; today, it's still going strong, which is great.

8) After leaving “The Entertainer”, you are again making a comeback as a diluted stakeholder. What are your plans for the company this time?

I've only been here for six weeks, but it feels nice to be back. Sometimes, you need to take some time to realize what you love and do. During the five years I was away, I realized I loved everything that The Entertainer stands for, and I missed that big corporate vibe. It's nice to be back and make some changes.

Our first vision is to bring everything back to its foundation. During my absence, a couple of other CEOs had slightly different visions. Now that I'm back, I'm working on aligning the vision to its roots.

9) Can we expect more offers or something groundbreaking this time?

No, it's probably the opposite. Some changes are happening. “The Entertainer” expanded to include buy one get one and discounted offers. I've come back and cut those. We're now just sticking to the buy one get one free offer because it's the strongest offer in the market.

It's simple: people know us, and we have a lot of legacy with that model. So, when you get The Entertainer, you know exactly what you're getting – a buy one get one free model. That's it, and you know the worth of the product.

10) 27th November, 2023, is a big day for you. Can you please tell us a little about what’s coming next?

That's okay. The Benton Group holds various F&B brands, including Caha Capo. We also have the Entertainer, and we operate a hair salon. So, we're involved in a few different things.

Currently, we're launching new products for the Entertainer. We've revamped the entire app to make it more user-friendly and redoing our website. Additionally, we're excited to announce new merchants for the upcoming year. Anyone who purchases the Entertainer will not only receive the 2024 product but also access the remainder of the 2023 product.

11) As a customer, what do I get on the 27th of November?

Okay, so if you purchase The Entertainer on November 27th, you will receive over 6,500 buy-one-get-one-free offers in Dubai alone. However, we also have products in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Singapore, Kuwait, and Oman. When you download the app and make a purchase, you're getting the 2024 product, and on top of that, you'll also receive the remainder of 2023.

Using just one or two offers can get your money back immediately, and you have the entire year to take advantage of these deals. We have incredible merchants, including five-star hotels offering buy-one-get-one free room nights and main meals. These offers aren't limited to 5-star hotels; we partner with establishments like Burger King, Texas Chicken, Papa John's, cafes, and family casual dining spots. There's a lot of variety, ensuring there's something for everyone.

12) Will “The Entertainer” expand beyond lifestyle ventures, and do you see any opportunities in the UAE’s market?

Yeah, look, I've only been back for six weeks, so I've had a lot to do in that time. We're currently focusing on going deeper into the countries we're already in. Next year, I'll be looking at which additional countries we'd like to expand to.

13) Benton sounds like a huge deal. Can you tell us a little about it and whether it will expand the lifestyle venture?

Yeah, the UAE's market is booming, with many people coming here to live, and we have 14,000 restaurants in Dubai alone. A lot is happening, not just in Dubai but throughout the UAE. Regarding the Benton Group, at the moment, I'm not actively seeking further expansion, at least not for this year. We only have four weeks left, but potentially, we might consider it next year. However, the focus will be on going deeper into our existing brands and expanding their reach.
I think, at this point, a lot is going on, and sometimes, you have to reassess what you already have. Once you've built a brand, the strategy is to grow it even more by going deeper and wider rather than constantly starting new ventures or acquisitions.

14) What is the core belief behind “The Entertainer” app and the Benton group?

Yeah, I always knew I wanted to have my own business. When I came up with the Entertainer, I had a lot of passion because I wanted to help people save money. I didn't come from a wealthy family, and we faced financial struggles. I used offers and vouchers, so creating something that could enable others to save money was my passion.

It wasn't just about lifestyle; it was about making the unaffordable affordable for people, allowing them to go out more frequently with friends or as a family. Simultaneously, it created value for restaurants and merchants by increasing their footfall. That's where the Entertainer came from – my heart was really in it, and then it grew.

The other ventures stemmed from what I enjoyed doing. Being from Australia, I love swimwear and have many of it, but I couldn't find much here. So, there was a niche in the market. That's why I started Caha Capo, to introduce quality swimwear. As for Sunset Group with the restaurants, it had a great team running it. Having spent 17 years in the restaurant industry, I knew the business well and believed in the founders, and that's why I invested in it.

15) Did the idea to improve people’s lives and positively impact their lives majorly contribute to your success?

Yeah, I think so. You have to believe in what you do, and I did. I believed in the concept of the Entertainer, and you just have to go and sell it to people. When I started the Entertainer and had our first product out, my first challenge was that customers thought it was too good to be true.

The problem was that they thought, 'What's the catch?' And there is no catch. From there, it became a significant part of Dubai's lifestyle and is now ingrained in people's homes. The Entertainer is not just a fixture in Dubai but in all other parts of the region. It's become like an institution here.

16) Was it difficult to get the first few clients?

Yeah, it was hard. The first business I approached was the Marriott Group. Looking back, I thought, 'Gosh, I should have just gone to a coffee shop; that would have been much easier.' But no, I went to a huge Marriott Group hotel, and they signed up immediately. They even invested in some advertising. I remember being so excited because of what they paid to join, and the advertising was more money than I had when I first came to Dubai with $3,000. It wasn't a lot; they signed in for more than that. It got me on such a buzz, and from there, it just snowballed. Of course, I had to face some challenges because we have strict terms and conditions. The offers need to be valid seven days a week, valid for lunch and dinner. It's a closed user group, so people know what they get when buying it.

17) Directly approaching the Marriott group seemed like a courageous thing to do. What brought you to that?

Oh, I think it was because I was young and inexperienced. So basically, I started from the top and then went down. To be honest, I don't know. I just believed in it and thought, 'Yep, let's do it,' and went straight to the Marriott, and thank goodness it turned out to be a success.

18) While pitching your idea to Marriott, did you have some proper planning, or was your pitch that impressive?

Oh no, of course, I planned. I didn't even have a computer, so I went to the internet cafe and did everything from there. But no, I had a presentation and did everything possible to be as prepared as possible.

There are always questions, even now, that you can't be 100% prepared. But again, if you believe in your product and know it will succeed, other people will also believe in it.

Having the right people running the company with the right energy is crucial, and all you have to do is deliver. That's the thing.

“Somebody can like something for the first year, but you must deliver. If you don't deliver, they won't come back. So basically, strong core values, strong work ethics, very strong work ethics, and leading by example. I still do that to this day.”

19) As a female entrepreneur, did you face extra struggles or discrepancies when starting your business?

Yeah, I think there's a stigma that it's harder for females, and I believe that's more because we're traditionally accustomed to being at home, looking after the kids, or being the housewife. However, I think that perception has changed a lot now. Women want to work just as much as men. We want to earn our own money and be able to provide.

When I came to Dubai in 2000, people often asked if being a woman was difficult. I said no, it was great. As a woman, we had shorter queues to get through things more quickly, whether at banks, telecommunications companies, or government ministries. However, I'm specifically talking about Dubai, which provided fantastic opportunities for women to start businesses. Even today, they continue to do so.

As a woman, sometimes, after having children, confidence might take a hit, and there might be uncertainties about what to do next. The key is to believe in oneself, have passion, and regain that confidence. I always say, 'You just have to get back on the horse and start riding it again.' Women also have aspirations; we want to achieve just as much as men.

20) Do you have any recommendations for future entrepreneurs?

There is no formula; it's doing whatever works for you. So far, touch wood, what I do has worked. I'm not the type who would dive into four books a month. With me, it's more about what you see is what you get.

21) What do you think is the most important aspect one should have to start your own business?

You've got to follow your gut; that's one thing. And look, I always say with entrepreneurs, what's the worst thing that could happen? It won't work out, and then what? You can go and get a job again. Not everybody is made to be an entrepreneur. You can be a corporate entrepreneur where you still have security and safety, but you can grow within the company's ranks, and that's great, too.

Entrepreneurship is not easy; it's hard work. You've got to be self-motivated, and you might not get paid for six months. You're working 24/7, so these are all the challenges.

“Sometimes you make mistakes, you fail, but you have to make mistakes. Don't ever think everything has to be perfect because you learn by mistakes, but you just don't make the same mistake twice; that's the key.”

You've got to bounce back, believe in yourself, have a very good work ethic, and, again, believe in yourself, what you do, and the people around you. You are who you hang out with, I suppose, and that's a big thing, also. So, yeah, follow your gut and go for it.

22) Do you have any advice on how social media platforms like MobileAppDaily should be promoted?

The thing with technology these days is it's the Dark Hour, I call it. Everything is happening so fast. You probably have more advice for me, being in the digital space full-time. It's again about what works.

I know digital is so intense now and with so many things—data, insights, analytics, followers, users, etc.- on many different platforms. Again, you just have to find out which is the right one for you: your demographic. Then, you must stick in your lane and do what feels right. You've got to do what suits you. Don't worry about what everyone else is doing because you could have built up your company and achieved some things by the time you're doing what they're all doing. Stick to what you're doing. Always watch what others are doing, but don't worry too much.

Key Takeaways

  • Donna has a diverse entrepreneurial background, starting with “The Entertainer” and later pivoting to Caha Capo (an affordable luxury swimwear brand).
  • The Entertainer started as a two-for-one deals app in 2001 and expanded to 15 countries, where Donna sold the company in 2012. However, she returned as the CEO again after five years.
  • As per Donna, exiting a business involves more than financial aspects, considering future visions and partnerships.
  • Donna emphasizes the importance of belief in one’s product and a commitment to delivering value.
  • Donna’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs highlights the significance of self-motivation, resilience, and the ability to learn from mistakes.

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Unveiling the pulse of mobile tech, our expert author at MobileAppDaily is your guide to the latest trends and insights in the app development sphere. With a passion for innovation, they bring you succinct analyses and a keen perspective on the evolving world of mobile technology. Stay tuned for concise updates that decode the future of mobile apps.

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