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Series: Built in the UAE – Part 3: The Entertainer – Building a business from downtime

Welcome to the third instalment of our ‘Built in the UAE’ entrepreneurial series. Today is the turn of the Entertainer – a leading leisure discount app with over 3 million members globally.

The Entertainer was established in the UAE way back in 2001 by Donna Benton, a young Australian with a clear vision. Originally a printed discount booklet, since going digital in 2013 it has become a global powerhouse. Following a slew of investments from various stakeholders, Benton made the decision to bow out entirely in 2020 with a tidy ‘nine-figure mark in USD’.

For those in the UAE unfamiliar with the Entertainer – and there can’t be many – this mobile platform offers buy-one-get-one-free and other types of discounts across food & drink, beauty & fitness, attractions & leisure, retail & services and hotels worldwide.

The story of the Entertainer and its founder in some ways both mirrors, and is a forerunner of, the journey the UAE itself has been on over the past two decades. The government has been boosting tech startups in a bid to reduce its reliance on oil. Indeed, some 60% of investment funding for startups in the MENA region was given to projects based in the UAE in 2019. 

But there’s more: recognising the economic power of women in business, the UAE government has increasingly focused on gender equality in the workforce. In 2017, it pledged $50 million to the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative. The Entertainer has a part in both these narratives of change.

What can other budding entrepreneurs glean from Donna Benton’s success story if they want to follow in her shoes?

  • Have a clear vision from the start: Benton knew right away which outlets she wanted to approach to partner with and she took a ‘highly curated approach’. Her first signups were five outlets at the Marriott in Deira. Clearly, this belief in her fundamental concept paid off.
  • Grow with the times: A printed discount booklet was all very well from the start, but of course it wouldn’t survive in our digital age. Benton’s initial investors – Abraaj Capital – enabled her to take The Entertainer digital to meet the more complex needs of today’s consumers.
  • Stay fresh – add extras: A successful business is continually looking for the next customer group or the next market niche. In addition to its consumer-focused discount offering, today the mobile platform is also used for ‘Entertainer business’, a B2B offering enabling corporate clients to launch incentive & loyalty solutions; ‘Entertainer go’, for tourists; and ‘Entertainer guest’, aimed at hotels. As a business owner, you can never stay still.
But there’s a final lesson here for entrepreneurs who succeed in building something of this magnitude: When to leave the party. You may think it is an easy decision, but it is anything but. And we feel Donna Benton sold at precisely the right time for her, leaving her pioneering business in great hands to take it up to the next level – and beyond.

Let’s end with a bit of her personal philosophy: “There are three kinds of people – those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who say, ‘Oh, what happened?’.”

We will leave you to decide which of those she is.