Donna Benton, founder and former chairman of The Entertainer speaks to Crunchmoms about how she started the popular buy-one-get-one-free concept and discount app, now a household name with over 3 million users globally.
After selling her remaining shares in The Entertainer, Donna followed her lifelong dream of starting her own luxury swimwear brand, Caha Capo, inspired by her love for beaches and swimwear.
Designed by an internationally-renowned team, Caha Capo's swimwear, beachwear and acccessories collections for men, women and children are composed of high-quality Italian fabrics, selected sustainable materials and unique colours.
What were some of the main challenges you faced when you first started The Entertainer?
My spirit for adventure brought me to Dubai in 2000, where I arrived with US$3,000 cash in my pocket. One of my main challenges at the time was funding and cash flow management. I did not own a computer, so I would use free internet in hotels or coffee shops to do my feasibility studies. Due to the limited availability of funds I had no room for errors, so I had to make sure I was covered for the worst case scenario and I did not take any salary to ensure I maintained the cash flow. I was always cautious to raise more money than I thought I would need and, consequently, I never accumulated any debt.
There is no such thing as overnight success, but it is rather a culmination of steady and consistent work, so I kept on going with my vision and learned everything I needed to know along the way. The big entrepreneurial winners are always those who never quit, but are determined to hang in there.
What advice would you give to startups and new businesses looking to raise funds?
The challenge that young entrepreneurs are always facing is to convince potential investors about a concept that does not yet exist and try and make them envision a story of the future, especially in times of economic recession. The investors must feel comfortable that you can indeed put your idea into action, so you must be confident with excellent persuasion skills and have a strong business plan. The key is to become a good storyteller and learn how to pitch equally to angel investors, private equity or venture capitalists.
Do you have any advice on giving equity to employees?
I am a great believer of rewarding employees for their hard work and it is important that employees feel they are being recognized. There are important commercial considerations that entrepreneurs must take into account when designing a scheme and to link the plan to the performance of the employee, so it can result into a 3 to 5 year timeline for the company. Each employee has different preferences, some prefer cash-based packages and others prefer an equity-based package. So, the key is to design a package that works for both parties.
Another aspect is when an employee leaves the company. As a founder it is important to allow flexibility and discretion, so you can react to decisions based on different circumstances and protect the company’s best interest. Employees need to understand the likelihood and hurdles until these incentives are put into action.
How should a startup owner prepare for an exit?
Preparing an exit strategy is usually not the first thing I would recommend to do when starting a business. It is important to grow the business and make it profitable first. However, it is advisable to have a solid exit strategy in place for when the time comes in order to ensure a successful financial future.
Some important aspects to consider in preparation for your plan is to make sure your financials are clean and audited, that you can show a consistent EBITDA growth, and you have considered your human capital in the company.
Did you experience any mom guilt while growing your businesses? Would you have done anything differently?
I would not have done anything differently, as I have always practiced a healthy work-life balance. There is no such thing as a magic formula when it comes to parenting, because you have to establish what model works for you and your family.
It is also important that you become aware that your feelings of guilt might be self-imposed at times, as most things that you expect of yourself are often the result of cultural upbringing or society.
The key factor for me is to focus on quality time with my children and be a happy parent when I am with them. My family is everything to me, but it has never stopped me from following my passion.
What made you decide to completely exit The Entertainer?
I believe that as the founder of a company you either need to maintain equal shares and have control, or you need to be actively managing the company. It really doesn’t work with minority shares. My vision was different from the shareholder’s vision. In certain cases you can agree to disagree, but as a founder you are always passionate about everything. Some decisions were being made that I didn’t agree with, even though I am not suggesting that they were wrong but, for me personally, it was probably best to exit and focus on other things that I love and want to explore.
Tell us about your new venture, Caha Capo.
The name, which stands for caring, happy, casual, positive, lives and breathes these four core values and is designed to offer a plethora of swimwear options that will leave everyone feeling happy and positive about themselves. For Caha Capo, it’s all about the Fit, Fabric and Fun!
Growing up on the beach, I realised that there was a gap in the market for swimwear that offers women, men and children variety and options without compromising on quality and fit. I used my experience to create a unique brand unlike anything else that is available on the market. A brand that can easily fit into people’s lifestyle and makes them feel positive and confident about themselves, all at affordable prices using the best quality materials.
Caha Capo’s debut collection is available in sizes 6-16 (in the coming months this will expand to a size 18) and encompasses mix and match bikinis, flattering swimsuits, resort-wear and accessories in rich, bespoke colours. Split into two distinct categories 'Fashion and Essentials' the core swimwear collection offers a wide variety of styles, support and coverage for every body type, whether a triangle style in a fashion forward print is your go-to or a classic one-piece is your comfort zone.
Bikinis are sold as sets or as separates, allowing a mix and match approach and catering to women who require different sizes, which is a common problem when it comes to swimwear and one not often recognised by other brands.
With COVID-19 what kind of business trends do you anticipate?
Covid has affected most businesses around the world, but there is clear evidence that if leaders make decisions with long-term objectives in mind, the businesses create more shareholder value. The pandemic has caused a massive shift from the in-person to virtual and we have all seen the results on this year’s stock market.
Nowadays, businesses are putting the digital over physical assets and relationships. So as a logical consequence we are all forced to rethink and reevaluate our business models. A vast number of businesses have already closed permanently this year. It seems that the number of closures will even exceed the deep hit of the last recession. However, the good news is that many new businesses are starting up at a much higher rate than usual thanks to the tech sector.