Australian businessman Ross Milton gave up a high-flying job to pursue a dream. MyArabia.me recently caught up with the Managing Director of Bounce to find out more about the jumping revolution in Dubai.
Anyone who has lived in the United Arab Emirates long enough will tell you that Dubai is built on entrepreneurship.
There are two types of entrepreneurs, says Ross Milton, former global chief financial officer of Mars Food Group. The first, he says, are young and usually unrestrained by family commitments. They can tolerate risk better, because if something doesn’t pay off, they have plenty of time before retirement in which to rebound. Milton points out that these young entrepreneurs are usually unable to self-fund their ventures, and need to attract the right investors.
The second type gets to Milton’s age, (41), have saved up a reasonable amount of money and then have a crack at funding something. This is riskier, concedes Milton, who has put his life savings into creating Bounce, one of the most popular indoor sporting venues in Dubai. “I still have two young children who are at school and university is still to come.”
We meet at Bounce headquarters in Al Quoz, where we are surrounded by 80 interconnected trampolines and 500 square metres of circus-grade padding and air bags. It’s hard to believe that a year ago this was the home of dozens of offices, marble floors and slabs of concrete.
“It was extraordinary! We had big cranes tearing this place apart, cutting through the concrete, until we dropped out a whole floor,” he recalls.
It was during these times, Milton says, that he would lie awake, questioning his decision to give up a high-flying executive role to pursue a 20-year dream to start his own business.
Before moving to the United Arab Emirates in 2012, Milton was based in Los Angeles, where he was the global chief financial officer for Mars Food Group, and the company recorded $3 billion in sales. It was where he honed his entrepreneurial skills.
“As a CFO, you are the right-hand man of the CEO and you end up doing a bit of everything,” he says of his 14-year-career at Mars. Milton transferred with Mars to Dubai as the Senior Vice President of Human Resources, where he guided, trained and developed 8000 employees across Africa, India, Middle East, Commonwealth of Independent States and Central Asia. Mars, he notes, had recorded $7 billion in sales in this part of the world.
He was barely into his new role in Dubai when he decided to take the leap ‒ contrary to his long-held belief that he would start his first business back in Australia, where he has a strong personal network and a familiarity with the laws and regulations.
But in August 2013, on a visit home with his family, Milton had his first encounter with Bounce, the indoor trampoline park. Within two months, he had signed a franchise agreement, acquiring the Middle East rights.
“The United Arab Emirates, like Australia, is an entrepreneurial country. Everyone can have a crack at anything,” says Milton. “I looked at this market [Dubai], and thought, ’Oh my gosh!’ You’ve got obesity issues, kids sitting in their rooms playing games on their computers, and the climate isn’t helpful for getting outside and playing sports. As I thought more and more about it, this was the place.”
Bounce Middle East was no ordinary venture. Milton was still employed at Mars, and he says he wasn’t about to leave his job unless he could find a building and acquire the licenses.
Finding the right location was a challenge. He ruled out Jebel Ali and Dubai Investment Park as too far out for patrons. And, unlike other parts of the world where the commercial real estate market is developed, Milton discovered that none of the 30 agents he contacted had a comprehensive overview of what commercial properties were available.
“I was driving up and down the streets hoping to see a For Sale or For Rent sign,” he says, shaking his head.
The search led him to the streets of Al Quoz, a commercial area located just minutes from Mall of the Emirates. Having found the right area, his next challenge was securing a building large enough to house the space-hungry concept. Once he’d found the building, he had to get the area rezoned and obtain a sports license.
In April 2014, Milton resigned from his post at Mars, and, in June 2014, Bounce Middle East opened its doors. Since then, it has welcomed over 150,000 visitors and inspired numerous copycat businesses across Dubai.
“I learnt a lot of lessons along the way,” he says. “I think next time I would put additional clauses in contracts to give myself a little breathing space. It was a big leap. There were nights when I stared at the ceiling and wondered what I had done.”
Looking around at what he has created, Milton says, “I get to work with, train and develop young people; the average age of my team is 20 years old. I get to help develop their experience and skills.
“There is nothing better than when you have three parties running at the same time, with 60 kids running around screaming, carrying on and having a blast.”
If you’re starting your first business, Milton strongly recommends you start with a franchise. Why start from scratch when there is a good concept? “You have support in branding and marketing, and assistance with execution. You just have to adapt the idea to the market.”
Milton adds, whether you’re a general manager or a business owner you’ll never be an expert in all fields. There are several key areas to understand:
- Architecture and construction: Whether you’re starting a coffee shop or a sporting venue, you will need to think about design and layout.
- Law: You will be dealing with contracts and tenders for construction companies.
- Finance: Identify where the money is coming from and what the tax regulations are.
- Personnel: If you’re planning to hire staff, what are their job descriptions? Where do you recruit them from? What benefits will they receive? And is it all in accordance with the country’s labour laws?
- Training and development: What courses (such as first aid) will your employees need?
- Public relations and marketing: Do you have the right digital strategy? What do you know about digital? How will you engage with, and sell into, the community? How will you stage a launch, making sure that everyone in Dubai knows about you?
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