Ziana Kotadia (MBA ’22) reports on Professor Ranjay Gulati’s interview with Mona Ataya, CEO and Founder of Mumzworld
Professor Ranjay Gulati has been hosting a series of interviews with CEOs to better understand how they’ve led with ‘deep purpose’ throughout their careers. As we honor International Women’s Day, and reflect on the theme ‘Break the Bias’, the interview with Mona Ataya, the CEO and Founder of Mumzworld, is particularly relevant.
Mona Ataya grew up as one of five siblings, all of whom are entrepreneurs. Her father, who is the eldest of 13 siblings, is also an entrepreneur. Ataya noted that entrepreneurship is in her DNA. Her father is Palestinian originally and left his home as a young boy as a refugee. She reflected on how this has formed her leadership and working style. “For generations we’ve learnt about the importance of hard work and creating something from nothing. For me it’s also about doing things which are in line with your values and the legacy you want to leave behind. Education was front and center in my childhood.”
Ataya wanted to pursue an impact driven venture, a business that changed the ecosystem she lived in for the better. For her, she was never motivated by money as an entrepreneur. Indeed, Ataya reinforced that commercial success and positive change go hand-in-hand. “You achieve commercial success when you create a business proposition that creates value. So when you are able to cater to unmet consumer needs, commercial success naturally follows. I am a mother of three children, it wasn’t in my agenda to launch a second business. But as an entrepreneur, I saw the e-commerce trajectory and saw that regional development was nascent. As a mother, I saw lots of unmet consumer needs that needed to be solved. I knew that I could use my experiences and skills in the region, as well as my commitment to motherhood.”
Ataya launched Mumzworld with the vision to empower a mother to make the most informed decisions for her children. Ten years later, the business is still growing. Ataya has constantly sought to challenge the status quo. For example, she was told that females in the Middle East region struggle to raise capital, and at least a year would be needed to raise her first round. Ataya was told she did not have the momentum, and she was female, and that would be a challenge. However, Ataya powered ahead, and was oversubscribed in six weeks, with six different term sheets. She did not accept the status quo.
In her second round of fundraising, Ataya opened up a round only for women. She reflects, “we were a business founded by women, primarily for women in the region. I wanted to empower women in the Arab world. What better representatives for the company than women. There were many highly educated women in the region who were no longer working, I wanted to open up the opportunity for women to contribute to the region in another way”.
When hiring people, Ataya looks for character. She explained, “you can build skills, you can’t build character.” Resilience, grit, and optimism are important traits she seeks. “I always ask people, do you think you’re lucky? People who think they’re lucky are more optimistic.”
Mona Ataya has built one of the most successful e-commerce companies in the Middle East by finding new ways to empower women. She has accomplished that in an industry and a region known for wide gender disparities. Her story motivates us to challenge the status quo and use business as a way to help progress social change.
Ziana Kotadia (MBA ’22) is from the UK, and most recently made the move from London to Boston. She loves to travel, learn about new cultures and enjoys eating her way through cities. She loves to cook and is passionate about great food.