Once a part-time nurse, expat mum in Dubai now runs her business empire worth millions.

Dubai-based Dutch citizen turns serial entrepreneur of Dh183.7m-worth businesses at age 32.

Published: August 26, 2023 07:30

Original Author: Hina Navin, Special to Gulf News


Ethiopian-born Dutch expat Kanessa Muluneh, not only started six businesses by age 32, but built diverse streams of incomes and businesses that currently make a total of Dh183.65 million ($50 million) in combined revenue every year.

Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: A mother of two who would once powerlift five times a week, Ethiopian-born Dutch expat Kanessa Muluneh, not only started six businesses by age 32, but built diverse streams of incomes and businesses that currently make a total of Dh183.65 million ($50 million) in combined revenue every year.

“I am a founder, not a CEO,” said Muluneh, when describing how it has always been easier for her to start a company, but not in her interest to grow it further or manage it at an administration level. This is why she learned to let go or sell a business after it reaches a certain level of growth.

Muluneh has so far sold four of the six businesses she started with her business partners. Among those, she started a football league for women in the Netherlands, which was later sold to the Women’s Football League (WFL), and also launched a social media platform for sports and fitness.

Entrepreneurial journey initiates at medical school

The former part-time nurse drew the roots to her entrepreneurial journey back to her medical school days when she was 21 years old and sought to address an existing work-related problem for her thesis work during her internship.

“Back then, women struggled to be on location daily due to personal obstacles. So I developed a tool that allowed them to work from home (picking up the phone from home and accessing medical documents), which was a ground-breaking task during those day,” said Muluneh.

Before that, she worked part-time as a nurse to earn some extra cash in her schooling years but never had a full-time job. “It was obvious to me that full-time employment was not what I wanted to keep doing. I wanted to do something different as I’m an (over)achiever,” she added.

‘Being a surgeon is not the only way to a successful life’

While her studies continued at university, Muluneh bumped into the first entrepreneurial experience that let her show her parents quickly that being a surgeon was not the only way to a successful life. She credits her father’s support to her success in starting multiple businesses.

Muluneh’s father allowed her to get smarter with money and inspired her to learn from her experiences. Her first company, funded by her father, was a low-cost venture in the medical field with which she had connections and was familiar.

Her company costs included a subscription of Dh600 (150 euro per year) to get access to a phone service that allowed hospitals to redirect phone calls to private numbers at Dh1,001 per month (or 250 euros), and lawyer fees of Dh8,010 (or 2,000 euros).

Selling her first business for $500,000 after 1-1/2 years

About one-and-a-half years later, Muluneh sold the medical services digital platform for over Dh1.8 million ($500,000), which earned her profits and enabled her to repay her dad and use the rest of the money to reinvest in her next venture.

However, she struggled initially with being shy and introverted, mainly because she was mentally insecure about her talent. However, that changed after the success of her first medical business when she found her purpose as an entrepreneur at age 22.

The only company she never sold (or tried selling) is her clothing line, which offers a variety of sizes (Petite, S to 7XL ranges) and sells in over ten countries. This business she runs was established based on her struggles as then, being a plus-sized woman, she desired comfortable clothes to feel good.


Muluneh started designing clothes during maternity leave, like making more oversized clothes and fixing some of the issues she faced while wearing other brands at the gym.

Image Credit: Gulf News

Struggles with weight inspire plus-size fashion brand

“I used to be a powerlifter – five times a week, I hit the weights, and my goal was to get bigger and stronger. Instead of losing weight, I had to gain weight, but then I got pregnant,” said Muluneh, when describing how the idea for her fashion brand came from her own struggles.

“During my pregnancy, I kept gaining weight while I already wore a size XL so I knew that it would be hard to find proper gym wear to return to weight lifting. I quit powerlifting but I figured out that it wasn’t just me just me who struggled with this problem,” she said.

Muluneh started designing clothes during maternity leave, like making more oversized clothes and fixing some of the issues she faced while wearing other brands at the gym. She also faced other internal struggles when starting this company, Muluneh added.

Cost of relocating, expanding her business to the UAE

She, who confidently remarked she leads a “very calm family life” in Dubai because of all her investments, recently launched her lifestyle clothing business online in Dubai, extending the collection with modest wear, including abayas.

Muluneh’s initial expenses involved the relocation costs for a family of four on the same standard they were used to in Netherlands, which amounted to about Dh60,000. Then she invested over Dh100,000 in expanding her business from Netherlands to the Middle East.

“I needed more inventory, distribution centres, PR, staff (personal assistants, social media managers) and register the company. Although the company is still young in Dubai, I expect to make the same revenue as the European leg, above Dh4 million (1 million euros a year).”


Image Credit: Gulf News

Standing out in a highly-competitive fashion market

From having around 150 orders in the first year to about 150 orders per month before COVID-19, Muluneh said her brand took off during and after the pandemic, and she made a profit, but added that the growth she witnessed also demanded more investment.

“The brand entered the market where we offered white labelling and wholesale to other (smaller) brands. During the pandemic, I was lucky enough to invest in my manufacturing factory in Pakistan, which allowed me to scale up to this level.”

Not only does her fashion business keep Muluneh busy, but she also learnt to earn passive incomes online on the side. She learnt about YouTube Automation and Amazon Fulfilment from a teenager in her neighbourhood around a year ago and decided to try it out a few months ago.

Earning passive incomes aside from her business income

“I started generating an extra 5-6 figure income (depending on how much effort I put in) while spending time with my kids. Since I discovered how easy it is to make money when willing to look outside the traditional market, my whole mind-set about money has changed,” she said.

“Today, I also help my mum set up her own YouTube Automated Channel because she learned from my actions that she doesn’t need to depend on anyone. She set her goals to be independent again like before having kids, and I wish more people, especially mothers, would do the same.”

For Muluneh, work is just a way of making money, and she believes there are many ways to make money. “I built multiple companies from the ground up to a certain level just because I believed in the concept or idea, but knew it was fragile to depend on a single source of income.”

Recognising fragility of depending on a single source of income

“No matter how much you make, you must divide your luck to secure a certain future. My parents helped me in my late teens as I moved out of their house at 18 to attend university. They helped me pay bills as I had no idea what I was doing, but I also managed to invest their money,” she added.

“I would do the same thing with my kids. There’s nothing wrong with making life easier for them to kick-start their life if you can. As they say in Dutch, ‘it’s better to be spoiled than neglected no matter what others think’.”

Muluneh’s father had put away a large portion of her profit as she was a young entrepreneur raised with many financial limitations. However, he also gave her enough money to spend and make silly mistakes, she said.

Learning to give children access to funds to explore their ideas

She has purchased luxury goods in the past, including expensive cars, but couldn’t afford them for an extended period, as she didn’t have a recurring income and sold them. Despite learning from past experiences, Muluneh confesses she still needs to improve at budgeting.

“I’m terrible with money, but fortunate enough to marry a creative accountant and have a financially responsible father. They keep me stable when it comes to finance. I used to spend a lot on luxurious goods in the past. I thought I had to impress others, but my parents convinced me to be smarter.

“My new goal was not to impress strangers but myself and my family. I still love to splurge, but now, it’s on the best schools for my kids, the best travel destinations for my family, the best healthcare for my parents, the best legal advice for our future, and investing in real estate. I’m able to retire my parents. So now, I either reinvest in the business or invest in my family.”

Original Article:

Courtesy: Gulf News (www.gulfnews.com)

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