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Small meals, big business with Citron’s founder Sara Chemmaa

Sara Chemmaa is no stranger to the business world, having worked in investment banking, strategy consulting, and just recently raised her first round of pre-seed investments during the pandemic. She’s managed all of this while raising a toddler and baby twins. Here she shares why and how she started the business and gives advice to all mom entrepreneurs.

Tell us about yourself and your life goals and ambitions.

I started my career as an investment banker back in 2008, which was really trendy for anyone that studied finance. I joined McKinsey & Company in the Dubai office and then was part of the strategy & investment team at MBC, the largest Middle Eastern broadcaster. We were in charge of corporate strategy, investments, M&A deals, and I also co-headed MBC Ventures fund that aimed at investing in early-stage startups in the media industry.

I launched Citron in 2017 as I was struggling to find a lunchbox with compartments that didn’t leak for my son. I started with one product then, and today we have 99+ products available. My mission for Citron is to reach as many kids as possible across 25 countries by the end of 2022.

I am a mother of three - my son is five and daughters (twins) are 17 months. My life goals are very simple, I want to spend a big majority of my time with my kids as they are my source of inspiration and I learn daily from them.

What tangible advice do you have for entrepreneurs and moms in their first few years of starting up? Start small, make calculated bets, and take risks. If you fail, fail quickly, then stand up and do it again. Keep the fun part alive as this is the most important part of the journey!

How did you get to product-market fit and what realities should first-time entrepreneurs be prepared for? We started with small quantities, and tested them at a low cost online then once we saw traction we expanded the range and started hiring a team and doing things "properly."

What practical advice do you have for entrepreneurs that are bootstrapping and claim they aren’t good with numbers? Well, I am a numbers person. I love numbers but I am not good at marketing. I know what I like in terms of branding, etc but numbers are my forte. I would say you cannot be everything, so know your weaknesses and surround yourself with people that know what you don't. Lots of people are willing to give free advice and help.

How do you stay motivated as a mom and founder? What helps me the most is receiving daily comments from moms that thank me for creating products that make their kids' lives easier. I have so much fun in what I do, it’s a true passion. I never felt like I was working. I just love what I do, and I can do it day and night. I feel so energized by seeing kids carrying and using our products!

Why is networking important for you, how do you find the time for it and what do you look for in a mentor or coach? I have been helping startups for years! I started when I was at MBC supporting entrepreneurs with fundraising and speaking to investors. I try to block time in my calendar (when I can) to work with coaches as I believe they are of great value.

Lastly, tell us something you have never been asked in an interview and believe is important to share with the Crunchmoms community. How did you manage to raise funds during COVID? It’s a good question - during covid, schools didn't fully reopen, our numbers were down, and we knew we needed investments to carry on. Whilst we had a great story, cash flow was an issue and when talking to investors we had to explain our forward-looking plan, show our passion, and promise them a great return!

Start small, make calculated bets, and take risks.

Register for Sara Chemmaa’s Connect with Crunchmoms talk on Sunday, 2 May at 10 am GST at Remaliya’s Cafe & Restaurant, Dubai Ladies Club. Secure your spot today!

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