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Female Founders: Tini Meyer of interior360 On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Work smart, not hard — When I first started my business, I felt forced to work around the clock. Looking back, a lot of the work I did was inefficient. Nowadays, you have so many solutions at your disposal. For example, if you are a start-up and can’t afford to hire a full-time assistant, you can easily find a virtual one. Paying someone an hourly rate to do admin tasks is much smarter than doing it yourself.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tini Meyer.

Tini Meyer is the managing partner of interior360, one of the largest hospitality contract furniture suppliers in the Middle East. In addition to their furniture trading business, they have started their own upholstery workshop and a new joinery, and are currently opening a cleaning materials division. Tini is also a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a high-quality support network of 15,000+ like-minded leaders across 61 countries, which helps entrepreneurs achieve their full potential through the power of life-enhancing connections, shared experiences, and collaborative learning.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

While studying business at university in Vancouver, I also had my own art studio. My passion is painting, and I sold my art for extra income while studying — this was really my first experience of entrepreneurship as there is a certain element of business savviness required when dealing with gallerists and collectors. During my studies I attended a conference in Abu Dhabi and was inspired by the direction the city was taking in becoming a capital for art and culture. So, after graduating, I decided to move to Abu Dhabi to launch an artist studio center.

After that, I started interior360 in 2012 to combine my passion for art, design and business. It was originally a concept store, featuring designer furniture and artisan objects from the Philippines — I grew up there and have always wanted to support local artisans and designers. As a first-time entrepreneur, I inevitably made some mistakes, and I almost had to shut down the business. However, we were able to pivot to contract furniture in 2015 after meeting our main supplier at a trade fair and closing a major F&B project in Dubai, simply by chance.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

For me, the most interesting thing that has happened since I started my company was joining the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. The network gave me the opportunity to meet other business leaders and learn from them. I find myself to be much more driven when I have conversations with my peers, and it almost feels like being at university all over again, except this time I am applying all the learnings directly to my business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This story will probably make you laugh but it was definitely not funny for me. When we changed our software system, which manages financials, operations and supply chain, there was a programming error and the shipping expenses were added as a profit rather than deducted as an expense. It felt totally deflating when we found out that the numbers weren’t as high as we thought they were.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I really enjoyed working with my business coach, Steve de Bonvoisin, for weekly coaching sessions. Steve understood our pain points and helped us navigate the disaster that Covid was for us. We ended up reshaping the company in the process, so as painful as Covid was, it was also a blessing in disguise, as it gave us the chance to revolutionize our business and expand. Being part of EO has also been a great help — speaking to dozens of entrepreneurs going through the same experiences, being able to exchange advice and learnings and simply having a place to go to for help has been extremely valuable.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I consider myself lucky that I have not faced any of these obstacles as a businesswoman in Dubai. I find that I am treated equally to a man here and have not faced any discrimination because of my gender. Dubai is very fast-paced and cosmopolitan. I understand this is not the case in many places around the world, where women are at a disadvantage with fewer economic opportunities than men, but it is inspiring to see other female founders achieve success and build innovative businesses in Dubai.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I love the concept of Kiva, a non-profit that allows you to lend money to low-income entrepreneurs around the world. I think it’s amazing that you can have an instant positive impact on someone’s life. You can select by category or by region. For example, you can choose to loan funds, starting at $25, to farmers in Kenya to boost their production, a fisherman in the Philippines to buy materials, or select from eco-friendly initiatives. It’s great to support low-income entrepreneurs, to help more people become independent and be able to live sustainably.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I think one great benefit that female founders have is the freedom to continue working on their business while being able to take on the role of motherhood. I did not take a long maternity break and went back to work quite quickly, but I did so at the pace that made sense for me and with the flexibility to work around my new-born. Many women in traditional jobs are not granted this freedom, and I would encourage more mothers to take control of their working hours and become their own boss.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

People often say that you need a good business plan to succeed. While there is a lot of truth to this, it is also sometimes better to act quickly rather than to wait for the perfect business plan. While it is great to plan strategically, the execution is more important — sometimes you must trust yourself and make decisions that make sense to you, and believe that you are capable of success.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I am participating in a MIT masterclass next week, which has been organized by EO, specifically on this subject. “Disciplined Entrepreneur” is a book written by Bill Aulet, where he states the necessary steps to establish a successful start-up. He believes that entrepreneurship can be taught and is not genetic. That being said, entrepreneurship is not meant for everyone. I have some friends that quit their corporate job only to return simply because they realized that being in a start-up didn’t make sense for them. In a corporate environment, there is a lot of structure and process, whereas in a start-up you have to create that and multi-task. I think as a successful founder, you have to be agile and open to learning. At the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey I was so wrapped up doing a million different things, that I completely neglected learning and improving myself. As soon as I joined EO, I feel that I really worked more on myself as a business owner and on my business at the same time.

Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Work smart, not hard — When I first started my business, I felt forced to work around the clock. Looking back, a lot of the work I did was inefficient. Nowadays, you have so many solutions at your disposal. For example, if you are a start-up and can’t afford to hire a full-time assistant, you can easily find a virtual one. Paying someone an hourly rate to do admin tasks is much smarter than doing it yourself.

“Revenue is for vanity, profit is for sanity” — Greg Crabtree. The initial years of business, all our sales targets were revenue-based. When my partner and I attended the “Scaling Up” course with Verne Harnish (the founder of EO), the cash module completely changed our outlook. Since then, all of our targets have been changed to gross profit rather than revenue.

“The power of 1” — this is something taught by Alan Miltz in a lot of EO courses as well as Scaling Up. There are 7 levers that affect your cash flow, the one that affected us the most was margin. We did an exercise with the sales team illustrating the effect of adjusting the sales margin by 1% and since then they are a lot more cautious with giving discounts.

The impact of using an Enterprise Resource Planning system (ERP) — a software that helps you manage your operations, financials, supply chain and human resource activities. We used to do all our quotations in Excel, which was not flawless as any error in the quotation could also lead to an error in purchase orders and so forth. We switched to a new software, Oracle Netsuite, a few years ago, which was a big investment on our part but it was certainly a game-changer. Nowadays, there are so many solutions that are affordable and easy to use. For example, we have now used a system called Zoho for our new cleaning materials distribution business. Within a few hours we had our entire inventory in a system, something that was not possible a few years ago, at such a low cost and with a simple method.

The importance of having a defined process — this takes time, but it is important to document it properly and do this as soon as possible to avoid a haphazard way of working. I put together a proper check list for the sales team to use for each project which outlines all the key points, it was really helpful for them and everyone involved, as it shows all the steps and the person responsible for it.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

As we grew our business, the team grew as well. It is rewarding to realize how many livelihoods depend on our success, from our employees to suppliers. That, for me, is a personal definition of success, to see that families are able to flourish thanks to our business. Over the years, we also grew our company culture and values, and it is something we cherish and believe in. This is very much instilled throughout the teams and has become a pillar in our business.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I wish I could have more of a positive environmental impact as an individual and as a business. So many of us take our planet for granted. I would like our future generations to be able to enjoy the planet as much as we are able to and for that we need to preserve what we have.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have breakfast with author and speaker Dr. Joe Dispenza. I attended one of his week-long retreats and it was a life-changing experience. I particularly admire his ability to bring together a diverse group of people and teach them the magic of meditation and mindfulness.

Thank you for these great insights!

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