Welcome to the weekly Emirates Woman series ‘How I got my job as…’ where we speak to some incredible entrepreneurs and businesspeople both based in the UAE and globally to find out about their career paths that led them to where they are now; what their daily routines look like; the advice they’d give to those starting out; and the hurdles they’ve had to overcome.
This week, we sat down with Alix and Rodolphe Duffour, founders of Maison Duffour, a Dubai-based e-commerce platform with gourmet food and niche food products that mainly caters to the luxury market segment.
Founded five years ago in 2016, each item can directly be delivered to your doorstep with dozens of products across several categories such as dairy, grocery, meat and seafood, bakery and desserts.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Interestingly, History was both our preferred topic subject. I guess we both liked the fact that history helps us understand our roots better and make us feel anchored in the present. We also feel that it gives us a feeling of belonging and we both really love historical novels, probably because history feeds our imagination and is a recreation of the mind.
What was your first job?
When we were teenagers, we both had to do baby-sittings if we wanted to be able to pay for our nights bunking out of our houses. More seriously, for our first jobs, Rodolphe worked as an executive assistant manager in a French hotel investor and operator group in Strasbourg and Paris. Once I graduated, we left France with a one-way ticket for Bangkok in 2012 to explore the Asian market. I started there as a customer service agent for Agoda, an online travel agency.
What inspired you to go into the food industry?
Food has always been a topic close to our hearts. Both being from families with numerous siblings and cousins, we have fond memories of long tables full of incredible homemade dishes. Sharing a meal meant spending time together, discussing topics of the day as a family and enjoying the food on the table. We have the same French roots but come from different regions respectively Savoie and Burgundy, enjoying different recipes thanks to the amazing variety of French dishes. We have both known since our early beginnings that we want to build a company together. After two years in Thailand, we found great work opportunities in Dubai, the glistening gem of the Middle East.
Dubai is thriving and a city full of positive vibes. This gives us the energy and the desire to start our own business after two years in the city. Passionate about food and good quality products, it’s only natural for us to decide to share our passion with a bigger crowd, Maison Duffour came to life.
What eventually brought you to Dubai?
Thailand was not politically stable when we were there. The hospitality industry was suffering a lot. We decided to find an economic hub where both of us would thrive. Moreover, we were really looking for a country where we could start our own company. Dubai gave us a super positive impression when Rodolphe first came for a business trip in April 2014. He found a position super quickly and I followed a few weeks later. Everything went super quickly and made us feel energetic about our projects.
Can you talk us through what inspired you to launch Maison Duffour?
The idea to build a company together was always here. The opportunity came with our first UAE experience. Back in 2014, upon arriving in Dubai, while Rodolphe was working for a B2B food import company, he noticed that good quality and tasty products were being imported to the UAE but were never sold directly to the final consumer.
Given the e-commerce background of Alix and the endless opportunities of being online, they decided to build their very own online gourmet food store, with the ambition to deliver every home in the UAE with real food with real taste, everyday of the week, and be a step ahead of the online food market.
What are the key elements of your role?
Rodolphe is CEO and Alix CCO, Rodolphe’s role can be compared to a firefighter. He is always there to stop a fire outbreak. Basically, there is a fire outbreak every day. My role is to make Maison Duffour known throughout the UAE and that every home in the UAE will order at least once on our website.
Talk us through your daily routine.
Our son wakes us up, every day of the week. The benefit is that no alarm is needed anymore. We enjoy some family time with a good breakfast together. We leave for work together and then start the daily craziness at work until 6pm with non-stop calls, emails, meetings. We drive back together to see our son and have quality time, the three of us. We play outside, sing some songs or play some guitar and read some stories. Eventually, we eat dinner when he is in bed and we crash very early after reading a book or binge-watching The Office or some other shows. This is if we don’t have a last-minute problem at work, a market, a raclette dinner, a conference or a dinner with customers.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps?
Be ready for the long run: building a company takes a lot of time, patience and some serious nerves. Don’t underestimate the importance of network and family or friends, it can be a game-changer.
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What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
AD: My ex-manager kept telling me “Alix, building a company is a marathon, not a sprint”. I can see every day how prophetic his advice was.
RD: It is not one specific piece of advice, but the numerous, long conversations I had with my father-in-law that represent the best pieces of advice I received businesswise. He taught me how to listen, analyse and follow the best option in my hands.
And what is the worst?
Several people told us we were doing the biggest mistake to do this together, that a husband and a wife are not made to work together. This always felt very frustrating to us. We continue being questioned about that choice, and our answer has not changed since day one, we share the same values and dreams however, our personalities are different enough and work-wise, we like different things so we really enjoy this family-entrepreneurial situation.
What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
We sell very traditional items in a very modern way in the sense that we started as an online gourmet food store. We realized that lots of our customers are offline with no social media presence at all. Talking and meeting with our customers when you work on a fully-digital platform has proven a real challenge at times. We came to the conclusion that online is not sufficient and that we need to diversify as much as possible our distribution and communication channels including newspapers, food markets, events and many other platforms.
What are your goals for 2022?
We still have one more month to finalise our 2022 resolutions right and December is the most important of all the months right? On a serious note, we have so much to do for Maison Duffour. From building our team to reassigning some roles to promote our existing team before growing outside, grow our products range and our overall corporate portfolio. We’re also exploring the option of opening a brick and mortar store, however, that’s a secret.
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