Salma Khattab is founder of Let’s Play Workspaces Ltd, an early stage social impact business providing tech enabled child-friendly work solutions. The first solution, tested and launched in Oxford, is Let’s Play Coworking. Let’s Play Coworking provides child-friendly workspaces that are more affordable, flexible and convenient than traditional childcare and where parents can work alongside their babies and toddlers, while the children are engaged in adult led STEAM activities. Salma tested the model in several community centres in Oxford before setting up to launch the space at The Jury’s Inn Oxford. Parents in Oxford and beyond have been signing up to use the spaces, with many parents in other cities volunteering to build their local communities around the concept so that Let’s Play Coworking can launch in their cities, too. Let’s Play Workspaces has been self-funded up to this point, however, Salma is open to partnerships and individual or institutional investment to facilitate the growth that is being demanded across the UK and in the US. A seed funding round is due to open in the beginning of the financial year. For more information, please contact us.
As a first generation American, daughter to immigrants, my parents had a limited support network and struggled with resources. Working two or three jobs each at a time, that eventually meant that growing up, we had to be creative, resourceful, and independent. Problems and pain points were all around us, but we did not have the luxury to just buy what we needed to address them, so we resorted to creating our own alternatives. And, if the only option was to buy something, we needed to work hard to source the funds to pay for it. Our tolerance for risk was just a little higher than standard, because we really didn’t have much to lose. Seeing both my parents work almost all hours of the day, without having any time to spend with us or to work on their career advancement and still be living pay check to pay check, made me realise that that kind of career was not going to be for me and I was optimistic that if I could just take matters into my own hands, I can find a better way. All of that instilled the work ethic and characteristics of an entrepreneur in me at a young age, dreaming big visions, mapping out a practical pathway to realising it using the minimal resources that I had, and looking for support wherever I could find it.
Entrepreneurship for me is working creatively to understand the root of a problem that is felt by many people and bringing a solution to the market in a way that minimises costs and maximises the potential return to enable the business to continue to innovate their solution, solve more related problems, and make a measurable impact on society.
I am my first customer. Let’s Play Coworking was a solution that I found myself needing desperately as a new mother attempting to work while raising children. Initially, with my first child, I did not feel comfortable that I would be sending him to a nursery or leaving him with strangers all day while I worked. Then with my second child, I realised that I could not even afford to send my children to day care even if I was comfortable doing that. We are lucky to have an above average income in the UK, however, despite that, it is still a financial struggle for us, which made me consider all of the others in the community who are making an average salary. It becomes more financially viable for one of the partners (usually the mother) to stay at home with the children than to send them to childcare, which then translates to social and economic inequity for women, which we are all suffering from the consequences of to this day. Using my business background, I did market research and realised that this problem that I was feeling was in fact a common issue for many working parents and that in fact there was a need for such a solution. I booked some halls across local community centres and tested out the concept to make sure that it would work and that people would be willing to pay for it. The feedback was very positive with many parents signing up to our paid services. In addition, I started getting requests from other working parents in other areas across the UK and the US asking us to bring Let’s Play Coworking to their community as well. This was really the point that I know I needed to develop it and I needed to make sure the business model was scalable to ensure that those who need it the most could have access, and have it quickly.
Being Visionary, Ability to gather people around your vision, and Resourcefulness.
Visionary: Many businesses fail because they are only focused on a current or temporary problem, or do not consider what would happen when some time later, the entire market changes and there is a lot more competition. Without a built in process for innovation, a plan for how one solution will eventually lead into another, and how the business will multiply its resources with time to be able to realise that vision, there is a chance that the business will fail.
Gathering people around the vision: A great vision is worthless without proper execution, and it is extremely hard to execute without support from a team, investors, partners, and importantly, potential customers. A successful entrepreneur needs to be able to communicate the vision clearly, instil confidence in themselves and the business, and solicit support in all its forms.
Resourcefulness: Creatively using the little that is available in such a way that it becomes something meaningful to drive the business forward. Whether in the beginning, when an entrepreneur has the vision and is working on gathering people behind it and they need to demonstrate that it will eventually be successful, or in a later stage when they are using external investment to support their growth, they need to demonstrate that they can be creative in finding and using resources to drive the business forward exponentially,
Bringing relief to people who have been used to living with a problem or pain for too long.
Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation.
The Gates Foundation: I am inspired by their commitment to strategically use their resources and work with partners, to solve problems all over the world, especially when they themselves are not suffering from these challenges. I admire their calculated strategy to focus on the issues that they can drive the most measurable impact in, and not just diluting their efforts by focusing on all problems equally at once.
Melinda Gates: She takes her own experiences as a woman, as a mother, as a professional, as a philanthropist, takes her lessons learned, and shares them with others in a way that can really benefit them, despite their differences. I love that she is consistent in her commitment to helping and shows consistency in her values, but that she is flexible and honest when she learns something new that makes her change her mind or perspective on an issue. She was a woman in tech at a time when it was even rarer than now and she dealt with all of those challenges, then she took time off to devote to her children and suffered from many of the challenges we all face when we take a step back in our careers, she came back to her career and openly spoke about not being as confident and how she had to work with her husband to have him step aside so that she could fulfil her potential as well, and now she is using her platform and influence to drive change that will help other women (in addition to her philanthropy). And she is respectful of the diversity of experiences, backgrounds, personal truths and draws flexible boundaries to show that respect.
I would like to discuss the barriers to gender, social, and racial equality and how Let’s Play Workspaces can help overcome them.
Before you tell people about your big dream, you first need to understand the people you are speaking to and how big they dream and manage your message and expectations of their feedback accordingly. Not everyone is looking to make a global impact and not everyone thinks that such an impact is realistically achievable. The wrong message or the wrong audience could give you discouraging feedback.
Also, in the digital age, and with the constraints of childcare, I resorted disproportionately to networking and building connections through social media, when in reality, progress is much faster and connections are much stronger when they are built through face to face interactions. On the other hand, I also delayed asking for resources because I did not have those “warm connections”. If I could go back in time, I would have started with building my local network.
Everything so far has been self-funded through savings.
Not yet, but I am hoping to apply.
There are so many great resources for entrepreneurs in Oxfordshire, but the struggle is for entrepreneurs with childcare responsibilities, like me. Networking events, courses, workshops, and meeting spaces are generally not child-friendly, and child care is scarce and unaffordable.
I would send them direct to Enterprising Oxfords website with all of the resources.
Yes, don’t be shy to just ask. Worst that will happen is that the answer will be a no, but if you don’t ask, then that outcome is guaranteed. Also, don’t be afraid to fail, failure is not an end, it is part of the discovery process. With a flexible mind set, you can pivot and make your business even greater than you initially dreamed.