I started a business with a baby – Salima Manji of The London Dinner Club

Tell us a little about your business

The London Dinner Club was set up in 2010 to help like-minded single professionals meet at exclusive locations around London for dinner and drinks.

What was your job before starting your business?

I achieved a degree in Business Economics from the University of London and decided to continue my studies to qualify as an ACA Chartered Accountant.

A career in investment banking followed and I worked at several well-known companies including JP Morgan and Credit Suisse. It was the career I’d always dreamed of and I was proud to have achieved this after life-long hard work.

It was while I was working for a City bank that I met my partner and of course naturally I wanted to settle down, get married and start a family.

How did you go from your old career to your new business?

The transition itself was easy, as I’d already made up my mind – it was more the risk that was a concern for me, but I knew that I would work hard at it and make it a success.

What were your reasons for starting a business?

After two children, I returned to banking but found it hard juggling family and work and by this time I found that my focus had changed from pursuing a high flying career – I just wanted to spend more time with my children.

I had changed from the high flying, career-driven lady I once was and I began to grow envious of my mum friends who were picking up their children from school and taking them to the park in the holidays. I was a different woman. I no longer wanted to be driven by targets, promotions and goal setting. It was all meaningless. I, like most mums, found it difficult to juggle such a demanding career with having children. I wanted to spend more time with my children.

I didn’t want to give up working altogether as I was still an independent, motivated lady and I didn’t want that to change unnecessarily just because I had children – nor did I want to feel as though I had to sacrifice it. Now, I feel as though I have found a great compromise.

Did you use any childcare?

Fortunately my business is an evening event and most of my planning can be done whilst the children are at school, so I rely on childcare very little. On a typical night when I hold a dinner event, I make sure the kids have eaten, finished their homework and had a bath. Then I call on a few babysitters who I’ve been using for the past four years so that I can rush out and go to my dinner parties/drinks evenings.

How did you get your business idea?salima_manjiBW-1

The idea of a supper club for singles came about when a few of my colleagues were complaining about the horrors of online dating. I decided that I could start a business that combined my love of food with the networking skills I had gained in the City. After a bit of research I set about designing a website and a few months later, the London Dinner Club was formed.

What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?

I tried to walk before I could run and if I could turn the clock back I would have taken things a bit more slowly but I was so keen to get my business off the ground that I almost couldn’t get success fast enough. Although I wouldn’t consider this a hindrance – it was still lots of fun!

If you could give one piece of advice to a mum of a baby or toddler starting a business, what would it be?

My message to mums out there is to listen to your heart – but be sensible. I knew that what I was doing took a big risk but I knew that if I worked very hard it would pay off. I had a great support network who really believed in my idea and as a mum that is really important. You are certainly not alone when it comes to feeling like you are missing out but feel trapped by a situation where you are forced to choose between your career and your home life.

This is becoming more and more common for women today who often find that they end up sacrificing their dream career, but if your focus has changed anyway, and you would rather be at home with your children then my advice would be, if you can, go for it!

What are your plans for the future?

As well as the London Dinner Club I am also beginning a project aside to this which is exclusively for Asians. This will be The Asian Dinner Club and works in the same way, except members will just be Asian professionals – being Asian myself I thought that this would make a great addition to the Dinner Club brand. It has already begun and I am very excited about progress and future plans we’ve got going for this.

Who knows maybe one day there will be a Birmingham Dinner Club, or a Glasgow Dinner Club! Or a New York dinner club even….

 You can visit The London Dinner Club here:  www.londondinnerclub.org

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