Fahad Mohanna, hobby enthusiast and owner of Howayte Hobby Store, talks about his unique business concept and the current hobby trends in Bahrain 

Some people say games and hobbies are just for kids, but one local entrepreneur –Fahad Mohanna – thinks otherwise. Despite the current hype on digital and video games all over the world, Fahad opted to bring back the interactive way of playing through tabletop games, as well as the classic vibe of being surrounded by a bunch of action figures and collectible merchandises, through his startup venture, Howayte Hobby Store.

This month, we sat and talked with Fahad as he shares his insights on hobby shops in Bahrain, the challenges he faced upon starting up and what motivates and drives him as an entrepreneur.

Did you go to a private school or a government school?

I graduated from a government school here in Bahrain.

Did you go to a university in Bahrain or abroad?

I completed college from AMA University of Bahrain.

How did the idea for your business come about?

It started back in 1997 when my family and I were visiting my grandfather in the Netherlands. I remember walking from the train station to his house and I come across a store selling action figures of dragons and knights. I was really fascinated with how the store looked – the ambiance, as well as the smell of cardboard and paper. They also have a dedicated playing space for ‘Magic the Gathering’ which I really am a fan of. That time, I realized that I have to bring something like this in Bahrain.

How did you get funded?

My parents were huge supporters of my passion, especially my mother. They helped fund me to start the business.

Did you use Tamkeen for any of their services?

We are considering using the staff support system. But honestly, we never had the chance to go through the paperwork.

What were some of the challenges you faced upon starting up?

I kickstarted Howayte as an online shop before opening an actual store. The biggest challenge back then was getting our name out in the market. However, I’ve realized that the longer you last through the test of time, the better the odds of you being known in the market. Slowly, we were able to build a community and increased the interest of people on playing tabletop games. Another huge challenge for me was juggling my time with managing the business, doing a corporate job and taking care of my daughter. Eventually, I took a leap of faith, quit my job after 10 years and focused on my business instead.

How easy was it finding the right staff?

It was not that hard looking for staff because I basically hire my customers. We offer part-time jobs based on hourly rates. Most of my customers are still in university and are always looking for a way to make extra money and eventually spend it at the store.

Considering that you’ve been a hobby enthusiast yourself, what do you think of the trend when it comes to this market in Bahrain so far?

Honestly, we are really happy to be part of the wave – meeting and educating people about hobbies and stuff. If you asked me 5 years back if this would pick up, I would say you are crazy. People are looking for social interaction in this digital age and we are happy to cater to that gap in the market.

Who has been the most influential person to your journey as an entrepreneur?

Definitely, my mother. She was the one who helped me set up the business and figure out how it should be done.

What is your biggest screw-up when it comes to your entrepreneurial journey?

Not investing in proper accounting systems. We had no accurate data on how much we made and how much we owed. Thankfully, we were able to grasp it now and have already managed to know our finances.

What is your favorite book?

‘Built to Sell’ by John Warrillow

Where would be your ideal vacation destination?

I love traveling to countries with nature, but since we are still in that start-up stage, I don’t party too early. But if I had to say, it would be Iceland.

Do you plan to start other businesses?

I believe in building a brand with multiple streams of income, but I am not a serial entrepreneur – I am a specialized entrepreneur. I know in the next 5 years, we will be somewhere else besides Bahrain. We have no plans on opening branches in Bahrain since we want everybody to be in one place enjoying their time.

What is it that motivates and drives you?

We have become the ‘third place to be’ in many people’s lives. They think about us when they aren’t home or at work. We are surrounded by people who share the same passion as we are. Also, I have left my job because I believe in this and its potential and that is what drives me the most.

What is your advice to young people who may not think that being an entrepreneur is a possibility for them?

Remove the mentality of “go big or go home”. Start small – minimize cost and build your audience. Start by using the tools available to you such as social media and forums
etc. Educate yourself by reading books. If you don’t have time to read, you have
time to listen. Audiobooks work wonders.

What do you think of print magazine in today’s digital age?

What I like about digital magazines is the convenience it provides such as easier access to the articles etc. Printed magazines, however, just like the card games and board games we sell at the store, offers that nostalgia feeling. I believe that printed magazine will stay in the long run and will still be sought after especially for memorabilia purposes.  

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