Day in the life: Dubai entrepreneur in after-school specialty

Joanna Santillan, 30, is the founder of, an online portal she founded in April last year for UAE parents to search and book after-school activities for their children. Since then it has grown to cover the whole of the UAE, with a particular focus on Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Ms Santillan now plans to expand across the GCC. She has been living in Dubai for the past 10 years after moving from her native Philippines. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Lyceum in Manila.


My day starts with preparing my children for school. I have three kids – two girls ages nine and six, and my boy is one. I make lunch boxes for the older two and because they don’t go on the school bus, I drop them off at school. I have a maid who takes care of my youngest when I go to work.


I live five minutes away from the school, so when I drop the girls off, I return home and get ready for work.


I arrive in the office in Jebel Ali. Our main company, Searchfuse Marketing, is a digital marketing agency, and is part of Searchfuse. I do the day-to-day running of the company, but my main focus is


We have a staff briefing and look at where we are with the company’s development. We look at the sales and review the marketing, radio and print output.


This type of business is more about connecting with mothers, so I often meet mumpreneurs and bloggers in the morning. We also run coffee meetings and play dates and connect with them that way. Most mums just want services that make their life easier. The common problem is the bridge between service providers and parents. Our platform brings the two together. It is not just a website; it has a booking system and you can pay for the activities on the site as well.


We break for lunch. I’m trying to be healthy right now. Today, I have hummus and carrots.


I pick up my girls from school and take them back home. They take part in piano lessons during the afternoon and today they have choir. I also have a group of mums in the school who come and pick them up if I have a meeting. The idea for came about when I was looking for activities for my children on Google. I had to look at each website, make calls, compare them and book, and that’s when I thought there needs to be a single platform.


I return to the office and usually do a call with our operations team in the Philippines. The labour is cheaper, their English is good and they’re great multitaskers. They do the search engine optimisation and digital marketing side for the company and the social media, which is very important for us. We have 77,000 likes on Facebook and 25,000 parent subscriptions. We make sure that we send out five posts every day on each social platform and we are very active with online ads and blog posts. Mums really like our blog posts.


I leave the office and drive the 20 minutes it takes to reach my home in Dubai Investment Park. I then cook dinner – Filipino food of course – and afterwards sit with my girls to help them with their homework. According to their school it should only take 40 minutes. My in-laws are here and my mother in law helps me out and keeps me going. After story-time, my children go to bed at 8pm.


I sit down with a cup of tea and share with my husband, who is on the board of advisers for the company, what happened in the office to make sure we are on the right track. Our focus is to get more providers on board, we have 10,000 parents coming to the website every month to check it out. We are also looking at expanding to the GCC in the places where there are higher expatriate penetrations, but I would have to clone myself. Right now our main focus is Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.


I’m in bed, and that would be an early night.

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Triska Hamid

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