It was while on holiday in Dubai a few years ago that it dawned on Anna Skigin that there was a gap in the market for short-term home rentals. For the young entrepreneur it was a golden opportunity that saw her return to London, pack her bags and then make the move to Dubai to set up the property management company, Frank Porter, with her business partner.
A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY IN DUBAI
Born in St Petersburg and growing up in Canada, Anna took on a career in private banking before realising she wanted to do something a little different. An entrepreneur to the core, Anna’s career has seen her take on the fast-paced world of auction houses in the art world and then jump into the competitive restaurant business in London, but it was Dubai’s thriving real estate industry that really captured her entrepreneurial spirit.
“While on holiday in Dubai in 2016, we noticed that there were these beautiful properties that were just sitting empty and when we inquired why, we realised that the short-term option just wasn’t available,” said Anna, the co-founder and CEO. “Upon doing the research, that’s when we discovered that the law had recently changed to allow for short-term rentals. It was hard to ignore this golden opportunity and that’s when we decided to move to Dubai.”
“The planning took a few months out of Dubai and once we moved and launched Frank Porter in 2017 things quickly progressed. Those early first years, we didn’t know much about Dubai and we wanted to do everything from scratch and by ourselves instead of hiring people to take on certain processes for us. We quickly realised that in Dubai people usually don’t do that but for us it was a very hands-on approach. I can now say that we built this business from the ground-up to where it is today. I don’t think I could ever do that journey again,” she laughed.
One of Anna’s biggest takeaways while starting the business in a new country was the immense support and help that the Dubai government provided. “There’s a lot of help that comes your way because the government supports you. It was helpful to have that from the government to encourage these types of new ventures. Yes, of course there are challenges but there was also so much to learn, and yet that has all made the journey really interesting.”
BRINGING VALUE TO A CITY
Today, Frank Porter operates 750 properties in Dubai and has around 150 employees. It has also grown to incorporate three different companies under the umbrella of Frank Porter; a cleaning, maintenance and interior design company, which is all managed using the company’s own technology.
Looking at the Airbnb market, Anna says that Dubai has experienced tremendous growth in this space and argues that the Airbnb concept brings in more value to a city than its hotel counterpart.
“It is one of the highest growth markets for Airbnb globally. Today, Dubai has 22,000 listings while New York has 27,000, and Paris has 33,000. Dubai is really catching up and this type of short-term rentals are bringing in more value to a city because now you’re bringing in a different type of guest, guests who wouldn’t necessarily come here because of the unaffordable luxury hotels so what these short-term rentals do is attract a pool of clientele who typically wouldn’t travel here and then makes them stay longer because they can experience the city in a different way compared to hotel guests. It also means they’re spending on restaurants, buying groceries, going to different attractions and spending money within the city,” she said.
In the post-pandemic era, Anna has noticed that clients are also staying a lot longer than typical guests. Frank Porter has witnessed clients opting to stay for longer periods at a time, not just for a vacation, but also incorporating remote working in a new city.
Over the next two years, Anna says that Frank Porter will look at expanding into the markets of Abu Dhabi, Ras Al-Khaimah, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
BEING PART OF A CHANGING WORLD DESPITE THE CHALLENGES
For Anna, the last few years has been peppered with both its share of challenges and success stories. She is quick to point out that being taken seriously is one of the biggest challenges that she has faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
“When it comes to industries that are male-dominated, being treated as competent and being taken seriously is a major challenge. I would say, women need to fight for their respect while men automatically get it by walking into a room. This can be demotivating and unfair because women have to spend more time proving themselves on a constant basis whereas male competence is taken on face value,” she says.
However, Anna says that the best thing women can do is not to give up or get discouraged. “There are challenges and it isn’t fair but little by little things are changing and you as a woman are part of that change, and if anything, that should excite and motivate you. If you have a goal in mind you have to stick with it and tell yourself: I want to be here, and understand that the rest of it is just noise that you have to work through,” she says offering advice to young female professions.
“Young female professionals have to remember that if they want to be heard in meetings then they should also speak up and try not to be that mouse in the corner and understand that they should be vocal and present. They should also understand that the problem isn’t with them but they can do a little to begin to initiate changes in the boardroom and office,” she said.
Passionate about seeing the gender gap close, Anna says that meeting like-minded women at Cityscape’s recent WIRE event helped her understand that women across the business and real estate spectrum are going through similar experiences.
“It was so important to connect with women who are going through the same journey as you. It was also encouraging and inspiring to see at the recent Cityscape WIRE event that there is a network of women who are there to support each other, ask questions and offer advice,” said Anna.
It’s the reason why Anna believes in female mentorship. “I strongly believe in female mentors, it’s something I wish I had more of and it’s also something I’d like to provide. Women need to help other women, especially considering there are so few women in leadership positions. Female mentorship helps to feel encouraged and supported and allows us to make mistakes as we climb to top positions. While I haven’t had many female mentors, I try to be that for many of my female employees.”
Being a CEO doesn’t give Anna much free time but she admits that she enjoys meditative hobbies. “I love cooking, reading and doing yoga. I enjoy the meditative hobbies because it allows me time to reflect and remain quiet,” she says.