Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm Ahmed Ben Chaibah, currently known as Aquaman, the owner of Aqua Fun, the largest inflatable aqua park in the world. I design, produce, manage and operate Aqua Fun. Those are the things I mainly focus on these days. I am a 38-year-old Emirati National.
What does success mean to you?
There are two different talking points with regards to this question: success and happiness. For me, success is to be the best person. If I’m not the best person at what I do, will I still enjoy it?
I asked myself one day, what is the purpose of this business? It's creating happy memories, that's the core of it. For example, we had a visitor before who thanked and talked to me for half an hour because of his son, who's autistic and never been in the water before. They were able to have a bonding moment in the water park because his son is no longer afraid of the water. Seeing that smile etched onto people's faces and the positive energy in the park, with people thanking me for having an awesome time—that's success for me. It's more of an emotional thing. Yes, numbers are important. I was able to get it, but it's just a scoreboard. I learned early on in my life that it's not just money that matters. The experiences that we cherish, the beautiful moments that we remember—those are the things that really matter. Success, then, for me, is having inner peace, joy, happiness, as well as spiritual and candid enjoyment of the human experience.
How did the Aqua Fun concept come about?
I used to work with one of the biggest event companies in the Middle East. They told me that I had to leave, and they gave me a six-month salary to which I agreed. I used to be an athlete and a DJ at Creamfields, with all these big names in Emirates.
I was thinking back then that I'm educated, I have experience, but I am still wondering how to get a job. I went to 74 interviews, and none of the companies employed me.
One day, I was in the gym doing warm-up and I accidentally hurt myself. Everything I've been doing all these years was taken away from me. At that time, I couldn’t work as a DJ, I wasn’t able to do sports and I didn't have a job. I'm emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially broke. But I was thinking, do I want to cry about it, or do I need to recreate myself? And then I saw a video, like an incredible water-sports game—it was so cool. Maybe I should do that.
As soon as I recovered from my injury, I drove the first year, covering a mileage of 131,000 kilometres. I did 617 meetings, and everyone said no. Eventually, I found out why they were saying no: people are always amused by the end result but are afraid of the process. I love the process.
Eventually, I started with slides and yachts. I spoke to 2,000 yachts captains and owners. Literally, I knocked on their doors to ask. As soon as I got the information I needed, I sold 47 slides in a month. It was the first money I made. On the second try, I failed. I went bankrupt three, or maybe four times, and came back again. It's not about the number of times you're down. It's about the comebacks. For most people, they quit easily after the first or second failure. I made so much money and lost so much money. The genius thing I did was that I didn't quit.
What was your mission when you started out?
I just want to recreate myself for the better. This is totally foreign to me. There's nobody in my family who’s into business. There's nobody who can support me, or lead me, or mentor me. It was all me.
I used to be an athlete, I know how not to quit and how to process things. I used to be an event support manager so I have a grasp on systems. I just applied the principles I learned on those things which I don't have any experience yet, which of course is not enough.
Nobody prepares you when you run your own business, like for all the things that you need to deal with: clients, employees, sales, marketing, legal stuff, accounting and everything else. I think that this is something that is not simply learned in schools and universities, where I wasted a lot of money.
What advice would you give to a person who wants to follow a passion?
Following your passion is about creating precious moments. Don’t be stuck doing something that makes you miserable. You only have one life, why waste it into something you're not happy about? What do you want to do? Your happiness should be Number One. For a lot of people, happiness means money. That's not true. You could be making AED 200,000 a year, but you feel miserable. Someone once said, “the more money you have, the more problems you have.”
While I do agree that money is extremely important to have a certain lifestyle, happiness and contentment should come first. But it doesn’t mean that having money cannot give you a sense of fulfilment, because in some cases it really can. You need to work to that level of wealth you desire, nonetheless.
What strategies do you use to rewire?
I have had some bad days, but even the worst days become tipping points. They made me who I am now, and therefore, I would never change them. When I reflect on some of my lowest days, I know that is when my life changed for the better. I choose to be happy or sad - I have learned that I have a choice. I choose to have this day or moment to ruin or to be happy. The most important thing is how you react.
Everybody goes through stress, and general wiring is to freak out. We will have stressful times, but what matters most is your capacity to handle it. I think I've learned so much and I became so good at it. When a situation happens, I don't react right away. The first thing I do, which some might think is silly, is to breathe deeply. Just remember to breathe because it will help with reinforcing your blood flow. Otherwise, you’ll get tense, and you tend to react more impulsively. After calming myself, I will be able to judge the situation. Then I will be able to think about how I can handle it. Lastly, I'll act on it in the most reasonable and efficient way possible.
What lessons have you learned since you started out in business?
I’ve learned many lessons, but one thing sums it up: just be patient and never quit. Keep going until you get what you want. Did you get what you want? Did you get enough? If you answered no to these two questions, why stop?
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
You need to have positive and productive energy. You can be busy but not productive, and that's the most common mistake of people doing business. It's like you're on a treadmill and you keep on running, but you're going nowhere.
You have to think: what's the outcome? What's the return on investment? What did you do? Where did you go from Point A to B within a specific timeline? What is the budgeted cost? There should be no excuses.
Get support! Look for people that are in a position to support you in getting better at what you do. There are other people who are doing ten times bigger than my business, people who are smarter than me—but that's fine.
In one word, describe your life as an entrepreneur.
I’ll give two words—power and freedom. If you have freedom, you have the power to do whatever you want. When you have the freedom to do whatever you want, what’s the worst that can happen, you get an “L”? That’s getting a lesson, so that's okay.
Whenever there are customers who are giving us a very hard time and I accommodate their issues and complaints, telling them that I’m the owner usually helps.
Making other people happy also makes me feel powerful. When I was working as a DJ, I had the ability to make 30,000 people happy with the tip of my fingers. When we strive to put smiles on people's faces, that is where we can find our real power, and this is what I've been doing in AquaFun from the very start.
What are the key elements for running a successful business?
For me, it's about learning what my strengths and weaknesses are. I focus on my strengths and work on my weaknesses. I found out that I'm good at identifying those three years ago. I'm good at handling people, I'm good with the operations side of things, and I focus on that. My weaknesses are in accounting and with the legal aspect, but that's okay. I have an advisor, educator and accountant and they'll help me with things I'm not good at. They help me so that I can focus on things I enjoy.
Some entrepreneurs focus on their ego, and that's why they want to do everything by themselves. They'll create standards of their own. Find somebody who can help you. It's hard to do everything at the same time. For example, I will create a system with an operational model that someone else can follow. That’s my strength.
What motivates you?
I find that I am my biggest motivator. When I graduated, I bought a car, and I paid my university fees all by myself because I was working part-time jobs. I enjoyed it. I never wasted my money on parties and other unimportant things. Why would you do that? Where's the joy in that? They never made sense to me. What motivates me is the sense of accomplishment when I do things out of hard work and perseverance.
Who inspire you?
A lot of people inspire me by doing what they're doing. My mom inspires me by being a good, hardworking and generous person. I'm extremely genuine with people, and that's how people look at me. When I meet somebody, I really want to know who he or she is as a person. I met a guy before at the gym, and he was shocked as well that I was able to get information about him in just two minutes.
There are many people in sports who inspire me as well because they taught me how to fight and not quit in life. The people around me inspire me too because they gave me so many lessons to remember. Again, you have to remember that you're the only person who will write your own name. It's not about the variety and number of tools you have; rather, it’s about how you will use them.
What’s that one quote that you live by?
If you cannot afford a thing twice, then you cannot really afford it. The thing with buying something expensive or luxurious is that you shouldn’t go broke doing so.
What’s next? What’s the dream?
I don't dream; I have goals. There's a difference between having goals and having dreams. Dreams are abstract thoughts that reside in the mind. Goals are more systematic, and executing them include setting milestones, timelines and accountable things that will lead you to realise them. Having dreams is a good thing, but it is simply not enough.
My next step is to create bigger projects in different parts of the world. I'm also investing in other businesses to generate additional income. Even when the return is small, that's fine with me; it's still an income. That's what I'm doing right now.