Amber Rashid is the managing partner of Zebra Crossing, a children's indoor entertainment centre opening in Dubai this month. The Pakistani entrepreneur trained as a doctor before taking an MBA, setting up a medical services business and later, a beauty company.
Describe your financial journey so far.
In Pakistan, there is a big rich-poor divide and my parents were quite well-off, so life has been comfortable for me and I can't say I struggled when I was growing up. I've had a good education and went to the most prestigious and expensive medical school in Pakistan. When my dad was growing up, he was not as well off, but he funded his own studies in the US and set up his own business, which has been quite successful. Because of his upbringing, he has always been very particular about money. Even now, his accounting has to be perfect and he has a better knowledge of my assets in Pakistan than I do. He wanted me to get an MBA and initially I went to business school, but I was passionate about medicine; it was something I had wanted to do since I was a kid. I worked in New York and later London, but the opportunities weren't there in London. I was a senior doctor, but was expected to work at a junior level and I didn't want to work with people who were less qualified than I was. It didn't make sense.
Why did you decide to leave medicine?
It was very frustrating not being able to find a job as a doctor, so after struggling for a couple of years, I decided to do an MBA. Then I set up a school to help foreign medical graduates take their exams and secure interviews to get into the system. My second business was a beauty-services business, which is still running. I haven't regretted leaving medicine. I enjoy setting up a business; it's fantastic the way things start gelling together.
Why did you decide to open a children's play centre?
My husband is a banker and we moved to Dubai in 2007, where I met my business partner at a nursery because we have children the same age. Both of us find it difficult to find a good entertainment space for our children - I have three, aged nine, six and three - at the weekends. It's an idea we've been toying with for almost four years. In May last year, we sat down and decided that this was what we really wanted to do. It's a children's entertainment area and we cater to toddlers and children up to the age of 11. There's a jungle gym with slides, a laser arena with shooting games, a large video arcade, arts and crafts and a cafe, party rooms and a spa.
What has been your biggest financial challenge?
The learning curve we've had to go through to set up a business here. We're spending almost twice our initial budget. Dubai is an expensive rental market and we had to go way above our budget for a premium location like Sheikh Zayed Road. It's also taken us a very long time to find the right people and to understand how Dubai regulations work. Our next venture should be smoother, but this one has taken a lot of time and each day is extra rental costs.
Have you experienced any financial difficulties?
The beauty business I have in London was a big struggle. We started in 2005 and now have six branches, but it was very difficult at first. We were working without a salary, all hours of the day and night and giving out flyers because we couldn't afford to hire anyone.
Are you a spender or a saver?
If you ask my husband, he would say I save in jewellery and clothes, but I like spending on luxury items and nice holidays. We're going to China in the summer and went to Kenya and Zambia last year. I have never been in debt, pay my credit-card bills every month and had the savings to put it into the business.
What do you like to invest in?
In art. I love beautiful things and have some very nice pieces. I love South East Asian art and bought them here, in London and in Pakistan at auction. There are a few artists I love that have become extremely expensive, but there are some things you just have to buy. I don't know if it's an investment because I'm not sure if I could re- sell them, but I might if I needed money for my kids' education.
What has been your biggest financial lesson?
The property crash in Dubai. It was a nightmare for us. We moved to Dubai when it was booming and both my husband and I invested heavily. We've sold them now for less than half of what we spent, but it's not the first time we've suffered. In the dotcom crash of 2000, I watched three years of savings collapse to 10 per cent. I guess you don't always learn from your lessons, but I think that Zebra Crossing is the way for me now. My partner and I have put our hearts into it; it's all we've done for the past six months, from 8am to 9pm, with our kids coming there from school. This is our baby and we have a lot of hopes for it.