Money & Me: Helpling Middle East founder’s entrepreneurial spirit started at 15
Manar Alkassar, 27, is the founder of Helpling Middle East, an online platform for booking cleaners. The German of Arab origin previously worked for an IT security start-up in Germany and launched his first entrepreneurial venture at 16.
Describe your financial journey so far.
I have been entrepreneurial from my early years. I was fortunate that my family gave me a financial education early on, and I have always tried to be financially independent. At the age of 15, I came across a huge overstock of 400 computer network cards that were sold in bulk for €500 (Dh2,023). Seeing the opportunity, I bundled the cards with a software and sold them. I needed a backer though, so my brother, who liked the idea, became my first investor. I sold the cards individually, along with the software, for an average of €20, which led to a decent profit and a thrilled investor. Afterwards I realised my negotiation skills of the profit split should have been better. Ever since, I have been looking for different opportunities to invest in and sustain profitability, whether through small projects like my early venture or through running businesses and making them grow.
Are you a spender or saver?
It’s not easy to find the right balance between spending and saving. I have a helpful way to prevent overspending and to do good at the same time – which is especially valuable during Ramadan. Whenever I spend on personal indulgences (iPod, watches, phone), I donate half the amount to charity. During Ramadan I donate the full amount. This helps me stay balanced, in touch with reality and grateful for the life I have. Separately, I ensure I spend money that I have in hand rather than live beyond my means.
What is your philosophy towards money?
Money makes you happier to a certain degree and gives you security. I have had times with very limited finances – like during university – but was no less happy than during my financially better times. My mother always reminded us of this famous Arabic proverb – stretch your legs as far as your blanket extends. Following this belief, we avoid getting into debt and thus retain mental happiness. My university years showed me how to be creative with limited resources. I could not afford expensive holidays, so my friends and I would make a US$60 blind-booking on a flight to a surprise destination and simply enjoy whatever came our way. Those were some of the cheapest and best holidays I’ve ever had.
Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?
You won’t learn until you make mistakes. It hurts, but it is vital and essential.
If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?
I would buy a little house close to my home city in Germany, which I fell in love with a couple of years ago.
What has been your best investment?
Surprisingly, Bitcoins have been the worst and also the best. Best because I believed in the new technology and made a decent profit, but I also lost some money during the process when I wasn’t careful about the risks that come with new technologies. Eventually, I think you have to believe in an investment – not just from a monetary perspective but also that it will improve things. You have to really believe in the product, company or service you are investing in.
Do you plan for the future?
A valuable thing I learnt from my brother is to always put money away for a rainy day, even in tough times. I ideally put 20 per cent of my income and profit out of reach in savings.
What do you enjoy spending money on?
I believe in spending on experiences rather than things. While many think physical things make us happy, memories and experiences last longer. The memory and happiness of a great trip, an amazing outdoor experience or a new skill will never vanish. Experiences become a part of ourselves, while the happiness of physical goods just accompanies us and evaporate with time. I particularly enjoy spending on travelling and food – ideally both combined.
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