x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Money & Me: Entrepreneur finds her sweet spot

Wielding an MBA and finishing up a masters in chocolate-making, Holly Grattan is the founder of Xocolart, an events company that hosts corporte workshops.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Aug 1: Holly Gratten from Xocolart at the Address hotel in Dubai Marina in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Personal Finance. Story by Alice
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Aug 1: Holly Gratten from Xocolart at the Address hotel in Dubai Marina in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Personal Finance. Story by Alice

Holly Grattan is the founder of Xocolart, a chocolate catering and events company that hosts corporate workshops and team bonding sessions centred on chocolate. Mrs Grattan, who set up her business in June this year, moved to Dubai from the UK 14 years ago to work in human resources and training.

Describe your financial journey so far.

I come from a working-class family that was very frugal about the way they lived their lives. My grandfather was a construction worker who had his own building trading business and my father ran his own company doing exhibition design. I hope I got my entrepreneurial spirit from them. My grandad was someone I really looked up to; he came from East London, fought during the Second World War and then set up his business.

Why did you decide to set up your own business?

I've always worked in HR and training, but when I had my first son, who is now eight, I did an MBA. And after my second son - now three - was born, I took a chocolate-making course. I then decided to put my new HR background and chocolate skills together and that's how I came up with Xocolart. I'm now working on my masters in chocolate from the Ecole Chocolat in Switzerland, which I will complete in October. I previously set up Alpha Tots, an edutainment class for mothers and children that I ran for four years from 2004 to 2008, but I always wanted to do something more along the lines of what I had learnt in my MBA.

How do you incorporate chocolate into a team-building day?

We work with the organisation to create a tailor-made programme based on their corporate objectives. So if, for example, a company wants to create better cohesion in their team, we design a programme that's all about creating a signature box of chocolates for a target market that is dependent on the company's objectives as well. The team will then learn how to make the chocolates following a demo by us and make a presentation about the product that takes the pricing and budgeting into account as well. We also produce branded chocolates and cupcakes for corporate and private events and if we do a corporate funday, we will either run a chocolate-making workshop or a tasting session, where the team can taste lots of different brands with up to 100 per cent cocoa content.

What has been your most valuable financial lesson?

My grandfather used to say: "Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves." As a young child, I had my little piggy bank in my bedroom and everything I earned from my part-time jobs went into it. I always had several jobs on the go, whether it was sweeping up hair in a salon or working in a burger bar, the local supermarket or the garden centre. I loved getting out there and earning my own money. My parents were strict in that they wouldn't just buy us anything we wanted, but we could work towards getting something by doing chores for pocket money. My brother used to wash the cars and I used to help my mum with the ironing. I didn't get the money if I hadn't completed the job, so it taught me early on that you had to work for the money you earn.

What do you like to invest in?

I want to invest in my children and a good education for them and we are looking at a new savings plan to support our children through university. The costs seem to be going up and we don't want our children to start their lives with a huge amount of debt. I also feel quite strongly about investing in property both here and in the UK. But for now, I want to spend my time investing in the company. I feel quietly confident that it will work and feel there is a lot of potential in the product we have.

What financial advice would you give your children?

Since I've started this company, my eldest son has set up his own juice business. He'll make orange juice and take it down to the park and try to shift it for Dh10 a cup. I have helped him by teaching him about buying the products, adding a mark-up and explaining how much time it takes to run the business and working that into the cost. Last year, he did a similar thing with cookies and he's having so much fun doing it.

What is your philosophy towards money?

If I'm honest with myself, I'm extremely money driven and always have been, but it's not the only thing in my life. I'm also driven by what is good for my family and being a good mum. I'm quite a good time manager and I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't have enough time to spend with my children. I tend to work really hard when I have a specific job on, but then set aside time to spend the whole day with my children.