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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Money & Me: 'I set up my first online venture at 14 to earn pocket money'  

Entrepreneur Sarah Jones, of Sprii.com, says the experience gave her a sense of independence she never wanted to give up

Sarah Jones set up the online exchange platform for parents, Sprii.com, in 2014. Photo: courtesy of Sarah Jones
Sarah Jones set up the online exchange platform for parents, Sprii.com, in 2014. Photo: courtesy of Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones realised she had a knack for making money at the age of 14, when she started selling clothes on eBay. Her first job, in the retail mergers and acquisitions team at global consultancy Deloitte, took her to Dubai, where she then left the corporate world to start the online shopping site for parents, Mini Exchange, in 2014. The company has evolved into a marketplace for mums, and was rebranded as Sprii.com in 2017. Ms Jones, 31, from the UK, is a self-confessed workaholic who claims her phone is never off. She lives in Downtown Dubai with her husband and eight-month-old daughter.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My father used to be a banker in the city. He hated getting a tube to work every day as well as the long hours and monotony of the job. So he became an entrepreneur, setting up a business at around the same age that I am now. This gave him huge flexibility. He never missed a sports match that we played, and he drove me to school every day. He obviously worked incredibly hard seven days a week, but because he had that flexibility, I always remember him being around. Money wasn't the driving factor for my father in his life, and it isn’t for me either.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

When I was 14, I started selling my own clothes on eBay and then drifted down the more commercial route of importing small containers of items from China and America. I realised that because things in America were more expensive in the UK, I thought I could buy these products and make some money by selling them. My parents thought I was slightly crazy, but definitely the dream was to become the CEO of eBay. I did not need pocket money from them because I was making at least £10 a week, and this gave me a sense of independence that I have not wanted to let go of since. Over the next four years, I managed to make about £10,000, which helped pay for my degree in economics. My first career job was at Deloitte, and after two years I moved to Dubai with them. But from day one, I was bored and unchallenged. I earned good money and could afford to buy nice handbags and dinners out, but I really had no interest in the job. One of the turning points was meeting a particular client whose business we were selling. She was so glamorous and had such presence when she entered the room, all I wanted to be was her PA. I realised that I actually don’t care if I can afford nice handbags – I wanted complete autonomy.

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Are you a spender or a saver?

Definitely a spender – much to my husband’s dismay. But we are not a frivolous family. For me, having daily satisfaction in what I do, good friends and family is the most important thing. Whether I can afford the latest handbag or shoes makes absolutely no difference. It’s ironic that you set up a business to make money for shareholders and ultimately for yourself, but most entrepreneurs aren’t driven by money. I don’t come to work every day because I want the money to be able to sit on a beach with a mocktail, I do it because I find it incredibly rewarding. When I had my daughter several months ago, my head of marketing turned around and said ‘you mustn’t come back to work within a week, it’s not normal.’ But by day seven I was back in the office. That’s not through any lack of love for her. I genuinely love my day job and the independence that money can bring, even though I have a very loving, supporting husband.

Have you ever had a month when you feared you couldn’t pay the bills?

I have a very supportive husband so I never thought I’d be on the streets, but I’ve had times when money was tight. When I left my job to set up my company, I had no salary for the first year. For the first time since I was 14, I was completely reliant on somebody else to pay for clothes, holidays and bills. That was definitely not a feeling I enjoyed and it last until we raised our first funding round.

What has been your biggest financial milestone?

Closing our first funding round in 2015. Suddenly we were able to hire staff, and that gave me freedom, to not have to be the person answering the customer service phone or doing the PR. It allowed us to get an office, and gave us stability.

What is your most cherished purchase?

Probably the business. All my money when I started out went into it. Apart from that, it would be our home. We bought a lovely apartment in Downtown Dubai four years ago. I really appreciate having somewhere to go home to, with no landlord to deliver a three-month notice to kick me out. That provides security for me. I’m a homely person who likes to cook meals in with my husband and daughter. Being able to call Dubai my home has made me feel very settled here.

What has been your best investment?

People. I’ve thought this all along but now I can see even more clearly. I still have people in the business who are paid more than me, and writing those cheques is a scary jump to take. But surrounding myself with people who are absolutely exceptional in their field makes me feel very comfortable on a daily basis.

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Do you have any financial regrets?

I set up the business when I was 26, and although I am entrepreneurial, I did not have experience in ecommerce. I regret trying to do too much myself, which leads to huge stress and uncertainty and a lack of confidence in some areas. If I had hired somebody very senior and allowed them to build their team below them, then we would have got to where we are today in a much shorter amount of time. Should I ever set up another venture in the future, I’d prioritise hiring the top global talent within the arena.

What luxuries are important for you?

Making sure we have nannies so I know that my daughter is being looked after in a lovely way, and I don’t have to rush home to do housework. I can instead spend that quality time at home with my daughter. I think that’s one of the luxuries of living in the UAE that you don’t get in the western world, and we are incredibly fortunate to have that.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

More debit card, as I like to live within my needs. Sometimes the UAE can feel like a fantasyland, with beautiful beaches and sunshine everyday. Its very easy to fall into the trap of seeing cash like monopoly money, not necessarily because you have a lot, but because you lose sight of how much things cost compared to where you come from. I know what I earn and what I can afford, so I try to stay away from credit cards.

What would you raid your savings account for?

A holiday is the only thing I’d dip into it for. I’d love to spend 10 days travelling round the United States. But it’s always a challenge to go away for more than a week, because there’s so much going on when you’re running a business.

Do you plan for the future?

Definitely. I’m always thinking about where I’d like to live in the future – mulling over whether I want to live in Dubai or the UK, how we would be able to afford that, and where my daughter could go to school. The fact that my husband has a financial background as well means we’re both long-term planners and we work very hard to be able to provide a stable future for our family.