Despite his success, serial entrepreneur Vinayak Mahtani says he is 'bad with cash' and relies on his wife to give him a weekly spending allowance
Money & Me: 'I’ve set up seven businesses and all have crossed the $1m mark'
Vinayak Mahtani is a serial entrepreneur who ran a footwear retail chain with 35 stores in India before moving to Dubai six years ago. The Indian father-of-two, 39, is now a co founder and chief executive of Unique Precise International, a one-stop solution company for the Hospitality Industry that’s based in Jumeirah. In 2013, he set up the holiday homes management company bnbme, managing properties on behalf of owners and marketing them on short-term rental websites. For the past two years, Mr Mahtani has been putting his entrepreneurial acumen to good use as the accelerator chair for the Dubai chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO), a global non-profit network of business owners that currently has 94 members in the UAE. Mr Mahtani lives in Victory Heights in Dubai with his wife and two children, a son, 13 and daughter, 8.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I was born in Mumbai, but as a child I lived in Manchester in the UK for six years, then in Dusseldorf in Germany. My father had several businesses, with 20,000 employees at one point. I grew up in a very affluent environment and money was never a point of discussion. I never thought about money. I didn’t have an allowance, it was just a case of whatever I needed I’d ask for and then spend it.
How much did you get paid for your first job?
My father’s core business was supplying shoes to all the retailers globally. One summer when I was 16, he got me a job in one of the largest footwear stores in Dusseldorf. I had to work there for four weeks if I wanted to go on vacation with my friends. I showed up at 8am in a suit, and was told to clean toilets and sweep floors. That’s how every new intern was treated, and I was no different. I’ve always had a sales mentality, so I just wanted to get the cleaning out of the way as quickly as I could so I could get on the shop floor and start selling shoes. I got paid 8 Deutschmarks (Dh18) an hour, which was a lot of money then for a boy of my age.
Were you expected to take over your father’s business?
Pretty much. Both my mother and father’s families are all entrepreneurs, and I’ve never heard a family discussion about working for someone else. After studying footwear technology at a college in Leicester, I started up two companies in India, QTS and QIS. We were the middlemen for people from Europe buying products from factories in India. Unfortunately, when the internet came along, the need for a middleman disappeared and our services weren’t required anymore. QIS lasted about four years and QTS lasted for two years
Was that a hard lesson to learn financially?
No, I actually made money from those companies. When business started to go down, I just wound them up and that’s when I went back to university and studied International Business and Finance at Richmond, the American University in London. I felt I needed more of an education in order to run my businesses better.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
Buy an asset instead of splurging. Whilst I was studying in London, I was earning £1,500 a week as a nightclub promoter and a financial advisor in an IT start up. But I was just blowing off money on parties, fashion and cars. I wish that I’d bought a house and made investments in equities, gold, something like that back then. Even so, I don’t have financial regrets, because I’m so mentally and emotionally detached from money.
Have you ever had a month when you feared that you could not pay the bills?
Every month since I was 18. I love pushing myself to the limits. I’m very bad with cash. When I was young, I wasted a lot of money on holidays and parties, but I got tired of that kind of life. I moved to New Delhi with my wife and baby and set up a retail footwear chain of 35 stores. But I wasn’t comfortable living in India as I was missing the basic luxuries of the Western world, so I sold the business. My wife didn’t want to move to Europe or America, so we settled for Dubai instead.
What has been your biggest financial milestone?
Probably buying my own house in Victory Heights. It’s very important to me to have a nice home where my family can enjoy spending time together.
What has been your best investment?
Investing in my kids, so they take care of my wife and I when we get older. I’ve taken a lot of educational courses, and they’re good investments from a business perspective. Last year I did a course at London Business School, and last month at Wharton Business School. From a personal perspective, it’s the time spent with my kids. The family dinners and vacations are very special.
What is your philosophy towards money?
It sounds strange, but I’m not attached to money at all. In my career, I’ve set up seven businesses and every one of them has crossed over the $1m mark. As accelerator chair for the Entrepreneurs Organisation, helping young businesses get on their feet, get to a million dollars and push them on further is what really excites me, not the idea of making money for myself. We’ve had six companies in the last year that have crossed the million barrier. To know that I’ve had an influence in helping them reach that stage makes me proud.
What drives that excitement behind the $1m mark?
Once you get over that point, the chances of companies surviving and growing are much larger. I like the fact that I’m making a difference to the world. For example, one business that crossed the million-dollar mark last year, Hale Education, helps kids get into university. This year, they’ve helped Emirati kids in Dubai get into Harvard with scholarships. To know that I’ve played a part in helping that business reach that point is a phenomenal feeling.
Do you get more pleasure out of making money for other people?
That’s actually my biggest problem. My biggest weakness is that I don’t run a business to make money. It’s about doing something right, creating something and solving a problem. Money is a by-product of it. I’m more empathetic and emotional in my decision-making than profit-orientated.
How much do you have in your wallet right now?
I never have any money on me. My wife Shilpa controls all my finances. She gives me an allowance every week, depending on what I want. If I need money, I go to her and say ‘please transfer this much money to my debit card'. And rightly so, because she’s much more sensible with money than me.
Do you use a financial adviser?
I have a close friend who helps me. I want to make sure I have enough money for my kids to go to a good university, without being worried about whether the business is doing well or not. Because I’m an entrepreneur, I don’t have a monthly paycheck coming in, so I need to make sure I’m saving enough for that. I also pay someone to tell me where to put money in so Shilpa and I have enough to live off when we retire. I’d like to retire to Los Angeles. It’s where Shilpa and I went for our honeymoon and it’s our soul city.
What do you like to splash out on?
We spend a lot of money on good food. Shilpa loves expensive Japanese food so we eat that quite a bit. We don’t really look at how much a meal costs, we go with what our desires are.
Do you educate your children in financial literacy?
Every summer, I have a conversation with my son, who is just turning 13, and my daughter, who is 8, about their aspirations. Three years ago my son wanted an iPhone and I said you have to earn it. He had to do two Sudoku puzzles and one crossword every day for three months for that phone. He now does chores around the house for money to buy video games. My daughter currently wants a dolls house and to achieve that, she has to write a book report for me every morning.