x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Money & Me: Step back to gain financial perspective

Monica Malhotra set up her own business in part to better manage her role as a mother.

Monica Malhotra set up her own business in part to better manage her role as a mother. Satish Kumar / The National
Monica Malhotra set up her own business in part to better manage her role as a mother. Satish Kumar / The National

Monica Malhotra is the managing director of Kidville, an early childhood development facility in Dubai. Mrs Malhotra, who was raised in the UAE before moving to the US to study and later work for international corporations, returned to the Emirates last year to launch her new business, a franchise of a US brand.

Describe your financial journey so far.

I grew up in Dubai in a family that placed a strong emphasis on working hard, taking risks and valuing what we had. My father was an accountant and my mother a homemaker. Growing up, I never felt I was deprived, but I was also not handed a silver platter. If I wanted to buy something, there had to be a pretty compelling reason why the purchase was necessary and I had to demonstrate how it was a good use of money. I had a small monthly allowance and learnt early on to budget because if I spent it in the first week, that was it until the next month. I learnt how to stretch the budget pretty quickly after a couple of disappointing months.

Are you a spender or a saver?

As a young college kid, I was a spender. I was 17 years old, living on my own, flying high on my new so-called "independence" and the riches my two campus jobs afforded me at the time. Now that I am older, a wife and a mother, I am more of a saver. I work hard and want to be able to show something for all that effort. So now I find myself saving towards a larger goal, such as a nice vacation with my family or my daughter's college fund.

What is your philosophy towards money?

At the most base level, money is an aid to leading a certain lifestyle; it's nice to have. I do not believe money should define who I am. My family, my work, my passion is what makes me the person I am.

What has been your most valuable financial lesson?

My mother would always say: "Do not be penny wise and pound-foolish." As a result, with any financial decision, I always take a step back and force myself to focus on the big picture, the real issues or needs before committing funds to a personal purchase or business venture. So far, I feel that saying has held me in good stead and I haven't made a purchase or investment that I regret.

Why did you decide to set up your own business?

I have always worked for large multinationals. When my daughter was born, I stayed at home to care for her and threw myself into learning how to be a mother. It was a fulfilling time, but the desire to get back to work was strong. I felt I couldn't go back to working the insane hours I used to and still feel like I was fulfilling my role as a mother properly, so the decision to set up something of my own was a natural step. I still work hard, but I set my hours in such a way that I can still be a hands-on mother.

Where did the idea for Kidville come from?

Kidville is a franchise of a brand that launched in New York in 2005 and now has 22 branches across the globe. Its programmes are created by early childhood development specialists with a focus on play and social skills. My daughter and I were customers in New York and I saw how she reacted to the classes. At that point, my husband was selling his children's entertainment company so it was a perfect opportunity to consider moving overseas and Dubai was a natural choice because I grew up here. We launched the UAE's first facility at JBR in Dubai in July last year and added two new facilities at Motorcity and Uptown Mirdif in June.

Have you experienced any financial difficulties along the way?

Sure, we made mistakes along the way. Our first location in JBR cost us a lot. When you are trying to create something so true to the original, costs mount up. Dubai does not naturally have a lot of the things we needed so we imported furniture, toys and everything in the classroom. That's an expensive commitment.

What has been your biggest financial challenge?

Setting up a business is no easy feat anywhere in the world. When I opened Kidville, the costs associated with setting up a company, obtaining the licences, real estate, fit out and hiring staff were significant. I have learnt a tremendous amount as a result and continuously strive for ways to be more efficient as I open new locations.

What do you like to invest in?

Things I believe in and am passionate about. I don't care if it is my idea or someone else's idea as long as I believe in the concept, like I believe in Kidville. I was a consumer and believed in it so much that we were willing to put our money and commitment behind it. Our daughter is two-and-a-half now, still goes to the classes and loves them. This is our biggest investment.