Money and me: Former professional golfer who raised the barre in Dubai

Dance studio owner learnt a big financial lesson early on in his career after his first business venture went south and he racked up Dh500,000 in debt.

James Castro, a former professional golfer, changed careers and now works in dance. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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James Castro is the co-founder of James & Alex Dance Studios, one of the biggest dance schools in Dubai. The UK-born, 36-year-old entrepreneur is a former professional golfer who followed his passion into dance.

Describe your financial journey so far?

I was a golf professional and was looking for a job abroad and my only criteria was that it had to be a hot place. Dubai was the first place to offer me a job in golf course management. Basically I came here in a very junior position. I was aged around 20 and everything was on track; I had my career mapped out, and then I decided I wanted a change and decided to set up my own venture. But it was bad decision making, and I was too young. I lost a fortune – leaving myself half a million dirhams in debt – after setting up a sports retail company, and I spent the next five years paying it off and living off nothing in a very expensive city. I worked in real estate to survive and took up a job teaching salsa. When the crisis hit, our classes did so well that I was able to start teaching dance full time. I managed to put enough money on one side to put into the business, and I am now in the process of setting up a second.

Are you a spender or saver?

I put all my money into investing in my business.

What is your philosophy towards money?

I certainly want a nice lifestyle, and that motivates me to do better to attain that lifestyle. I know what I want in life and I know where I want to be and everything I do is working towards that goal of being successful. I am definitely very careful and learnt that not having money is such a horrible position to be in.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

Yes. Definitely a lot of it revolves around the first company I set up, the sports retail venture. I have made mistakes since but very minor ones and nothing that I regret. But definitely in my first company I made all the mistakes: Taking the wrong advice from people; not having the right sponsors; leaving my job and starting my company. If you do not have a massive investment or capital you should start it on the side and once the income comes in, then you start doing it full time. Starting a business without experience, and all the costs associated with it, it all mounts up.

If you won Dh1 million what would you do with it?

Invest. Probably either in what I’m currently doing or property. I definitely believe for the long term, investment in property is a good one to make.

What has been your best investment?

Probably this business so far. It was definitely a great decision.

Do you plan for the future?

I am trying to. When I was 18, I had my life set out in front of me and knew what I wanted. But when I lost the first company, I got behind, I was in my 30s with a lot of debt. Now I am coming out of debt but without savings and it’s not easy to save. I have had to take a few risks – calculated risks – to save for the future. So that means building the company, setting up a second, so that I can start a family and survive for the long term and then ultimately move into property in the next three years.

What do you enjoy spending money on?

I am into photography, so I like buying equipment. I don’t like spending money on things that aren’t tangible. I want something that I can keep – to feel that I have spent well and can use going forward. I feel bad when I spend money at a restaurant knowing that I won’t see it again.

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