US-raised Indian entrepreneur Nisha Ramisetty is co-founder of Naksha Collections, a Dubai start-up creating travel-inspired gourmet meal kits.
Launched last November with business partner Sam Williams at home during pandemic restrictions, Naksha – which is Sanskrit for map – works with overseas chefs and artists. The start-up won a place in the Spinneys Local Business Incubator programme, retails in more than 40 UAE stores and is scaling internationally.
Chief executive Ms Ramisetty, 32, was previously a director and head of content at an exhibition centre, having first worked at Goldman Sachs. She moved to Dubai 11 years ago and lives in Dubai Hills Estate.
Did childhood influence your money attitudes?
I was born in Hyderabad, India, and moved to the US when I was three. I come from a fairly upper middle class Indian family where education, career and travel are huge priorities.
My mum’s a single parent and when we moved, she was doing her second masters. I had never absorbed the concept of money before, so that consciousness and understanding the value (while in the US) framed who I am today. We experienced the fun luxuries of living in the US as well. I moved back to India when I was 12, a crazy change again.
Did you make money growing up?
Every American kid has a lemonade stand outside the house. My mum made freshly squeezed lemonade, so I learnt the value of having to do things with your hands. It was probably 50 cents (a cup). I used to put it away in my piggy bank. I got pocket money from my mum, but if I wanted anything extra I would save. Saving is high priority for our family. Wherever we were, those values were around me.
Was finance part of your first job?
I interned in three different sectors – advertising, a newspaper and a bank – because I wanted to understand, figure out what is interesting. I can’t say it paid very much, probably enough for petrol and food. But at that point of time, how much was not necessarily important as I was able to learn so much.
I graduated in 2009 and worked at Goldman Sachs in India as a prime brokerage analyst.
What brought you to the UAE?
I came for a holiday or some event and it just clicked. I can be close to family and I got a job quickly with an oil and gas consultancy. They gave me the opportunity to move to Panama for about six months. This was maybe the first taste of having more than I needed because I was 21, getting my accommodation paid for, plus my salary. I realised: “Okay, I can start doing interesting things with money”, start planning, saving, thinking about property.
How did Naksha happen?
I introspected a lot during Covid-19, thought about what I really wanted. I wanted financial freedom. I didn’t want to be linked to a job that I’m dependent on for what I need to do with my life. We had an idea during lockdown to create gourmet recipe kits that allow people to “travel” to these destinations through food; the concept tries to encompass art, culture and lifestyle.
We used to travel almost every month previously. I had a little black book and whenever I found a restaurant or something I really liked, I’d write it down, try to meet the chef. We started using the book as a way to recreate some holidays and contacted the chefs, recreated recipes.
Do your collaborators benefit financially?
The packaging is hand drawn by local artists from those countries. We pay them for the art as well as a royalty for every kit sold. We wanted people to tap into that whole ecosystem, potentially travelling there at some point, exploring other parts of the culture besides the food.
How was it leaving a full-time salary?
It is hard to leave a stable job. I was working with a government entity by then. A lot of friends were going: “Are you crazy, you drive a nice car, bought your own flat, you’ve bought your mum another flat, why would you be risking all of that?” But I want to be fully independent, build something and possibly grow more fulfilment personally and financially.
We pitched to Spinneys. We weren’t yet a start-up, it was just an idea and we won a place. It gave us the confidence to launch, invest our own money knowing there is already a large-scale retail buyer for our products. I would focus on this full-time and my partner would continue his full-time job in London. When you start a business, you don’t pay yourself basically but I’m in it for the long term.
How do you grow your wealth?
I have developed a very balanced approach to my finances. I’ve been putting money away from a very young age. I enjoy investing, finding opportunities that have potential for high returns, but are solid, restructuring where required. I come from the finance industry, so I’ve been able to invest in everything from hedge funds to cryptocurrencies and property. I have an apartment in Dubai, property in India and land in Sri Lanka. I’ve invested in a bridge funding round with a robotics start-up, which has grown six times.
Is a balanced portfolio important?
Yes. As I am getting older, I’m very consciously trying to build multiple streams of income, some passive, some active. I’m constantly educating myself. It is important to make your money sweat, but if you leave it in your bank account, that’s not going to happen. I’m always looking for interesting, but not necessarily always risky, opportunities.
What is your most cherished purchase?
An antique chest I bought in Sharjah. It is Indian and reminds me of my perspective on life. It brings my home alive and is a connection to India.
Do you have a money philosophy?
If you don’t have money, it’s something that makes you unhappy. But I don’t think having more of it necessarily increases happiness by that incremental value. Money, for me, means a certain level of comfort. It has allowed me to follow a passion, to build a business. Money is necessary to do the things we want to do in life. I find money interesting, but just having a stash of it doesn’t necessarily provide the pleasure. It is how money is utilised.
Are you wise with money?
I hope so. I’m constantly watching videos, reading about it, how people manage their money. I hope I get wiser with age and keep learning more.
I’m actually quite fluid and free thinking, so I don’t do Excel sheets of my (personal) spending every month. I want to live my life. I’m super close to my mum and she manages our assets in India, I manage stuff outside India and we do a lot of stuff together. We’ve got a spreadsheet tracking everything. We are trying to give to charity as well.
Have you adjusted your spending habits?
Because we don’t take money out of the business, I’m really careful about spending. With Covid-19, going out and eating has reduced massively. When you look at how much you spend, it is a lot. Do I regret it? No, because it was a lifestyle choice. But since the business, I’ve changed my spending habits. I’m not over frugal, but you have to rationalise: “Okay, do I really need that?”
Is there a retirement roadmap?
The entrepreneurship bug has bitten me … I don't think Naksha will be the only business I start. In terms of making sure finances are planned for the future, my funds and assets, hopefully, will continue to grow. I don’t have a want to retire. If I was working for a company, maybe I would, by the time I am 45. The concept is very different in my head now.