Shaista Aggarwal founded Made By Confetti — a UAE brand that crafts bespoke cake toppers, baking essentials and party decor — in 2019, after working in advertising.
Born in New Delhi, she studied in the US and Singapore before joining Ogilvy and Mather in Mumbai and then moving to Dubai with her husband 10 years ago.
Ms Aggarwal, 35, takes her entrepreneurial cue from her family. She and her husband, a fit-out contractor, live in Barsha South with their children, aged 6 and 8.
Did you grow up around money?
In India, a lot of men inherit their family business. My dad was not one of them, but he worked hard in his construction business. He had struggles, but never made us feel we were not going to get our next meal.
We were a small family and had everything we needed. We were told that happiness lies in your necessities, not luxuries. So, not everything was “available”, even if it was. Mum’s thing was always simple: “Let’s figure out if it’s a requirement or a luxury.”
What did you learn from this?
The priorities in life. My dad would tell me we’ve got to be careful with money. We needed to figure out how to get money in a creative way ourselves, because nothing is handed to us. I would listen to dad on the phone doing business deals, how he hustled daily because he’d be trying to provide for two kids.
How much did you earn in your first job?
When I was 19, I went to the US to do art college for my freshman year. I took up a part-time job. It paid just $6 an hour, but it was just for the experience, assisting a school professor.
I always had a fire in me to go out to work, to do what others do, being able to earn your own money and being independent. Coming from a very traditional family, that was a huge thing.
Why did you switch from advertising to being a business owner?
I wanted something of my own. We had kids so I didn’t have time to work for anyone, even within the family business.
I’m used to doing creative stuff and there was no outlet for me. I don’t want to do something nine-to-five, so I started creating stuff and getting requests in no time.
Here, there is a lack of high-quality custom-made products locally. A lot of my target audience is bakers and mums.
What is your spending outlook?
There is unnecessary spending and there is spending where you’re investing back into your business. I’m a very mindful spender; I have to really think it through — do we really need it or can something be achieved in a frugal way?
If something is required and it’s quality, I will make that purchase. My equipment for work is my best investment. These things are not cheap, they’re very technical machines.
Do you manage to save?
I’m responsible for staff. I need to make sure I’ve got enough so that I can pay them and for family expenses. Whatever we can, we save in savings accounts.
I will always be saving for a rainy day. That’s more firmly in place after the pandemic. If a family member is sick, how am I going to provide?
What is your financial milestone?
One of the biggest is being able to double my work set-up with a 1,500-square-foot office. That’s a huge financial step.
We’re looking at doing a lot of retail products online. There are a couple of products I want to do in the market, which help crafters.
What is your most cherished purchase?
My first pack of basic card material. It was not more than Dh50, but I thought to myself: “What can I do with it?” The idea was to see if this whole thing was going to be sustainable before I go and commit all this money.
That was the start of everything; I’ve done so much creative stuff from that and here’s where I am today. I didn’t know where it would take me. I created interesting stuff and went online. Instagram is a great part of how and what I’ve reached.
Has that brought a work-life balance?
Definitely. Being your own boss also means that you have creative freedom to do whatever you want. You can set your own rules, your own boundaries and have your own timings.
What’s your philosophy on money?
It’s not something that would equal happiness; for me, that’s the quality of relationships in my life and how other things are working. None of that matters whether you have money or not. Money is just something I use to pay bills. Everything needs money.
Is there something free that you value?
Listening to what your elders tell you … I learnt a lot from the experienced ones around me. They have something to share because of their struggles. I told myself early to listen if, out of 10 people, eight or nine are directing you towards something. There’s no cost in taking advice. Whether you take a risk after that, it’s up to you.
Do you share fiscal wisdom with your children?
Absolutely. It’s so important for them. They multiply and add stuff for me. They see I have to earn money on a daily basis, it’s not growing on trees. That’s how we can buy this or do that. They also help me buy from suppliers overseas.
Are there spending regrets in your life?
Everything is a learning. Everything makes you grow, so there is no regret at all, because everything has been a teaching experience.
There should be a reason for everything that I purchase. But if I made a purchase and it was just lying around, it teaches me not to blow money on it, even if it was just a pack of markers.
What are you happiest paying for?
My husband and I wake up at four o’clock and train [with a personal trainer] in the morning. This is a luxury that is a necessity as we have all designed our lives to be so lazy. We’re only growing older, we’ve got kids and responsibilities.
At the end of the day, if we can’t take care of ourselves, none of what we’re trying to achieve in life is headed anywhere. If you’re not going to make time for your health, you’re going to have to make time for your illnesses.
How has the pandemic affected you?
A lot of people lost jobs, they’re not able to do stuff for their kids. People would approach me and say: “How can you add a sparkle to a celebration?” They were trying out stuff for free.
I did a lot of that because I was going through a lot myself. To be able to add a little bit to people’s lives gave me the biggest amount of joy. I connected with many clients on many levels. A lot are amazing friends now and returning clients.
My figures went up probably 10 times after the Covid-19 lockdown and we are looking at solid expansion plans. We’re an online business, so there’s a lot of digital penetration in terms of social media.