Sandeep Shetty, 47, is chief executive of NorthLadder, an online marketplace for pre-owned electronic items, and was previously managing director at Careem, the region’s leading mobility company.
Prior to that, he helped launch an Emirates NBD bank subsidiary and spent 10 years in leadership roles across GE Capital/Genpact and McKinsey & Company in India, the US and the Middle East.
Born in India, Mr Shetty has been in the UAE for 13 years and lives with his wife and children, aged 16 and 12, in The Meadows, Dubai.
Was there wealth in your upbringing?
I grew up in Mumbai and had a secure and happy childhood. We had a modest lifestyle, but never felt it because we lived among people who also led a simple life. Going to a restaurant was a novelty.
I only realised once I started college, interacting with people from different socio-economic backgrounds, that I didn’t come from a well-off background. I had no pocket money. I had to ask my parents for every penny I spent.
My mother was a housewife and father used to work for the Tata Group. I had an opportunity to interact with his peers and seniors in the work environment and that had a big influence. I was serious about my goals at a very early age.
Did that lead to a good salary?
Education was a passport to a secure job. You either became an engineer or a doctor. I was good academically and studied engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology and have an MBA degree from the Indian Institute of Management.
My first job with HSBC as strategy manager paid 30,000 rupees (Dh1,482) per month in 1999, a very fancy salary 22 years ago, with accommodation in South Bombay, car allowance, liberal personal loans at low interest rates and an allowance to buy a computer. I felt like I had won the lottery. Because of that education, having had such a jumpstart early on in my career, I skipped a few levels.
Did you stay grounded?
The jump was astronomical, from depending on parents while in college to earning a fancy salary. I never had to struggle financially once I started working.
I valued advice I received from my parents. I’ve seen how they lived well within their means. If they earned 100 rupees, they’d spend 50 rupees. I’ve kept that philosophy, irrespective of how much I was earning. Between the age of 24 and 30, I had a tendency to splurge, but never went overboard. I was always measured.
Why join a start-up?
A lot of success in life is attributed to timing, which you may or may not control. My timing was right.
I joined Careem in 2017. Two years later, we sold to Uber (for $3.1 billion), so [it was] a great outcome. I had a lot of stock options and cashed out in 2020 when the transaction completed. A lot of us joined to build Careem, so it was natural to go into our next adventure.
I was in discussions with large companies in the region and outside, but then chanced upon this early stage start-up. I negotiated that I join NorthLadder as chief executive and co-founder and scale up the business.
It’s not only for the money, it’s also for the excitement of building something that is innovative and can become a global business.
Did Careem’s exit make you rich?
Careem’s exit gave me the financial freedom to not be dependent on a stable income and to take more risks in my career. I initially thought I’d take a break and travel. Of course, Covid-19 hit and I had to put my plans on hold. I realised within two months [that] it’s impossible for me to not do anything.
Financial freedom has allowed me to choose what I want to do going forward. When I joined Careem, there was so much happening in the tech world [that] I wanted to be part of it; joining was more of an excitement and financial outcome decision. My motivation after Careem was very different.
Have your spending habits evolved?
I’m extremely prudent in our spending, managing expenses within a lower salary. My lifestyle is in line with what my income was maybe eight to 10 years ago.
The only big expense was the house we bought, which also turned out to be a good investment.
We live well within our means so we don’t have to worry about digging into savings.
How do you grow your wealth?
I invest across a number of start-ups and in stock markets in the US and India. I have professionals who manage the funds.
I’ve a mix of real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and more sophisticated structured products. I have three properties in India, one in Dubai, but I’m slowly getting out of real estate because it’s not a very liquid asset.
I’ve kept money aside for my kids’ education and for post-retirement. Everything else … I like to be more aggressive in my approach. I believe we’re just at the beginning of massive global tech disruption and there’ll be a lot of valuable companies. I understand the space and have an advantage of being well-networked.
Could NorthLadder become huge, too?
There’s a lot of tailwind for this business globally. People have devices at home which, if we don’t do anything with them, end up in landfill. People are conscious of environmental sustainability, the circular economy. We are encouraging that. We want to make the selling of devices super easy, convenient and value adding.
Do you have a cherished purchase?
The house where we live. I never lived in any homes I invested in, but I feel this is my own and take care of it. I have a sense of belonging. That’s easily the most expensive, most cherished material possession. Other than that, I donate to charity back home. That gives a different kind of joy and I would like to do more of it in the future.
Any key financial milestones?
The risks I’ve taken in my career. The best was the McKinsey decision. I was in the US, 31, already a vice president earning a good salary, my daughter was about to be born; I took a hard call to leave a secure life and start from scratch in Dubai.
I’ve done this multiple times … taken 20 per cent to 30 per cent pay cuts and started on a different trajectory. I left McKinsey to start a company for Emirates NBD.
When I joined Careem, I took a pay cut. I convinced my wife because of the stock options. After that paid off, my risk appetite increased.
Does money make you happy?
I acquired this newfound wealth 18 months ago and my lifestyle hasn’t changed much since. I don’t fancy a better car or house.
Money has given a lot of happiness, not because of material stuff I could buy, but because it has given financial freedom. That’s the greatest gift.
I’ve always dreamt of a one-year sabbatical, taking a motorbike and driving up the Himalayas. This was a pipe dream, but someday I hope to do it without worrying.
Is sharing fiscal wisdom with children important?
Growing up in a city like Dubai, kids are spoiled, they see a very artificial environment. We don’t want them to grow up with an impression this is how easy life is. They will get into hardships at some point and need to be mentally prepared.
If we go shopping, we would ask them to search for deals online. We don’t go to fancy restaurants, but we would see if we can get discounts on The Entertainer.
The amount I save is not material, it’s important to send a message to the kids: be conscious of the money you’re spending. It’s an attitude.
Any financial regrets?
I didn’t need to save in the early part of my career so much. I could have spent more wisely on things that matter emotionally, because some of those times are not going to come back.
I’ve been so conservative all through that I regret not spending more on, for example, my parents.
What are you happiest paying for?
A nice meal in a restaurant is my idea of indulgence, especially with family and friends. We’ve not travelled for 18 months, but we would have two vacations a year. We don’t go over the top, nor try to be too conservative. I would not travel business class – it’s an unnecessary expense – but I would stay in a good hotel.
What are your future goals?
If I had to hit a financial number … I’ve already done that. I will continue to work, just the topics I choose might be different, entrepreneurial stuff.
I want to spend a part of my life doing non-profit work, something big in education in India. I don’t think I’ll retire in the conventional sense.