Money & Me: Former urban planner paves way for artists

Paul Kelly runs a website that serves as a discovery platform for local artists.

Paul Kelly moved to Dubai seven years ago to work as an urban planner. After working on such projects as Sadiyaat Island in Abu Dhabi and the Palm Jumeirah and Jebel Ali in Dubai, the 30-year-old Australian gave up the security of full-time work a year ago to launch a website that promotes local musicians, photographers and filmmakers.

Why a music website?

I have always been interested in music and have played bass guitar in a few bands. I guess from that early interest, I got more involved in the music scene here, such as promoting bands. I guess you could say I am an entrepreneur now. I launched the site a year ago with a couple of friends here. We looked around and saw gaps in the market for musicians and wanted to tap regional talent. We've had a good response. We decided to do it a bit differently and not launch a big PR campaign. It is growing organically through social media and is up to about 20,000 visitors a month now.

What's the idea behind

We like to think of ourselves as an online discovery platform for musicians, photographers and filmmakers, coupled with reviews. The whole idea behind it is that artists can upload their music to the platform and get exposed to opportunities along the way. We also run competitions to find local talent. Our most recent winner is from Cairo, who we flew to Dubai to record four tracks in a studio. We do the same thing with film. We had a one-minute film competition with the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and Flip Camera. This allowed people to explore their filmmaking inclinations. It was a simple, fun platform for people to make a short film confined to one minute. It could take a number of different forms: acting related, tell a story, a documentary, but the topic was to explore what home means to you. We have also recently concluded our first photography competition and 100 or so galleries submitted from all over the Middle East. We are very conscious of being a regional platform.

How would you describe your financial journey so far?

I had a secure income when I was working for other people. But working for yourself, you have to change your habits quickly and how you spend your money. My finances are definitely up and down now. And there are things that I'm learning, such as putting other things before yourself. You have to make sure that other people are paid before you. And this impacts other areas of what you do, especially in the UAE, where you have to pay rent in chunks. I have started to become a bit more frugal. That has been the biggest change in the past year. I don't spend a chunk of money on a night out. When you have a full-time income, it is easier to plan. Now, I have to keep my end goals in sight.

Did you make any financial mistakes along the way?

No mistakes. The temptation has been there, but I've been relatively cautious. I've not made any big losses, which has allowed me to be a part of what I am doing now.

Is money important to you?

Not so much. I think happiness and fulfilment are far more important. I don't go to a mall to buy things because it makes me happy. Being 100 per cent happy and fulfilled with my job and career and seeing a live concert are what drives me, rather than having a big bank balance. I think they go hand-in-hand. And when you are happy, you are a lot healthier. Things fall into place the happier you are.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I am probably a bit of both. I've always been a saver and learnt to save very early on at school, where the local bank came to us and opened up a bank account for all the students. This helped me to learn the importance of saving for a target or to put something away for the future. But more recently, with a business, I am quickly learning that you do need to spend money to make it. But for me, that is cautious spending.

What is your idea of financial freedom?

Just being able to enjoy myself, but not in an opulent sense. It is more about being content with what you can do within your means. Freedom is getting on a plane and seeing a music festival in Europe. Financial freedom is being able to enjoy yourself, to be able to do what you want but within your means; not as a consumer, but being able to put a roof over your head and do the things that make you happy.

Do you approach money and finances differently in the Emirates?

Definitely. I think you have to because everything has to be paid in big chunks up front, such as rent. You have to watch your spending a lot more and the temptations are much greater. It is almost like it is exceptional here. Otherwise, you would end up in a debt spiral by living outside of your means. You have to plan more carefully, especially with rent, and don't fall into that debt trap.