Adnan Zubairi is the chief executive of DXBuy, a B2B e-commerce platform for small and medium-sized businesses in the retail, trade and food & beverage sectors. Mr Zubairi, 34, founded the start-up with his brother Rizwan last year and the site has been available to all UAE businesses since May. The Indian-born entrepreneur is also the co-founder and managing director of Zubairi Plastics Industry, an Ajman manufacturing company. He moved to the Emirates in 2008 and currently lives in Sharjah with his wife; two sons, ages five and two; and parents.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I was brought up in Hyderabad in India. It had its fair share of advantages in terms of valuing money. I saw a lot of poverty around and knew that money doesn’t come easy. The struggle is real for millions of people out there, so it taught me humility and modesty.
But my means were never too restricted. We had our own home and family car. Even though we were considered middle class, having the opportunity to witness the less fortunate made us feel that we were living a luxurious life.
My father really worked hard to make sure he gave us a comfortable lifestyle. He started his own manufacturing company, then expanded and had two companies later on. That’s how we took the initiative; that’s the learning experience that we took from our father.
What was your first job?
Since childhood, I had this desire to be an entrepreneur. I remember when I was just 13, I used to sell computer games to kids in our neighbourhood. And when I went to high school in early 2000 and mobile phones were becoming the new trend, I used to trade those as well.
As a full-time job, I briefly worked for a Business Process Outsourcing unit for a US-based company in Hyderabad. I was paid nearly $350 (Dh1,285) a month. And I was quite happy and satisfied because – more than the money – the exposure and experience were really the plus point for me. It was nearly six months and then I moved on and started a couple of small businesses.
What brought you to the UAE?
I wanted to be entrepreneurial on a global scale and for that I needed to step out of the comfort zone. Dubai was the primary choice because I was always awestruck by the sheer speed of growth and development as a city.
It was August 2008 that we registered our manufacturing company [Zubairi Plastic Industry] and the global financial crisis started to creep in September and October, and then it peaked in January and February of 2009.
I still remember, we had purchased raw materials at around $1,400 per metric ton and by the time it came in, the prices were already at $1,100 and the next month they went further down. Almost 30-40 per cent of the value purchased was lost in the first three months of the business.
So that was the biggest first blow. We were just settling down with the initial teething troubles, and then this kicked in. But it was a good learning experience.
How did you cope financially?
Luckily for us we had financial support from our father. We were almost done with the initial round of investments and then he had to put in another investment – because at that time getting a loan was almost impossible. That’s how we survived. We’ve grown that business from a small start-up with four employees to nearly 85 to 90 people now.
What led you to start DXBuy?
With technological advancements, we've seen e-commerce grow phenomenally in terms of business-to-consumers. And in the markets that we cater to, we saw a good space available in business-to-business (B2B), which is a relatively untapped market in the UAE. In India, Udaan is one of the prominent B2B players in e-commerce and it's considered one of the fastest start-ups to get unicorn status of $1 billion valuation. In China, obviously there's Alibaba and you have Amazon in the US, which has started a business division for B2B.
We went live in the beta phase in December 2019 and in less than six months, we had more than 2,000 businesses with us. The traction has been quite encouraging.
How has Covid-19 affected your business?
Fortunately, it came as a booster for us. We were just in the third month of operations, we were still in a beta phase and suddenly there were a lot of disruptions in the supply chain. And as an e-commerce company, we were available. Our revenue jumped from February to March by close to 60 per cent.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I think of myself as someone who maintains a balance. I don’t spend too aggressively, unless I’m travelling or when I’m on a holiday – that’s when I forget my limits. I won’t compromise on the quality of my life or my children's lives, and occasionally splurge on some luxuries as well. However, I do put in a conscious effort to ensure that I never exceed my needs.
What luxuries are important to you?
I’m not someone who holds luxury very dear. For me, time is a luxury right now. I’ve had a busy work life for many years now and I need to work on having more leisure time.
What kind of car do you drive?
I like German cars so I have a BMW sedan and a Porsche. The BMW sedan was one of my first cars ever and I still have it and I love it.
How do you save?
I don’t have a concrete, sustained savings plan as such. But the plan is to diversify. I invested in some real estate in Ajman, as well as some gold. The gold investment really paid off, but the real estate didn’t do well. I would also like to explore cryptocurrency.
Do you have any financial regrets?
I do have one. I founded a Halal travel start-up [in 2016] and several months into that, I realised it’s not scaling in the way it was expected. So it was becoming extremely challenging. That set me back almost $100,000.
Do you have a retirement plan?
Retirement is not something I’m keen on. I want to be active as long as possible. My ambition is to have financial independence by 40 and then dedicate my time to working towards more meaningful causes that will have a positive social impact. Education is something I’d really like to explore.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
If I go back 10-12 years into my career – for me, personally, I’ve been a medium category risk taker – I would tell my younger self to be more aggressive in terms of taking risks. I believe you have to fall to rise, you need to jump to fly, you need to take that leap of faith with full confidence. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because you have a long way ahead to correct your mistakes. As you mature, you need to slow down, take a more measured approach, start savings sooner rather than later. But I think when you’re young, just jump.