Ravi Bhusari is co-founder of Duplays, the UAE team sports activities provider, and nook – a Dubai co-working space aimed at sports, fitness and wellness professionals and start-ups. Born in Canada, raised partly in Saudi Arabia, Mr Bhusari, 39, previously worked in telecoms and real estate before mixing his passion for sports with entrepreneurship. He lives in a Palm Jumeirah apartment with his wife, nook’s workplace manager.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
My father’s from India and was a civil engineer. At the age of one I moved to Saudi, where I went to American schools. My mum is originally British/Canadian and was our school nurse. I had a very multicultural upbringing. People moved to Saudi to make some decent money; we had a comfortable life, but by no means ostentatious. We lived among Saudis rather than living in compounds. I lived there the first 14 years of my life, until high school in Montreal. There’s an Indian culture in my DNA, to live within your means, be humble and not overspend. My father had the same Seiko watch for 30 years. He worked his tail off to provide for our family. And his philosophy, which I’ll pass on to my kids, is the importance of work ethic.
What were you paid in your first job?
An internship after my first year of under-grad mechanical engineering, I worked in Montreal for Nortel, a teleco; earned CAN$12-14 (Dh34-40) per hour. I would have worked for free those early years, to help with my resume. I work incredibly hard now - that’s been instilled from my father. He encouraged and helped me learn to sail or improve my computer and French language skills.
What brought you to Dubai?
Having grown up in Saudi I had this emotional connection to the Middle East. Dubai is the perfect mix of east meets west, perfect place to start a business, punch above your weight, to dream and to hopefully build a company. I did an engineering degree and an MBA in Toronto. I followed the conventional path to offset risk but always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was never comfortable following that limited route one takes after your MBA; most of my peers went into banking or consulting. For me it was clarifying to know how predictable the next 10 years of my life could be post-MBA, as opposed to reassuring, so I moved here the summer 2006.
How did Duplays come about?
I worked in real estate on the consultancy side, did feasibility reports and financial models. About two years into that I wasn’t satisfied working for someone else and decided to start Duplays with my friend and now business partner Derv (Davinder Rao). Basically, Duplays is the byproduct of wanting to meet people. Within two weeks (of arriving in Dubai) I was lamenting that there were not many things for expats here around organised, institutionalised team sport. Everyone moves from around the world; you don’t move with your professional or sporting network. That’s what we tried to create … allowed people to connect online to play sports they’d then actualise offline. The first Frisbee was thrown in 2007; we became legal in 2008.
How did this then lead to nook?
There are other sports entrepreneurs - team sports providers, fitness instructors, wellness coaches, nutritionists or football academies - that struggle to establish themselves. Part of that is (due to) high, upfront costs setting up a business. Nook is a co-working space focused on the health and wellness industry that hopefully allows for collaboration, serendipitous interactions. I hope some big projects we bid on will trickle down to the smaller companies because we don’t do everything; ideally we’ll collaborate and sub contract work to people set up in nook.
Are you wise with money?
I’d like to think I am. Being a businessperson … you make mistakes and there’s no replacement for experience, but I’m definitely not frivolous. I appreciate the value of money. I’m also pragmatic and seasoned enough to know you can’t always pick winners. You can be the smartest person in the world, but ultimately there are cycles; you plan for those cycles best you can.
Do you have a philosophy towards money?
It’s a utility. It comes and goes. It helps our mission to bring more participatory sports to cities we operate in. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money; sometimes you have to know when not to spend. It has enabled us to build a business and live our dream, be happy and chart my own course. It gives mobility; the ability to, at a moment’s notice, go back to Canada, which I had to do when my father’s health deteriorated.
What are you happiest spending money on?
When I can afford it, my family, my wife. We should all, while we’re here, spend on experiences. We live in this amazing city that flies to all these places, so we spend on travel when we can. I appreciate creature comforts, but those are short lived after that initial high.
What's been you key financial milestone?
Like any business, to generate revenue, get to profitability. Selling something that someone else is willing to buy. The biggest milestone on the human level is having an equal business partner, co-founder, who’s my friend, and we’re still together after 10 years. That doesn’t happen often. It’s been a team from day zero.
Do you prefer paying with cash or credit card?
Credit card - for convenience. I get air miles.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I’m a spender, but hopefully with a means to an end as opposed to just for the sake of spending. I mostly spend/invest in our business, helping us grow. I’m wanting a comfortable life but don’t drive a flashy car. I live within our means. Cash flow being so critical, I’ve had to be quite agile and flexible in my own cost structure.
Where do you save?
Legacy savings from when I worked for companies in Canada; registered retirement savings plans. For the most part, given life choices I’ve made, I have fairly liquid investments, to either be opportunistic or proactive. My calculus is, I’m creating long-term wealth; to build equity in businesses I’ve set up and other start-ups I’m passively involved in.
Do you plan for the future?
We want kids - maybe not a five-a-side football team. You can’t overly plan in life. I have a five to 10-year big picture plan, but I’m acknowledging things can change and have to be prepared for that. Five/10 years on my dream is to maybe have a pied-a-terre in London or Montreal, but still be based here.
In Saudi we’re looking to build more indoor sports facilities, with a local partner there, as a way to get more young Saudis to participate in sports; a joint venture, going back to my roots.