Amiri Gandhi has just been named as 2017's Entrepreneur of the Year of the Gulf Capital SME Awards – making her the second woman to receive the honour in the programme's six-year history. The 39-year-old, from India, who has lived in the UAE for almost 16 years, enjoyed a career in advertising and design but dreamt of launching her own business after becoming inspired by one of the main characters in the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail, who had her own shop. After having her two girls, now six and 11, she took the plunge, setting up Kidz Factory, an art and hobby edutainment centre which she self-funded, in 2014 in Abu Dhabi to fill a gap in the market for an edutainment centre. Originally open in Wahda Mall, she is currently moving to a larger location in Dalma Mall, which will open early next month.
How did your upbringing affect your attitude towards money?
My parents budgeted really well where they gave us money to splurge, and we would stay within those limits. I started earning at a very early stage. Although I was sheltered in my parents' home, never lived by myself and paid for rent, I still had the pleasure of my first job and saving up. My mum and dad taught me the value of saving money, even though I always earned by myself and was able to be financially independent, I always had my roots and culture in place. So I never said this is my money and I can do what I want with it.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I am a bit of both. I don’t like to regret too much in life. I am a value for money person and use strategy in everything. I think it’s a very strong trait I have. But I always have been a sensible saver, saving my money for a rainy day and to start my own business one day.
So would you say you are good with money?
We have been very wise with our investments. We have invested in a property in Abu Dhabi. We have a property back home as well and here Kidz Factory has been another investment for us, which is another ongoing thing. Otherwise we do other small investments here and there whenever we get a chance. I am a sensible buyer. I have my head on my shoulders for that. I don’t just go out there and splurge. I do follow my passions sometimes if I want to, I can be an impulsive buyer as well.
Have you bought anything you regret?
No, I think a lot before I do something and I am a very optimistic person, so even if I end up doing something I feel I shouldn’t have, I always tell myself it’s not a mistake, it’s an experience I will learn from.
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Have you ever gone through times when money has been tight?
Kidz Factory was 100 per cent funded by my lifetime savings and investments. We had been living our life comfortably. I was working in a job; my husband. Mayur, has his own contracting business. it was the perfect combination. When I put in my resignation, that’s when I lost the fixed income coming in and I was setting up Kidz Factory. We cut down on a couple of holidays and luxurious items. But it was still a stretch at times. The first letter for school fees came in and we thought 'OK, let’s see what happens'. We waited for the second letter that said school fees are due and we thought, 'oh, we can’t yet' and then we got the third warning letter and we thought 'we have to find a way'. But we managed. I persevered and stuck to my vision of achieving my dream and creating an art haven for the kids.
That must have been stressful considering you are a meticulous financial planner.
It was. It did bother us a bit thinking 'oh no, what’s happening'. And also, we weren’t sure exactly what it was that we were getting into. Sometimes there were so many unforeseen expenses, not accounted for in the feasibility plan, that had to come out of our savings.
How long did you save for the business?
Enough time to plan it well. The only thing was there were unforeseen expenses towards the end.
The fit-out contractor took a lot more time than planned, my rental cheque started ticking on me and Kidz Factory could not yet open its doors. Civil defense fees and other hidden expenses also cropped up, causing financial juggles and struggles, but throughout it all, I persevered and stuck to my vision of achieving my dream and creating an art haven for the kids. It is only my passion and constant non-stop commitment to go all out till I achieve my goal that kept me going.
Was your decision to start Kidz Company about making money?
No. It was never done with the intention of making money but I understand that is a big part of a business. But it is a business that is triggered by lots of passion. It blends both my passions together, art and kids.
With hour husband also an entrepreneur, were you nervous about gambling so much?
We have not invested all our lifetime savings. We also have property elsewhere and a lot of funding here and there. But I do believe that every business has a risk intake so we have to be bold, optimistic and confident and take that plunge. I knew what I was getting into. When we plunged into it we were quite sure we wanted to self fund it entirely. Now that we are relocating to a new location we have learned so much along the way and become so much wiser. So for the move, we are finding different ways of funding as well.
Why did you decide against self-funding again?
I think we have to carry on with normal life, which when we self funded there were days that were difficult, we had to cut down on this and cut down on that. We didn’t have available funds as well. All of it is invested in different places and we didn’t want to break those. We have a couple of fixed deposits going on and we have a couple of properties invested. We don’t want to go down that route where we sell off stuff. So we had to make do with what we have.
So how have you financed the new location?
Although the first time we self financed we could manage, but we could not the second time. So we had to [borrow] but we thought it was a better way forward where you can slowly repay it back over time and lead a less stressful life. We can’t personally finance everything ourselves and it’s a bigger place. It wasn’t like a slow procedure where we said we are going to start next year. My husband has really supported me a lot in the procedure of the whole thing, so we started discussing what worked. The first thing we did was make a business plan.
Where do you save your money?
Currently where we stand right now, I will be frank about it. Things are so haywire because of set up and startup time, so it’s been an absolute rollercoaster ride for us financially setting up this business, especially since it was self-financed. But we do have our own personal accounts where we have money saved for the kids’ education, further studies, and of course for ourselves. We invest in mutual funds as well as property. Our first investment was a property in Abu Dhabi and the second big one for us was Kidz Factory.