Francisco Pellegrini is co-founder and chief executive of Yalla Baby Box, a subscription, baby essentials home delivery service launched in March, and managing partner of “start-up studio” Eureka Labs Middle East. Before finding success with e-commerce start-ups in Argentina, he was operations manager for a major South American dairy. In 2014 Mr Pellegrini, 33, began working for the CSR division of UAE firm Al Ahli Holding Group in and out of Dubai before settling in the city to launch a business-mentoring consultancy in late 2016. He lives in Dubai Marina and, when time allows, enjoys CSR activities and mentoring entrepreneurs on social entrepreneurship.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude to money?
I’m half Italian, half Argentinian and born in Cordoba, Argentina’s second city. I come from a modest, middle class family and have two older brothers. It was a regular house with one bathroom for five of us. My parents worked a lot; my father was a doctor and my mother a social worker. As a kid if I wanted something for myself I had to pay from my own pocket. My parents had a family to maintain. I learned the value of working and having independence in terms of money. That’s why I started working at 18, and studying at the same time.
How much did you earn in your first job?
It was part-time in a travel agency, administrative stuff doing telesales, at 18. I earned about $300 (Dh1,101) per month. Most was used to pay for my university studies in business administration. I later sold my car to do an MBA in Europe.
I also had a women’s clothes brand with a partner — my first business. We went to Buenos Aires to buy clothes to sell in Cordoba, used Facebook to promote it and rented an apartment one to two days a week as a showroom. Imagine two male teenage friends going to buy women clothes. That’s the risk taking — getting out of the comfort zone — that I try to teach other entrepreneurs.
Has Argentina’s financial crisis influenced you?
We've lived with this all my life. We’re used to dealing with crisis after crisis and uncertainty. You cannot plan anything in terms of business because you have inflation, devaluation. When you live with this and become a ‘worldwide’ entrepreneur, that is a benefit - you’re used to living with uncertainty, taking risks. Now I go to any country to do business and know how to deal with these issues, how to operate under the stress and pressure of not knowing what will happen tomorrow. You’re not affected because you’ve seen everything already.
How does Yalla Baby Box save people money?
Our main value proposition is to save mums hassle; it's time they could spend with their baby by offering a box every month with everything the baby needs, including diapers and wipes. They can call Carrefour or souq.com but will receive many deliveries …everyone rings the bell, the baby cries. We want to offer a one-stop shop solution. Time is money in the Middle East. I'd say you're saving money as well. We also put gifts for mums and babies into the box, such as three hours a month babysitting or discounts on baby clothes. I'm not a father. You don't need to be a mother or an expert in changing the diaper, it's more important to recognise the needs of mums and be an expert in the kind of business you're launching. We did a similar business in South America.
Are you wise with money?
Twice a day I plan my finances, a few minutes to see what I’m going to spend in the next weeks. I review my bank statement, savings. I’ve been doing this since I was 16; it’s a kind of hobby. I do the same for the business and myself.
Where do you save?
I’m not a fan of the regular financial market but I've been involved in Bitcoin. I've also sold shares in two restaurants and a nightclub in Argentina and put that money into real estate there: two apartments and land that is now worth three times as much. I try to diversify. I’ve been successful with my decisions. I've failed at times, but it’s part of life.
What is your best investment?
In myself, education — not only in terms of academics, books or words from experts, but networking. The money I ‘invested’ (spent) to be in Dubai enabled me to be in the position I am now, to create a network and find investors. Normally people come here for a good job, to get money and live. I ‘invested’ money in order to live in one of the most expensive countries in the world, to be in the place I really wanted to be.
Do you have a philosophy about money?
Working in the CSR world for five years has enabled me to understand cash is not what makes you happy. Karma will come if you help people. Money is not the motivation; I’m doing what I like. I believe I will have a lot of money, but that’s not the legacy I want to leave. Maybe when I was younger, in my 20s, I was more materialistic, thinking money measures how successful you are. Then I realised it’s more relevant what you ‘do’, the memories and experiences you leave people with.
What is your most cherished purchase?
I’ve bought air tickets for my parents to come here. They’ve never been. A ticket is $2,500. My elder brother will also come from Spain. This is the best money I've invested this year. I’ll rent a nice Airbnb for the family and have Christmas together in Dubai.
What do you enjoy spending on?
Things that offer new experiences: travel and healthy things, wellbeing and new sports. I did a retreat in Sri Lanka, for meditation, yoga and surfing … things I’ll remember all my life.
What car do you drive?
Three weeks ago I bought a Mercedes-Benz GLA. In Argentina it’s quite a luxury. But I don’t see the car, I see the effort I put in to have that. It’s a reward. I can buy a more expensive car but I prefer investing in a new project. Some people want the most expensive car, but why should I show off when I have people in Argentina close to me who have no job?
Do you plan for the future?
I want to build a house to rent out on the land I own in Argentina and also invest in other land. One day I want my own family.
Yalla Baby is the first business from Eureka Labs in the region. We expect to launch a lot of tech/e-commerce businesses. I see myself completing a few exits in five to 10 years, which will allow me to spend three to four months of the year in Argentina and the rest in Spain and here. Yalla Baby provides (tech) jobs 14,000 kilometres away in Argentina. We are 15 and, if this goes well, we expect to employ 20-25. People said ‘you escaped’, but by being away I’m providing positions in the country that I love.