Money & Me: ‘I’ve never been someone who puts a lot of money away for a rainy day’

Shona Hind, founder of Free Me, was inspired by her father to quit her banking job and use her gratuity to start a business

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: David Dunn. Business. Money & Me. Shona Hind is the founder of family firm Free Me, a lifestylebrand producing environmentally friendly mosquito repellent. Wednesday, November 11th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Shona Hind, 52, is the founder of Free Me, a UAE lifestyle brand producing environment-friendly, chemical-free mosquito repellent.

She moved to Dubai from England in 2006 with husband Paul and their two children.

Ms Hind worked with Barclays as an outsource staff operations manager, and with National Bank of Abu Dhabi before launching a customised flip flops business, followed by Free Me in September. The couple live on the Palm Jumeirah.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

Money was never a huge focus, although mum and dad taught us its importance. They never had lots, but always had a nice car, worked really hard and made sure we were healthy, happy and had a lovely home. They weren’t great savers and lived for the now. They’d tell us to put a bit aside, but “don’t forget about now, because life is short”.

Dad was an electrician and mum was a telephonist for a brewery. We used to get pocket money for doing household jobs, but we didn’t look at monetary value. We were more focused on time with family. Every Thursday, we’d go for a restaurant dinner, which a lot of my friends didn’t do; something simple, but it made a massive difference to us.

How much was your first wage?

I had a Saturday job in a jeans shop and a bakery for £15 (Dh74) a day. I went to the jeans shop because I realised I could get a discount on clothes … more important than taking home bread and donuts. University never appealed, I wanted to get out and earn. So at 16, I joined Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency as a voucher checking clerk, for £4,000 a year.

What brought you to the UAE?

My husband was a self-employed scaffolder in the UK. In 2006, a company wanted someone who could do training for them on the Palm Jumeirah. So we moved when the kids were 10 and 13.

What is you most cherished spend?

We’d said when we got to 25 years of marriage that we’d renew our vows in Las Vegas, so we booked two weeks with the kids. In a mall there, I saw the flip flop idea; people were building their own … fantastic for Dubai. I bought a couple of pairs, left my job in June 2017 and used my end-of-service (gratuity) to launch Flip Flops by me.

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The last few years, I've turned into a big picture thinker rather than short-term

So you swapped a bank salary to go into business?

Dad inspired me to change direction. In 2016, he passed away. He was 70 and I was approaching 50, so I thought: “What if I’ve only got 20 more years”. That was a deciding point.

For two years, however, I drove that business with passion and hard work rather than taking notice of the balance sheet, mainly because the profit was enough to pay for shopping and a couple of bills. I didn’t look for bigger opportunities or have a robust business plan.

Why did you switch to mosquito repellent?

I had a fantastic product (flip flops), a kiosk in the Atlantis and Marina Mall. I had corporate orders that gave good returns and thought this was the way for 2020. Then March hit and malls closed (due to Covid-19). I’d always suffered with mosquitoes here, so began researching the best natural repellent ingredients and found a factory in Sharjah.

I put all the learning from Flip Flops by me into the new company. I’ve different products in development and investment companies approaching me, but I’m not at that stage. We’re dipping into savings because we’re determined Free Me will be successful.

How do you approach spending and saving?

I’ve never been someone who puts a lot of money away for a rainy day. I’ve always spent to live in the day. Don’t stop following your ideas, but make sure you’ve that safety belt for what could happen in the future.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: David Dunn. Business. Money & Me. Shona Hind is the founder of family firm Free Me, a lifestylebrand producing environmentally friendly mosquito repellent. Wednesday, November 11th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

But you do save?

We have a pension plan in the UK, savings offshore, but something I put into which I wish I had done maybe more than three years ago is a personal finance plan. We were saving, but not for unexpected things like the pandemic. Our main focus was a bolt-hole, like a home in the UK.

Have you had to raid those savings?

We’re having to take a bit to sustain ourselves while Free Me is growing. In August, Paul got told he was being released as a scaffolding operations manager. That meant the stable income paying our rent and mortgage was gone.

So we’ve set a budget and timeline for Free Me to make profit, which it has started to do. I see really good things happening that are going to lead to the retirement we want.

What has been your best investment?

Our children’s education, and life experiences for them and us. If I hadn’t travelled, gone to Vegas, I wouldn’t have found that flip flips opportunity, although I’ve parked it at the moment and may sell to raise capital for the new business. 2020 has given me a different view on how I have to move the pawns to win the game.

What is your philosophy towards money?

We’ve all been attracted by money and sacrifice health, relationships and general well-being to get it. I’ve witnessed many who think it’s a passage to more freedom that leads to more happiness. In my job, I upgraded my lifestyle, yet the freedom I was striving for was moving further away as I was stuck in a job I didn’t really want to be in.

Rather than going for money first and freedom later, if I had to go back and give myself some lessons, I’d say focus on as much freedom as I want from the start and then base my plans around that … people really seem to focus on an end-goal and forget the stepping stones that got them there.

Do you have any financial regrets?

Buying an apartment off-plan on Al Reem Island, Abu Dhabi, in 2008. We put down the small profit we made on our house in England as deposit. Then the crash happened. Luckily it got finished and has been rented out since we got the keys five years ago, but we were stuck with a massive mortgage and rent only covered half of it. We did research on the best place to buy at the time, but didn’t look at the big picture. We saw how much property prices had escalated and thought it was a no brainer.

What did you learn from that experience?

The last few years, I’ve turned into a big picture thinker rather than short-term. The positive is it’s a home for one of us or the kids; if something was to happen to one of us, the mortgage gets paid off immediately (life insurance). I have a “glass half full” attitude.

Do you plan for the future?

Our dream is to get a Winnebago and cross the States, and live for a year in Thailand … before we’re 60. We’ve got these goals, but at the same time, we’ve tried to live within our expectations during life rather than save up for something. There’s no point being the richest person in the graveyard.

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