Money & Me: 'Investing in six properties is my biggest financial milestone'

Entrepreneur Shahzad Bhatti says everyone should buy a home to secure a sustainable income

Shahzad Bhatti,  Founder,  The Co-Working Popup.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: Keith Fernandez 
Section: BZ
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Shahzad Bhatti is the founder of two home-grown start-ups, The Co- Dubai — one of the UAE’s first private mainland incubators approved by the Dubai government — and Share This Space, a booking platform for short-term rental locations. The Co- Dubai was set up in 2015 with the second venture launching a year later. Mr Bhatti moved to the UAE from the UK in 2009 to work in real estate but soon realised his passion lay in entrepreneurship. The Briton, 32, lives in Barsha Heights in Dubai and spends a week each month in London expanding his business.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in East London at an exciting time in the early 2000s. I’ve seen such huge progress and change in this part of London over the years, from the development of the Stratford Olympic Park to becoming home to the city’s creative and tech communities. This really helped me look at the world in a different way and by looking for opportunities in the most unlikely places.

There's never been a specific point where I decided to launch my own business — it was all automatic for me.

How much were you paid for your first job?

My first job was working for Don't Panic Media in London. It was a pack handed out at events, festivals and clubs and was full of amazing artwork, posters and samples. It was a new way of connecting with audiences outside of the traditional media channels such as print. I used to create their monthly reports on PowerPoint for £20 (Dh94.73) per report.

What is your biggest financial milestone?

Being able to purchase my first home in Dubai in 2015 was definitely a milestone. It's a one bedroom flat in Barsha Heights that I converted into a two-bed, which is unique for Dubai. Being able to purchase additional properties as investment was the biggest milestone though. Since 2015, I’ve acquired another five spanning between London and the UAE that are a mix of residential and commercial. Besides the homes I live in — in Dubai and one in London — the residential properties are rented out as are the commercial spaces. These investments and financial decisions have helped shape me to where I am today.

Are you a spender or a saver?

Unfortunately, a spender. I spend a lot on travel. Like most people, I love to travel and experience different cultures. This year, I spent some time in the countryside of Italy, in a region called Umbria which was a lovely getaway and felt like I was transported back to a much simpler time. Since I am based in Dubai, it's great that so many locations are within a short distance. However, I spend at least a week every month in London since we expanded The Co- Dubai to The Co- Dalston in London.

What prompted you to launch you own business?

It's something I've always known I wanted to do. Even at a young age, I launched a school magazine and sold it for 50p an issue. Then throughout high school, I dabbled in early website development for some local businesses up until university when I launched my first real estate agency selling Dubai properties in the UK while still studying. There’s never been a specific point where I decided to launch my own business — it was all automatic for me.

What has been your best investment?

I’m still quite conservative when it comes to investment, so I stick to good old-fashioned real estate. One of the best investments is my London property, where I still live today [when I'm home] and have a lot of wonderful memories. It was a two bedroom flat in East London which I purchased for £350,000. This is a mature market which gives a consistent return on investment and even during tough economic times isn’t as affected as other real estate markets around the world.

Shahzad Bhatti,  Founder,  The Co-Working Popup.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: Keith Fernandez 
Section: BZ
Mr Bhatti prefers to make purchases using Apple Pay these days rather a credit card. Reem Mohammed/The National

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?

Yes, there’s been times when bills have piled up and I’ve learnt a lot from this. It’s important to keep on top of bills, which is easier said than done. I would recommend keeping credit cards to a minimum. In fact, I keep my credit card limit to Dh5,000 so it's only used in emergencies.

Do you have any financial regrets?

This would be launching a second business at the same time as The Co- Dubai. This significantly ate up resources and funds which had a negative effect on both businesses. In hindsight, it was perhaps a little too early to launch that as the funds could have achieved a lot more had it been invested in the one business.

Do you plan for the future?

Of course. You have to ,especially when you have a relatively young business. The interesting part is when the lines between dreaming for the future and planning for the future meet. One of my dreams for the future is to create co-working and community spaces for small businesses and entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries. There is so much talent in every human that needs a support system to grow and evolve.

What financial goals have you already met?

To be able to purchase a home and stop having to rent and to have a sustainable income. I think this is always one of the first key milestones we should strive for if you are an entrepreneur or not.

Do you use a financial adviser? 

I haven't met the right financial adviser yet and I think this comes down to building a relationship with someone who understands you and doesn't have a specific agenda of selling you products which they may gain a commission from.

What luxuries are important to you?

Ultimately, we all have very basic needs when it comes to living so I think everything above comfortable living can be seen as a “luxury”. What’s a luxury to me? Being able to spend quality time with family and loved ones.

How much do you have in your wallet right now?

I have Dh50 in my wallet — but I tend to use my Apple Wallet more these days.

What car do you drive?

I’ve taken a lean approach right now which is to use a corporate leasing programme for the company. This way we have all the bills (such as insurance, car registration and maintenance) taken care of and most importantly anyone in the company can use the car while I am away which is at least 10 days a month. As for my weekend car, I have a vintage 1982 Mercedes-Benz SL380.

Do you prefer using a credit card or cash?

Debit card over cash for sure. I'm also a big fan of Apple Pay which makes things simpler, faster and smoother. I try not to use my credit card unless I’m travelling or for emergencies.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

I think I’m still learning what advice I would give to myself.