Money & Me: ‘Money is good to have, but it shouldn’t dictate the way you live’

Nitesh Seebran, co-founder of affordable gym chain Metrofitt, invests in property, cryptocurrencies, bonds and shares

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: David Dunn. Business. Nitesh Seebran is the founder and CEO of Metrofitt, a convenient and affordable gyms brand that is growing across the UAE. Wednesday, February 10th, 2021. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Nitesh Seebran, 43, is co-founder and chief executive of Dubai-based affordable gym brand Metrofitt.

Mr Seebran began his fitness career in South Africa before becoming the recreation manager at a Kuwait hotel. During his 15 years in Dubai, he’s been area business manager for Fitness First and chief operating officer of Gold’s Gym.

Mr Seebran lives in Jumeirah Park, Dubai, with his wife, 10-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in a very typical South African family. We had a roof over our head, food on the table. We went through a bad patch in that my dad owned a trucking business, which he lost at one stage. He recovered enough to provide for the family but not for the luxuries everybody would love to have. Going on vacation was a luxury for us. I never flew until my move to Kuwait and never concentrated on money in the sense of always looking where it is coming from, but once I started studying, I had to get a part-time job.

How much did you earn?

I was 17 and working as a cinema usher during college, taking home 3,000 South African rand a month (less than Dh800). Every pay cheque was a wow; I appreciated that I was able to earn. I wasn’t a spender. Having that job was more about providing for home, to help mum and dad.

It was hard work and I saved for the right things, to buy my first car. I’m still more of a saver than spender in many ways.

Why switch to the fitness sector?

There was a health club looking for membership consultants. I knew people in the position, so took a risk and 21 years later, here I am. I wasn’t big into body building but enjoyed keeping healthy. It wasn’t a field I thought I’d get into, but as a consultant you could earn fantastic commission, so I was putting in 12 hours a day.

The basic salary was 3,500 rand, but I was earning around four times that in commission. An opportunity came to go to Kuwait, I was 22 or 23 and left with my fiancée.

I think twice before I spend. I don't go for brands

What was the motivation for Metrofitt?

The most important thing for me was to create a brand that is not available. I knew what was needed because I’ve got years of experience in the Middle East; a world-class facility at an affordable rate. We are not a budget club, we are affordable fitness. We wanted to make sure we’re accessible to a larger population.

Were people seeking better-value gyms?

That’s the most important thing. It shouldn’t break the bank to become a member. Once upon a time in the UAE, you could only take membership if you paid the annual fee upfront. We don’t want to be targeting 10 per cent of the population, we want to give fitness and wellness to 95 per cent; the ones who don’t want to pay annually but can afford to pay monthly. And we’re not only attracting members earning on a lower scale, we’ve got chief executives, directors, all types. We took away the frills and you pay for what you use.

What is your attitude towards spending and saving?

I think twice before I spend. It’s not that I don’t. I like to spend on assets I know will grow for me, rather than buying a Dh10,000 pair of shoes that will sit in my drawer for a year. I don’t go for brands. I do things for myself, not because someone else is doing it. In our house, we have what we need.

Do you teach monetary values to your children?

We had to think twice before asking mum or dad if we could have something. I’m proud to say because of that upbringing, my kids understand the true value of money. They know we could afford what they’re asking for, but they’re not spoilt in that just because they’re asking for something, they will get it. They have to earn it by doing little jobs around the house. We give incentives, instill in them to do well in school and be kind to each other first.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: David Dunn. Business. Nitesh Seebran is the founder and CEO of Metrofitt, a convenient and affordable gyms brand that is growing across the UAE. Wednesday, February 10th, 2021. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Mr Seebran says money is good to have, but it shouldn’t dictate the way one lives. Photo: Chris Whiteoak / The National

How do you grow your money?

My dad always said, "When you get a chance to buy property, buy it" … the first advice he gave me from a financial point of view. So, I am buying properties whenever I can and I’ve recently started looking heavily into cryptocurrencies. I’ve got bonds in South Africa and shares in companies. I tend to have some liquid (cash). You never know what could happen from a job point of view.

And your best investments?

I’ve invested more in property in South Africa than the UAE and, touch wood, it’s worked to our advantage. I own the house we live in and an apartment. When I first moved to the UAE, we looked at living here for a long time, so said: "Why pay rent, let’s look at paying that towards our mortgage and have an asset instead."

What is your philosophy towards money?

It’s good to have, but it shouldn’t dictate the way you live. I am thankful the UAE has given us more than we expected. Forget the money side of it, it has given us family, has opened doors. But I always look to the future. My wife keeps telling me, "Live life today".

I agree, but you also need to understand what happened with Covid-19. We didn’t expect this, people have lost a lot. I’ve always had a Plan B. I learnt the hard way. If you don’t, you’re going to get stuck in the mud. I analyse my life and business on a daily basis.

Are you wise with money?

Everything is on paper to remind me what’s gone in, what’s gone out. I enjoy the good life, but I’m not driving the car I’ve always dreamt of. I tend to change cars quite often. I don’t go for expensive ones and I’ve always bought pre-owned cars and when I sold, never lost cash.

I do my homework on everything. It generally takes a month or two to finalise what I want and then I go for it.

What are you happiest spending on?

What really makes me happy is taking my family on vacation. That’s something I never grew up with. We save up, decide as a family where we’re going and have a good time.

How has the pandemic impacted Metrofitt?

After the lockdown, we lost members – because people were working from home, we didn’t tie them down, allowed them to cancel and we’re getting a good percentage of them coming back.

Our goal is to get to 10 clubs. We’re on five at the moment. We could have been on seven by the end of this year, but want to see how long this pandemic is going to last.

Do you plan for retirement?

I would love to retire when I’m 50, at an early age to enjoy my kids more, have enough assets to create a passive income. That’s the goal. I don’t think I’ll get there. Even if could afford it, I’d probably continue to work.