Nader Amiri is chief executive of el Grocer, a Dubai grocery marketplace platform that accesses supermarkets and other stores for rapid home delivery. He previously worked for Unilever, Kraft Foods and Coca-Cola before launching the start-up in 2016, recently exceeding targets for a second round of crowdfunding with UAE platform Eureeca. Mr Amiri, 34, lives in Jumeirah Beach Residence with his wife Fatma Zayani.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I’m Iranian/Canadian, brought up mainly in Dubai. I have a younger sister and brother. We moved here when I was four and my dad was an entrepreneur in different kinds of business, initially distributing hand tools, then commodities trading and real estate. I grew up with him going through the ups and downs. Generally he was doing well, so as a family we’ve been fortunate. It’s always been a learning experience, looking at the successes and failures. He was mainly managing the financial aspects, so he was good at seeing where opportunity was, looking at risk, and potential returns over time. Both my parents encouraged us to save. I learnt aged 16/17 how a small amount over years can accumulate to a nice pot you can do something with.
What did you do with it?
My dad ran an interesting scheme to teach the value of investing and interest, for me and my sister. He said, ‘you have this cash now, how about I invest it in my business and in one year give you X per cent on it'. It was more teaching than anything else, but I gained 10 per cent in a year.
A year or two after, he encouraged me into US stock trading. He had an account and said ‘you manage it, look into what we should buy and sell’. I read, researched a lot. Yahoo! Finance was the platform at the time. Most of the stuff I looked into, he said ‘go ahead’ — after six months we got a 10 per cent return.
How much were you paid in your first job?
I graduated early in business administration from American University in Dubai and took my first job at 20, an internship with Unilever in marketing/sales for Dh2,000 a month. I then joined Kraft Foods’ marketing management trainee programme.
What prompted you to quit the day job?
I was at Coca-Cola with a group of friends looking at trends in Asia, the US, and UK in 2014-15 and the idea for el Grocer was floated. We launched early in 2016 and started by digitising smaller stores. Then over the first year of testing and piloting, we learnt they don’t have a big variety and prices are a bit higher so we started experimenting with chains. We saw bigger interest.
How did you fund el Grocer?
The first round was ‘friends and family’. Eureeca has played a big role in el Grocer's journey. We did our first round with Eureeca summer of 2017. We needed $350,000 (Dh1.2 million). We ended up raising $600,000 — 190 per cent of the target. [On the recent second round with Eureeca], we needed funding to fuel more growth so we decided to go for it as a ‘booster’ and yet again we were oversubscribed. The total amount raised on this round was US$441,165, which means we hit 174 per cent of our target. The notion of crowdfunding is that the more people understand the idea and see the value of it, means there’s interest to invest, but also interest in the idea. So that level of interest — more than we expected — made my transition to leave Coca-Cola in July/Aug 2017 easier.
So does el Grocer save people money?
Definitely, by giving people access to chains who have better prices, listing promotions. We also partner with FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands to offer exclusive deals. People don’t only want deals, they’re looking for convenience. That’s the number one reason [they use us]. They’re seeking value for money, but by helping people save time we allow them to do other things — focus on work, be with friends and family; time is money.
Are you a spender or saver?
I’ve learnt the value of saving and how it can enable you to invest in what you want. Save, but decide what you want to do with those savings, what are you saving towards? To invest in business? Go on holiday? Save well to spend well. That’s the formula I have.
Where do you save?
Mainly in a bank account and pension fund; since my first job I’ve always put some salary aside. The sooner you start, the sooner you can accumulate, compound over time. Balance is good; if you do something high risk, also do something mid/lower risk. Over time, some diversification is wise.
Do you budget personally?
I do an annual budget and have an Excel app to track monthly spending. Obviously, during the year things can change, but it’s important to have that discipline.
What has been your best investment?
Any educational experience that helped me be better at investing. Time investment; meeting people, networking, workshops and seminars. In school you learn maths and algebra, but not really personal finance management and how to grow your money.
What is your philosophy towards money?
It has to have a purpose. To what end is it for? Is it ‘I want to retire by 40 or travel the world?’ What are you using it for?
I’m against greed [as a company]. We’re young and don't have profit at this stage — obviously we need to return shareholder value. Where a lot of big corporations globally go wrong is somewhere along the line it turns into greed. ‘Let’s increase the profit margin’ — why? Is it to pay our employees more or to buy a fifth yacht for the CEO? Profit is definitely good for everyone, but share the benefits. If someone endures risk they need to get a decent return, but you need to be careful not to cross that line into greed.
What is your most cherished purchase?
Experiences, getting the opportunity to travel and see how people do stuff in other places. How do people in Vienna or Poland work? These kind of cultural experiences — professional and personal.
Do you regret spending on anything?
Not regret, more kind of learning as I can’t do anything about it. There was real estate in Dubai I put a down payment on … and until now there’s no news what’s going to happen with it. The faster you adapt … that’s the trick, so you minimise losses and maximise the gains.
What has been your key financial milestone?
Starting el Grocer. To have convinced friends and family of the idea. I am still the main investor, both from a cash investment — the bulk of my savings — and time investment.
Do you prefer paying by cash or credit card?
Mainly credit card for the points, and it's paid off every month. I also love ApplePay, it’s very convenient.
Do you plan for the future?
My wife is from Tunisia. Last year we invested in land in Hammamet and, maybe over some years, see ourselves building a summer house, or retirement house. Now the whole mantra is, you’re retired when you feel like you’re doing what you want to do.
It would be nice to be between Canada, Tunisia and Dubai, depending on the weather. I also want to grow el Grocer into a regional brand so it’s the go-to platform for groceries, generating enough profit to be able to give back to investors, treat our team well, build that solid foundation.