Natali Budzei studied for two law degrees before deciding to follow an entrepreneurial path in Dubai with an art consultancy.
The Ukrainian yoga enthusiast founded Balloonsiaga, a high-end events decoration company, just before the coronavirus outbreak and then launched environmentally conscious yoga mat brand Budzy, which sells across the GCC, during the 2020 pandemic stay-at-home restrictions.
Ms Budzei put $10,000 of her savings into the start-up. She plans to go global with other yoga accessories and uses some Budzy proceeds to support a school run by her mother in their hometown in occupied eastern Ukraine.
Ms Budzei, 32, who has also earned income as a pianist at events, lives at Palazzo Versace Residences in Dubai.
Where did money figure in your childhood?
I grew up in an industrial city. My father was a police general – head of the department for organised crime – now retired. He opened a private school, the first in the region at that time, to make sure I had a good education. My mother is a teacher and manages it.
I moved to Kiev to study at the Institute of International Relations, the kind of place where children of politicians and diplomats would study. I am an only child, but I didn’t feel spoiled compared with them. It gave me motivation to achieve something on my own, an amazing base to know what I wanted from my life and how I can get it.
I always had my father as backup. He is a my role model. I learnt a lot from him on how to handle business and he trusts me, so I didn’t want to let him down.
What brought you to the UAE?
I’ve been in Dubai since 2012. I first came for a holiday and had this feeling I was going to live here. I was still getting my masters in Ukraine. My friend was on an internship here and recommended Emirates Academy (of Hospitality Management). It was the first year of their MBA programme.
I decided to use my time there to understand the place, learn about people here and what I can do. They gave us opportunities to participate in conferences, helping to organise them. I met participants I am still in touch with … a great opportunity to make connections.
Why choose self-employment over a law career?
I’m not a corporate person. I didn’t know what to do, but whatever you do in your life you can always apply law. I opened an art consultancy with a friend. She used to work for Sotheby’s auction house in Paris. I was 24, we were working with art collectors and promoting artists, trying to find gallery placements for them.
For two years, we were travelling all over the world to the biggest fairs. I had an amazing time; not financially, but for the experiences. It’s amazing to just try things and not be afraid of risk. I wanted to be independent and feel comfortable with what I’m doing.
When the war happened in Ukraine, it gave me another level of motivation.
How did Budzy happen?
I wanted to start an online business and [sell] through physical shops or gyms because Balloonsiaga events were taking all my time. I was doing research into products and yoga mats was one.
During the pandemic, everybody wanted to keep clean, especially in the gym. We had just entered lockdown and sports equipment was sold out on Amazon.
I wish I launched at that time, but it was not possible because of shipping and logistics. It took a while, and now I’m working on our second collection.
Have your spending and saving habits evolved?
I could spend all my allowance in one day before because I knew I had a backup with my parents. I don’t think at the beginning of my career I was really focusing on my money – how I pay my bills and just going out. But I learnt how to manage it.
Now, it’s not so much a thing as how much is spent, but how I can earn more. I’m not limiting myself on anything I can afford. I can afford a lifestyle that is comfortable, by myself, which makes me proud.
I found a perfect balance for me. I save money, but also if I want something, I’ll get it because I know I will earn more.
Are you wiser with money?
I’m not a materialistic person, but I have comfortable things. I don’t wear an expensive watch and my iPhone is not a new model. My Hermes bag, I really like it, it was expensive, but now I mostly buy in Zara. It’s convenient, I like the quality and it’s inexpensive so you can buy more things. And I’m driving a Chevrolet because I always put lots of stuff in my car, it can easily get dirty because of events.
I don’t run after expensive stuff, it will not make me happy. If something is expensive, I will buy it only because I really like it and we’re talking about a reasonable amount of money.
I think it’s the right way to live your life … you should always enjoy every moment. If I want to do something, I’m doing it.
How do you grow your wealth?
I’m looking into the metaverse. I know it’s going to be big and it’s better to invest now before it’s too big. You can buy non-fungible tokens and properties there. I can launch a company in the metaverse and sell my balloons online.
I just need to dedicate time and learn about it. It’s not worth just putting your money into a savings account, but you [also] really need to not invest blindly.
I’m excited to learn and explore the world of cryptocurrency and the metaverse.
What has been your best investment?
My businesses and myself. I wasn’t really confident before when I was dependent on my parents. But I realised I really needed to do something with my life by myself. It brings a different level of confidence when you are successful, personally. You shine with that energy around you and people can sense it as well.
You should invest an equal amount in your photos, video production, marketing, not only stock. It’s very important because the image is out there, people see it, they decide if they want it [your product] or don’t want it. It’s your job to make sure they really want it.
Is money key to happiness?
How you use money makes you happy. It’s how you approach things … money is like an instrument. You can do anything you want with it.
I like to treat my friends with things, surprises, do something for them, this is what makes me happy. Taking them for dinner, sending them something … it makes life nicer.
Do you have an indulgence?
I love acupuncture. It’s the best thing I did for myself in 2021, it’s changed my body completely. It helps you to feel better, helps you to “attract” better in your life; different events, clients or circumstances. It’s all connected. If I feel down, after one session I feel like I’m the happiest person in the world.
Has the pandemic influenced your businesses?
I launched Balloonsiaga just before the pandemic. People still had birthdays and wanted something, so I was sending balloons with a taxi. We can always find a way. It’s a new opportunity to look at your business from a different perspective.
Even though events shut down, I found a way to keep my business going. I was still busy, actually more than usual. We started as a high-end decor balloons company, now we’re doing table set-ups and events management.
Do you have financial goals?
In Ukraine, I have businesses under my name, restaurants. I’m not managing them, I’m kind of a partner, but it gives me an opportunity to be able to have retirement in Ukraine as well.
I want to buy property in Dubai. I want a house in Italy or Spain, and probably in Los Angeles. I’m not sure how it’s going to happen, but it’s definitely in the plan.
It’s good to stay positive and be flexible. I know I will make it happen. After 35, I will start building my retirement plan. Now I’m building my businesses.