Geologist Yasmin Hadi left her oil and gas role and used her savings to launch UAE healthy meals brand Honest Badger in February 2020.
Passionate about wholesome eating and cooking from childhood, her business began home delivering nutrient-dense, plant-focused meal plans before customer demand prompted it to retail meals-to-go through Spinneys, Waitrose and Kibsons, resulting in exponential growth.
Ms Hadi, who is 30 and of Iraqi and Scottish heritage, has been in Dubai for four years and lives on Palm Jumeirah.
Where did money feature in your upbringing?
I was born in Abu Dhabi and then my family moved to Aberdeen when I was six. That’s quite a big move, going to Scotland … there were no outdoor pool sessions. But we had a nice house, had what we needed.
I have two older brothers and mum was a homemaker. My dad was an engineer in oil and gas, and always worked hard, something he instilled in us from a young age and something I always wanted to emulate.
We learned the value of money with pocket money. We’d do chores around the house and earn it that way.
Did you earn cash in other ways?
I used to love making things, chocolates, and trying to sell them to our neighbours. That was one of my favourite ways and I was encouraged by my parents to instill the basics of business.
We were very open talking about money in that sense. I was about eight or nine and mum was having a dinner party, so I volunteered to make these chocolates and they went down really well.
I’ve always loved to experiment in the kitchen. My biggest thing was to be able to save in a piggy bank. I’d spend it on sweets or some other food product. Apparently, I have been very consistent … I like to make food and then use money to buy more.
What brought you back to the UAE?
My first salaried job was in Denmark as a geologist in oil and gas. Then I was transferred to the region, working offshore and operations.
My brother lives here with my niece and nephew. I’ve always visited the UAE, come back for holidays. I thought it would be a really nice experience, so I moved. Dubai is very multicultural, which is something that appeals to me.
I changed to working for a smaller consulting company and moved with the idea to do something in F&B, healthy food in a sustainable way, but I wanted to understand the market. Food is a huge thing in my family, mum was a fantastic cook, so I would watch her.
How was Honest Badger born?
I’ve always been a healthy eater. When I was younger, my mum was ill and we found that eating healthily, a wide range of plants and vegetables, made a huge difference. Our whole family felt the benefit. That’s always been a driving factor.
The first thing we did was a coffee pop-up. People were buying the cakes and stuff, and I was like, “People like it, it’s got legs”.
I laid the groundwork, made the business plan, then made the switch full-time. Your 20s should be a time to take risks and chase a dream. I felt ready to make that change.
I was well-paid and fortunate [that] the money I made while working I was able to save. That’s how I’ve been able to start and, thankfully, the business is continuing to grow.
Was it tough leaving a generous salary?
It was definitely a big decision, but at the time seemed like a very easy one. I’m in a fortunate position that I don’t have big financial commitments, a mortgage or kids. I was fortunate in my last job as well, they sent us on like a mini MBA that was very entrepreneurial.
The experience I’d had in oil and gas, of working offshore, I knew that wasn’t something I wanted to do long term. In one case, I had 24 days offshore and, for two weeks, was the only woman on a rig of 130 men. It makes you reevaluate sometimes what you want to do.
Money isn’t everything, and doing a job that you love that has goals outside of that means a lot to me. You could have a higher salary in the industry I was in, but this brings more joy.
Have your spending and saving habits evolved?
My parents always instilled the ethic of working hard and making sure you can save. That’s something I started with my previous job, although when I started working I didn’t have the idea that I was going to be starting a business with the savings.
I just knew it would be beneficial to have [money] for something, so saving came naturally. I was purely putting it in the bank. Working offshore helps because you’re literally on a rig … unless you’re really going hard on online shopping.
I’m not particularly materialistic or excited about buying anything. I’d rather spend on good-quality ingredients and cook a nice dinner for friends and family. I’ve always been quite level-headed.
What has been your best investment?
The company … that’s my biggest financial commitment so far. It feels almost like you’re investing in yourself, taking a bet on that. The autonomy is one aspect, but also just doing something I’m really passionate about and enjoy outweighs everything else.
I am just reinvesting in and growing the business. That’s my main priority for now. Instead of going into an account or something, it’s going into the business.
Can you share your money philosophy?
Money definitely does not bring happiness. For me, happiness is a bit of an internal job that you have to deal with yourself. That can come from making sure you stay healthy and the relationships you have with family and friends.
Money can help you achieve certain goals; it’s been a tool for me to achieve a bigger goal of starting a business. You can’t start anything without a little something behind you.
Money’s something you need for necessities, but in terms of happiness, enjoyment, fulfilment … that comes from a very different place.
What do you enjoy spending on?
I don’t have particularly big expenditures. Buying good-quality produce and making something, that’s probably my biggest indulgence.
I’m loving hiking at the moment, being out in nature, although I think people dread coming with me because they’re going to get a real geological tour as I’m describing things.
Did the pandemic help or hinder Honest Badger?
The launch event was part of a yoga festival. We took a stand and Covid-19 was kind of a whisper for people. We started deliveries and then, seven days after we started, we had gone into lockdown.
I had a bit of fortunate timing as we went straight to an online e-commerce delivery model for the meal plans. Obviously, starting during Covid-19, it was different to what we expected. I’ll never know whether it benefitted us or not.
Our products were designed with a focus on overall health, food that makes you feel good. Everyone thinking about that more is something that has benefited us. The quick launch of the retail line was definitely faster than anticipated, but the opportunity came with the Spinneys Local Business Incubator Programme, so it was too good not to try.
I believe our plans are affordable. If you’re wanting to eat a varied diet, you’re going to be buying a lot of different ingredients, so it’s incredibly reasonable compared with if you tried to do that similar style of eating by yourself.
What are your future financial goals?
It’s not necessarily a figure … it would be to grow the business. We used to do more catering and pop-ups, and that’s something I’m excited about doing more of.
For the business, obviously, money is a metric you’re using to distinguish it, but overall growth and brand awareness is my biggest focus for now. The other financial goals will hopefully come at some point, but there isn’t a set timeline for that.
For our first year, we donated more than 1,000 meals to charity for Ramadan. Having money to be able to do things like that, giving back, is incredibly rewarding. That’s also something I would like to do more of in the future. We want to grow sustainably and hopefully do good along the way.