Money & Me: 'I'd still do radio even if Fade Fit sold for millions'

Virgin Radio's Kris Fade arrived in Dubai with little savings but has branched out to become a successful businessman

Kris Fade founded health snack brand Fade Fit in 2018. Courtesy Kris Fade
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Kris Fade (real name Kristan Fahd) is a 41-year-old Australian-Lebanese media personality. He moved to Dubai in 2008 and hosts the Kris Fade Show on Virgin Radio.

He recently married long-term partner Brianna Ramirez, has a waxwork at Dubai’s Madame Tussauds and lives in Dubai with his wife and two daughters, Noushie, 12, and Kikki, 10.

As well as his media engagements, he founded health snack brand Fade Fit in 2018, which has expanded into Saudi Arabia.

Did you have a comfortable upbringing?

Mum and Dad were really hard workers, having migrated from Lebanon to Sydney, Australia, when they were very young. My father had little to no education and was working at a grocery store at 14. He ended up becoming general manager of a car dealership and did fairly well for himself and us, while Mum hustled every day in a clothing store.

It was moderate suburban life. I was given pocket money but I had to wash Dad’s car to earn it. I remember I was given about A$3, which is probably equivalent to about Dh40 these days. He was very particular about the car and I had a toothbrush to scrub the alloy wheels. So, we weren’t just given the cash – we had to do some chores.

Were you keen to get into the workplace to earn your own wage?

Yes, I started when I was 14 years old. My uncle owned a cafe and he let me work there – I don’t know if that was even legal at that age! My role was to make all of the smoothies, soft drinks and juices.

It was two buses and a train to get there, which took an hour and 15 minutes on a Sunday morning. They used to give me $70 cash for working from 8am to 4pm. That’s around Dh300 and for a 14-year-old receiving that once a week, that was a lot. I did it for about two years and it was my first taste of saving up cash and then being able to spend it.

I saved up enough to buy an airline ticket to the US with my cousin and uncle. I also wanted a Super Nintendo games console and was a fanatic collector of NBA basketball cards.

What was the earliest lesson you learnt about money?

That you need it. It’s not necessarily the end goal but you want to enjoy life and you can do things when you want to with the aid of money.

Growing up, we would save a lot to get to a certain point, be it a holiday or car. We weren’t given cars or anything like that – I shared my grandmother’s car to start with. I wanted to buy my first car, which was a little Suzuki Swift sports car. It wasn’t good but at that age, it was what I could afford.

I took out a bank loan and I regret doing that – it’s one thing I’d advise young people not to do. Don't take a loan out to buy your first car. That car took me four years to pay off and by the time I finished paying, the car was worth absolutely nothing.

Did money ever play a part in your career considerations?

Not really. I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I was 24 years old and was lost. I failed at school, scoring 39 out of 100 at the end, which didn’t qualify me for university.

Mum and Dad wanted me to do school again, but I didn’t, so from that period I just hustled as I wanted to prove — not just to Mum and Dad — that I could earn a living.

I worked as a barista for nearly five years and on the side of that was cleaning cars — I’d dry the cars at a drive-thru car wash. I’d jump to different jobs but I used to make alright money.

I was out of home by 18 and paying rent for a studio apartment, plus I had car repayments to make so I knew I needed this cash flow. I understood that money was needed for survival. I also smoked back then and wanted to buy two packets of cigarettes a week, so I knew how much I needed.

There are a lot of fortunate people whose parents are able and willing to give them money, whether it’s buying their first car, helping them with their mortgage or paying for their university. In some ways, I’m grateful my parents didn’t do that because it instilled that survival technique in me and I think a lot of people lack that.

What I do with my two daughters now, who are 12 and 10, is I get them what they want but I make sure they understand what the money was worth and respect Dh1 as you would $1,000.

Did you come to Dubai for a financial opportunity or as a career move?

It was a bit of both. I was three years into radio in Sydney and my boss told me I wasn’t going to go any further at that radio station, I’d done everything I could.

He had a buddy, who was in charge of Virgin Radio across the world, and he said why don’t I go and sit with him. He said he’d heard my stuff and liked it and has a job in Kuala Lumpur, plus a start-up in the Middle East.

I had a think about it. Lebanon is four hours from Dubai, so I thought I get to learn Arabic and go and see some of the family. Fourteen years ago I knew nothing of Dubai — you go to Wikipedia and there wasn’t much on it. I chose it for the adventure. Did I think there was the potential to earn more in Dubai? Yes, 100 per cent.

When I came out here 14 years ago, I had about $3,500, so about Dh10,000 in my bank account. A lot of that was from Mum and Dad as I was getting to the airport, and a bit of savings I had.

My salary when I got here was about Dh13,100 a month. Within the first two weeks, I learnt I needed to pay the rent in one cheque and there was the realisation that I didn’t have that money and would have to get a bank loan. I was thinking had I landed myself in debt as soon as I got here?

It was an adventure and it continues today.

Was it a financial decision to start Fade Fit?

I’d been doing Virgin Radio for 11 years. Even today, I enjoy it — you need to when you have to get up at 4.20am each day. Even if Fade Fit was bought out one day for millions and millions of dollars, I’d still do radio.

It was the UAE community that set Fade Fit up. I was going through a really bad time in my life with anxiety, depression and a bad divorce.

I’d put on a lot of weight and was up to 128kg. I was on pills for the anxiety and I didn’t want to take them anymore, so I threw them away and started going to the gym.

Being in that environment made me feel better mentally and I’d have a couple of hours high and then I’d crash, so I started doing two sessions a day, more for the mental side of it than the physical. Before I knew it, I was watching what I was eating and was down to 89kg.

I started getting messages on social media from people asking how I got fit. I’d reply but then was getting so many of them, I decided to do a day and call it "Fade Fit".

I was hashtagging Fade Fit on my gym posts and I noticed it had been used more than 1,000 times as other people were now using it.

We did this day seminar with nutritionists, psychologists, motivational speakers et cetera. We had about 700 people there and had six hours of inspirational talks — that was how the brand started and I thought I wanted to do more with it.

Even if Fade Fit was bought out one day for millions and millions of dollars, I’d still do radio
Kris Fade, Virgin Radio deejay and businessman

As for the snacking business side of it, when I went shopping with my daughters the snacks were really expensive and the healthiest ones were imported from overseas and didn’t taste good.

I saw this as a gap in the market for a healthier option for kids. Within four months we had a product on the shelves and I find it mind-blowing to see it out there. It’s really blown up into a multimillion-dollar business here in the UAE.

How was the business initially funded?

It was and still is 100 per cent funded by myself. I’ve had great guidance from an expert in FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), which was important because I was rocking up to meetings and saying, "Hey, I don’t know what I’m doing".

Now, after three years, I can start calling some of the shots. I’ve been offered investment by a number of different companies and people over the years but at this stage it’s not needed. That’s not to say I won’t accept it in the future, but right now I don’t require it.

Are you a businessman first and foremost or a radio presenter?

I’m a father first. Twelve years ago, I’d have said a radio presenter, but now a father and husband. Off that, I’ll always be an entertainer, whether that’s on the radio, TV or social media, as that’s my strength and where I shine. The business side I love as well and I think they come together.

How did the onset of Covid-19 affect business?

We saw sales drop by, like, times five. I wasn’t concerned that we wouldn’t get through it. If we would have stayed in a position of not leaving the house and needing appointments for grocery shopping for two years then, no, we wouldn’t have survived and I don’t think many would.

They did it the best possible way here in the UAE. The market kicked in so well and people wanted healthier choices.

Where do you see yourself financially in five years' time?

I’ve never chased money. My first radio boss said to me not to get into radio for fame or for money or else you’ll never get it. I’ve carried that along with me and don’t look at every deal for Fade Fit as a financial opportunity but more for what is good for the brand and community. If you do good at anything, the money will come.

So, I don’t have this end goal of needing X amount in my account. Hopefully, in five years, I’ll be doing what I’m doing now but on a bigger level, maybe more international markets and on the radio front may be doing that in more countries. I see myself living in Dubai, back in Australia, in Los Angeles. Let’s see.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I’m a saver, but I’ll spend on stuff I really want.

People make fun of what I wear, even my mum, because I’ll be wearing a shirt I’ve had for seven years. I’m not one to go out and buy everything Chanel. My vibe is comfortable with shorts and a Dh20 top.

When I grocery shop, I’m price-conscious and look at the cost of everything I’m buying.

But then, if we go to the US on holiday, I will spend big because for those few weeks for the family, I’ve worked so hard for months and I want to fork out whether that’s a bigger place to stay, a nicer car or better seats on the plane.

I pick and choose what I want. The saving game has been picked up from my father, whereby I don’t like taking risks and let it build up in the bank.

Best and worst investments?

I lost $10,000 when my MetaMask wallet was hacked. Although, I’m told that amount would now be worth $3,600 after the cryptocurrency markets crashed.

My advice is don’t get into anything unless you understand it. I knew I was getting into it while not understanding it completely.

One of the things I don’t get is the MetaMask blockchain connection and to this day I still don’t understand how someone could have gone in and taken my money and that scares me. I trust Binance now that it’s here in the UAE and regulated.

The best investment, aside from my family and Fade Fit, is a company I invested in three years ago called Enhance Fitness, which is a Dubai start-up. It’s like the Uber of personal trainers.

When we started, I think we had seven personal trainers and now we have 220 on the company licence and have launched in Saudi Arabia. I was using them and thought I liked the idea. I became close to the main shareholder, so gained a friendship as well as a good business.

Updated: June 28, 2022, 4:38 AM