Money & Me: ‘I’ve learnt to ask for what I deserve’

Jesse Akister, co-founder of women’s fitness community The Shero Life, says it is important to master your skills to be able to work smarter, not harder

Jesse Akister, co-founder of The Shero Life, is learning about diverse investments so that she can live comfortably even during challenging times. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Powered by automated translation

Jesse Akister’s fitness journey began when she injured herself in 2008 and a doctor told her that it would happen again if she did not strive to become fit.

The strength and rehabilitation coach from Australia was a flight attendant at the time, and what began as an attempt to stay healthy for work turned into an insatiable quest for knowledge on strength training, functional movement and holistic wellness, especially for women.

The “obsession”, says Ms Akister, 37, co-founder of The Shero Life, a membership-based women’s holistic fitness community in the UAE, changed the course of her career.

After gaining several coaching certificates and teaching group classes part-time, while also flying for seven years and holding an office job thereafter, she quit her corporate role in 2019 to focus on building her own practice.

“When I started coaching 10 years back, there was a shortage of female coaches in the UAE, so I found an opportunity to create and lead women’s programmes at gyms. I would train in the morning and after my day job, train clients in the evening,” says Ms Akister, who moved to the UAE in 2007.

“I was working so hard in two places when I could have made the same money if I just dedicated my entire time to coaching and that is when I made the transition.

“The Shero Life is an extension of what I was trying to create with my programmes at the gyms, but make it more accessible and help women make sustainable lifestyle changes.”

When not training her clients or developing new initiatives for The Shero Life community, Ms Akister spends time with books and podcasts at her apartment in Damac Hills, Dubai.

How did money feature in your childhood?

My family did not have a lot of money. We were never hungry and always had a roof over our head, but we could never take extravagant holidays or own fancy things.

I grew up with the belief that you must work very hard all your life to get by. My father is in his early 60s and still works just as much because he cannot afford not to.

Did you start working at an early age?

I moved out of home when I was 18. My first job was at a supermarket and then I worked at a fashion retail shop. My pay was enough for food and rent.

For several years, my meals would be pasta with a little olive oil and garlic. I would put some tuna in it if I had some extra cash.

My mother paid the tuition for make-up school but I was responsible for all the other expenses. I managed to live frugally then. But when I moved to the UAE, my lifestyle changed drastically.

How did your new lifestyle affect your expenses?

A credit card was the worst thing that happened to me because I did not know how to budget and was spending beyond my means and not saving anything.

I had seen so much hardship before this that a credit card made me feel like I could buy anything. I racked up a massive debt. It was only when I started being harassed by debt collectors that I woke up to my scary reality.

I had also decided to quit flying in 2013 and knew I would be earning less. I was forced to change the way I lived.

How did you manage to overcome that financial adversity?

I sold everything that I had and rented a room in a friend’s villa. A few friends bailed me out of debt and I went back to living a more measured life.

It helped that I had shifted my focus to fitness, so I spent most of my time training and coaching. I was surrounded by people who did not consider materialistic possessions and expensive outings a priority.

How did The Shero Life come about?

I met my business partner, Ray Lilani, when I was a coach at a Dubai gym and we connected instantly. I joined his fitness gear and media services company Generation Strong and within a few months proposed the idea of The Shero Life.

I spent many years becoming technically good at what I do. However, I lacked the business acumen to start my own venture and had no money. Teaming up with Ray helped to fill that gap.

Was The Shero Life affected by the pandemic?

In 2019, we started as an educational platform, and ran events, workshops and seminars with experts in holistic living, movement and nutrition.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it created a lot of pent-up demand for in-person, community classes. So, we started eight-week training camps in February 2021. Our coaches lead small-group strength, conditioning and skills classes for women every day.

The programme is tailored for women so that they achieve maximum results with three hours each day and live pain-free. We also organise community events every month that range from a book club and nutritional challenges to discussions with experts on emotional eating, breathwork, pelvic floor issues and topics that affect women.

Members also receive a Shero card with exclusive discounts at more than 25 partners, including medical clinics, supplements and physiotherapy. The aim is to make holistic and sustainable living cheaper.

Did you have any financial concerns when you decided to start this venture?

We set this up in a way that I was earning enough to cover my rent. I had kept on some of my private clients and had some savings in the bank.

I knew I would not be earning a lot in the first few years of the business as all profits had to be reinvested for business development, staff and diversification. It did make me nervous because I could have been comfortably earning in a full-time position.

But then I would remind myself that I did not have the commitment of a family and children, so I did not have anything to lose either.

How is the business doing now?

This year has been good and I am finally at a place where we are making a profit and seeing growth every month. This affects how much I earn, and I can save and think about investing.

I had seen so much hardship before this that a credit card made me feel like I could buy anything
Jesse Akister, co-founder of The Shero Life

How has your financial outlook changed over the years?

For the longest time, my relationship with money was not great. Financial literacy was not part of my upbringing and I started learning about investments and making money work for you in my 30s.

I don’t live with a scarcity mindset any more. I know money comes when I need it and I can work less and earn more. I have worked hard to grow as a coach and continue to do so, and have learnt how to ask for what I deserve.

What investments are you considering?

I am working towards my financial independence. I am currently learning about diverse investments so that even during challenging times at work, I will be able to live comfortably. I am also looking into buying property.

What was your last big spend?

I look to spend on experiences with family and friends and making my home warm and welcoming.

My last spend was a ticket back to Australia to see my family, and it was worth every penny.

Updated: July 04, 2022, 6:14 AM