Money & Me: ‘My first job was working in a takeaway kebab shop in the UK’

Emirati businessman and musician Saleh Hamed says raising funds for his kandura start-up is his proudest financial moment

Saleh Hamed, co-founder of kandura app CanCan, says he was exposed to an entrepreneurial spirit from an early age. Victor Besa / The National
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Saleh Hamed is an Emirati professional with a passion for music and fashion. Outside of his day job, the producer, keyboard player and writer for television, who performs under the stage name Dozenz, is a regular on the UAE’s music scene and has several albums to his credit.

Now, he has launched an innovative new platform in the UAE's traditional menswear market that uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to create kanduras. CanCan, the app he co-founded with Mohamed Al Jneibi, Yaqoob Al Shehhi and Khalid Al Hashimi, turns the experience of shopping for a kandura on its head.

Using body-scanning technology, CanCan takes accurate measurements through a mobile phone camera and a high-quality kandura is delivered four days later. Nearly 4,000 customers have registered on the platform and the app has been downloaded more than 10,000 times.

Mr Hamed, 43, graduated in computer science from the University of Nottingham in the UK. He has worked across several sectors, including satellite telecommunications, oil and gas, aviation and nuclear energy, and takes that experience to CanCan, where he is managing director.

He lives in Abu Dhabi’s Al Riyadh area with his four sons and family.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I lived in Los Angeles in the early 80s as a young boy. Kids there sold lemonade to make extra cash, so the entrepreneurial spirit was on full display. It was also championed in school, on TV and in the neighbourhood.

Later, I lived in Al Wathba, a village between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. I spent most of the 1990s in the UK, where I explored more entrepreneurial activities. At school, I started a newspaper and radio station, and bought and sold games at car boot sales. I saw how money needed to circulate and how human endeavour and effort grows value.

At what age did you start working?

My first job was working in a takeaway kebab place in the UK when I was about 16. It was a brief stint, which paid between £25 (Dh112) and £30 each night.

What was the earliest lesson you learnt about money?

There’s no “get rich quick” scheme that works.

Who or what has been your biggest financial inspiration?

Warren Buffett. I know it’s a cliché, but he just makes sense. He doesn’t invest in things he doesn’t understand and he needs to see underlying value to make a commitment.

How did you go about launching CanCan?

We started with a long pilot and testing phase with family and friends, then gradually expanded the circle, continuously learning from new users and improving until we had a solid, consistent experience that we felt was ready for prime time.

What capital did you need to start CanCan?

The first prototype was a modest investment of about $8,000. I wanted to build a team around the concept that would be able to shepherd the business as it matured, so I invited trusted, influential friends to invest.

Once we had the prototype and built a business plan, the founders self-financed the technology development until we were ready to prove our business. We then went to private equity and external investors to raise funds for a formal launch.

What results have you seen so far?

Customer feedback has been great — and that’s the key result we look for. They are amazed at the accuracy of the fittings and the quality of our materials and stitching. We’ve reached 5,200 registered customers and our growth rate in April was 100 per cent over March.

Forty per cent of the 1,000 customers who took their measurements using the app have done so in the past two months. We’re very excited about the future.

What have you learnt as an entrepreneur?

I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life and so have most of my partners — in fact, most were intrapreneurs, or people tasked with developing innovative ideas and projects within a company. I know, the term never took off.

The main challenge in starting any business or enterprise is overcoming the inevitable criticisms you face in the beginning. People generally don’t like change and any significantly impactful entrepreneurial activity will have some element of disruption or change.

Don’t look for reassurance from external sources. You must believe in your vision and keep moving forward. It’s a case of resilience, patience and humility.

How has the music business been so far?

I released my first album in 2003 with (my previous band) Gray Test, then two more with Juliana Down, but my most recent release was Dozenz (my stage name) in 2020.

The music business is a very challenging one and not for the casual devotee. I consider it a hobby and an outlet for my creative spirit.

How did you buy your first home?

I currently own one home in Abu Dhabi through the government’s Iskan housing scheme. We are very fortunate in the UAE to have a government that provides these opportunities to institutionalise generational wealth and help Emiratis get on to the property ladder.

I am also a partner in a recently started property fund, and we made our first purchases on Yas Island.

What has been your weakest financial moment?

I lost a considerable amount on cryptocurrency. I learnt to either get an expert to do something or do it yourself.

What was your greatest financial challenge?

I just finished building my house. My initial plans exceeded my budget, and I couldn’t envisage how I’d be able to make up the difference. But I pushed ahead anyway.

Avoid credit cards. They’re absolutely the worst way to get things done
Saleh Hamed, entrepreneur

I calculated that my funds would run out in 16 months, which gave me that time to find the financing. It was risky, but paid off. Within a few months, I was able to move some things around, secure the extra financing required and eventually completed my house successfully in line with my original plan.

What asset classes do you invest in?

None beyond my house, business, property and pension. I am not really an investor, at least not yet. My limited experiments were not encouraging.

How did the coronavirus impact your finances?

Positively. Our business was perfect for a contact-limited situation and in general expenditures were reduced due to limited movements.

Have you managed to become financially independent yet?

Not yet, but I’m on the way, inshallah. Being independent is very important and I would like my children to have the opportunity to pursue their own passions and dreams and not have to conform and take a job they might not like just to pay the bills.

Are you a spender or a saver?

Both. I am short-term spender, long-term saver.

What has been your proudest financial moment?

Securing pre series-A funding for CanCan. It was the result of years of hard work and the moment we got that confirmation, we had something really worthwhile.

If you could live your life again, what financial decision would you change?

Avoid credit cards. They’re absolutely the worst way to get things done.

How much do you have in your wallet right now?

Nothing, I never carry cash.

Updated: July 19, 2022, 1:54 PM