Money & Me: ‘I save so I can spend on meaningful things’

Johan du Plessis, founder of HealthTech app, says his money outlook was shaped by his frugal upbringing

Johan du Plessis, founder of, says he invests only in what he can control. Pawan Singh / The National
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Beating cancer steered Johan du Plessis’s life towards the fitness industry in South Africa and then Dubai, where he founded (YFC), a holistic app to revolutionise the connection between fitness and technology.

It went live this week with a mission to motivate people to become more active with services such as multi-gym brand access, personal trainers and an online training platform, with partners such as Apple Health and Les Mills.

Mr Du Plessis, 41, previously co-founded meal planning platform Mealzap after management roles with UFC Gym Dubai, Fitness First Middle East and Engine Health & Fitness.

He moved to Dubai 10 years ago with his wife. They have a seven-year-old son.

Was money a factor in your upbringing?

I come from an everyday family, mid-income. My dad works in traffic services, mum's a financial administrator.

My parents gave us everything we needed ... me and my sister. They tried to make us understand that whatever you need, you're going to have, but if there’s something you want, you have to do something extra to try and get it.

When I grew older and became a father myself, I realised what they tried to achieve; you learn value and appreciation for what you have and how to be frugal.

What was your route to earning cash?

My dad was always encouraging about doing extra chores around the house to get money.

Also, my grandfather was a farmer, so I would help around the farm and make a bit of money. I learnt about having to graft and accepting [that] sometimes you’re going to have a bad harvest, and it’s completely out of your control; you can do everything right and still not get the result you want.

Great lessons … it prepares you for when you grow older and have your own business, the notion of always keeping something for those bad years.

How did fitness lead you to UAE?

I was an active kid, did rugby, hockey, tennis and played cricket at provincial level until I tore both hamstrings.

I went into coaching, became a teacher and then learnt I had terminal cancer. They told me I had eight months to live … back in 2006.

When I beat cancer, I said: “I want to make it, but I want to make it big, to be able to do everything I want to do.”

This was a wake-up call. I had to change to something other than teaching. Sport and fitness I understood and enjoyed, so I gave this industry a go.

Within a year, I went from collecting leads for the sales team to becoming general manager for the biggest fitness club in the Western Cape.

I got an opportunity to come to Dubai and work for Fitness First. I realised quickly I would probably have better opportunities [here] to create a great life for me and my family.

What are your spending habits?

I’m probably a fair mix between saving and spending. I save so I can spend on what I want, rather than spending for the sake of it.

It’s essential for entrepreneurs to have a partner that can keep them grounded
Johan du Plessis, founder,

I don’t buy lavish stuff, I don’t get lost in that [Dubai lifestyle]. Usually, it’s slightly more expensive, but I know I’m going to have it for a long time.

Many people you come across don’t want to spend; they try and save the entire time. You have to have that balance.

So, you buy quality over quantity?

I drive a Ford Mustang. It was an expensive car and I bought one because that’s what I wanted.

I’m a gamer as well, so I bought a 65-inch nano cell TV. I could have bought a normal 47 or 50-inch TV, but it’s not something I’m going to buy every day.

I buy things that have meaning rather than because it’s there to buy.

How are you growing wealth?

I invest in what I can control and the only thing I can control is my performance. I can’t control what Bitcoin is going to do, therefore I invest in myself.

YFC is a company we have to build; tech is expensive and the thing about an app is you’ve got to continue to develop it, update it.

Johan du Plessis says his best financial achievement to date is securing $1.2 million seed funding for his start-up. Pawan Singh / The National

Putting everything I have into this and making it work … I’ll make everything back that I’ve put in.

My wife, on the other side, is happy to back me, but she puts money into a retirement fund.

Do you have a cherished investment?

My wife’s wedding ring. Not because of what I paid for it, but what it represents, for how important she is in my life.

We make this really good couple [because] we have that balance. She’s very stable, works for Jumeirah [Group], takes care of her money, not a big spender.

In a way, that allows me the freedom to work for myself. It’s essential for entrepreneurs to have a partner who can keep them grounded.

When I started YFC, my income took a massive hit, but I’m very fortunate to have a wife who backs me.

Any key financial milestones?

My best financial achievement to date … that would be securing $1.2 million seed funding for YFC.

How do you feel about money?

My first instinct is, don’t chase the money, you don’t win from that.

People think money equals success, but it’s the opposite way; success equals money.

So, it's more that success makes me happy, because if you’re successful, you’ll have the money to be able to celebrate that success.

Are you wise with cash?

I think I am, but it’s subjective. It depends on what people see as a wasteful buy or a useful buy.

As a gamer, having a TV with good resolution and a nice-sized screen is an asset, whereas somebody else who just watches it for Netflix is not really interested in the capabilities.

I don’t have a lot of luxuries. I have my car, TV, my cell phone, a gaming laptop. Other than that, I don’t really spend on myself, I spend on what makes my wife and son happy.

Any financial regrets?

I’ve made some poor decisions, but I usually take the lesson from it and move on. It’s part and parcel of life.

Has the pandemic influenced your outlook?

It was the event that told me: “Now you’ve got to start backing yourself.”

With Covid-19, Engine closed, and I had to find something else. I had an opportunity to get involved in Mealzap as a co-founder, a great learning experience.

At the same time, I did consulting for gyms — gym rescues, renovations, helping them build up — and the more calls I seemed to get, that’s when I decided to make a platform where gyms and studios benefit, the user or member is also rewarded and the vendor that supplies this industry is involved.

What does the future hold?

I will never retire. My old age plan is YFC, I have no intentions of having it bought out.

I want this to be a $200 million company within six years. I’ve got my eye on this beautiful little house, a holiday home, just off the beach in South Africa.

That’ll be my guilty buy when I make my first big dividend.

Updated: August 12, 2022, 6:02 PM