Money & Me: ‘I like to invest in NFTs — and people’

Marcus Ch dela Pena learnt some hard lessons after the 2008 credit crunch and now invests in youth leaders in the Philippines

Marcus Ch dela Pena, founder of music platform Musivv, is trying to monetise the music side of the business with non-fungible tokens. Photo: Pawan Singh / The National
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Filipino Marcus Ch dela Pena moved to Dubai in 2005 on the suggestion of his father, who was working in Fujairah as a church pastor.

Easy access to credit cards led to debts and Mr dela Pena taking a loan to clear them while he was working as a senior art director.

Now 45, the stay-at-home dad owns a digital music magazine platform for independent artists licensed under his design company InDios Media. teaches artists the importance of making money through their music through non-fungible tokens (NFTs), in which Mr dela Pena also invests.

He and his wife, a property management company employee, live in Dubai Marina with their five-year-old son.

Where did money feature growing up?

I was born into a poor family (living) three hours south of Manila. Sometimes, we couldn’t pay (rent), so we had to move around. My father did whatever work he could get during the day and drove a tricycle selling balut (street food) in the evening.

He pushed hard to give us a good life. I’ve heard stories from my mum that he did everything just to put food on the table.

She couldn’t afford to buy milk for me at one point when I was a baby. We ate rice and coffee. That was breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Then dad flew to Saudi Arabia to be an executive assistant for the chief executive of an oil company. That was a stroke of luck for us, we moved to a mid-range lifestyle, bought a car.

When did you starting earning?

When I was about 9, in school I would do sketches of Superman and Spider-Man. Friends would pay and I’d draw for them and make stickers.

During summer break, when I wanted extra money to buy what I liked, I would sell gloves.

I became a graphic designer for a Chinese company straight out of college, earning around the time 12,000 pesos ($214), which in 1998 was a lot.

What led you to Dubai?

I got broken-hearted, needed a new place, a new life. My dad was working in Fujairah and told me Dubai was the next big thing. He wanted us to experience if life could be better abroad. Three months down the line, I found a design job here.

But in 2012, I started getting laid off, jumping from company to company. It had become unstable after the credit crunch, but I’d saved enough to start a graphic design studio, the same year I got married.

How did the music work happen?

This is my other passion. I released a single in the Philippines. I gigged around Dubai and released my album here.

InDios Media is for my graphic design and web design ― that’s where the bread and butter is ― and is my way of giving back … I felt musicians here needed a platform.

As the pandemic hit, it made me focus on music and I was introduced to NFTs. This is a way to monetise the music side of the business. When an artist releases, when I produce, I tie it up with an NFT. Every time people buy their music, I get a royalty out of the NFT.

So my savings side is digital. I don’t get cash, I accumulate royalties and there’s no need to touch that cryptocurrency. I let it grow.

I have a different mindset when it comes to investments. One, I invest in NFTs. Secondly, I invest in people
Marcus Ch dela Pena, owner of InDios Media

What are you saving towards?

My home studio. Once I build the artists, the repertoire, the portfolio, and my name is out there as a producer, that’s another area for me to generate income.

At the moment, when I produce an artist, I book a recording studio. We call it the “jump-start initiative”; we look for artists who have not released music online.

So far, we have released four singles, given them experience of how it is to record professionally and hear their songs played on Spotify.

What do you enjoy spending money on?

Our priority is to invest in supporting two youth group leaders in the Philippines that go to “dark areas” and reach out to lost youth.

We can save, but this is something me and my wife really want to do, allotting this money because of the lives they touch … that to me is fulfilment.

I have a different mindset when it comes to investments. One, I invest in NFTs. Secondly, I invest in people.

What’s been your biggest financial lesson?

Learning how to spend better and seeing that money is fleeting. If you don’t take care of it, you lose it all in a snap.

Every Filipino who comes to Dubai, I would stop them at the airport and say, “please don’t get a credit card”. It’s really easy to get one, and really easy to get into debt.

Marcus Ch dela Pena believes money is a tool that either gives you the means to provide for yourself or gets you into debt. Photo: Pawan Singh / The National

What did you max your cards out on?

In the Philippines, I loved spending on friends. I bought a house and a car for my parents. When I came here, I took that same attitude towards money; it was more about friends than saving.

I took six cards, maxed them out, Dh120,000. I had no idea how credit cards worked. I thought if you paid the minimum, you’ll eventually pay them off. It was one of the biggest mistakes.

To close them, I took a loan. I was earning a five-figure salary as a senior art director, then came the credit crunch. I got laid off and rehired for a third of my salary, which went to paying my loan.

It was nothing short of a miracle I survived those trying times. I was basically back to zero, eating oatmeal for lunch. Now, I have one card and pay it off every month.

So, you became wiser?

Our spending is more frugal … spreadsheets and budgeting.

In terms of buying stuff, that’s where we maybe say: “Okay, this is not necessary, this is a luxury, we don’t need this yet.”

That’s something I teach my son as well.

How do you view money?

Money to me is a knife; you can use it for good, to cook for yourself, or you can use it to hurt yourself.

Money is a tool, it gives you means to provide for yourself or get you in debt.

What money can produce … there for me is the joy. When I hear kids or musicians say “thank you”.

If the money is there, you’re happy, but what comes out of the money? That’s the joy, something more precious.

Do you treat yourself?

After the pandemic, we’ve realised: “We’re still here, we’re still in Dubai, we’re still capable.”

Now that fear of instability when the pandemic hit, when we were holding on to whatever comes in and not spending (has subsided), we’re in a place where dinners are fine, and Ras Al Khaimah trips.

We need that from time to time to refresh, as a reward.

What are your future goals?

We have a property in Iran and want to buy a house here, but there are other priorities.

Friends told us this is the right time to have a retirement plan. Maybe that’s something I will consider down the road.

I’m more of a “now” kind of person. Maybe I just don’t want to admit I’m getting old.

Updated: October 03, 2022, 7:37 AM