Money & Me: ‘I feel richer now that I earn less’

Perihan Abouzeid, founder of technology start-up PeriCare, says entrepreneurship has made her more comfortable with money

Perihan Abouzeid, founder of PeriCare, inside her flagship nursing pod. She says her spending habits have evolved since having a daughter. Leslie Pableo for The National
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Perihan Abouzeid founded PeriCare, a start-up creating products for busy mothers, last year after becoming a working parent building and marketing tech businesses in the US, GCC and Europe.

The Egyptian co-founded and successfully exited digital content creation agency Qabila Media Productions in Cairo and MoviePigs, an entertainment platform serving the Arab diaspora in North America. Ms Abouzeid’s experience includes Google Ireland and Viu Middle East.

She recognised the struggles that mothers endure, especially when returning to work, prompting PeriCare’s flagship nursing pod where they can breastfeed babies.

Ms Abouzeid, 38, lives in Sharjah with her husband, a telecoms senior manager, and daughter Joud, now 18 months old.

Did you experience money growing up?

My dad was a military engineer in the armed forces. He lost his father when he was four, so grew up very conscious of money.

Mum was a housewife, from a wealthy family, and respectfully adopted his lifestyle.

I remember them telling me that dad’s salary when they first married was almost half of her allowance before she married. So, I grew up in a financially responsible household in Alexandria with a twin brother.

How did that impact you?

One was to manage the family budget when I was about eight. Dad would tell us: “Here’s an envelope that has all the money we spend on groceries for the month — if mummy wants to buy anything, she’s going to come to you.”

Another time they gave us our tuition fees to pay to school, to understand how important it is to carry money and be careful.

My parents also wanted us to be conscious of our spending.

How did you first earn?

While at high school, I played basketball and the sports club had a restaurant. I was the cashier and made 200 Egyptian pounds a month; not even $10 but I was happy.

I wanted to increase my income instead of relying on allowances for outings with friends and liked the fact that I was independent.

We didn’t grow up with luxuries, but we were well-educated, private schools and university.

Dad said we were his investment even though everybody around him would say he should put this money in the bank for us or invest in real estate. He said: “They’re my real estate, my two towers.”

I believe I started my entrepreneurial career maybe at five when I created short stories to sell to friends and family.

In grade seven, I made bracelets with names on them, selling them in school. I was able to buy a golden necklace. The funny thing is, I didn’t know or understand the word entrepreneurship.

What led you to Dubai?

My fiancee (now husband) was working here. I joined Viu in January 2020 and got married in March. Covid happened a couple of weeks later and we got stuck on honeymoon.

The wedding was in Cairo, honeymoon in Mexico. On the way back, we were flying through Istanbul to Cairo and then Dubai. Cairo shut its borders, the UAE decided not to accept expats, Bahrain wouldn’t take us, Turkey would not let us in.

Maldives was still open for tourists, so we booked a flight and ended up there for three months.

Did that prove costly?

It was not the normal rate, but still expensive. We’d already accumulated debt with the apartment, the wedding and our honeymoon, so we were way beyond our budget.

We came back with big worries. My husband was on unpaid leave, indefinitely, I was still on probation.

The more money you make, the more you spend anyway. When my salary was guaranteed, it was easier to spend on possessions.
Perihan Abouzeid, founder of PeriCare

We made the decision not to do the maths so we were not depressed, but it was $15,000 to $20,000. Luckily, I was paid well, my husband got his job back. We started prioritising our debt and cutting back.

How did PeriCare happen?

I’ve always had that itch, I can’t see a problem and not do something about it. This one felt like a sense of responsibility.

I had my baby and for more than a year stayed with the company, pumping (expressing milk) in the toilet.

I realised how forgotten mothers are, especially working mothers, and then met my business partner who told me about an idea her company was working on … nursing pods.

I had cash I could invest in this business and the passion to create products that serve mothers.

Was leaving your salary a shock?

Definitely. In general, entrepreneurship and motherhood are extremely humbling.

I had to go back to the spreadsheet and see where I could cut … should I order that Starbucks every day?

I never hired a nanny. And we just moved to Sharjah; our Dubai landlord wanted to increase the rent by 67 per cent.

We’re now in a bigger house, paying less. I’m still not getting a salary from my company, but I’m making money consulting.

Perihan Abouzeid divides her earnings into basic needs, savings and investments. Leslie Pableo / The National

Did your spending habits evolve?

Especially after having a daughter … I think about her future and education.

Before, I was working full time making a very good salary. Now I feel a lot more comfortable with money; I feel I have more than then because there was debt to pay.

The more money you make, the more you spend anyway. When my salary was guaranteed, it was easier to spend on possessions.

I used to work in the film industry, go to red carpet events and thought I had to buy fancy dresses, bags, shoes which you wear once, impulse purchases I regret making.

Now I’m going to invest whatever extra I’m making, as opposed to spending on stuff.

How are you growing wealth?

We divide earnings into chunks; one for basic needs, a chunk for savings and a chunk for investments.

I put money into a couple of apps that allow investments here, like Sarwa and Stake (fractional property ownership).

We don’t save just cash, it’s either in gold or US dollars (forex).

What is your best investment?

My start-up Qabila. It was a small investment, bootstrapped, and we got bought out for good money.

I put it into another business that ultimately failed, but I was also doing my MBA so it paid part of the student debt.

Recently, a couple of stocks made good returns, bought when they were doing really bad and they recovered … Alibaba, I’ve made over 50 per cent.

Any other financial milestones?

It wouldn’t be the amount but I won an award and $25,000 for being best female entrepreneur in the Middle East in 2012.

That was the biggest milestone because it was for me, for being a female entrepreneur, validation in the very early days of entrepreneurship.

How do you view money?

I was never seeking money for the sake of having money. It always felt like a means to me.

Now, I feel richer, making less. I’m able to manage my business, take care of the house and my daughter, precious time, and I’m doing something I love.

I remind myself what really matters, that I don’t need to be like somebody else. I make decisions for me and others.

Updated: February 27, 2023, 4:16 AM