Money & Me: ‘Learn to invest - nobody gets rich by saving’

Mahwussh Alam, founder of holiday homes provider One Perfect Stay, resists splurging on short-term happiness

Mahwussh Alam, founder of premium holiday homes provider One Perfect Stay, says it is important to give money to children to manage. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Mahwussh Alam founded premium holiday homes provider One Perfect Stay, which handles short-term rentals and property management, in 2016 after working in marketing and business development with companies such as IBM.

Beginning with a handful of homes using platforms such as Airbnb, Ms Alam, 42, shadowed a seasoned technology investor, raised seed funding and took on 50 homes.

One Perfect Stay now has about 200 homes across Dubai and helps owners to generate strong returns.

After initially trading works of art, Ms Alam’s artistic passion also led to her adding interior design company One Perfect Space, plus a real estate agency.

The chief executive from Karachi, Pakistan, moved to Dubai 12 years ago and lives with her husband, son, 13, and two dogs at Emirates Living.

Did money feature in your upbringing?

My father died when I was only nine. We were three sisters, pretty much brought up by a single, working mother. We had our own house, fortunately, but it was hard sometimes to make ends meet … all going to good schools, there was just about enough.

We moved back to Karachi. We were living with our uncle in the most affluent district, travelling in an SUV. My mother’s siblings had loads of money, big cars, big houses.

So the financial landscape improved?

I was in an environment in the early 1990s where I had the access but didn’t have the ownership — I was simply enjoying it.

I saw a lot of money but it wasn’t mine. That gave me the drive to go out and be ambitious. It was in the blood … property, money, it really got me excited.

By and large, people have some sort of negative connotation attached to money. At the back of my mind, subconsciously, I wanted a lot of it. Even as a child, I knew how the maths would work.

When did you first earn money?

I was 14 or 15 and would teach little children after school in our neighbourhood, offering Urdu language and maths classes — 5,000 Pakistan rupees for the month, less than Dh100.

It was enough for me to pitch into the household income; maybe you could get the monthly groceries with that sort of money.

My mother would run the entire household savings, investments, I would earn and just give it. But I believe you have to give money to children to manage.

I do it with my child, otherwise, when they grow up and have money, they don’t know how to.

But you adapted to having cash?

After graduation, I started working with a software house in their marketing department, the first time I had access to my own money.

I had come into the corporate mainstream culture but because I had no experience managing finances, I would splurge … shoes, bags, eating at fancy places.

When you spend money, that is your way of telling yourself: “I’m powerful.” That was pretty much the case with me.

We confuse having money with spending money. For me, splurging was exhibiting power. Today, it’s different; it is about having it, being content with it and not needing to show off.

Did your money relationship evolve?

Definitely, it was more self-discovery. As you grow, we realise most of the people who are all about the bling … it is coming from some point of insecurity where they need to exhibit that sort of thing.

But when you have actual money you worked hard for, that is when you become more grounded, more humble. And you put that money to the right use.

I am not saying don’t splurge, don’t entertain, but you do not spend the entire amount on short-term happiness, especially “things”.

Why swap salary security for entrepreneurship?

My husband secured a job here in 2008. We were expecting our child, so I went on a sabbatical for two years. I had offers from (technology) companies, but couldn’t go back to the same corporate culture.

Most of my biggest decisions driven from the heart have proved to be the most beneficial. I had to do something of my own. I am an art enthusiast and was always driven by interiors, anything to do with design.

My first project was for an investor. By the time I was done, I had a short-term rental client ready. The investor kept giving more units to manage. Then I found the right mentor, we formed a company and One Perfect Stay came into being.

Across three companies, it sustains some 50 team members.

What is your motivation?

Inherently, I am a salesperson and whenever I do a transaction, that brings the biggest pleasure. When I started off, my dream of making money was so I could secure myself a house. I’ve done investments after that.

Today, it is about scaling up. I am really attached to the One Perfect brand, the people working with me, the way I see their lives change … that is also gratifying and brings a sense of purpose.

How do you protect or grow wealth?

Investing. Nobody has ever got rich by saving. You have to learn to invest, don’t leave it for other people to do it for you.

It is a pyramid; at the bottom sits the securest investments such as property and on top there are shares, the last 5 per cent where you take risk in something that can translate into 100 times over … or can go to zero.

You will keep needing bigger things, but it’s important to also contain yourself and make things work
Mahwussh Alam, entrepreneur

Investment is a long-term game. I do property, stocks and a little cryptocurrency. But I will immediately realise the profit and exit.

I also bought land back home. It is worth five times the original price.

What is your financial milestone?

My first house in Emirates Living. I bought in the dip, but it was quite a challenge. If I could do it in those circumstances, I can do anything.

Every now and then we say: “Let’s move to a bigger house.”

You will keep needing bigger things, but it is important to also contain yourself and make things work; if your lifestyle keeps getting upgraded, as per the money you make, you will never be rich.

How do you see money?

Having money and showing off money are very different things. There will always be someone who will have more than you. It is a tool, use it and know how to use it.

The second thing is, in order to arrive at the conclusion that money isn’t everything, make loads of it and then you will realise it is not everything; you have to be at a point where you have made an ample amount.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I collect art. It is for the heart but I have pieces that have grown in value.

When I am travelling, I will pick up pieces from the street, some from a gallery. I have pieces from renowned artists in Pakistan. I will buy and won’t see the price.

What else are you happy buying?

Experiences, travelling, different places, cultures. That is fulfilling. Every now and then I detach myself from possessions … no Chanel bags.

I am trying to be more grounded and work on the real wealth, which comes from giving back to people who work with you, to your family.

Invest in yourself, that is something life lasting.

What are your future goals?

I have no plans of retiring. It is not like coming to work; I am as thrilled about doing deals and mentoring as anything else.

Updated: March 27, 2023, 4:16 AM