Entrepreneur Dariush Soudi’s father died when he was just four and, at 13, he moved to northern England from his native Iran.
Becoming a martial arts black belt to fend off school bullies, he left without qualifications and got into sales work, went on to become a self-made multimillionaire, lost it all, then made it back.
Three decades in sectors including computers, mobile phones and beauty salons now inform Mr Soudi’s Gladiator Mastery empowerment programme, inspiring other business owners to become “modern gladiators” by conquering personal and professional battles to succeed.
Alongside this, the father-of-four runs family office advisory Arena Consultancy, marketing agency Be Unique Group and is a motivational speaker.
Mr Soudi moved to Dubai in 2009 at a low point in life with just $700 following a robbery attempt at his home and a heart attack. Now 56, he lives at Emirates Golf Club.
Did money influence your upbringing?
My grandfather was wealthy, mayor of two cities in Iran, and my father an entrepreneur. He died at 29, so I don’t remember anything of him but people said he was very positive, optimistic and I tried to live by this image.
We had a good standard of living but the moment my grandfather died, my dad’s side took the money. We ended up with nothing.
My mum took care of us as best as she could. We suffered from being poor [but] she let us go to the “rich parks” and socialise, never made me feel poor.
She taught [us] never to be jealous, but I thought: “What are they doing to have that?”
How did that impact you?
I just get inspired and am constantly on this learning process. I read books, listened to tapes, watched videos of people who failed and made it, not necessarily handed the silver spoon.
Mum was always wary of the future because she had a tough life. Her focus was to earn enough to cover rent, school fees, put food on the table.
I knew that was not the life I wanted, so I focus on abundance. I look at the bigger picture [more] than just covering costs, and what you focus on you get. Hard work came naturally to me.
How did you first earn?
I did paper rounds, was a waiter, cycled for an hour to get to this place that paid £1 [Dh4.5] an hour. I was a hotel bellboy, worked at a nightclub collecting glasses and became a doorman.
I’m dyslexic, so education wasn’t for me and the only place I could earn more was sales. Because I worked harder, I did really well. I sold vacuum cleaners, fax machines, copiers, mobiles … if I turned up early, I tended to catch the business owners so I didn’t get fobbed off by receptionists.
Why the entrepreneurial route?
I didn’t particularly like working for anyone. They may have been successful … I felt I could offer something better.
Once you can sell, you can open businesses, as long as you’re adding value, something different.
When did Dubai happen?
I arrived in September 2009, lived in a maid’s room for six months, was kicked out of hotel lobbies because I just used free internet. That’s how it all started … just to escape [the UK] and come to safety.
It was the worst time because the recession had hit, but it was a perfect time because I was a consultant. When people have headaches you fix, people pay.
Now, I say to pupils: “Don’t ever forget your past, but don’t live in it.”
The majority of people do not come to Dubai to find love, they come to prosper. If you can show you’re a person of integrity, put the hours in and have longevity, you will do very well.
What prompted Gladiator Academy?
I don’t want people to suffer like I did learning my own thing. I started teaching and it just grew.
Now I have a million followers, 2,000 videos out there. Most people … we’re not born rich.
I teach strategies for modern day gladiators so they win their battles, grow their audience, and eventually set themselves free; teach them skills so they can have a life of abundance in the shortest possible time.
How do you grow wealth?
I don’t believe in saving for just saving. I don’t believe in the property business; you should be able to have access to cash anytime.
I do believe in taking certain amounts of risk, but the quality of your life depends on the amount of risk you can comfortably take.
The reason I’m having this life is because I’ve been compounding. Put your money on a regular basis into an account that pays more interest than inflation.
The rich live off the interest of the interest, they don’t work for money, money works for them.
I found companies that give 20 per cent to 24 per cent a year with minimum investment. Now I can live happily on passive income, but it needed discipline.
What drives you now?
Money … money gives you choices. The more choices you have, the more free you feel.
If you’re a bad person, money magnifies that. If you’re a great person, you do lots more great stuff with money you have.
Money is energy, and your energy attracts it, so I’d rather have positive energy and work with people with the same values.
How do you measure your wealth?
By how much sleep I get at night. If you can’t sleep, no matter how much money you have, you’re not wealthy.
Money is not limited, there’s so much wealth around — it’s not distributed equally, unfortunately. The problem is most people set themselves limits when they could have a limitless life.
There’s always somebody with a bigger boat, a better car or lifestyle. I measure myself every second; how can I do better?
Was there a financial milestone?
Losing everything, it made me realise none of us are bulletproof. Although at the time, I felt it was the worst thing that’s happened, it’s probably the best thing.
It was my wake-up call. If you don’t experience winters, you won’t enjoy spring.
What are you happy to spend on?
Every month I give 30 per cent to 35 per cent of my money to family; I support a lot of people.
My driving force is helping people greater than myself, you fight for it harder.
I’ve got everything I need in life. By helping others, I get more motivated than I could for myself.
We [also] help charity and I do free courses. We have an orphanage in Thailand [where] we look after over 200 orphans.
Does money make you happy?
You’ve got to be happy first, then money makes you happier. I know lots of miserable wealthy people … their outlook on life is based on money alone.
Have a strategy with your money, quantify how much you want to earn, what you’re going to do with it, so when you do have it, you’re not lost.
Are you wise with money?
Not particularly, but I’m disciplined and make sure I always have enough to cover overheads; breathing space, just in case. If I’m short, I’ll go and earn it.
I love retail therapy. There are times I just want to get myself something to make me feel good.
I’m constantly investing in businesses now, not having too many eggs in one basket. Probably three out of 10 will do really well.
Any future goals?
My kids are my pension policy; they’re going to run the company when I can’t. They’re already very successful young people [aged 28 and 29], millionaires in their own right.
But I’m never going to retire. Always get busy, always be growing, investing in your mind; if you don’t tend to your garden, weeds grow — if you stand still, the weeds grow up your leg.
You have to keep growing with your goals. Maybe my next step is my private jet.