Money & Me: ‘The only financial risk I’m taking is with my business’

Qadreya Al Awadhi, founder of baby meal plan provider Bumblebee, prefers to save money in the bank

Qadreya Al Awadhi, founder of Bumblebee, remembers saving money as a child to buy her first PlayStation. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Two years ago, Qadreya Al Awadhi launched Bumblebee to produce convenient healthy meals for babies and toddlers.

While babysitting a friend’s son, she spotted production dates on his baby food from before his birth, so she began working with paediatric nutritionists and chefs to develop recipes from local ingredients.

Ms Al Awadhi, an Emirati working in banking and finance, also aims to reduce obesity stemming from poor early diets.

She cites her parents as inspiration, including her mum’s cooking and dad’s stock investment guidance at 16. Along with her salary savings, market returns provided Dh150,000 ($40,844) to create Bumblebee.

Ms Al Awadhi, 27, lives in Al Khawaneej, Dubai.

Was there wealth in your upbringing?

I’m the eldest child of my family. We were not poor, not super rich either; we were comfortable.

My dad sent me to a nice school because he valued education above anything else. He is a businessman, has his own company. It was his father’s before that.

When my great grandfather first started, it was a general trading company and then specialised in sporting equipment. My dad and uncle diversified into real estate and more.

They always guided me “if you want to get into business”, although at the time, I wanted to become an archaeologist like Indiana Jones.

How did you learn about saving?

Up until my teenage years, my dad was buying us whatever we wanted … he never said “no”.

But when I reached about 10th grade, he said: “If you want something, you have to save.” So, I would save Eid money, but it wasn’t fast enough.

I would help mum, help him on PowerPoint, I was doing presentations. For that, he used to give me money and I saved to buy my first PlayStation.

Dad said: “You never understand the value of money until you work for it.”

So you began earning?

I was 15 and asked if I could officially work for him in the company for two months in summertime because I still had school.

I started following and observing. I used to take notes for meetings, do filing, bookwork. After that, I designed presentations, a skill I used later in my job, and when he thought I was more capable, I checked archived balance sheets for irregularities. I started to get a mind for numbers.

My salary was Dh500 for the month. I remember feeling rich.

They also had business deals they let me listen into and ask questions, would explain everything to me. That strengthened my understanding about money, the economy in Dubai and the global economy. That also laid the foundation for going into the stock market.

How did that happen?

About 2009, when the global recession happened, my dad wanted to buy stocks because it was low.

He explained that it’s up to us to figure out which would recover most and showed in simple terms the stock to buy, what I should understand about dividends, how to assess if a company is going to be profitable.

I had Eid money and money from my school graduation and he was recommending stock, giving me choices.

So, you were a young investor?

By the time I joined college, I understood what I wanted to buy (with my allowance), what I didn’t and what was worth it. Should I buy nice shoes, or put it in the stock market?

That was my savings plan. I wanted to save enough to put into my first property.

When I started my master's, I had a nice portfolio, making good returns. That’s when material things got to me and I was like: “OK, I’m done saving in the stock market, let me buy nice things for myself, enjoy life a little.”

What was the entrepreneurial spark?

My bachelor's degree was in finance, my master's in international business, so I stayed on that natural (career) path, into the financial industry.

But I started to feel I wanted to do more. To buy property was an idea, the other was to open my own restaurant, because I’m a certified chef.

Then I was babysitting my friend’s son and noticed the food I was feeding him was produced six months before he was born. That was like a light-bulb moment for me.

Have your spending habits evolved?

My first year (working full-time), the first few months especially, I was buying unnecessary things like boots with fur on.

When I realised I’d been working and didn’t have savings (from that), I started to save.

It was a learning curve. I don’t regret it; it was the first time I felt like I had so much money. Sometimes, I still go crazy.

How are you saving?

In the bank. I’m going for safety. I don’t want to risk my money, especially now I have a business. The only risk I’m taking is with the business.

I believe in it and have a long-term vision, so this will hopefully be the best investment I’ve made.

Is there a financial milestone?

My first Bumblebee order, to Abu Dhabi. Before that, I was just selling to friends and family. Within four months, we had shipped all over the UAE. I launched in January 2021. I have sold more than 1,000 pouches and we should do 2,000 by January.

The absence of money makes you sad and makes life hard. But having money doesn’t necessarily make you content on the inside
Qadreya Al Awadhi, founder, Bumblebee

It was difficult in the beginning because it’s a new, home-grown business, especially when you have supermarket brands with decades of reputation.

But word of mouth, mums recommending to other mums … that’s more powerful than any Instagram post.

The aim is to help mums have something fast, efficient, healthy at the same time, and affordable.

Do you have a cherished purchase?

My computer, it’s my trusted bestie. I do everything on it. I’ve had it for 10 years, so it’s old, but a good friend.

It was my computer for my degree, during my master's, and was with me when I talked to friends during the pandemic.

How do you feel about money?

The absence of money makes you sad and makes life hard. But having money doesn’t necessarily make you content on the inside.

If you’re not content with what you have, you’ll never be happy. You’ll spend everything, buy everything and just never be happy.

So, for me, it’s about being content first with yourself, understanding the value of money. Is it worth spending hundreds of thousands on things, as opposed to, for example, saving or making experiences?

Anything you regret not buying?

Property, but I was risk-averse. However, every property I wanted to purchase, those projects skyrocketed more than any in Dubai.

I regret not investing but, in hindsight, if I was busy focusing on real estate, I wouldn’t have had time to focus on Bumblebee.

Any financial tips for the younger you?

The only thing I would tell myself is to spend a bit more because I was saving so much in college.

I still went out with friends and enjoyed experiences, that was invaluable, but in terms of material things … everything I wanted to buy in college, like Chanel bags, they’ve quadrupled in price now – so technically, had I bought, they would have been a great investment.

Would you raid your savings?

Maybe for the latest equipment. The best thing is to invest in my business, maybe get a bigger kitchen, hopefully expand in the GCC.

Updated: November 03, 2023, 6:02 PM