Money & Me: ‘My best investments have been in my wife’s start-ups’

Chris Shaw, co-founder of the cashback app mimojo, also invests in property, ETFs, stocks and bonds

Chris Shaw, co-founder of mimojo, says he is a saver and a bit selfish with his money. Pawan Singh / The National
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This year, Chris Shaw called on his expertise in the incentives and loyalty sector to launch the automated cashback app mimojo with two former colleagues.

It enables dining, retail and other merchants to modify discount offers according to commercial needs, while customers subscribe to receive upon-payment redemptions and monthly cashback.

The British father-of-three began his Dubai career 23 years ago in publishing before joining leisure savings platform The Entertainer, becoming general manager in 2014.

Now aged 47, Mr Shaw has also been a consultant to an outdoor media business and managing director of a marketplace that enabled members to trade excess goods.

He lives at The Villa with his wife and daughters, 15 and 12.

Was there wealth around your childhood?

My dad was in the rubber industry and set up tyre distribution networks across the Middle East. Mum worked originally as a medical secretary and then supported my dad, doing secretarial duties.

We lived in a mixture of apartments and villas surrounded by wasteland, a child’s paradise looking for lizards and scorpions … stuff you didn’t need money for. Unless you got stung.

We were never flashy, we had enough to get by. I remember wanting Converse boots … and being given something that resembled the brand but didn’t have the logo. That was the attitude to branded goods, to keep us grounded.

We were in Jordan for five years before my dad moved to Saudi and I was sent to a UK boarding school, aged nine.

Did you have a budget there?

Money was never front of mind at that age, but I was fairly entrepreneurial and would sneak out of prep school to the 24-hour garage – my record was selling a can of 7Up for £2.45 ($3.11), which I probably picked up for 15 pence.

When I was 13, I got about £10 a term allowance that was kept with the housemaster. You could queue outside his office and take it to the tuck shop.

How did you first earn?

Holiday jobs, washing up in restaurants from the age of 14, bar work, waiting, for about £4 an hour.

Also, I butt-marked (at a shooting club), so used to stand underneath targets, pull them down when a marksman had a shot, and score it. Bullets would fly over our heads.

In my GCSE summer, at 16, I laboured on a building site earning £235 a week.

Why mimojo?

Discount is firmly ingrained in this part of the world. It’s a hugely competitive marketplace.

We’re marrying existing technology that belongs to credit card schemes – card-linked services – with merchant appetite or ability to give discounts.

You tap your card and everything happens in the background.

We wanted something that gave merchants a choice. For the consumer, we have a Dh10-a-month subscription, so if you’re away for summer, you can pause.

It’s a much fairer ecosystem. Using the payment mechanism as the discount or cashback trigger is a complete evolution. You will never miss a savings opportunity and it’s discreet.

What is your spending vs saving strategy?

I’m foremost a saver, probably a bit selfish with my money. I’ll make a big deal about turning off lights and AC and make sure leftovers have been eaten. Then we’ll go out and won’t think twice about picking up the bill.

Save where you can and it gives that bit of freedom when you can choose what to spend on.

Property is where I spend most of our money, in Dubai and the UK. Also exchange-traded funds, equities and bonds. A little “chance money” into crypto, to see if I can catch a wave.

What is your best investment?

Supporting my wife’s two start-ups. Her first, in 2004 with her sister, evolved into a very successful communications agency, which they sold.

Then she set up a corporate culture consultancy. It’s doing very well.

Save where you can and it gives that bit of freedom when you can make a choice what to spend on
Chris Shaw, co-founder, mimojo

Any financial revelations?

The penny drop of compound interest has enabled a refocus. I set up ETFs for my children. We make them put in 10 per cent of their allowance every month.

Have you grown wiser with cash?

Being young, one of the shaping attitudes was: “If you take care of the pennies, the pounds take care of themselves.”

I remember that being said in my grandmother’s kitchen. I would always find pennies where I’d be playing. I later realised they were dropping these for me to find, reinforcing that message.

How about cherished expenditure?

We did a garden refurbishment and put in an outdoor fireplace. It’s a lovely place to decompress.

When my dad turned 70, my siblings and I bought him a flight in a Spitfire. Latterly he worked in military aviation, so for him to be up in a piece of history was amazing.

How do you feel about money?

I don’t have positive emotions around money. It makes me feel a bit uneasy and unsettled.

I’m always looking over my shoulder, so to speak, one eye on whether I have enough.

I’ve always been that way, had that reluctance to spend and look at monthly spreadsheets. It’s not a positive association.

Can it generate happiness?

It can buy things that may make you happy. But I’m not sure it’s directly linked to happiness.

There are many things that are free that make you happy; walking on the beach, sunsets, sunrises. You don’t need money to be happy.

Any financial hiccups?

One of my worst was buying our first villa, in August 2008 (before the crash). We didn’t pay anything until we took ownership, which was delayed, and didn’t move in until 2011.

We had two children then, so it provided for us at the time, but when we sold, we lost a lot of money. We tried to run it as an investment but were always just behind the curve.

However, we enjoyed the area so much we bought again and the market dynamics were slightly different so we got more bang for our buck.

Conversely, that would be one of the best investments, the price paid to the current value. Timing is the lesson there, so I can’t regret it.

What about weak financial moments?

I bought a piece of art last year, not for a ridiculous amount of money, but I spent more than I should.

I was convinced by my colleague it was a good idea; probably a little foolish, but I love it and that’s what art’s for. If you appreciate it, that’s valuable.

What are you happiest spending on?

I’m not particularly into luxury, but I social spend, because I get genuine enjoyment.

I’d like to spend on a share in a racehorse again. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do with your money if you want to make money.

I enjoyed spending on European Christmas breaks with my wife until Covid kicked in.

What are your goals?

We never had a plan until Covid. Because we were locked up in a house together, we had to talk about things. It was like: “Let’s start working towards something.”

That goal is France, in our 50s, to enjoy it before we’re too old.

Cash or credit card?

I have to use credit cards … so I earn my mimojo cashback.

Updated: January 05, 2024, 6:02 PM