Money & Me: ‘I came from nothing and I'm not afraid to go back there'

Nadia Shah, a food entrepreneur, invests in US stocks, property and businesses

Nadia Shah, founder of Drip Burger, says she is happy to spend on travel, experiences and personal growth. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Food entrepreneur Nadia Shah grew up with mixed feelings about money when her parents divorced and led contrasting financial lives.

Now the mum of one, of English and Pakistani heritage, is the brains behind Drip Burger.

Born in London and raised in Ireland, Ms Shah has a degree in fine art and her first commerce venture was a successful jewellery brand.

She grew up around food and hospitality after working alongside her entrepreneurial father. She moved to Dubai in 2013 to help him launch a “dry” nightclub before curating various food concepts.

Ms Shah was a general manager for a hotel group before launching Drip Burger, inspired by a disappointing mall food court visit.

Now, 36, she grew the brand while pregnant to include a restaurant in Dubai’s Arjan district, plus delivery and events divisions.

Ms Shah, who also co-owns food franchises in Dublin, lives in Nad Al Hammar with her husband and two-year-old daughter.

What was your exposure to wealth in the early years?

I was seven when my parents divorced. My dad was doing really well, he opened 12 different burger restaurants across Dublin.

My mum didn’t take a penny from him. She was a proud person and took a council house, while my dad was living a completely different type of life.

I would rotate between staying with her in a bad area with no heating and living in a house with maids and driver with my dad. A big contrast.

How did that influence you?

Mum came from a poor upbringing and had three different jobs to take care of us. Her mentality towards money and how to live was you earn your own so that you have financial freedom.

On my father’s side, he was very financially stable and mum believed that he will control everything with finances and money … that you can do whatever you want.

At the same time, I was learning about affluence with money, working hard building multiple businesses. Dad did everything from scratch, took risks. A lot of my entrepreneurial side comes from him.

Which lifestyle did you gravitate towards?

This is where I struggled. On one side, I would live in my dad’s house and wouldn’t want anyone to pick up my dishes; I would do everything myself because I felt overprivileged.

On the other side, I was happy to splurge on silly things. I bought a pair of jeans for £110 ($140) when I was 14. So I liked nice things as well, but still had my values and understood the value of earning your money.

I understood it was important to have a decent amount to survive and live a comfortable life because it’s not nice to be poor – also not to care about money too much and being the only important thing in life.

I learnt to take opportunities where they lie and to be humble.

When did you first earn?

From 14, a few different jobs for between €6 ($6.53) and €8 an hour. I worked for my dad in the beginning, in restaurants doing reception work, bookings and as a cashier.

We wanted to earn money, but he also wanted us to work. He took me everywhere with him and I learnt so much. He didn’t give us pocket money easily, although he was good with taking us out for food and spending on things.

I also worked at KPMG, a summer internship where I did filing and basic account transactions.

I saved at different times when I was younger, but I’ve also spent it all at different times. I was happy to spend, as long as I always had something in reserve; I wouldn’t go crazy and not have money.

How do you grow your wealth?

We’ve invested in the US stock market and property. We bought a one-bedroom (apartment) in Downtown Dubai and a two bed in Dubai Marina during Covid – it’s been the best investment so far, fastest return.

My husband comes from a finance background. We both understand that a business is probably the best investment of all.

Are you comfortable with risk?

If you’ve done your due diligence and it seems a good choice, go for it, don’t stop just because you’re a little scared.

Definitely take risks, go for the things that not everybody else would go for if you believe in it.

We’re making our milestones at the moment, hitting our numbers.

I’ve let go of my attachments to anything material. I don’t like to be flashy
Nadia Shah, food entrepreneur

One of the biggest lessons I learnt was building a team, the right team, and it’s paying off now.

Invest in people who have the same energy and appetite for getting the job done; your team is your business.

What are you happy paying for?

I will always spend on travel because it opens up your mind and enriches your life. And experiences, something that gives you opportunity to learn and have a new perspective. It’s something you remember … the material stuff comes and goes.

And I will always spend on personal investment, learning and educating myself, anything wellness.

I’ve let go of my attachments to anything material. I don’t like to be flashy.

Any splurges?

I recently bought a meditation course to focus on career and financial goals; an app called Mindvalley. It was Dh1,500 ($408), but it’s been the best purchase in a long time.

I also bought a Kangen water machine for Dh15,000. It filters beyond the amount a normal filter will.

I only ever bought one expensive handbag, a gift for my 30th birthday that was probably Dh10,000.

Has your relationship with money changed?

My decision-making towards money has changed. I adopted traits from my parents, how they used money and didn’t realise until I saw myself in the same shoes.

I was told: “Your dad always has money, but he’s always busy.”

So earning and being successful means you don’t have time for family. Now I’ve a daughter of my own and believe I can be a great mum, a great businesswoman and leader at the same time. And still have time to look after myself.

I value peace of mind and my cosy lifestyle more than the money that can come.

I’ve come from nothing, so I’m not afraid to go back there. It’s not that important to have a lot.

I enjoy feeling successful more than the number that comes with success.

How do you view money?

It is a great thing, but you have to be conscious how you use it. Money doesn't have to be a materialistic thing; if you’re using it for ego and show, I don’t see its value.

The value I see in money is in giving freedom to do whatever I want, in the time it gives me. It’s stability, taking care of needs to be comfortable.

It’s also sharing. I use it to build things that are of value to everyone around me. And I’m more giving because if the people driving my business are happy, everything else will flow.

I believe in paying people what they believe they’re worth. That adds to their value, and then they will deliver on that.

What does retirement look like?

I never want to retire. I would find it boring. And it’s a societal thing … that you need to have X amount of money and can then retire.

Updated: January 26, 2024, 6:02 PM