Dubai: When growing up in London, 33-year-old Ori Leslau recalled how his father, who was a successful businessman, taught him to stringently manage his money right from his teenage years.
The British expat, who is currently based in Dubai after moving to the emirate in 2008, was given 50 pounds (Dh222) every week when he was a teen, to be set aside for his spending. But for young Leslau, it didn’t just end with being given a weekly allowance.
He also had to prepare and submit an Excel sheet budget, itemising his projected monthly spending to his parents at the start of each month, and was also answerable if his expenses went beyond his projected budget by month-end.
“I had saved up enough in one month to buy a pack of rare Pokémon cards (which were trending at the time, and still are!), but then PlayStation released a new rugby game for the same price and that confused me. I chose to buy the cards because I knew they had future resale value,” Leslau said.
I saved up as a kid to buy a pack of rare Pokémon cards, but then PlayStation released a new game for the same price. I chose to buy the cards as I knew they had future resale value
Money skills fuelled an entrepreneurial career
These money management skills not only helped him save money as a youngster, but also proved to be a beneficial skill that helped him build a business when he was just 26 years old.
Leslau is now the owner and operator of an FMCG brand, a company that invests in and operates personal care brands, including fragrance, skin and hair care products, and he admits that it was this childhood training that helped him understand how to manage finances better in business.
However, long before starting out as an entrepreneur, he worked in sales at multiple retail brands for about 5 years. Leslau talked about how his first salary showed him the importance of a regular income, with the excitement of earning a sales commission.
“My first job was a sales manager role in the UK looking after retail accounts for a denim brand. I was paid 12,000 pounds (Dh53,000). The experience also taught me that I did not want to be an employee for very long as I felt like I was building value for someone else and not myself,” he added.
Why choose to be a consumer goods entrepreneur?
Leslau held sales roles for German personal care brand Lornamead (who was the previous owner of British soap and perfume brand Yardley of London) and UK-based footwear company Pentland (whose prior brands were sportswear Reebok, Lacoste footwear and swimwear Speedo).
“Being a sales and marketing enthusiast, I was fascinated by the relationship that can be built and maintained between a brand and its consumers, and my dream was always to own brands of my own,” said Leslau.
Although starting a business in this field was tough, he would remind himself of this quote: ‘If you know too much, you will never take risks required to build great businesses’ – so he took the entrepreneurial plunge early on in his career.
“I also learnt early that hard work beats talent. For instance, many of my colleagues had impressive educational backgrounds, and I didn’t. However, I made it my goal to outwork them and outperform them. The business we have now is on built the back of 30 per cent skill and 70 per cent hard work.”
Being a sales and marketing enthusiast, I was fascinated by the relationship that can be built and maintained between a brand and its consumers
How did you fund the business and handle set-up expenses?
Leslau started his business in 2016 by self-funding it with profits from selling his share in another company (Dh400,000) and a loan from his family (Dh300,000). (The other company was a trading business buying and selling personal care and confectionery items.)
“The upfront costs included registering the business in Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (Dh8,000), Registering a Limited Liability Company (LLC) business for import and export (Dh5,000), taking an office lease (Dh70,000), and office insurance (Dh3,000),” he explained.
Tip #1: Balancing debtors and creditors require proper planning
“Initially, I was obsessed with turning a profit as quickly as possible. As long as I knew I was covering my costs, I didn’t care what revenue we were generating; that outlook proved critical as the business went through some tricky times in its first two years,” added Leslau.
He ended up running from pillar to post, balancing his debtors and creditors while attempting to establish a stable supply chain to support growth. This is why keeping costs low was a priority for Leslau, which is why he didn’t take a salary for the first two years since he started his business.
“I managed to convince my suppliers that I was credit-worthy, which offered me 90 days to sell the product, collect payment and repay suppliers. I was also working to establish a good network of customers who were reliable and paid on time,” he added.
Tip #2: Strategising savings, investments help ease entrepreneurial stress
Leslau considers his business as the most significant investment. However, each year he also invests in other business sectors as a risk hedge. The rest goes into a savings plan for his wife and kids, which looks after education, etc.
“I always keep a certain amount of money in the stock market and a certain amount in cash. 50 per cent of my total financial exposure sits within my business; the balance is equally split between my home, my savings and my other investments,” he added.
“Knowing that you are generating sufficient income to take care of your priorities is something I have always worked towards, and knowing those things are taken care of certainly reduces the stress of daily life.”
Tip #3: Have adequate backup cash reserves to get you out of trouble
When asked about some of the challenges he faced when handling consumer goods, he recalled once making a mistake which taught him the importance of keeping a cash reserve.
“I will never forget early in my career when I paid cash for a 40-foot container of confectionery only to find out that most of the contents were expired,” added Leslau.
“That financial mistake was significant enough to have put me out of business if I had not decided to put the prior year’s profits into a reserve account which saved me."