Cyrus Rustom
After a five-year stint with the British Navy’s Royal Marines Commandos, Cyrus Rustom has been in the fitness industry for 16 years, first as a personal trainer and later as an owner of a fitness facility that makes Dh4 million per year now. Image Credit: Courtesy Cyrus Rustom

Dubai: For former British military commando Cyrus Rustom, 38, it was inevitably his previous job that demanded he remain fit. But on hindsight, he feels it was a near-death accident when he decided to make fitness his full-time career and later his entrepreneurial choice.

“In 2006, I was smashed between two military trucks in Afghanistan and severely hurt with skull and joint injuries. I was hospitalised in intensive care for two weeks and then six weeks recovering in a hospital in Oman,” Rustom recalled, when asked what made him pursue entrepreneurship.

"This was when I met a gentleman who checked on me when visiting his son in the hospital room I was in. I learnt later he had just lost his wife and daughter in the same car accident that disabled his son. His attitude helped me change my perspective and deal with fear positively.”

After a five-year stint with the British Navy’s Royal Marines Commandos, Rustom has been in the fitness industry for 16 years, first as a personal trainer and later as an owner of a fitness facility that makes Dh4 million per year now.

From fitness trainer to gym owner

"I eventually developed mental resilience and realised that pushing beyond mental and physical endurance limits was essential to reach my goals. So when I moved to Dubai in 2013, I started working for Fitness First.”

However, when working his first job in the fitness industry, which paid him a monthly salary of Dh4,000, Rustom realised training one person per hour as a personal trainer would never allow him to make the income he desired. “I needed to open my own business and evolve," he said.

In September 2020, a few weeks after the lockdown, he started a fitness gym. He and his business partner initially invested Dh1 million each in the fitness gym, which currently makes 30 per cent profit.

"I had half the amount needed from my savings and borrowed the remaining money from my dad. Our fit out and equipment were Dh1.6 million, and then expenses on rent, staff, etc. But running a business during lockdown proved challenging and taught me how to adapt,” Rustom added.

Tip: Be prepared to adapt and modify your business plan to meet changing market needs

A few weeks after the lockdown, Rustom went on to describe how important it was as a business owner to be flexible when many facilities closed for good. He said, "We opened a fitness studio when everybody was scared and unsure of being close to others.

"We initially planned to have 30 people in a class, but later when COVID-19 guidelines restricted us from having more than eight people in a class, we were haemorrhaging money. A big problem in the fitness space is people do not want to turn to a new studio or class.

“We broke down those barriers by creating a space that's safe, and eventually led to the fitness facility expanding extensively since that initial studio. It now has a coffee and smoothie bar, an indoor cycling studio, and 6,000 sqft of outdoor training space,” he detailed.

Kept reinvesting back into the company

After the Dh2 million investment initially, Rustom expanded and spent another Dh1.7 million on a café, cycling studio and two outdoor training spaces. “This continuous reinvestment has allowed us to have 600 unique visitors per month and rising, versus 75 visitors per month initially," he said.

They have expansion plans to upgrade the main boxing and fitness studios. "Technology has changed since we opened, and we will revamp the main studio completely. I'm super excited to launch this for our members after the summer.

“The new business improvements will allow us to expand more quickly in the future. We are building something that can expand into multiple locations around the Middle East," Rustom revealed when asked about his future plans.

Tip: Focus on building income by creating value-added products or services

However, he revealed the initial days of starting a business involved living on a budget. "When I was finding my feet in business, and my wife was still working, we saved 50 per cent of our earnings. But this allowed me to invest in my current business without taking on investment.

"When my income was low earlier, I could save and invest less. I focused on how I saved every dirham, living frugally, driving a cheap car, living in an affordable apartment, etc. I believed for years that I could budget my way to wealth. That gave me a limiting mindset and didn't allow me to focus on what matters most: building my income,” he said.

"As a single parent, my father gave me £60 (AED 281) pounds per month in pocket money; it was the exact amount he would receive from the government for being a single parent. With that money, I had to manage, and it was a great lesson. My father gave me the environment to make my own decisions, whether right or wrong and learn from my mistakes."

Now, Rustom’s focus is on creating value and building income. “I stopped living a frugal life, owning a nice car and a bigger house, and pushed myself to earn more by creating value for many people. I work for my family's future while being a present Dad. I put most of my spare income into Bitcoin.

“We have a generational opportunity to exploit the growth of this new technology. If you want to make life-changing money, you must take a risk. I went all in on my business, and it paid off; I am now all in on Bitcoin, and I believe it will pay off big time in the next 5 to 10 years."