Long before becoming a serial businesswoman, UAE-based Pakistani national Mashal Waqar recalled first working as a librarian in her teens when growing up in Saudi Arabia.
“In fact, I decided to start university a semester late to continue working as a librarian in Saudi Arabia to earn enough money and support my parents to cover my airfare when travelling to the US for my studies,” shared Waqar.
A self-confessed “sponsorship kid” during school and college, Waqar was keen to become financially independent as quickly as possible. This is why she started working as an intern at the age of 17 while at university.
“It was a huge privilege for me to be able to study abroad and I wanted to earn it. In university being part of the student government council further enabled me with financial and leadership skills. During my final year, these skills helped me immensely when I took up internship and part-time jobs at start-ups,” she added.
I decided to start university a semester late to continue working as a librarian in Saudi Arabia to earn enough money
It was at age 22, the Pakistani expat first ventured into entrepreneurship when she joined a women-centric educational blogging platform as a co-founder. But her business journey didn’t end there.
Five years on, at age 27, she has helped build a couple of more businesses – including a FemTech start-up called ‘My Lily Box’ (which she has now exited) – and consults with tech-based businesses and companies focused on start-up growth.
The term ‘FemTech’ was first coined in 2016 by Danish internet entrepreneur Ida Tin. In the course of just a few years, it has grown to encompass a range of technology-enabled, consumer-centric products and solutions.
Now an avid speaker at global leadership conferences, while also hosting talks at platforms like Tedx, mentoring fellow young entrepreneurs has become Waqar’s second nature. The serial entrepreneur’s success had also got her on the ‘Forbes 30 under 30’ list in 2018.
Here are four financial lessons Waqar learnt in her journey as a businesswoman.
Lesson #1: Be smart about earning money
Being a voracious reader, Waqar would receive books as gifts on her birthday and festivals such as Eid. Since that wasn’t enough for Waqar who wanted to buy more books during the year, she had to be smart about earning money. She would tear out pages from magazines and sell cut outs and posters to her classmates for one to two Saudi riyals. “When I managed to save around 25 riyals, I’d buy books with the money. My siblings and I didn’t grow up as privileged children and a lot is owed a lot to my mother who encouraged us to save money as opposed to overspending.”
However, Waqar candidly admitted being “financially broke” despite earning a decent amount of money. During the pandemic as the first start-up that she is associated with was financially impacted, Waqar faced a lot of challenges. “While I’d take up part-time gigs to sustain financially there were difficult days. At a certain point I even went down to a three-digit budget and had to seriously reassess a lot of decisions and lifestyle choices.”
Lesson #2: Be clear about financial implications
Waqar: “I loved the work I did in the first start-up where I’m still a co-founder with equity share. But when we ran into rough waters around the pandemic it taught me some crucial lessons. The foremost being understanding financial implications of starting or working with a start-up to be prepared for challenging times. I realised the importance of cash liquidity to sustain a business. For instance, in our region there are certain annual costs including license renewal that must be met to continue operating making cash liquidity non-negotiable. Importantly, it’s not prudent to plan current expenses based on future earnings. I also understood the importance of always allocating a salary for the founder/co-founder.”
Waqar’s next endeavour was building traction for a venture backed FemTech start-up. “Besides earning a stable salary that helped me to save and invest, I joined the start-up at the growth stage and the learnings were immense.”
Lesson #3: Save and invest consciously
Waqar: “While I spend a lot of my earnings to support various causes I’ve now started saving consciously. I’ve realised that savings and investments can be made simultaneously and in small chunks, it doesn’t always have to be a large sum of money. Even if you save Dh100 per month at the end of the year you’d have saved Dh1,200. For instance, I was bullish and had invested some money in cryptocurrencies, which sustained me during the difficult months. Now I consciously put away a chunk of money [roughly 20 per cent of my monthly earnings] into a savings account that I don’t touch. It’s also important to keep ourselves in check because when we earn more there might be a tendency to spend more too.”
While I spend a lot of my earnings to support various causes I’ve now started saving consciously
Currently Waqar is working with a US-based Web3 venture studio alongside her other ongoing commitments. As the world is gradually becoming more decentralised and workplaces flexible, working across regions is not impossible, something that Waqar does quite efficiently. Splitting up work commitments as per time zones is Waqar’s hack that helps her to meticulously plan her workdays while allocating “me-time”.
“Thankfully the work that I do helps me to learn a lot. It drives me to read, which I’m naturally fond of. For instance, currently I’m reading a lot about decentralised economy which is relevant to the work I do. As a result, I don’t feel as if I’m struggling to juggle between commitments. I’m also very mindful about setting aside me-time to do things that I really enjoy such as watching food & reality shows and spending time with family and friends.”
Lesson #4: Time management is key
Waqar: “It’s important to build everyday rituals. Three things that I do without fail are journaling while having my coffee. I work out for half an hour regularly, if required even in between calls and commitments. And I make it a point to not work over weekends unless it’s necessary. In addition, I like to put in everything from work to social commitments in my calendar so that I’m mindful of creating work-life balance.”
All set to make her first angel investment, based on her experience of being part of the start-up ecosystem for a few years now, Waqar shared a few tips for first-time entrepreneurs.
• Prioritise and budget for non-negotiable expenses including license and any software renewals. Also, set aside some money for self-care.
• Be smart about being a solo entrepreneur if you are one. Build a community to seek advice and support from. Learn to manage your time efficiently.
• For those in consulting business, which is usually revenue focused, choose to collaborate with people as opposed to hiring immediately to avoid incurring overhead costs. In addition, be careful about charging consciously for your services.
• My father had to shut down a few businesses due to wrong timing and partners. At a certain point that made me quite anti-business. Yet I ended up in the start-up space myself, made my own share of mistakes and learnt from them too. Based on my learnings one thing I’d like to say is be prudent about choosing a business partner, don’t ever avoid difficult conversations and always be respectful even while disagreeing.