Despite a bitter experience with a former tenant, long-time UAE resident Shilpa Mahtani starts a holiday home business. Here's how. Image Credit: Supplied

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ is a commonly used proverbial phrase to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. For long-time UAE resident Shilpa Mahtani, age 39, the above proverb was the first lesson she learnt when she started her entrepreneurial journey.

Bitter-turned-sweet experience

A bitter-turned-sweet experience with an ex-tenant, who initially refused to vacate Shilpa’s apartment despite not paying rent, gave her a profitable business idea.

“A former long-term tenant had kept seeking extensions on her existing contract, saying her Emirates ID was expiring. She kept delaying payments in spite of me and my husband following up with the renter. In May, the occupant left without informing, and on checking the apartment, it was found to be in a terrible state,” Shilpa explained.

“But on realising that it was right in the middle of the summer season and that it was going to be difficult to find a tenant, it was decided to manage the home by listing it on short-term holiday home rental platforms.” This turned out to be a great money-making move, and this is what prompted Shilpa to start a holiday home management company ‘bnbme’ in 2018, along with her husband Vinayak Mahtani.

"The tenant experience led us to put the same upon the Airbnb platform (an online marketplace for lodgings and homestays) and market it for the short term. The instant success of the same then led us to manage friend's units, thereby paving the way for us to start our holiday home management company."

She aims to have a niche of luxury properties in her portfolio and create memorable experiences for guests staying in-house. However, before Shilpa ventured into the business world, her upbringing played a big role in how she managed money, and eventually saving enough funds for a start-up.

An entrepreneur’s growing years

Shilpa recalls a time when she received approximately Dh10 each week during her schooling days from her parents to spend it on whatever she desired. During this time, she realised how saving money helped fulfil her wants. She recalls saving the money for a full year, where 50 per cent of her monthly pocket money went towards her drama class fees.

"My mother had stopped my drama classes to enrol me for tennis that she considered was more worthwhile. However, I thoroughly enjoyed drama lessons, so I saved pocket money to pay for those drama classes. My decision eventually landed me in a lead role for a theatre performance, which was also covered in the papers," said Shilpa, who has lived in Dubai for over a decade.

Following the same concept of pocket money, Shilpa, now a mother of two children aged 16 and 12, gives her children a specific allowance every month, allowing them to use it as per their decision. "Each of them is also given a safe box to save their money and not leave it to lose, and they have their personal savings accounts that they can deposit into every month," she added.

Her children use their money towards the small businesses they've started. "Everything they earn is put back into their small enterprise. My daughter has her bead making jewellery, which she sells through social media. My son invests in perfumes, which is then transferred into smaller spray vials, thus allowing his buyers the ease of portability and variety.”

How much did you save for your start-up? What were your initial costs?

"Our first expense was getting the necessary trader license from the Department of Economic Development (DED) and Dubai Tourism. This whole initial process cost us between Dh15,000 to Dh20,000. Then, a running expenditure for office rent and utilities amounted to approximately Dh5,000 a month," Shilpa revealed.

"Money then was spent building a business deck for ourselves, explaining who we are and what we do. Numerous other expenses also followed in terms of standardised linen procurement, marketing, outsourcing of cleaning, maintenance, and eventually building up a team, so the initial investment of close to Dh100,000. This amount came from our savings from other businesses and equities and was shown as shareholder capital."

Shilpa recalls saving 50 per cent of her monthly pocket money towards her drama class fees.

Shilpa shares three crucial business tips from her entrepreneurial journey:

Business tip #1: Be involved in every task needed to run the business effectively, at least at first.

Since starting the business from scratch, Shilpa has personally been involved in cleaning apartments, making beds, managing reservations, and checking in guests. She said running a business with passion is vital, and there is no small job when you are pursuing your dream. The most important thing is to make it happen, no matter what, she added.

Business tip #2: Hiring the best talent, don't settle for less; outsource them if needed.

"For a start-up, money is always crucial, and the biggest challenge was the investment in people -hiring the best. The biggest lesson learned over the years from this challenge is outsourcing. Today we live in a world where multiple job profiles can be undertaken by people sitting in different parts of the globe."

Being raised in an entrepreneur family and getting married into one, Shilpa learned to lead the team by example by being punctual, prompt in communication, value teamwork.

Business tip #3: Take the plunge as an entrepreneur in what you genuinely believe in and grow it organically.

When Shilpa was a teenager, she saw her father had sold his gold ID bracelet to start a travel agency and ran it from home. "The desk was his office space, and the family helped him with the delivery of tickets to clients.

"The most valuable lessons I learned for life are realising the value of money and taking the plunge as an entrepreneur in what you truly believe. This value and being conservative has today guided me in controlling costs at the grassroots levels, such as the amount spent on tea every month. Growing the business organically to me is the healthiest way to grow. Success doesn't come without risk, and even if it means putting your last savings at risk, if you believe in it, go for it."

What is your personal savings and investment strategy?

A certain percentage is always put aside by Shilpa every month, and she invests them in a mix of stocks and crypto-assets. "A big part of my portfolio includes exchange-traded funds. I am also a big believer in stocks of industry giants like Apple and Tesla, to which I transfer a certain fixed amount every month.

“Other amounts are towards cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ada, which are picked up occasionally.

"My husband and I have also made multiple investments to save up for the kid's educations. It includes a mixed basket of mutual funds and investment plans, stocks and cryptocurrencies. All our investments are made keeping a balance between the risk and return."