Gleb Golubev
Gleb Golubev, 28, began to develop his entrepreneurial acumen by managing projects at the store he worked at. In 2015, he used his skillset to enter the food and beverage sector by establishing his first business. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: It was less than a decade ago when UAE-based Russian expat Gleb Golubev, 28, remembers loading hefty goods into a warehouse. Since then, he not only made a move into the restaurant scene, but he went on into, currently, co-owning over 30 cafes serving its own formula brand of tea.

"When I worked as a loader, my hands were always busy, and my mind was working at its basic level. You must load your mind instead of your hands to step to another level,” said Golubev, as he recalled the words of American business magnate John D. Rockefeller: "He who works all day, has no time to make money."

Thus began Golubev's journey to develop his entrepreneurial acumen and later showed initiative by moving on to managing projects at the store he worked at. In 2015, he used his skillset to enter the food and beverage sector by establishing his first business.

It was then Golubev crossed paths with his business partner Arthur, and together they worked on a tea cafe venture in 2020. In the first year of the business, their total revenue reached $2 million (Dh7.35 million). Today, with over 30 locations worldwide, they eye turnover of $7 million (Dh25.7 million) in 2024.

Why specifically get into the business of setting up tea cafés?
The business idea started with a trip to China, where Golubev and his partner got inspired by Chinese culture, food, and beverages, especially the different tea they consumed. "We then created a new business model for a startup, experimenting with various formulas,” he explained.

“This was when my bartending experience came very handy. We experimented to make different variations, consistency, and flavour. Our first concept draft was created after multiple tastings and an agreement on a final product.

“It is different from opening a restaurant, as niche cafes offer potential to scale a product due to its core branding. It began in 2017 by creating an idea for its branding development, legal matters, marketing, and investment.”
Gleb Golubev and Arthur
After Golubev crossed paths with his business partner Arthur, they together worked on a tea cafe venture in 2020. In the first year of the business, their total revenue reached $2 million (Dh7.35 million). Image Credit: Supplied

What was your initial investment into the business?

Golubev further detailed that the first flagship outlet opened in Moscow in October 2020, and the initial investment was 50 million rubles ($640,000 or Dh2.35 million). “This included investments in marketing, design, packaging, construction, actual product with its formulas, and various permits and licenses.

“Initially, we had investors involved in the project. However, their financial contribution happened only after the final presentation of our idea. Upon proving lucrativeness of the business framework, the partners decided to expand globally,” he said, when asked how the investments were financed.

Golubev selected Dubai as their next stop in 2022. Golubev, who had previously visited Dubai multiple times before with his family for leisure, decided to settle here permanently when they arrived two years ago in March. "With the construction of the café completed in October then, we finally opened our first location in Dubai," he said.

What were the expenses that went into the café in Dubai?
Golubev found that trading platforms requesting security deposits in a total percentage of 15 to 25 per cent from annual rent, as a “substantial figure”. “In addition to all the fees, licenses and deposits (water, air-conditioner, and telephones), these expenses can reach up to 40 per cent of a unit's cost,” he added.

“If we take our location in Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) as an example, our deposit there makes up to $150,000 [Dh550,947], which is the amount we have paid just to be able to start the basic operation process."

From 30 locations now to another 35 under construction

Golubev admitted to having witnessed faster-than-usual growth, with over 30 locations worldwide in the span of just four years. However, he added that both his partner and he don’t plan to stop here, with many more cafes in the pipeline across the world.

"We had only one spot in 2020, but currently, it consists of 30 locations worldwide [Dubai, Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan] and 35 locations under construction. By the end of 2024, we plan to grow to 100 overall. In three years, we aim to make $20 million [Dh73.46 million], with 15 locations in Dubai.

“We have more than 100,000 active users in its ‘loyalty program’ – a separate IT instrument they make use of, and approximately 6,000 visitors flow through our locations daily. In our community in Dubai, we have over 2,000 regular customers,” he added. “However, our journey started slowly.

"We were about to close the business twice due to the pandemic and our struggles to gain people into this new community with a whole new product. With mentality stuck on traditional tea consumption, gaining trust regarding new trends was tough. It took over a year to see lines of people at the door."

Café businesses have a new set of struggles, challenges

Golubev also remarked that being in the businesses of starting cafés has been “far from easy. I found it to be a complex field of different struggles, problems, and challenges. It combines two elements, product, and customer service, into one business model.

"Starting with the first element (product), we faced many difficulties, from the actual beverage's formula to sales and marketing. The service industry is based on human factors, constant trend changes and external circumstances where it is almost impossible always to maintain perfect standards."

Tip: First get the entrepreneurial groove of creating, planning, performing, and repeating

"When it comes to business, take time to prepare and analyse every tiny detail, bottleneck, and opportunity before the performance because investing a large amount once before showing the product is always better than constant correction. In the long-term, this approach is a big win," Golubev said.

Hailing from an upper middle-class family with an educational background in economics, Golubev said this entrepreneurial know-how comes from not indulging in excessive wealth. It also helped that during his growing years, his parents taught him to making prudent choices regarding earning and saving.

Tip: Invest rather than purposelessly spend for what we want, both in business and life

He says, "My parents taught me to invest rather than just spend for what we want without a purpose. They instilled in me financial habits that have been instrumental in my path as an entrepreneur. For instance, they would give me a fixed amount of pocket money of around $10 (Dh35) a month.

“I had to manage with that throughout the month. If I needed more, I had to pay it back, just like a bank. These simple money habits helped me amass my first capital for a business. Even now, I meticulously plan my personal and business expenses, which gives a clear roadmap with minimal or zero risks.”

Tip: Maintain a sense of balance when aiming to be thrifty and disciplined in budgeting

Golubev also added that “maintaining a sense of financial balance is essential to us,” referring to how the two business partners, who have similar interests and lead a very active lifestyle by engaging in motocross, tennis, and boxing, both lean towards keeping a stringent approach towards costs.

"Although we both lean towards being thrifty and disciplined in our approach to budgeting, we typically prefer to allocate our resources towards enriching experiences such as travel, discovering new places, savouring diverse cuisines, and engaging in various activities rather than splurging on luxuries."