‘I have two start-ups to man­age – my busi­ness and my baby’

Fash­ion en­trepreneur Su­nit Bha­tia tells David Dunn that hav­ing a lot of help at home makes it pos­si­ble to bal­ance her pri­or­i­ties

The National - News - - BUSINESS MONEY&MARKETS -

Su­nit Bha­tia is the co-founder of Dubai on­line fash­ion brand and sales plat­form Raw Orange. Born in In­dia and raised in Mus­cat, she moved to Aus­tralia to do a de­gree in com­merce, spe­cial­is­ing in tech­nol­ogy, be­fore join­ing the bank­ing in­dus­try and do­ing a master’s de­gree in busi­ness sys­tems.

After 12 years in the bank­ing, busi­ness an­a­lyt­ics, IT and dig­i­tal ser­vices sec­tors – reach­ing man­age­ment po­si­tions in ANZ and Mem­bers Eq­uity Bank – she joined her par­ents in Dubai in 2014. Ms Bha­tia, 36, lives in Al Fur­jan with her hus­band and their 10-mon­thold daugh­ter.

Q How did your up­bring­ing shape your at­ti­tude to­wards money?

A My par­ents come from very hum­ble back­grounds. They worked very hard to sup­port me and my younger brother – my tu­ition and liv­ing fees in Aus­tralia were paid. My par­ents were like, “we need you to fin­ish your stud­ies, so don’t worry about sup­port­ing your­self”. Mum now is a house­wife but worked all her life, un­til I grad­u­ated. Then dad said, “you have to work now, earn your money – un­der­stand what hard­ship is like”. My up­bring­ing led me to think about fi­nance in ev­ery­thing I do. I value money. My par­ents have been ex­cep­tional ex­am­ples.

What brought you to Dubai?

My whole fam­ily was here and I came to start a busi­ness. I have a pas­sion for fash­ion.

Even though I was a banker I had a very keen in­ter­est not just in buy­ing clothes for my­self but an over­all un­der­stand­ing of the in­dus­try and what kind of star­tups are com­ing, what busi­ness mod­els are be­ing adapted, how con­sumers are responding. I have a very good back­ground in tech­nol­ogy, and fash­ion has al­ways been my in­ter­est, so I com­bined that and Raw Orange was born in June 2017.

Why not just con­tinue to climb the bank­ing ca­reer lad­der?

My dad started a car parts busi­ness in 2009 in Dubai. I’ve seen him go from noth­ing to a turnover of Dh150 mil­lion a year. I’ve seen his en­trepreneur­ship. I have his blood in me – that en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit. Had I stayed in Aus­tralia I’d have had a very flour­ish­ing ca­reer, a lux­u­ri­ous life.

But I made a con­scious choice. I didn’t want to get a job in Dubai. En­trepreneur­ship is never easy. I’ve seen my dad go through ups and downs, but I was ready – I wanted to start sooner rather than later.

How did you fund the busi­ness?

Through per­sonal and fam­ily sources. Go­ing for­ward, as we ex­pand, we’re look­ing at ex­ter­nal in­vest­ment. For any brand start-up it’s im­por­tant to part­ner with the right in­vestor, who un­der­stands what we’re do­ing. There are a lot of on­line la­bels and this in­dus­try has a lot of po­ten­tial. For us to scale, to grow and cap­i­talise on that growth, we’re look­ing at ex­ter­nal in­vest­ment op­tions.

Start­ing a busi­ness and be­ing a new mum must be chal­leng­ing?

I say it’s two start-ups I’m run­ning at the same time. For­tu­nately, I have a lot of help at home, be­cause we live with my par­ents. I fin­ish work, rush home and start my mummy job.

How much were you paid in your first job?

My first job was with a bank, and I was paid AUS$48,000 (Dh133,448) a year. I was 24 and started do­ing my master’s part time, work­ing full time.

I ini­tially got into cus­tomer ser­vice to un­der­stand the bank­ing in­dus­try. I didn’t want to set­tle for any job. I got a lot of re­jec­tions. Be­cause I went through that pe­riod, strug­gling to get a job, when I landed my first it was an amaz­ing feel­ing.

By the time I left Aus­tralia, my salary was AUS$160,000, but I was pay­ing 48 per cent tax.

Are you a spender or saver?

I save money to in­vest into my busi­ness. I have a sav­ings ac­count. What­ever rev­enue I have, I rein­vest. I’m not a spender. I feel I’m more of an in­vestor – 80 per cent goes back into the busi­ness. The rest is for things I want – sim­ple plea­sures.

What is your most trea­sured pur­chase?

When I got my first salary I bought ear­rings for my mother and some­thing for my dad. They’ve given me some­thing all their life, now I could give them some­thing for the first time in my life.

What is your best in­vest­ment?

My ed­u­ca­tion, be­cause that landed me my job and that job has taught me ev­ery­thing – how to man­age a task, lead­er­ship, how to an­a­lyse things from dif­fer­ent as­pects be­fore you get into any­thing. Ev­ery­thing I learned in Aus­tralia I’m putting into prac­tice here.

Are you wise with money?

I’m get­ting wiser. When I was younger I was earn­ing well and would spend it all, not just on my­self, but fam­ily and friends.

I re­alise now I’ve got to hang on to it – be­ing a spender is not a good at­ti­tude to have, es­pe­cially if you run a busi­ness.

Do you have a phi­los­o­phy to­wards money?

It is a ne­ces­sity, but money isn’t ev­ery­thing. You need money to be happy – it drives a lot of things in life, it is an en­abler. With­out money, you can­not do busi­ness.

What has been your key fi­nan­cial mile­stone?

I was 31 when I moved here. Three or four years be­fore, I started saving be­cause I knew I

I re­alise now that be­ing a spender is not a good at­ti­tude to have, es­pe­cially if you run a busi­ness

was go­ing to start a busi­ness. I saved AUS$107,000. It was fuel for my dream. It was a per­sonal tar­get – I needed at least that be­fore I came to this coun­try.

Do you pre­fer us­ing cash or credit card?

Where pos­si­ble I pay in cash or debit card, on a day-to-day ba­sis. I have a cou­ple of credit cards and use them as well. Ev­ery month I make sure my bill is paid off.

Do you plan for the fu­ture?

Ev­ery mo­ment. For my daugh­ter and my busi­ness. The next step is to take Raw Orange as a brand to other re­gions, to sell di­rectly. My big in­ter­est is to get into In­dia and Aus­tralia.

I know the mar­ket, I get the con­sumers there, know what they’re look­ing for. There’s a huge de­mand for what we’re do­ing. It’s go­ing to in­clude men’s and kids fash­ion as well, home wares too. But I’m in no hurry. I want to es­tab­lish re­ally well in the UAE. We’re start­ing small, sen­si­bly, not try­ing to do too many things at once. We want to be ex­tremely fo­cused. We have come a long way so far. We have a loyal cus­tomer base. It’s grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially.

Why did you de­cide to en­ter the crowded fash­ion mar­ket?

I was al­ways fas­ci­nated by this busi­ness. I did a lot of ex­plo­ration, what works and what doesn’t, where there’s a gap.

I did a year of re­search lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally in terms of sim­i­lar busi­ness mod­els, how did they start, what was their jour­ney, what mis­takes did they make. We went through a lot of learning. We started man­u­fac­tur­ing in the UAE, then started work­ing with and sell­ing through e-la­bels be­cause they loved our de­signs.

We’re aim­ing to be Asos for the Mid­dle East. Now we also buy and sell. Ev­ery­thing is hand­picked. I buy from whole­sale mar­kets, put my la­bel on and sell. We spend a lot of time un­der­stand­ing next sea­son’s trends and have sup­pli­ers in dif­fer­ent parts of the world.

Reem Mo­hammed / The Na­tional

Raw Orange co-founder Su­nit Bha­tia funded the busi­ness through per­sonal and fam­ily sources

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