Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 July 2019

A man with a business plan

'I believe that you need to save for a rainy day but also spend to live a comfortable life. The key is to think of every transaction as an investment.'
Moustafa Mahmoud thinks of every transaction as an investment. Antonie Robertson / The National

Moustafa Mahmoud is the founder and chief executive of Cognitev, a two-year-old technology company that creates marketing and advertising products powered by artificial intelligence. An Egyptian, Mr Mahmoud, 34, has been in the UAE since 1991 and holds a master’s degree in computer science from the University of California in Berkeley. He was previously chief executive of Middle East shopping search engine ShopShopMe.com.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I come from a big family, one of four children. We come from a culture of generosity but of living within our means. Money was a means to facilitate our lives and we focused, instead, on the things money can’t buy – values and ethics. I learned that, at the end of the day, money is just coloured paper.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

As a computer science student in 2003, I got paid 300 Egyptian pounds a month for a part-time job as a website developer. The exchange rate was very ­different back then so I won’t do the conversion. I had self-taught myself most of the stuff we were learning at university so I had a lot of spare time. My first full-time salary after graduation was as a database administrator, earning around 1,200 Egyptian pounds.

Are you a spender or saver?

I believe that you need to save for a rainy day but also spend to live a comfortable life. The key is to think of every transaction as an investment. I have a modest saving plan and ensure that I can give my family a decent life.

What is your most cherished purchase?

My iPhone; without it, running the business would be ­impossible. I use our internal collaboration app (Slack) to talk to my team in Dubai and Cairo, I use email heavily for customer-related communication and I use Evernote as a productivity tool.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?

I’ve been fortunate enough not to have gone through that experience. I am not sure if it’s luck, planning or a bit of both.

Where do you save?

I have a savings account and a small investment plan with ADIB. The capital is guaranteed by the bank but there are no guarantees on profit.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

A credit card for convenience, but I pay it in full every month. I have never paid interest on anything in my life.

What has been your best financial investment?

Investing in my own company. I quit a cushy corporate job to launch Cognitev and I had to bootstrap for a long time before seeking any external investment. I took a huge financial hit and didn’t take a salary for almost a year.

What do you most regret spending money on?

I bought a humanoid robot, Nao, for around US$5,000 but quickly discovered that I don’t know a lot about robotics or how to program them – and haven’t had the time to learn. He has been sleeping peacefully somewhere in a box for the past five years.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Learning how to invest time is more important than learning how to invest money.

Do you have a financial plan for the future?

The business is my financial plan. Our start-up has grown rapidly, we hit profitability before our second-year anniversary and we’re now serving customers across the world. We had an acquisition offer but I believe we can build something much bigger and of more value.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?

Part of it would go back home for orphans, part to my family and I would invest the rest.

What would you raid your savings account for?

If any of my family or close friends needed financial help, or I saw a good investment opportunity in a conservative asset.


Updated: June 30, 2017 04:00 AM