Podcasts have surged in popularity in recent years, something Dubai-based serial entrepreneur Vuk Zlatarov has benefitted from.

He launched his podcast, The Change Officer, in 2020, to interview the region’s business leaders – and to network with people who could positively influence his life and work.

Two years later, after 200 episodes, he founded Poddster, a professional podcast studio in Dubai Media City, and launched a podcasting community alongside it.

Now, with more than 300 podcasts and 700 active creators, Poddster has launched a second studio in Dubai with a third on the way. New locations are planned in Singapore and Riyadh over the next 12 months.

Mr Zlatarov, 33, is also the managing partner of Creitive Ventures, a venture builder focused on product acceleration and go-to-market routes for early-stage ideas. It has hubs in the Middle East and North Africa, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. He also mentors start-up founders in those regions.

Born and educated in Serbia, the information systems and technologies engineer moved to Dubai in 2014. He is married and lives in The Views.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in Belgrade, Serbia, during challenging times for the country’s economy. We could have been considered a middle-class family but there was a constant struggle with money.

During the 1990s, our country was under sanctions and I remember that inflation was so high my mother would go to the supermarket on payday because salaries would lose their value so quickly.

It must have been incredibly challenging and it was impossible to shield my sister and me from feeling the financial pressure.

Those times instilled in me a strong fear of not having enough for tomorrow. As a young man, I made sure I always had a financial runway of about six to eight months.

My upbringing is one of the reasons I am very cautious with money and am working towards achieving financial freedom today. I think it influenced me even more than I’m aware of.

How do you invest?

As an entrepreneur in my early thirties, most of my wealth is tied up in the companies I am building. Most of my investments have been going towards our new studios, first to the ones in Dubai, now to the one in Singapore.

One wise person once said that the highest return on investment you can achieve is by investing in yourself. The idea resonates strongly with me.

But at a certain stage in your life, you need to start thinking long term and building a safety net. I invested in real estate in a prominent area of Belgrade and have begun flirting with the idea of exchange-traded funds.

I’ve recently learnt about the potential of compound interest – and it’s truly astonishing how your money can grow over time!

Have you had moments where money was tight?

I faced many challenges as a self-taught entrepreneur, especially at the start when I first moved to Dubai. We were paying salaries twice a month – every two weeks – and we were fighting to get paid by the client so we could make those payments.

And that period, coupled with my upbringing, forced me to re-evaluate my decision-making processes and instilled in me a greater sense of financial responsibility.

What’s the biggest money lesson you learnt then?

One of the most significant lessons I gleaned from those cash-flow challenges is the importance of borrowing money with a purpose.

I learnt that borrowing should not be a quick fix to fill a financial gap. Instead, it should be used strategically to invest in ventures or opportunities that generate substantial returns, ultimately closing the gap rather than exacerbating it.

Where does the largest chunk of your earnings go each month?

Savings and investments, it’s approximately 30 per cent of my earnings.

What’s been the best-performing asset class for you?

My best-performing asset class, by a significant margin, has been my own business. I believe it’s challenging for any other asset class to outperform the returns generated by one’s own business.

And the worst?

Real estate. Although it’s generally considered a safe investment and my property has appreciated about 20 per cent since I bought it, it doesn’t compare to my own company.

However, I still believe real estate can play a valuable role in diversifying one’s investment portfolio and mitigating risks associated with other asset classes.

Vuk Zlatarov says an emergency fund helps to navigate unexpected financial challenges. Photo: Vuk Zlatarov

Was there a time when you spent foolishly?

During my initial years in Dubai, I admit I spent money carelessly. Life in this city can quickly drain your wallet if you don’t manage your spending wisely.

Some may argue that spending money creates good memories but honestly, I don’t think all those memories were worth the hefty price tag.

What life and money lessons have you learnt from your podcast guests?

During my conversations, I was particularly curious about the interplay between money and happiness. One guest talked about how she and her husband have very different approaches to money – one lives pay cheque to pay cheque and the other plans far in advance – and how they learnt from each other.

While it was a consensus among my guests that money alone cannot purchase happiness and might even lead to unhappiness, a recurring theme emerged.

The consensus was that money does serve as a means to alleviate certain stresses in life and offers a foundation upon which one can better savour life’s experiences alongside their loved ones.

Should we think of relationships as a form of wealth?

When I consider all the people that I’ve built relationships with and the ways they’ve directly or indirectly affected my financial well-being, I’m beginning to see relationships as the most valuable investment.

I strongly believe in the idea that you become an average of the five people you spend the most time with. With that in mind, cultivating the right relationships can have a significant and positive impact on every aspect of your life.

What’s one thing you tell start-up founders that could apply to personal finance?

The importance of managing cash flow effectively. Just as start-ups need to carefully monitor their financial resources to ensure sustainability, individuals should prioritise budgeting, tracking expenses, and building an emergency fund to navigate unexpected financial challenges.

My upbringing is one of the reasons I am very cautious with money and am working towards achieving financial freedom today

Vuk Zlatarov, podcast host and studio owner

Have you managed to become financially independent yet?

No, I haven’t but it is high on my agenda.

What are your most extravagant purchases?

Nothing fancy, really. Car, motorbike, nothing crazy.

If you could live your life again, what financial decision would you change?

I would reconsider my initial spending habits when I moved to Dubai … I now realise that those funds could have been better allocated towards investments and savings.

Dubai teases you to spend money on every corner. It is very easy to [let things] get out of hand, so staying disciplined with your spending is the biggest challenge. On the other hand, it’s also a city full of opportunities and people who can change your life.

How much do you have in your wallet right now?

I have €200 (about Dh770), left over from a recent trip, and 560 Serbian dinars (Dh18.40).

Updated: October 13, 2023, 6:02 PM

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