Dhiren: [00:00:00] This episode of The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast is brought to you by the Cloudscape Care Package. This care package is designed specifically for retail and restaurant business owners. If you’ve got a retail or restaurant business or are considering opening one, then talk to us at cloudscape.ae, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll show you how the care package and all of its features including training, implementation and support can help you set up for success.
Shadi: [00:00:28] We would do the work, and we would commit, and we would keep up. And we would do the work on ourselves because it’s not really much about just showing up to work, responding to emails and calls and doing some marketing and connecting with suppliers and whatnot. We did a lot of work on ourselves. Going through these journeys also established a sense of responsibility because what we are offering is of immense value and we have been always committed to serve the community. And this is in a way where I find service is at the core of what we offer.
Dhiren: [00:01:15] Hello, hello, hello, and a very big welcome to The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast. My name is Dhiren, and I’m so happy that you’re here today spending time with me and my amazing guest. If this is your first time listening to an episode of The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast, then I highly recommend you check out our website at elevatedentrepreneur.fm where you can get access to amazing shows and episodes with our previous guests, as well as all the amazing goodies including show notes and transcriptions so that you can take more pleasure in listening to these episodes.
[00:01:51] Now today’s episode is even more special. Why? Because it’s with Shadi, one of the co-founders from the Seva Experience. Seva Experience was previously called Life’n One. And if you’ve lived in Dubai, it’s an amazing place that I’m pretty sure you’ve already checked out. But in case you haven’t, and you’ve been living under a rock, then I highly recommend that you pay them a visit. The Seva Experience is a wellness center that combines not only just learning meditation, and yoga, but also a beautiful cafe called the Seva Table. Like I said before, it’s such a gorgeous place to visit that sometimes you forget that you’re sitting in a cafe in Dubai because it’s so lush, it’s so green, and most of all, so very peaceful.
[00:02:39] Shadi and I today talked about everything from how they met because of a crystal to how they’re running such a complex operation, and what kind of systems they have in place to get this off the ground. From their humble beginnings with Eda, who started this center back in 2014, 2015, to today where they’ve come such a long way, Shadi and I cover so much. And I’m hoping that you get some valuable advice and experience so that you can take it back to your own business. And without further ado, I want you to help me cue the music, and let’s get started.
[00:03:17] You’re listening to The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast, a podcast designed to help retailers, restauranteurs and entrepreneurs simplify business operations and use modern technology to elevate their business. Here’s your host, Dhiren Bhatia.
[00:03:36] Shadi, welcome to The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast. It is an absolute treat having you here.
Shadi: [00:03:43] Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here, Dhiren.
Dhiren: [00:03:47] I also want to thank you on-air and tell my audience what an amazing lunch you and I had. I can’t stop talking and telling my team about the fact that we were supposed to meet for one hour. We ended up chatting for three hours, and I was blown away by your knowledge. So thank you for your warm hospitality.
Shadi: [00:04:05] Always a pleasure.
Dhiren: [00:04:06] You have a beautiful center and that’s what we want to talk about today. So before we get into talking about Seva, I want you to tell me a little bit about yourself, please. Tell the audience who you are and what you do.
Shadi: [00:04:18] So I was born in Dubai. I was born in the UAE actually in Sharjah. My parents come from Syria. I’m 38 years old and I co-own and run Seva Wellbeing Center with my wife, the founder of this place, Eda. We are based out of Dubai. And we love life, we say yes to life, we enjoy life. I’ll leave it here open-ended so we can define it along the way.
Dhiren: [00:04:49] Absolutely. And I can vouch for the fact that you love life. You have an immense pool of knowledge which I got a little bit to taste when we met for lunch. I was blown away how in your mind, religion and language, vitality and life, everything blends together. I hope that we can talk about it today and go through some of that magic again that you and I had when we met. But you said you were born here. I know you went to the US and I know that you are an immensely smart man because you also have a full-time job. Tell me about that a little bit.
Shadi: [00:05:22] That’s true. Sixteen years in the world of payments and transaction banking. And it came to a point where it was time to have complete dedication to Seva, but for the past four years, I say I had two full-time jobs.
Dhiren: [00:05:38] Yeah, no kidding.
Shadi: [00:05:40] Pretty much. Yeah. On average, it was 15 active, working hours a day, around seven days a week, more or less.
Dhiren: [00:05:48] Yeah, two full-time jobs is not easy. Plus having a wife and a cat. So hey, you’ve got your hands full.
Shadi: [00:05:53] And a bunch of plants, yes.
Dhiren: [00:05:55] And a bunch of plants. Absolutely. And coming to plants, I want you to tell me a little bit about Seva. So I was at Seva, and every time I come there, I feel this immense sense of calm. The facility is so beautiful. So tell me about how that got started.
Shadi: [00:06:12] Well, I’ll speak on behalf of Eda. She is the founder, and it would have been much more fun to have her on the podcast next to me. Unfortunately, she’s flat out busy at the moment. She is the one who started Life’n One, the elder sister of Seva and that started back in 2014. So a bit of background, Eda had ventured in different corporate jobs and she is a trained chef out of Lyon in France. And during her early days, she ventured into different healing modalities. She studied and trained in Sufi Camp, and she did yoga teacher training courses and different experiences pretty much to look after herself, tackle her issues, heal herself. And throughout her journey, she always had remarks and question marks about the experiences she had, and she always wanted to have a better experience. And one day she said, “Why don’t I start something?”
[00:07:12] She started looking into the bits and pieces and she got some encouragement from family and friends. And eventually, long story short, a series of events made her visit Dubai, where she had no friends, no connections whatsoever. But then she came to a point where Dubai seemed to be a place to start a center as such, but she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to do it in Istanbul or her hometown – she’s Turkish – or to make it in Dubai. And one winter morning, she went for a walk on the Bosphorus, and she basically was saying, “God, give me a sign. Today I need to make a decision whether I’m going to have the center established in Istanbul or in Dubai.” And it was very cloudy, very gray day, not many people in the streets. And while she’s walking on the waterfront, there were a couple of fishermen in front of her. And as soon as she approached them, one of the guys turned, and he was wearing a jumper that said, “I love DXP.” And that was their sign. That was the sign that she followed, and she said, “I’m starting to center in Dubai”. And she flew in late 2014, looked for a place, and found the villa, which had a very messy backyard. And she felt the calling and she felt “This is the place,” and we built it up. And fast forward, we are here.
Dhiren: [00:08:41] Amazing. And I know both of you are immense believers in signs, and we’ll get into that because you do have some really cool stories, but I want to go back a little bit. So Eda is from Turkey, she studied as a chef in France, and you said she also had a career. I have a couple questions that I want to dive deeper into. What made her start the center? How did she come up with the idea? Dubai and Turkey obviously is a question but what made her start this? You talked about the fact that she had learned a lot of these modalities.
Shadi: [00:09:09] Yes, she had the vision that, especially in the Middle East, because she is from this part of the world in a way, relatively speaking. And because she has experienced in her life, so many different extremes, and she found out that there is a need to offer what’s so called commonly, healing modalities or experiences for people on a trusted platform and there were too many sort of incomplete availabilities and options. But then she said, “All right, if we connect the dots and if we create something–” And also, simply speaking, this is her passion, and this is what she is good at. And so she said, “I’m going to start something. I’m going to establish a place that will offer yoga and movement classes and it has its own cafe that offers healthy foods.” So back in 2014, she started the cafe as well. The original idea was to make it as an exclusive cafe for the members. But then the cafe basically attracted more people than the offerings of the center because whatever she was offering back then was not very common, in a way, certain ceremonies, certain treatments, and so on. And it was the first hundred percent plant-based, gluten-free, sugar-free, soy-free cafe in Dubai. And until today, we maintain the same consistency and quality. Of course, we increased our workforce, we refined our quality. And we have been recognized, so humbling to be recognized on a global scale by people who really know what they’re talking about.
Dhiren: [00:10:51] Absolutely. Did she have an entrepreneur background? Does she come from a family of entrepreneurs, maybe?
Shadi: [00:10:59] She comes from a family that understands business and has very high work ethics. Eda’s mom, my mother in law, is a wonderful person with high standards and work ethics. She’s a textile engineer who was one of the early textile engineers in Turkey, and she ran the factories for some of the biggest brands in the world. And so her work ethics were incredible. And they are still a great contributor to what we do at Seva, whenever she visits us. She always has incredibly valuable input. And also, her brother, her elder brother is an entrepreneur. He has his own businesses, and so on. But I would always say that when I look at the Gungor family, everyone has a very unique colour. They share a common denominator of incredible quality of ethics, but I would say Eda’s approach is extremely unique. It’s her own colour. I am very fortunate to be witnessing its evolution along the years.
Dhiren: [00:12:06] Yeah. So, Eda, this is back in 2014, you said she’s come here in 2014, she decided to start something, even though she had a career. So I guess at some point when we have Eda, I would love to dive deeper with her and ask her what made her switch. It’s not like a switch that goes off in your head, right? There’s a time, there’s a transition, there are many things that cause a business owner to start a business. And I’d love to maybe have her on the show. This is a great opportunity to make sure that we have part two of this conversation. So she started the center in 2014, and I know you and her met very surreptitiously. Tell me about that because I want to start talking about how you came into the café, but it has to do with how you guys met.
Shadi: [00:12:47] It’s quite a story. We met online on a dating app. I looked at Eda’s profile and interestingly, one of her photos when she was young in her profile reminded me of a close friend of mine. And she was talking about Life’n One in her profile and I had no idea what Life’n One was or I didn’t know it existed. And we had a bit of a conversation and then we find a lot of common interests. And then she was telling me about this interesting story of a couple, an older couple that she connected with on Life’n One frequency, and they were interested in coming to do some work in Dubai. And they were Reiki masters, and they do a lot of work with energy and crystals. And she said, “Why not? Let’s do it,” and she brought them in. To her surprise, they were a very old couple, incredible, incredible people and they did amazing work. And interestingly, even though at the early stages of the center, they found themselves surrounded by the students that they were ready for their scores, which was very interesting. Not in any way regular whatsoever. And they always said, whenever they visited the center, they said, “Our students are always the ones who are ready to receive our teachings. And they will always be there when they are ready.” So it wasn’t anything related to marketing or trying to sell and whatnot. It was more of attracting the right people.
[00:14:15] So anyway, they spent 10 days in the center, they did amazing work, and they were giving Eda a lot of gifts and crystals. And on the last day, they brought her a big pyramid. It was a shungite, and it’s a very powerful black crystal. And they told her, “This is a shungite.” And she said, “I cannot receive any more gifts. This is so much.” And they told her, “This is not for you. You’re going to meet a guy and his name begins with an “S”. And this crystal is his. It belongs to him and you are going to be the one who’s going to pass this on to him. And he’s going to be joining you in this journey.” And so she was telling me this stuff online and she was saying, “I asked for several weeks who is around me. I walk in the garden, ‘Anyone starts with an “S”? What’s your name, and what’s your name?’” And she forgot the story completely. And then when we were chatting, she said, “I feel this might be you.” And of course, here’s a random person connecting with me and chatting about these topics, and I took it lightly and in a way, I built upon it. But long story short, a few days later, we meet, and she introduced me to her cat, Arthur, and to the shungite, the crystal. And four years later, here we are all living together. And the crystal is in the corner of our altar.
Dhiren: [00:15:34] Wow.
Shadi: [00:15:36] Totally.
Dhiren: [00:15:38] You talked about signs earlier, look at that. I was blown away by this story because you hear these things in the movie, you hear these things in a book, but to hear it and actually have it happened to you, this is so powerful. Before you met Eda, or when you were meeting Eda, the center was already on. Was it in the shape that it is currently in? So it had a yoga center, it had a café, it had a lawn. Did it have all of that what it has today?
Shadi: [00:16:03] So back in 2016, it was a sort of a crisis time for the center. Not many people know the series of events that led to where we are today. But we had contractors running away halfway, not finishing the job, we had people doing work on the basis of pre-approval from the municipality, only then we find out they never got the approval, and it took us some time. For example, it took us three years to get the approval for the tent of the cafe because it was built without any legal approval. And back in the days, Eda had not much support and unfortunately, she basically had some work done by unethical people and she found herself stuck in so many ways. So when I met her, it was end of summer 2016. And a lot of construction work was going on. The cafe and the whole center was closed down and a lot of issues were there. Even after I joined, we had to demolish half of the kitchen because it was extended illegally. And so I can tell you, whatever was the center back then and whatever it is now are two different things. Of course, the essence is still there, the garden had always had its charm, but we uplifted it with a recent renovation and construction uplift.
Dhiren: [00:17:22] So you met Eda, she shows you this amazing stone, she shows you King Arthur, your cat, what made you join hands and say, “I’ll work in the café”? Because you had a full-time job at this point, you had a career at this point.
Shadi: [00:17:33] True. And I didn’t join immediately. As a matter of fact, it just happened organically. It didn’t start overnight, it actually took over a year for me to be not only active but also active in a public way in the center. So I was doing some help from time to time but like when I first met her, I knew that she was going through some challenges with the website and it was easy for me to step in and help with rebuilding the Life’n One website. And from there on, because of my background and because of my technical knowledge, it was easy for me to set up certain structures and to take care of some media work and graphic design work and some relationships here and there. And being an Arab speaker in this country, it helps sometimes when you have to deal with the government and so on. So it was a natural evolution of my involvement with Life’n One back then. And this is the beauty of the place. We always call the space a living being, whether it was Life’n One and now Seva. It’s not just a workplace. It’s a place that will shape you and reshape you and morphe you along the way as you integrate with it in whatever capacity you are.
Dhiren: [00:18:48] Yeah, absolutely. You can feel some of that when you walk in and you sit down.
Shadi: [00:18:53] Yeah, a lot of work has been done on this place. A lot of the therapists and the teachers and the healers and the people who visited the place did the work. We had crystals buried in the garden, we have feng shui being revised and done every year on the villa and the space. So you take care of what takes care of you. And so what you give, you get.
Dhiren: [00:19:17] So interesting, you bought up feng shui in this conversation. It’s obviously foolish of me to ask if you believe in it, but all of these religions have a version of it. The Chinese have the feng shui, the Hindus have Vastu, and I wanted to maybe just take you off on a sidetrack here. How real is all of this according to you? How true is this?
Shadi: [00:19:39] Well, maybe the question is what is real and what is true. Because for every truth, there is an opposite that is also true. And the reality that you live is the one that you make, and the one that you interpret. So whatever you have, as senses, as conditioning, as sort of an operating system defines the reality that you perceive. And so whether it’s science or a belief or evidence-based modality, it all depends on the spectator. Back in the days when I was young, I heard of astrology through horoscopes, and the simple things that are mentioned in the newspapers and magazines, they’re very superficial in a way, signs and what happens tomorrow, according to the day you were born, and so on. What I can say is today, astrology as a science is something that is very fundamental in many decisions that we make. As a matter of fact, sometimes we hire people according to their astrology chart. Eda is very big on this and very passionate on astrology.
[00:20:47] And so when we look at feng shui, it’s just another science. Unfortunately, it was not always delivered in its full capacity and with the right clarity and by the right people and so it can seem to be nonsensical in so many ways. But I can tell you based on firsthand experience that few adjustments we made in the center had radical impact in no time. And not only that, our feng shui master who visits the center, on average, once or twice a year, offers her own feng shui audits. And several businesses and homeowners actually have hired her since she offers these consultancies on a regular basis. And you’d be amazed, I mean, you’ll get like a report of up to 90 pages of recommendations of explanations. And it has to do with the people who are working, what sort of a business and what’s around, it’s not just about the interior. Like even what’s around you, what sort of light lamp, like a streetlamp in front of you, or what sort of corners are there around you and so on. So it is very powerful and it is very real in certain contexts. I know for a fact that many businesses, big businesses hire our consultant for their offices. And so you’re talking about some of the biggest brands in the world. And we are not in a position to mention these names, but you’d be surprised. A lot of decision making happens on such instruments and tools behind the scenes.
Dhiren: [00:22:21] Yes. And like you said, what is real is really up to you and what you make of it, and what you believe in it, because you have to believe in this for it to be true. And I know you mentioned the story about how you changed – when we had met for lunch – the direction that the oven in the kitchen and that made such a huge change for you.
Shadi: [00:22:37] Absolutely.
Dhiren: [00:22:39] Yeah, it’s a very interesting discussion. And like I said, maybe when Eda is back on the show, we can probably have an episode about this because this is an interesting conversation to me. So I want to take you back to Life’n One. You’ve now joined hands with Eda, slowly and surely you’re helping her with her website, you helped her with graphic design, things are coming along. At this point, ae you married already?
Shadi: [00:23:00] We got married in summer, 2017.
Dhiren: [00:23:04] This is just after you met?
Shadi: [00:23:06] Yeah, a few months after we met. And still, by then, my involvement with the business was marginal in a way. More often advisory and behind the scenes kind of role.