“I've been doing this for a really long time,”
joked Mubashar Iqbal
when I asked him how one gets to be a 3-time Maker of Year
nominee (with one win) with 80+ launches
His community knows him as Mubs and about half of his launches are a result of someone from that community reaching out and asking to work with him. That’s a lot of collaboration.
My biggest learning from Mubs, a genuine and helpful builder, was probably to seize every good opportunity to try something new. Some of the things we spoke about:
- Bootstrapping versus fundraising
- Why he never pursued fundraising for his side projects
- How remote work changes the game for some highly skilled workers
- Advice on seeking a partner to build with
Let’s start from the beginning
Tell me more about you. How does someone come to launch 81 products?
I started copying code from a magazine into a computer when I was about eight. That was when I began playing around with it and understanding it. So I've been writing code since I was yay high (gestured towards his hip). Then I got a job out of university in the internet space back in 1996.
Wait, were your parents engineers or in tech?
No, it was just out of interest. I'm the youngest of four kids. A computer was brought into the house — I think for the older kids mostly — but they got bored of it. There wasn’t much you could do with a computer back then. But you could buy magazines that had games in them and you would literally have to type in the code so that you could code the game and play it. Copying code, you begin to learn what you’re doing and how it works. Then I would start to make my own updates and changes.
I’m not all that young but I didn’t know those magazines existed! Go on.
Sure, so after that I would spend time learning other languages and other ways to work with computers. I've always tried to learn more than just one skill. Whereas a lot of people might approach their careers to focus on the front end or back end or UI, I always enjoyed knowing how it all works, full end-to-end. I was always talking to the designers and engineers and just got to just learn a little bit about how everything worked.
About half of the things on Product Hunt are things I’ve done with others and the other half are on my own. When I got interested in doing side projects, I didn't have to start a team. I had enough skills from different areas to start building. Yes, my website didn't look as fantastic as if somebody else had designed a skin for it, but it was good enough to actually launch something entirely on my own. Fortunately, I've been able to take a lot of ideas that just pop into my head, and sometimes I can turn them into working applications in a few hours.
I also work with people who have ideas, but maybe don't have the skillset to be able to build and launch them. So I've worked with them to launch their idea and then they carry on with hiring a team or sometimes seeking investment.
Quuu is a perfect example. I met Dan
through Product Hunt originally — I’ve still never met them in person actually. Dan and I started talking about his idea. Since he’s more of a designer, I helped him and Matt build the MVP. They wanted to run the startup in England and I was here; remote work wasn’t as big of a thing back then. So they went on and took the MVP to investors, launched Quuu
in the UK, and there are six or seven people working on it now. It’s a profitable business.
I saw your pinned tweet about joining Founderpath full-time. Was this your first time going all-in on a side project?
To be clear, I’m not officially a founder of Founderpath. That’s Nathan
. But I’m basically employee number one and I had been exploring the idea with him weekends and evenings before it was an entity.
But yes, I think this is the first time one of my side projects has become my full‑time thing over time. I got introduced to Nathan through a friend. He was looking for an engineer to help explore an idea: How can we understand the health of a SaaS Company? And then once you understand the health of a SaaS company, can you actually lend the startup capital so to grow and operate?
He had a lot of ideas in terms of understanding the metrics involved like retention, churn, CAC, and those financial and operational metrics for a SaaS company. We had conversations about what those metrics are, how we actually access that information, and if we could use technology to try and collect that information. For the first year or so, we were just exploring all of that and launching small side projects that would help us get access to that information from SaaS companies. Then once we had it, we turned it into what Founderpath is now, which is a factoring business.
Factoring means that, for a SaaS company with recurring subscription payments, Founderpath can advance you capital based on the subscriptions you have coming in. We’ve honed in on that as a business model, we’ve been doing that exclusively now, and it became my full-time thing.
Founderpath also came along at the right time. When I first started in the industry, I worked for a bunch of little startups in London, San Francisco, and NYC and I always enjoyed the startup world. Then I had a family and it was good to have that sort of steady work. My kids are a little bit older now and I was missing the speed and excitement of startup world.
The idea resonated with me. I've worked with a lot of SaaS companies and side-project founders and this idea of being able to help fund SaaS companies without them having to sell equity really spoke to me.
Can you share a bit about how things are going and what you all are working on now?
We’re doing really well. We’ve raised over $10M and we’re up to six people now. We’re competing with some pretty big players, well‑funded players. Personally, I love being the David versus Goliath. We’re innovating a lot and finding new ways to support founders who want to raise capital. They really haven't had too many options until fairly recently. As an industry, I think it’s really awesome that we and those other players are exploring that.
Longer-term, what interests me [is how DeFi can change that]. Right now, we’re operating in a financial system that is backed by banks with the federal reserve and controlled by the SEC, but with web3 and blockchains I feel like the world's going to get turned on its head. With cryptocurrencies and DeFi, there's a movement happening that is going to have a pretty seismic effect on how people access capital and how they manage capital. I keep an eye on the web3 world because I think a lot of what we’re doing at Founderpath is going to change at some point. Maybe one day, instead of going to a bank to get a loan, you'll log on to some blockchain and you'll be able to get a loan based on the NFTs that you have… I don't know, maybe! It could be as interesting as that.
I build my side projects and keep my hands on blockchain because in a few years, I may be able to apply something to Founderpath.
Is bootstrapping versus fundraising something you feel strongly about? Did you ever pursue funding for any of your projects?
I guessed I skipped over that part of my back story. I was born in Pakistan, raised in England, and moved to San Francisco back in 1998. So for the first chunk of my time here I was on an H-1B visa, I was a little bit restricted in terms of what I could do in terms of starting companies and things like that. A lot of my side projects were just pure things for fun and if they took off, that's awesome, but I couldn't really legally pursue them as a company.
By the time I applied for a green card I was more in the agency world. With Founderpath, this is an opportunity for me to spin something out.
Back to your question, industry‑wide, it seems to be easier and more possible now to do the whole bootstrapping thing just because it just takes a lot less capital to actually start — just to explore an idea and see if it actually makes sense. In the past, you almost had to raise money immediately. Now you can explore and even find product-market fit even before an angel round. I like the bootstrapping approach because I think it removes a lot of the obstacles that you have to exploring ideas. But I don’t fall in the camp of you have to do things one way or another — it’s based on the idea that you have and the things you're trying to do. In some cases, with some ideas, it makes sense to raise as much money as you can. And then with other things — it's much more fun sometimes just to have an idea one day and move forward with it without worrying about forming a company and all of that.
I like the bootstrapping approach because I think it removes a lot of the obstacles that you have to exploring ideas.
I’m not an expert (feel free to educate me) but I’ve read a bit about H1-B visa over the past years because of pandemic suspensions and how important they are for the tech industry. It’s disappointing to hear that as a limitation for you.
With the H1B visa, you have to have a company sponsor you so that you’re working because that company has a need and they can’t fill it with employees in the US. So you can't really switch jobs easily and or start your own company because you're here to fill a skill shortage.
I will say, my first remote job was in 2000 and I’ve been working remotely since. That to me is the most exciting thing, right? It really makes no difference now in terms of where you are. You can start a company wherever you are. You can have a job working wherever you want to be in the world. At Founderpath, we have Nathan in Austin, somebody in New York, and three employees across Canada.
That to me is the most exciting thing, right? It really makes no difference now in terms of where you are. You can start a company wherever you are.
If I was entering the workforce now, and if I was still in England, I probably would have just stayed in England because I didn't have to be in San Francisco. So I think that visa situation would have been less meaningful because I could have done all the things that I wanted to do there. I do wish that the visa was a little bit less restrictive. The kinds of people that come over are highly-skilled, highly-motivated people and then you lock down what they can and can't do. Which I understand, but also, as a country, we should be encouraging those people to come here and contribute as much as they can. Having those people start their own companies, build enterprises, and hire lots of people is probably something we should be trying to encourage, not restrict.
Circling back to blockchain, tell me more about Polygram, which triggered you receiving a Maker Grant last year. It’s an NFT Marketplace built on DeSo?
It’s a pretty young blockchain — only launched less than a year ago. They’ve been moving pretty fast and I’ve taken a big interest in it mostly because it’s more than just a financial ledger. They have actually focused the blockchain on storing content and other things online, and around building a social media experience on the blockchain. You can sign up, just ilke Twitter, and build your social graph and it all lives on the blockchain. You can also have NFTs which is where Polygram came into the mix.
Again, I’m not a founder of Polygram — just helping out with the team as I do with most of my projects, but really excited about it. I’m really interested in this NFT technology and the fact that you can see who owns something and have the full history of who owned it, how much they paid for it, how long they've owned it, and so on. Having access to that kind of information about anything, not just an image, in theory is really exciting in terms of how you can build the next iteration of commerce.
How did you come to work with the founders on Polygram?
Because DeSo is a social network, you engage with the people there as well, so I met Matt
, which is like Twitter on the blockchain. When the core team who manages Deso launched NFTs on the protocol, we were really excited but realized quickly that there was no OpenSea
where you could go and see and exchange them.
Jack had started working on Polygram so you could see which NFTs were available on DeSo just like OpenSea on Ethereum. We spoke and before I knew it was just adding new features and functionality. It wasn’t really a planned or orchestrated thing. We were just really excited about it and I became part of the team without realizing it.
We’re going over now, but is there a benefit to having an NFT marketplace to DeSo over Ethereum?
The main difference is that Ethereum is built on smart contracts, so everything has to be built with smart contracts and executed on the Ethereum blockchain. It's not really optimized for any specific sort of operation so things just take longer and they become more expensive because it just takes longer to run them. The gas fees that you have to pay on blockchains like Ethereum are a lot more expensive.
With DeSo, a lot of the operations that you do are actually optimized for the chain itself. NFTs are actually a primitive of the DeSo blockchain, so it’s much more efficient to add and manage them. The gas fees basically don’t exist so it’s much cheaper.
Deso also supports other primitives. Things like your identity — who I am, what my username is, all of the posts that I've made — are attached to your NFTs as well. They've also recently announced DAO coins if you want to run and manage a DAO. So you have an identity, reputation, and community that's on the blockchain tied to one place. With Ethereum, it’s a financial ledger and you have to do all those other things, social and so on, elsewhere.
That was really easy to understand, thanks! You must get a lot of people reaching out to work with you. How do you decide who to work with?
It's funny. It spikes up. Recently, I’ve been a little less active on Product Hunt while I’ve been focused on Founderpath compared to when I was launching something every few weeks.
There were always people who would see me launch something and be like, “Hey, I would love to come work with you on that.” As I’ve seen the no-code movement open up, I’ve seen the number of people who need my skills and expertise come down a bit because I think people are able to do more without being able to write code. That's really awesome. People can now explore their ideas without having to find engineers.
But yes, people will reach out, and, assuming I have some spare time, I just hang out with them or have a phone call to explore their idea a little more and see how serious they are about working on it. And obviously, to see if their idea is something I can implement or if it makes any sense to implement. I just try to understand what the obstacles might be and how long I think it will take. Some people come with some pretty big ideas and I see if they can hone it a bit more and make it smaller. It’s just a matter of how you feel: Is this someone I want to work with? How serious are they? What are they going to do with the MVP? Would they want to expand? If so, it’s much more likely that I’d be interested in helping out.
Do you have any advice for people who are looking for a partner, especially a non-technical founder approaching a technical one?
To start, if you're going to reach out cold on Twitter or with a DM, try saying more than “hi.” It takes time to respond to all the messages and if there’s some context it can be helpful to understand why someone is reaching out.
I always loved it when people came to me and had actually sat down and taken the time to think through their idea. It’s not just “I want to build X, Y, Z.” It's just not as simple as that, right? Have you actually thought about who your target audience is? How are you going to reach them? Having a functioning product is an important part of entrepreneurship, but there are so many other things that you can do without even having that.
At least think about understanding that. When people reach out to me who have started already — they have a following on Twitter or a group with a bunch of people in it — that shows they've explored the idea a little bit even if they can't take it up to the next level. The more that you can show that you're prepared, that you're excited about it, and that you've already explored the idea… that’s always a really good sign that I should get in on this because this will happen with or without me.
The more that you can show that you're prepared, that you're excited about it, and that you've already explored the idea… that’s always a really good sign that I should get in on this because this will happen with or without me.