Money & Me: ‘Being financially independent is important to me’

Muna Mustafa, co-founder of lifestyle discounts platform SupperClub, says she is wise with money but an emotional spender with family

Muna Mustafa, co-founder of SupperClub, says she does not let money sit in the bank and a financial advisory company invests her spare cash. Victor Besa / The National
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Muna Mustafa, 41, is the co-founder of SupperClub, a lifestyle discounts platform for upmarket restaurants, spas, hotels and beach clubs.

Born and raised in the US state of Florida, Ms Mustafa, whose parents are Palestinian, worked in dentistry equipment sales and debt collection. She met her Emirati husband after moving to the UAE in 2008 for a “random job offer”.

Ms Mustafa was recruited to work at offers platform Groupon by her business co-founder, with whom she devised SupperClub exclusively for five-star brands with a discreet deals redemption process.

She lives in Shakhbout City, Abu Dhabi, and has three children aged 5, 3 and eight months.

Where did money feature growing up?

I got two different “lessons”. In our culture, it’s men who make money for the family and the women stay home, typically.

Mum started a nursing registry business, which became very successful. At some point, she was the breadwinner.

My dad was also very entrepreneurial — he owned car dealerships and grocery stores — but I remember him wrapping sandwiches in the kitchen to sell at the store.

I learnt, as a woman with a Middle Eastern background, to always set myself up where finances could never hold me back or keep me in a position I did not want to be in.

The whole aspect of being financially independent … that was really important.

How did you begin to tackle that?

My first job in college, where I was studying for a bachelor’s degree in marketing, at around 18, was as a Starbucks barista.

I rocked it to the point that people were just asking me to make their coffee and they were good tippers. I could provide above and beyond and get more money than a basic salary of $6, maybe $7 an hour.

That gave me a new perspective on money.

Where did debt collection feature?

In New Jersey, I was an independent contractor signing corporate clients and SMEs. Our company would help collect their debt in a diplomatic way, send a series of letters prompting consumers to take their outstanding bill and put it at the top of their stack.

It’s not that they don’t have the money, people are deciding what to pay first.

The concept applies everywhere to get anything done. You don’t have to be nasty, but you have to be persistent, to be at the top of somebody’s mind.

How did SupperClub happen?

I did really well at Groupon, started signing up five-star hotels, then almost every other hotel followed. All of a sudden, Groupon UAE was next level in terms of revenue, but it wasn’t our own company.

Five-star hotels did not always like the brand positioning. And the idea of a discount is awesome, but a lot of people don’t like saying they’re getting a discount when they’re at a nice place.

So, we made SupperClub to solve those problems. You only find five-star brands and there’s no redemption aspect for members because you book in advance and the hotel knows everything.

What is your target market?

People with incomes of Dh15,000 to Dh50,000.

They don’t necessarily need a discount, but it’s nice to have: “I am watching where my money goes, to an extent … I like to enjoy myself, but don’t necessarily want to pay full price and I don’t want to tell anybody.”

Muna Mustafa bought half a Bitcoin for $300 and sold at $60,000. Victor Besa / The National

How do you grow personal wealth?

I don’t save for a rainy day. I invest in things I make sure can be turned liquid if I need to quickly, so stocks and bonds.

I have a plan that a [financial advisory] company invests for me when I have spare [cash]. We don’t let it sit in the bank, we do something with it.

We also have a flat on Yas Island we bought off-plan. And our next move is to a house that we own. That’s what we’re looking at.

Any investing wins?

I bought half a Bitcoin before people knew anything about it, when it was at $300 (and sold at $60,000).

Do you use SupperClub?

A lot. I want to experience what a member is experiencing.

I like to be one of the first people that goes [to a partner venue] to catch things that are not 100 per cent. It’s both [market research and saving] and I love going to nice places.

Any financial speed bumps?

We launched a business before SupperClub, an app where you pre-order and pick up your coffee, and it failed.

We put Dh150,000 each into it, and it was just gone. We were ahead of our time and approached it all wrong, hiring people and putting money into the wrong things, trying to perfect the app. That was really painful, but a great learning experience.

Money loves me. It’s everywhere floating in the universe, you just have to know how to reach out and grab it
Muna Mustafa, co-founder of SupperClub

We launched SupperClub with the opposite mindset. We put in Dh40,000 to launch, ran very lean, but were profitable quickly.

Almost everybody on our team is freelance. We didn’t wait for it to be perfect, we jumped off the cliff and assembled the plane on the way down.

We generate revenue from partnerships, memberships and booking fees.

Any cherished purchases?

Seven years ago, my mum and I bought land in Florida as a birthday gift for my younger twin sisters. I kept part ownership.

Last year, we got a decent offer and sold it. It was unusual, appreciated and gave my sisters a new perspective on money and investments.

What is your money philosophy?

Money loves me. It’s everywhere floating in the universe, you just have to know how to reach out and grab it. And there’s multiple ways you can do that.

But if you have negative thoughts towards money — you’re afraid of it, or it works against you, you think you might make too much or too little, you’re not comfortable talking about it — it affects you subconsciously.

Are you wise with money?

Overall. I look for the best benefits on certain credit cards and pay them off in full. But I don’t look at the numbers when the memories are going to be more important.

We have a trip to the US coming up that’s going to be pricey with a family of five, but it’s going to be very memorable.

So, I’m an emotional spender, if I’m with family. If we’re out to dinner with my sisters, I don’t look at the bill because the experience is more important than how much we’re spending.

Everyday things like groceries … I look because it’s something you are constantly spending on, so better to do it smartly, get the best deal.

Any spending weaknesses?

I buy things from Amazon and find you get what you pay for. So, I regret buying cheap household products because they break down faster. I save Dh100, but then need to buy a whole new one.

Also, racking up debt on credit cards and not paying off in full every month, when I first moved to Dubai. There were a couple of years I wasn’t working steadily.

Any goals or retirement plans?

I’m not even comfortable with the word retirement. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s hard to turn it off and not have any idea how you generate income.

For SupperClub, we don’t have an exit [plan], because we want it to be constantly generating revenue.

My favourite thing is when I wake up and I see how many people bought memberships or made bookings, because we’re earning while we sleep.

Updated: November 28, 2022, 5:39 AM