10 Questions with Mario Mucalo

Mario is a senior full stack developer who prefers the Microsoft stack on the backend and Angular on the front end. In 2013 Mario started his own company Intellegens so he could provide development services for clients.

Soon he started working as a remote developer on various projects and never looked back. These days he is also involved in some projects (e.g. Remote-how Academy) that help other developers start working remotely.

T: What are you currently working on?

M:  I have just finished a remote engagement where I worked on a back end system for a Norwegian company in the finance sector. Also, I was involved with a project for Siemens Croatia.

T: What are you passionate about outside of work?

M:  Family. My two adorable children (ages 1 and 0 :) ) take up quite a lot of my time, and bring even more pleasure and happiness! If any time is left, I love sports (basketball, skiing etc.) and I play drums in a band called "Kad djeca zaspu" (in English. "When kids fall asleep") because rehearsals are at 22h, when kids fall asleep :)

T: What drove you to freelancing?

M:  I was working in a great company where I progressed, the job was great, the team was amazing... Yet, sometimes we'd get into situation where we needed to work extra, or we arranged too tight deadlines, or we just had too much technical debt to get stuff done in given time... And I decided that I want to run my own show where I would stop this stuff from happening. And beginning 2013 I finally took the leap, quit my job, and opened a company for myself to see if I can indeed make it work.

T: What was your biggest obstacle when you were starting out?

M:  It took me 3 months to find my first client. And that one was not a good one, I was recommended to them by a friend... However, they had a limited budget. I took the client on, I delivered to the best of my ability, but the finances barely covered the minimum money I wanted to earn, with me being 3 months down already. However, here I learned that if you accept a job, take it on with full engagement and deliver the best you can - a happy customer will give you access to more potential customers. And it did happen. So, very soon the workload became more stable. But the panic and despair when nobody wants to hire you for three months is tough. You just had to power through it, I had a lot of help and understanding from my wife which helped a lot.

T: What is for you the main advantage of Freelancing?

M:  If you do a great job, congratulations! It's all you! If you mess up really bad, again - congratulations! It's all you! In my opinion, freelancing really makes you approach each project with full engagement and overdeliver. And as long as you are doing this, clients will be pouring in.

T: How about main disadvantage?

The main disadvantage is motivation. Especially if you are working remotely (like I mostly am), you can often find yourself in a position where you can think "I'll cut it short today and catch up tomorrow". This is the worst thing you can do to yourself. If you want to have the freedom to choose to work less some days (or not to work at all on some days) then make sure you are always ahead of the client's schedule.

T: What is your approach to finding clients?


  1. Deliver good work. Always. Be easy to collaborate with. Always. Be easily accessible. Always. If you say you'll do something, do it. Always. With these guidelines, work will find you.
  2. I keep my social profiles usually very tidy (e.g. LinkedIn, StackOverflow...). They make you easily accessible and they make you pop up in searches various recruiters do.
  3. I am a part of some job finding network, though in my opinion Toptal (https://www.toptal.com/#utilize-only-adept-software-engineers) is the best one out there.
  4. I talk to people, let them know that I am available and looking for work. In my experience, in today's world the demand in IT is much greater than supply, so someone always knows someone who needs a developer.

T: What is your advice on calculating rates and determining worth?

M:  Think about what would make you content. Don't think about how much someone else is charging or how much the client could afford... Do your basic math of expenses, expected earnings, expected savings etc. and add 10% :) However, an important thing is that once you set the rate, stick with it. Every client will tell you you're expensive. Instead of trying to win them over with lowering the price, win them over by explaining how much value you can bring to them.

T: As a freelancer, do you feel you sometimes need to compromise to keep the client? Did you ever find yourself in that type of situation?

M:  Very common. In my opinion it is very important to explain to the client what the compromise is and that you advise otherwise, but are doing it just as well, as the client has the last call. In one of my last engagements I did say to my client that it would be awesome if we implemented some sort of a socket connection so we can get real live data pushed to the client. I told them it would provide a better experience for the user, but would take a while longer and take a bit more. They said no. I agreed I would not do it, but made sure they had it in writing that I did suggest it as a better version of the solution.

T: What’s your no.1 tool you rely on as a freelancer?

M:  The brain :) Common sense is the most important tool. Not sure what you meant by the question but: 1) Have a stable gear - good laptop that is clean and can run stuff, good cell phone that can run apps for communication and collaboration, good communication gear (headset, camera). 2) Have the software you need - e.g. if you're a designer, you need e.g. Photoshop with a bunch of plugins you acquired through your career. Same goes if you're a developer.

T: Based on your experience - if you could go back, what would you do differently?

M:  Not much, actually. My initial thought was "I'd do this earlier" but I actually wouldn't. The experience of working in a company was valuable for me and has taught me a lot on how to do some things and how I'd like not to do some things. Also - every mistake I made on my freelance engagements was my own, and I learned from each of them and they made me a better expert now. So I would not change those either.

T: What would be your message to someone thinking about pursuing freelance career?

M:  It is difficult. It takes a lot of effort. It will drain you sometimes, it will bring you to the edge of your nerves sometimes. It is very rewarding because you know you are responsible for everything that happens, and when you do something well, it was you, all you!

T: Great, all done. Anything to add?

M:  Try to give yourself a buffer of 2-3 months so you can land your first client. During that time don't focus on what might happen if you can't find a client, just focus on landing the client, any client, in any way you can. And things will start rolling from there.

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Tom Kozacinski
Tom Kozacinski
I'm a London based product designer, creative entrepreneur, freelancer and advocate of remote work with over 12 years in the industry. I also have 12 years of experience as a stand-up comedian and I love to share my experience.
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