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The Alchemy Story – redux

This has been an interesting week. I was out for a week in Dubai teaching our second course on derivative pricing at the EMBA program at SP Jain. The day I come back and check out my favorite blogs, I find that we received great coverage first from Osama Hashmi at Green and White, then Jehan at her blog, and finally Babar Bhatti did a piece on the entrepreneurial movement in Pakistan on Pakistanyat that mentioned us as well as the blog threesome Adnan, Osama and I ran for a few days in end June. One could not ask for more from even a hired PR agent…

The posts triggered the desire to do something I had been thinking about doing for some time now. An Alchemy story in pictures and words, documenting major milestones and team members… Less pictures, more words. Hopefully it will cheer up both Jehan and Athar and dispel the impression that I had anything to do with where we are now or even how we got here. There are so many faces that you haven’t seen, it is about time that credit is given, where it is due. .

Exhibit A and B – The New Office in November 2004

103- 104 Amber Estate, Main Shahara-e-Faisal. Not exactly the beginning but more like chapter 7. Alchemy’s third office after the beach chair at home and the 5 months on Beaumont Road with MIM. Our very first name plate placed outside made for a great first impression, since we had never really put it out there so blatantly and visibly. It was the first and only time we did that and since then have promised ourselves to be more discreet since it attracts unwanted government officials in droves. Inside the newly renovated space we had open cubes for the team that sat groups of six together. The group you see, missing Fawzia and Uzma, shipped Alchemy Risk Manager, version 1.0 in May 2005. Clockwise from left to right, Abbasi, Rabia, Naveed (hidden), Erum, Asim and Noor.


Exhibit C and D – Employee Number One and celebrating the MCB Deal – May 2005

Erum (in the middle), was the first convert to the cause. To date she remains employee number one, one of the most productive developers in our team and the only person in the office who can get away with murder. She is a shareholder and director and hates board meetings and AGM’s with a vengeance. Naveed, aka, Dr. Fidvi, came from LUMS and changed our lives in a year and three months. He then went on to do his Mphil from Cambridge and is now enrolled in an exotic PhD program at Imperial College where he dissects flies and plays with hi end camera in C++ in his spare time. Rabia was a student in my new ventures class that also spawned She dumped a cushy job at a local blue chip to come work with us for peanuts. (Where are you Adnan?)

The frame immediately after shows one of our many lunches at the Shaheed Millat, Pizza Hut, our favorite haunt before we discovered Nandos. This was exactly 30 minutes after we signed the MCB deal and 40 minutes before we spent all the money. Clockwise from left to right, Uzma, Naveed, Fawzia, Asim, Abbassi, Noor, Rabia, Erum and Rehana.

Exhibit E – The MCB Deal

We already had a fairly stable relationship with MCB when the pitch for Alchemy Risk Manager started. The fact that this was an existing relationship, that we had credibility and had delivered on our promises in the past made a huge difference in our conversation and our negotiations. Azra Vawda, Ali Zaidi and Aga Ahmed Shah (first three from the left) ran the Risk group at MCB that along with MCB’s treasury (Salman Usmani, not present) gave us our first shot at proving ourselves. Without their active support and confidence, I don’t think ARM would have gone anywhere. As a first customer MCB’s feedback and requirements added tremendous value to the market risk piece and also showed us how not to run an implementation, the first time.

Mahmood (MIM, between myself and Fawzia) is the gentleman who brought me into the MIM platform and held our hands for our first two years.

Exhibit F and G – The MEFTEC Experience – February 2006

MEFTEC was our third exhibition. We had already participated in GITEX and the KL Single Country Exhibition in September 2005 and weren’t sure how MEFTEC would be any different. It turned out that MEFTEC was a lot more focused, with a lot less but higher quality foot traffic and an outstanding opportunity to keep an eye on the competition. Since then we have always maintained a low key presence at the show but to date we have not written any business that could be traced directly to the event(s). We have had leads but to break into the Middle Eastern market requires you to have an active and physical presence in the region. This is something that we haven’t done to date. The exhibits show Noor walking a potential JV partner through the solution and me presenting a Basel II session at the Microsoft Pavilion.

Exhibit H and G – PASHA ICT Award 2005 and the APICTA ICT Award 2006 – January and February 2006

The team that won the PASHA ICT Awards 2005. From Left to right, top to bottom. Ahmed, Fahad, Abbassi, Farhan, Nadir, Fawzia, Shazia, Uzma, Rehana, Maryam, Jawwad, Arif and Mujtaba with the PASHA ICT Award for the Best Financial Application 2005. I had more hair then.

Missing, Erum, Noor and Asim who’d missed the official company shoot for very good reasons.

At the APICTA 2005 Awards in Chiang Mai Thailand (February 2006).  We had lost in the finals the night before and were completely heartbroken. Jehan and the then acting MD PSEB were on the same flight back home. We promised ourselves to never ever fly Cathy Pacific again. The distinguished looking gentleman standing next to Erum, is hubby Ansar, also a fast graduate and a very close friend who had accompanied us on our first corporate/official junket to Thailand.

But the heart break pushed and drove us to close our single largest deal in March that year that covered our cash flows for the next 12 months. Unlike the exhibition, the awards lead to the exposure and the sales pitch and the disappointment from having lost in Thailand, created the push that closed the deal.

Rehana by this time had completely taken over the domain function and was generating new specifications at a steady clip. We had gone from no process at all to a spec writing, prototyping, validation, dev, re-testing, re-validation and release cycle in eight months with new product editions coming out every quarter.

Exhibit I – ASOCIO Multilateral trade visit to China – May 2006.

It was in China that we finally met and sat down with Somkiat and Wealth Management as well as Wilson Tan (President ASOCIO) and Bill (GreenDot Capital). Three separate events that lead to a series of conversations that allowed us to take a step back and re-examine what we needed to do as a company to move forward. The Wilson Tan conversation highlighted the problem of depth on the business development and marketing side and lead to Mohtashim’s induction in the firm six months later. The Somkiat and Wealth Management conversation lead to three more trips to Bangkok and Karachi that allowed us to learn more about each other and finally jointly pitch for multiple projects in Thailand. If we hadn’t spent seven days crisscrossing China together, I am not sure if either event would have happened.

It was just luck…

Exhibit J, K and L – The new Campus – 1st June 2006

Finally new digs… And rent…

Exhibit M – First joint event in Bangkok with WMSL – March 2007

Close to eight months of planning and conversations bear fruit and lead to our first joint marketing event in Bangkok. The day before the workshop I end up spending the night in Bumrungrad hospital. It makes for interesting conversation during the sales pitch.


Exhibit N – You need to be a little bit crazy to come and work here – Shahzad’s farewell – July 2007

We held a farewell for Shahzad and he refuses to show up.  From right to left, top to bottom

Ahmed, Shaz, Haider, Noman, Nabeel, Nadir, Fayyaz, Abbas, Haroon, Sohail, Zeeshan, Adeel, Fawaz, Farhan, Mohtashim, Naveed, Zain, Uzma, Fawzia, Erum, Shazia, Rehana, Qurat and Salimah

To join the mad house send a copy of your resume and a cover note explaining why we should let you inside the asylum.