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Stepping out of your comfort zone…

2003 was a good year in many ways.

On 1st of January we came back home after 4 moves in 4 years, one addition to our family and pitstops in London, New York, Southern California, Tokyo and Northern Virginia.

2003. 10 months later we were a team of 4 people, significantly cash flow positive, still not sure about what we wanted to do with our lives or the little bit of extra cash we had.

So we built ourselves an office. It cost us 250,000 rupees to take the space beneath the overhead water tank at my home and convert it into a 200 square foot office, complete with two sided adjustable shades, its own nursery, rust free aluminum windows, our own designer (read: designed by us) tables, chairs and white boards. The 250,000 was a big investment since it represented roughly half of our net billing at that stage.

The new office was priceless since it allowed us to declare independence and allowed me to work from home. With payroll running at about 15,000 a month, there wasn’t much that we could spend it on within the firm and a new office, three new tables, four chairs, two whiteboards and a spanking new telephone line seemed as good a use of that money as any. In less than a year we had managed to put a roof on our combined heads.

2004. A few months later (January 2004), Mujtaba and Arif got together and courtesy of Nasir Bhai, Ali Rahim and Mahmood we had a slightly old but much bigger space. From 200 square feet (two cubicles or less) we had jumped to 3000 square foot. The big question was the estimated 15,000 – 20,000 in monthly operating expenses and how the three of us would manage to fund it. We decided to put in 50,000 from our individual pockets to get things started and then hoped that by the time this money ran out, we would have a steady stream of incoming revenues.

Our proudest possession in the office was our brand new ultra cool and ultra clean bathroom that at 37,000 rupees took care of 25% of our liquid capital base. But since we all spent a lot of time thinking on the pot, we jointly felt that it was the wisest and prudent investment we could make as a firm.

2005. In October 2004, exactly 10 months later our friends, sponsors and landlords decided to move in with us and we went through the quickest, cleanest live in renovation I have ever experienced. We went from looking like this in October 2004

To this in August 2005! It was quite a make over!

By now things had started getting serious. The 15,000 rupees a month payroll and 15,000 rupees a month overhead was no more. We were burning about 250K a month and our billing could only be described as jittery. Our largest customer had gone through a significant management change and surprise, surprise one of our largest invoices had gotten stuck in transition. After three difficult months when they finally settled, we breathed a sigh of relief.

2006. When you are used to stepping out of your comfort zone it is difficult to stay put. Come May 2006 and the itch to move on to something bigger had already started. This time, the culprit was a two million rupee payment that we didn’t know what to do with. In our 3000 square foot shared office we were sitting three people to a desk. Electricity was a nightmare and about fifty souls were sharing two bathrooms where the water disappeared by 2 pm. It was not pretty.

The solution was four bathrooms, running water, our own generator, a brand new conference rooms, ample sunlight and close proximity to Nandos.

Once the move was done, the expected side effect arrived. Cash flow or more like it the absence of flow. Once we spent the 2 million on furniture, air conditioning and a 20 KVA generator, there wasn’t much left for payroll. The ample sunshine and the satanic Nandno’s cakes came at a cost.

When we started we were under twenty souls with ample space for table tennis matches and growth. When we left we were back to two people to a desk.

2008. In many ways, 2008 started off as a banner year. It saw the birth of Alchemy first sales team, a proper formal power point presentation, a new website, two new products, three months of sales calls and yes the hall mark of excess cash and ample profitability, a new office.

As I wait to usher in 2009, I look back and see how far we have come. We have had our share of rough spots. Exactly once a year, more in good years.

But every time we decided to step out of our comfort zone, once the pain was over, the new Alchemy was a better place to be. Starting with the very first bet we made by taking 50% of our gross revenues and 100% of our profits and investing them in a matching set of four windows and walls so that we could be independent, it has always been about how does this help, rather than what would it cost. The stakes are higher, the pain more difficult to ignore, but the team is still the same.

Without them we would be where we were in 2003.

Not a bad place to be and a good year.

But not good enough.



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