My Startup Story Series… Alchemy Associates

Share this Article


This is the second in the “My Startup Story Series” posts. The first was on Ali, and this one covers Alchemy Associates.

To be honest this is taken from Jawwad Farid with his permission because it was complete in itself.

If any other companies feel that their startup story will benefit other struggling entrepreneurs in Pakistan please submit them using

Over to Jawwad…

Year One. On 1st January 2003, I came back home to Karachi. I had 16,000 dollars in credit card debt (from venture number one, Avicena), an asthmatic three year old, another one in beta (we were expecting Salwa) and an IBM Thinkpad T-30, that I had bought with the last two thousand dollars in my bank account. Over the phone in Virginia I had received two semi firm offers and three solid introductions that I hoped would lead to decent interviews in the city. After three failed attempts at making my millions with technology, I had promised myself and Fawzia a job that would lead to plush retirement and a pension in a firm full of the undead (Freudian slip, I meant the unGeek).

So much so for promises…

I founded Alchemy on 27th January 2003 to make a point. Yes I was broke, in debt, with no idea or a plan, but the point was that I was still better off on my own. To be fair, as a family we had a number of advantages. We had two sets of grandparents, a roof on our head, only one kid in the school going age bracket and no immediate pressure to support our parents as well as a total absence of embarrassment or shame on moving in with them in their old age so that they could support us and our kids. To the day that was four and a half years ago.

The first five months were brutal. Maybe that is too harsh. Let me put it this way. Our total billing in our first five months of existence was 800 US$. It funded the budget for letter heads and our first part time employee. Money wasn’t the issue. I would hijack my father’s car (an old beat up 1988 Toyota sprinter on CNG), borrow his color deskjet printer, eat his food, and scrounge 1000 rupee (15$) loans. And this was on top of the money I would borrow from Fawzia who thankfully, unlike her insane husband, was gainfully employed. The brutality came from building the pipeline from scratch and from hearing no’s. It wasn’t that it stopped after five months. It’s just that after five months I got used to it.

There are three important lessons that you should take away from the above paragraph. The most important investment you can make as an entrepreneur is to have a considerate family and a spouse with short term memory who will lend you money despite the billions of dollars you have borrowed from them and blown up to date. The second important lesson is that building a pipeline or flow from scratch is the most painful experience you will ever go through in life. Even if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you bitter, rude, mean and abusive. And the third and final lesson is that after facing five months of bitter, rude, mean and abusive behavior, you will get used to pretty much everything.

In the sixth month a few things happened. A mutual friend did an introduction with Mahmood. Mahmood is a colleague from my days at Sidat Hyder who for some reason remembered me as a solid professional and had a much higher opinion of myself than I had of myself even on good days. He was in the process of expanding his practice and thought that having a firm of consulting actuaries on board will create a better, possibly fuller product offering for his customers. The deal was a very simple handshake. Office space and friendship for an understanding of pitching jointly for work. I didn’t realize it then but this was one of the luckiest breaks in a series of lucky breaks that we were blessed with at Alchemy. With Mahmood came Ali and Nasir Bhai, Mujtaba (yes, my current partner in crime), Kashif, Masood, Sikander, Rashid and many other friends. But more importantly with Mahmood came a platform (Mahmood, Masood, Idrees and Company), a network and much needed work.

Year Two. With active support of this network, our billing jumped from 800 dollars in our first five months to $37,000 in the next 13 months. Beyond that, as our practice and employees grew, Nasir Bhai, (a senior partner in the firm) was gracious enough to give us his office space (3000 sqft) for next two years on a rent free basis. Mujtaba on the other hand was audacious (some would say shameless) enough to ask for it. Arif Rasool joined Mujtaba and myself at our new offices as the third partner in crime.

Having this group as a partner also helped us protect from the hassles of running an office. The first time an excise and taxation officer came asking for a bribe, we just sent him to Ali Bhai’s room and that was the last we heard of it. I think the next two years really defined us as a firm and without Ali Bhai, Nasir Bhai and Mahmood we would not be who we are or even where we are. It wasn’t just alliance or space or protection… It was mentoring, support (monetary and non-monetary), at times a shoulder to cry on, on occasions someone to share really big news with, but more often than not, companionship and comfort on good days and bad.

There is only one lesson you can learn from the above material. It’s just dumb luck. Irrespective of how hard you really work, in the end fate, destiny, karma, or some combination of the three will put you on the cross roads with well wishers and supporters who will do everything for you and not ask for anything in return. Given a choice between luck and smarts, opt for luck.

With hindsight, there is possibly one more lesson in there. Your best deals will be deals done on a handshake. You may or may not document them. Just make sure that you honor the trust shown in you.

Alchemy Risk Manager (Year Three and Year Four). Towards the beginning of year two we seriously started looking at building a product that our customers kept asking us for. To the first three we said no, but when the fourth one walked in and said, what will it take for you to build this?, we had a change of heart. Alchemy Risk Manager was initially conceived as a market risk management toolkit. Three years later, it has now evolved into an Enterprise Risk reporting platform that takes care of Basel II requirement for Credit, Market and Op Risk, Asset Liability Management, Stress Testing, Local Regulatory reporting and a derivative pricing engine. As a product it is reasonably successful and it became the driver that took our revenues to $70,000 in year three and $150,000 in year four.

I think the shift from a services based consulting setup to a product based technology company changed the profile and outlook of Alchemy. It was an even more profound change because I had written myself off being a geek or a technology guy immediately after Avicena (circa 2001). I am still in denial about this being a technology company, or us being a member of PASHA

Alchemy Today. Four and a half years after its founding, Alchemy today employs 40 people. Growth has slowed down from the blazing triple digits a year to the mere double digits (80% year on year this year) but will spike again as we launch two more risk products and close on our first deals in Thailand and Dubai. For a company started on a beach chair, a thinkpad and multiple 15 dollar loans from my retired father, by the grace of God, we have come a long way.

I still answer my own phone, drive my own car, open my own doors and carry my own bags. I am ruder, meaner, leaner and more abusive than I was in January 2003. I am also fatter (200 lbs) and balder (more surface area to catch sun light to encourage circulation in my hard at work brain).

It wasn’t me. It was just dumb luck. Don’t take my word for it. Google Nassim Taleb and read his two cents on the topic. Fooled by Randomness and the Black Swan.

Over and out.

Facebook comments:


  • Truly inspiring!!!

  • […] 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 […]

  • I think this is more of a ‘it happened’ success story. Luck played a major role in making this company a success, as the writer himself has claimed.

    I fail to see a vision or why the company was actually formed (or it’s not told in this post), apart from the ‘proving something to others’ factor.

    Yes, luck does play its role, but should a new startup be left to the mercy of the ‘luck’ factor?

  • Dear Guru

    It’s the starbucks story.

    The vision from day one was to build an unconventional company where our team members should not have the same complaints and issue we had with our previous bosses. The product and technology background was a means to an end.

    Take everything that was right and could not be done in the Pakistani market and go ahead and do it. Weather it was flexi timing for working mothers, active support for continuing education, zero tolerance for not delivering value to a customer or tangible profit sharing with employees in the form of bonuses and above market average increments. We did it.

    As far as luck is/was concerned. I would rather be lucky than right. Yes hard work will take you so far but in professions and businesses that are scalable, building scale is a combination of so many complex factors. You would be an egomaniac to think that you did it just by yourself. I am sure there are individuals who have, but I certainly didn’t.

    Do a google search on Nassim Taleb and Fooled by Randomness. He puts it much better that I can.


  • “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Thomas Jefferson quotes

    So the Luck is all about Hard-work, and persistence!

Leave a Reply


Recent Posts

  • Events General Mobile Apps Container Run a continuation of politically motivated apps

    Container Run a continuation of politically motivated apps

    First we had Angry Imran which brought smiles and some short lived fun for us during the election campaign. Then came Gullu Butt following the incident of Model Town Lahore, which stayed on top of charts (Pakistan play store) for quite some while. Also Gullu Butt made an update with having the famous “Aam Khaiyga” quote form Aamir Liaqat in which a character resembling Aamir Liaqt throws mangoes and the Gullu Butt character tries to catch them. Gullu butt currently has more than 100,000 Installs

    And now during this extremely politically tense situation which had the whole nation on its toes on 14th August we have another app continuing the …

    Read more →
  • Announcements Featured Startup General aims to help student make better decision regarding their future. aims to help student make better decision regarding their future. aims to solve an age old problem for our students, where to go next?

    If you have just completed your primary school which college to pick, if you have completed your college which university to pick. There has always been lack of information or rather consolidated information regarding these questions. The best source till now has always been relatives and friends (mostly of your parents). So some uncle did CA and made a good living you should talk to him and decide, or daughter of my sister completed her medical and is practicing follow that career.

    The fact that online presence of our existing universities are limited and not …

    Read more →
  • General Mobile Apps Eccentria Technologies launches an app which shoots to the top of the charts

    Eccentria Technologies launches an app which shoots to the top of the charts

    Whoa!! this was quick so Eccentia technologies launched an app a few days ago called “Ajj Kia Pakaen” or what to cook today and today it has reached the top of charts for Pakistani Stores on iTunes and google play store.

    “Ajj Kia Pakaen” is the most common question asked at every house hold in the morning. The ladies of the family have a hard time deciding what to cook for the day. The app has a fun interface and is simple to use, you fire it up, and it gives you an option of what to cook for the day, if you like the option you can check the …

    Read more →
  • Coffee Session General Marketing/Adv Rise of facebook marketing in Pakistan

    Rise of facebook marketing in Pakistan


    Until a few years back we used to have closed groups and forums, which gathered the like minded people and anyone targeting the online audience would tap into that forum and market his/her services. So PakGamers , PakPassion initially even PakWheels used to be driven by members talking about what they loved, people used to create marketing and sales opportunities from within those discussions (so you could get a good router cheap or a gaming PC etc).
    The advent of facebook changed all that, most of the forum goers moved to the new social media. It also made a very attractive market place for some one who does not …

    Read more →
  • General Getting back

    Getting back

    I  have been out of blogging for a long long long time, a lot of things happening on personal front (including a little startup I have ben doing my self). However during my absence I met a lot of people who had followed GreenWhite at its peak, read the articles regularly.

    I had hope there would be some one else who would come ahead and cover everything going on and around us in the local tech world. There are some guys doing a great job, but for some reason I still could not find one source where I can go and read about everything, so my routine usually is to …

    Read more →
  • General Mobile Apps Software & I.T. GeniTeam launches official app for Pakistan Idol

    GeniTeam launches official app for Pakistan Idol

    GeniITeam has successfully launched an official app for PakistanIdol. This is one of the first collaboration between a reality game show and a local app development company. I am sure a lot more would follow. Previously we have seen seenreport becoming the basis of mostly all channels citizen reporting system (Like Geo Dost). This is a healthy sign and with the advent of 3G round the corner it should become a business generator for our local firms.

    App allows you to follow the contestants that you like, promote them, comment on live feedback on an episode. It offers official content from the show since it is developed with partnership with …

    Read more →
  • General 10Pearls and National Geographic Release A Geography Challenge App

    10Pearls and National Geographic Release A Geography Challenge App

    10Pearls, one of the leading Pakistani IT companies, has recently added another feather to its cap. This time, in partnership with National Geographic, 10Pearls has released the new and improved GeoBee Challenge App – an interactive app to challenge and grow the geographic knowledge of the users.

    Each year thousands of schools in the United States participate in the National Geographic Bee using materials prepared by the National Geographic Society. The competition is designed to encourage geography in the classroom, ignite student interest in the world around them, and increase public awareness about geography. Schools with students in grades four through eight are eligible for this entertaining and challenging test …

    Read more →
  • General 10Pearls Spins Off Game Plan8

    10Pearls Spins Off Game Plan8

    It’s heartening to see that Pakistani IT companies have now started to diversify themselves into non traditional areas, and are competing with global players in areas such as gaming. We have received information that 10Pearls, one of the leading  mobile and enterprise web development services companies in Pakistan, has spun-off a separate entity focused solely on developing and publishing casual mobile games.  The new entity, Game Plan8, will focus on creating 2D and 3D games for the iOS, Google Android, Kindle, Facebook and other platforms. Details can be seen on the company’s official press release at


    Read more →
  • General Telecom CCP Gives Guidelines Against Telecom Companies’ Deceptive Marketing

    CCP Gives Guidelines Against Telecom Companies’ Deceptive Marketing

    If only were there two things when it comes to the law, firstly the fear of breaking it and by passing the legal authority, and secondly, implementation of the law given full dedication, there would have been less competency and dishonesty in business and society. However, keeping good faith, the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has put forward “Deceptive Marketing Guidelines” which will maintain the Section 10 of the Competition Act, 2010. In order to enforce this part of the law and stop anti-competitive conduct on part of the telecom companies in advertising, the guidelines have been shared with Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and other concerned telecommunication sector members, in …

    Read more →