Meenah Tariq and Omar Parvez Khan set up Metric in 2022 - an app that simplifies accounting and finance for startups. It took about six months to launch and became an instant success. For the couple, there has been no looking back.
“We sublet a small room in a friend’s office and started working there. Six months in, we had about 800 businesses signed up on our waiting list from six different countries without any marketing whatsoever,” Tariq told Business Recorder during an exclusive interview.
Both Tariq and Khan have finance sector experience that spans over a decade. Khan is a financial consultant who found that one issue kept creeping up when he worked with small businesses: they did not know what their numbers were.
“They weren’t doing any accounting, and definitely no analysis on their financial data which meant that they could not take data-driven decisions, and ultimately, that would hurt their business. And one of the reasons why they would fail.”
Born was the idea for Metric.
“When we launched in June 2022, in the first 30 days, we were being organically used in 30 countries. In the first ten months, we had already been used in 174 countries,” says Tariq.
Metric raised $900,000 in pre-seed funding in an oversubscribed round in March last year and will be opening up its fundraise this month. The transaction volume that Metric has handled to date is more than $3.3 billion.
Data, which is clearly a huge focus of the company, is also what lead to the couple’s decision to move to Dubai earlier this year, along with their toddler daughter.
‘The UAE was calling out to us’
The decision to move was “was completely data-driven in terms of Gross Transaction Value (GTV), which is an important metric for us,” said Tariq.
She explained that the UAE’s GTV on their app had surpassed that from all other countries around the world, including Pakistan, and was number one on their most active user list.
The other consideration was whether the ecosystem of the UAE was conducive. This included researching questions like: what is the ease of business? How open are they to tech adoption and for new players to come in? What incumbents are already there?
“You do all of that analysis, and honestly, for us, the UAE was calling out to us.”
And so far it seems the move has paid off.
Not only is the business seeing “extremely fast growth and traction”, the company also sees the UAE as an entry point into the wider MENA region.
“We’re not just stopping at the UAE. The UAE is the first market that we’re going deeper into and betting our money on, and then we’re going to expand to other markets.”
Ease of doing business in Dubai is ‘unprecedented’
While the couple did expect there would be ease in setting up shop in Dubai, they were still surprised at how simple it was.
Khan says: “We obviously had an idea that it would be easy because it’s a developed ecosystem, but the level of ease of setting up your business, starting to operate, was unprecedented.”
His advice for others wanting to set up a business in Dubai: don’t go through an agent and you could end up saving 40%.
Khan spoke to a lot of agents “because you’re so confused going to a new country, you don’t want to make a mistake that might hurt you in the future. But someone advised us that we could just try to do it on our own.” So Khan walked into a government office one day to find out what the process is and ended up having the company registered within an hour.
After that, the process for partner visas and dependent visas, “happened automatically, without any effort from my part, the government offices were the ones making more effort.”
The cherry on top was that “the people working in those offices are the ones that really won our hearts. They call their government offices customer happiness centers. And I think a country like ours and any country in the world can really learn from.”
Metric is also registered in Singapore, where Khan says the process is “smooth-ish, but you still needed an agent. You couldn’t do it yourself and the costs were high.”
Tariq added that: “We’ve been to government offices in Canada, in the US, in other developed countries. Honestly, we have not been to a government office where the employees are so kind and so smiley.
The couple said the ecosystem in the UAE is extremely mature and a melting pot for people from around the world, making it ideal for networking.
“You will find founders from all over the world, from so many different countries, and there’ll be many that have sold three companies and now are maybe on their fourth startup, which is the kind of knowledge set and experience that is still missing in Pakistan,” noted Tariq.
“You find a lot of extremely experienced people who will talk to you about big ideas and crazy growth trajectories and will also sit with you and show how your company can get to that trajectory.
“Pakistan is very fast growing, but we’ve not as yet had our big IPOs, we’ve not had our big acquisitions. We’re still growing in that regard.”
And then there is the red tape.
In Pakistan, Tariq says “banks are just still absolute dinosaurs”.
She talks about trying to open an account in Pakistan and even after four months and 15 trips to the branch, they have had no luck.
“In Dubai you can open a bank account online and have a business bank account super easily.”
For her the reason is simple: the UAE is a country that wants businesses to come there and open up shop.
But the couple doesn’t think every company should look to move to Dubai.
“I don’t think anybody should be doing it for the sake of doing it. It has to be linked very clearly to the company’s objectives and goals and operations.”
For a company like theirs, which has no physical operations, the move is much easier.
“If you either want to start in the UAE or you do plan to expand there, then you can just set up your holding company in the UAE, even if you’re operating in Pakistan first, that will make it easier for you to expand,” said Khan.
Democratising business growth
The company recently launched an AI-driven micro advisory companion called Max for business owners, giving founders actionable insights to make data-driven business decisions.
Tariq explained that Max connects to a company’s own data, plus Metric’s proprietary data and gives answers around business growth.
“We always say entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey, and what Metric is trying to do is make it slightly less lonely and create a support network,” says Tariq.
“It’s democratising business growth.”
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023