The country’s second-ever tech Initial Public Offering (IPO) since 2021 will go live for subscription on the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in the coming weeks, giving Pakistan’s tech industry a last-minute surprise before Ramadan.
The company intends to raise approximately Rs. 430 million through an IPO. It is selling 78.2 million ordinary shares, each with a face value of Rs. 1, for Rs. 5.50.
Adil Ahmed, Director and Co-Founder of Symmetry Group Limited, a digital marketing and experiences company, told ProPakistani that the issue proceeds will be used to strengthen the company’s holistic market positioning and to introduce its ‘homemade’ version of ChatGPT and other tools to take Pakistan’s tech space to the next level.
How did you start and get such big clients so early on?
“We started in 2003 as a typical proprietary concern,” said CEO and Co-Founder Sarocsh Ahmed. Adil was working for Yahoo in the Middle East, while I was in banking. After investing Rs. 150,000 in the business, we started exploring the field and later launched the first digital marketing agency in the country named Symmetry”.
Adil Ahmed, Director and Co-Founder, explained that the company’s model has always been a combination of digital marketing services and technology services, but it took some time to get to where it is now. “Beginnings were tough as they’re supposed to be, but once the money started coming in, the scene exploded for us from one agency to multiple digital marketing agencies and data-driven enterprises,” he said.
Getting started with prospectus clients required a lot of cold calling and contacting different agencies in the early days. “Because there’s a legacy, it’s a bit tough to live up to it at present because of new competition, and mushroom growth in different agencies, competitors, and others. The most important thing to remember is that we were always regarded as thought leaders. We’ve always dared to break the mould and bring something new to the market. “Most importantly, knowledge is essential,” he stated.
Adil stressed the importance of the team educating itself and its clients in the process in order to stay ahead of the curve. “Everything we’ve done over the years has resulted in us being a very reliable company. We communicate to our clients that when they work with us, either we have transformed their digital possibilities or they can come to us and know that their possibilities will be transformed, thus proving the level of trust they have in the Group”.
Say Hello to Google Analytics!
Symmetry’s growth has been an exciting ride over the years. “ProPakistani has grown alongside Symmetry Group over the years, and our connection is quite strong as a result, and it’s a nice story,” Adil said. Prior to our highs, when Symmetry first entered the space, we contacted a leading publisher to run an ad campaign and asked them to provide us with a breakdown of their user base/reach. We only got data on hits, which didn’t tell us much about the publisher’s reach. Then, for the first time in Pakistan, we introduced Google Analytics so that our clients (and the rest of the competitors) could learn how to map their audiences and understand their reach”.
According to Adil, this was a critical role. “Helping build the framework and bringing the industry to a level where they are able to actually monetize what they were getting in terms of traffic and users to beat other publishers,” he said. We did it”.
What is the future of digital marketing at Symmetry?
Sarocsh Ahmed, CEO of Symmetry, was optimistic about the role of digital in Pakistan. “We believe in a bright future. Transformation occurs on a regular basis. We shifted from a service to a product company and are now focusing on tools. Our upcoming public offering will invest heavily in the development of these tools, and our goals in this area are global. “Because of the extremely volatile nature of the Pakistani market and the overall business environment,” he stated.
Sarocsh stated that the company has been working on its public offering for some time, but that market conditions, socio-political events, and economic downturns have slowed it down. “We’re still at it and geared up for all challenges. The Pakistani market is large, with around 260 million people, and it can be sidetracked for a few years. But the market will always exist. We must develop a good mix and improve our export mix, and we expect this growth to be aided by the B2B/B2C tools that we are developing. This will undoubtedly aid us in our continued development,” he added.
Is Symmetry in the right space?
“Trends are gold,” Adil said. In Pakistan post-COVID, 124 million people have regular access to online services. Advertisers are paying attention to what the audience is most interested in, particularly Generation Z.
“Some of the leading advertisers on board with us are spending up to 50 percent on digital. This is a strong indication that we are in the right direction. Furthermore, new platforms such as TikTok and SnackVideo are emerging to challenge Facebook and Google’s duopoly. Excitingly, Pakistan’s very own OTD platforms have also entered the market; people are creating massive amounts of new content and becoming influencers, which is also an opportunity for us”.
Despite the expansion, Adil sees a lack of data-driven frameworks on the consumer-facing side of any organisation operating in Pakistan. “To fill this gap, Symmetry has taken it as a responsibility, besides its own growth, to develop tools. We’re well on our way to developing new AI tools and have already created one. ChatGPT is a new player in the game, but we’ve already used it in our systems. For context, our entire website content is generated by AI, demonstrating how far we have progressed as a company. This is our vision”.
Tell Us About the IPO. Where do you see most of the sum invested?
“60% raise is going towards the development of the tools. The remainder will be allocated to specialised HR and marketing campaigns in order to envision all of our brands under one umbrella. Another portion of the post-IPO proceeds will be used to purchase a 10,700 square foot office, which is nearing completion. “Our philosophy is bootstrapping, and our goal is to use this office space to meet the bare minimum of our employees’ needs,” Sarocsh explained.
Any Risks Post-IPO?
“Our SOPs are in place,” said Sarocsh. We have encountered difficulties while operating in the Pakistani economy. HR is a significant challenge, but our retention rates are quite high. We’re planning a share option scheme post-IPO for our staff to further bolster our retention history, and internally Symmetry’s training programmes and third-party certifications are pretty much extensive to help enhance the skills and growth of our resources”.
“In general, operationally we don’t see any risks post-deployment, and we’re well-positioned financially and have no debt issues. The only certain risk we face is to our country’s future, for which we are working to mitigate any consequences that may arise in the future,” he added.
“Throughout the challenges we’ve faced over the years, we’ve observed that reliance on digital has increased significantly,” Adil added. That means a lot to us. COVID demonstrated how the Pakistani market shifted to digital, with the best example being how people quickly shifted to digital banking, which opened up more opportunities for growth on its own. As a result, we anticipate more opportunities in the future.
Ventures Overseas and Expectations
According to Symmetry executives, their growth model encourages partnerships with clients both locally and globally. “We’re currently working on partnerships in MENA and APEC countries for tools that we’ve developed,” they said. At the moment, APEC is THE market for us to enter. We’re entering into a JV with another company in the region for technology and consultancy services and we expect to commence operations by March-April 2023″.
Taxes and Scaling Overseas
“We don’t intend to diversify overseas as a hedge against taxes in Pakistan,” Sarocsh explained. However, we are currently working with a large business group based in Dubai to launch a new venture in the region. It’s initial, and we see it as a project for the future”.
“Taxation, in general, isn’t an issue,” he added. The problem is with the tax system. We hope that future governments would reform FBR with required digital tech implementations so it may streamline the tax regime for ease of accessibility”.
“To maintain a certain edge, we were always placed as a digital marketing group in the space,” Adil said in his closing remarks. However, there were many technologies and products that we envisioned and are still investigating. Our brand of digital technology and experiences is a novel positioning. Our Group currently has four major divisions: interactive, transformation, mobility, and e-commerce. We’ve partnered with Ali Baba to help local traders grow by providing a channelized experience to one of the world’s largest e-commerce enterprises”.
When is the IPO?
The company hopes to go public in March. In terms of public reaction, it is worth noting that Octopus Digital was the last IPO of a tech company on the bourse. One of the most notable aspects of Symmetry’s offering is the small number of shares on offer.
As markets are prone to bears, the valuation per share is adjusted to account for the current economic situation. So, in order to provide an advantage to investors, the IPO has been modified to ensure that investors gain a significant amount.