Startup lessons from Lahiru Pathmalal, CEO of and Joe Lenora from We Are Designers

SPIKE, the monthly meetup of Sri Lankan tech startup ecosystem was held at Barefoot on 28th of February. Lahiru, CEO of and Joe Lenora from We Are Designers were present to share their experience.

Lahiru Pathmalal

Lahiru Pathmalal was one of the first speakers at SPIKE. He joined with SPIKE for the second time to share his experience about startup funding, lessons learned from a cat and how smooth seas impact the skills of a sailor.

Takas, one of the well-known ecommerce sites in Sri Lanka, started their operation in 2012. According to Lahiru, they are the largest when it comes to pure play ecommerce in Sri Lanka. Even though Lahiru is the face of Takas, he is a co-founder among two others; namely Dilendra Wimalasekere and Murtaza Moosajee.

Startup funding in Sri Lanka

When it comes to funding, 80% of Takas is funded by Sri Lankan entities and 20% have their sources outside of Sri Lanka. In 2012, Takas raised a seed funding round of Rs. 6 million but when looking at the ecosystem, it’s considered as a very minimal amount. So far they have raised around Rs.200 million since 2012. When Takas launched their business, they wanted to become the largest ecommerce site in Sri Lanka.

If a startup is trying to go beyond Sri Lankan borders and grow rapidly, they need to seriously consider about getting funds outside of Sri Lanka. The reality in terms of attracting capital to Sri Lanka from mature venture funds and even frontier venture funds is very difficult unless you have a narrative which goes beyond the boundaries of Sri Lanka. In that sense, Takas is confined to Sri Lankan borders. One of the core things you have to do when raising funds or when you’re putting the bench mark in terms of your time, space and everything else is where do you want this thing to go and how do you set about that, because that’s paramount when you start raising funds.

Advice for young entrepreneurs

SPIKE is usually filled with seasoned and upcoming Sri Lankan startup entrepreneurs. Lahiru didn’t forget to share some of his best advice with the participants.

Team is core. Everything else is secondary.

Most of the time, young entrepreneurs seem to carry the weight all by themselves. The key in startup success is your team. If you can build a great team, you have won half the battle. The ecommerce retail industry is filled with companies that are backed by real money. The reason for success in Takas lies behind their team. Raising money should go hand-in hand with building a great team.

Believe in your idea

Becoming an entrepreneur is a hard journey. Most of the time, people will question and criticize your idea. There will be so many non-believers who will tell you that your idea will never work out. There will always be someone to pin point why you will fail. To be very honest, you yourself will do that to somebody else’s idea. When you start as an entrepreneur, you have to be open to getting this kind of feedback and not be defeated by it.

Be a persistent cat!

Lahiru believes that businesses run out of business is not because your competitor outruns you; but because you quit. If you don’t quit, you’re not out of the game. That’s why many say that the difference between success and everything else is persistence. He learned this lesson from his cat; “Kokis.” Cats are always persistent when it comes to begging for food. They never give up. So be a persistent cat when building your business.

A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor

There is a notion that entrepreneurs are always supposed to be happy and embracing life. It’s not like that. You’re going to have some very miserable days. That’s life. That doesn’t mean you put your flag down. Entrepreneurship sometimes can be very lonely. Sometimes very tough but that’s what makes for a great story as well. Someone once said “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.”

Joe Lenora

Joe is the founder/CEO of We Are Designers. We Are Designers is a 12 year old company which has been involved in web and app development. But recently they have shifted to product development and Joe shared the lessons and challenges of their journey.

Cash flow is key

If you’re a company who is planning to get into product development, make sure that you have enough cash flow to carry out the projects at least 1.5 years.

Focus on your projects

If you’re catering clients while building in house products, be mindful about focusing on your products. Whenever a new project comes from a client, your product can get sidelined. Then it takes forever to get your product out.

Resources and talent recruitment

The success of your tech company highly depends on your team. It’s really difficult to hire super tech talent in Sri Lanka. So they have directly contacted University lecturers to identify top students at their classes.

According to Joe, the culture at We Are Designers is different than most traditional companies. They don’t have a strict time to come to work as long as they get the work done. The flat hierarchy is also one of their key differences.

Hope you enjoyed our post on lessons learned from another SPIKE event. If you want to learn from our very own and meet some great Sri Lankan startup people, join the next SPIKE which is happening on last Tuesday of every month.

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