The company was MillenniumIT. It was barely a month old at the time. Today, almost two decades later, it’s one of the biggest software companies in Sri Lanka.They employ hundreds of the best software engineers in the country; they have a whopping 21-acre office in Malabe; their software runs some of the world’s biggest stock exchanges – from London to Italy to Singapore.
And they’re almost invisible. They don’t speak at the Colombo-based conferences we frequent. They don’t do social media. They made the news in when their founder and CEO, Tony Weerasinghe, resigned in June: other than that, there’s scarcely been a beep out of this place. They’re the proverbial Monolith of Sri Lanka’s software industry – MillenniumIT.
The journey there immediately explains why folk from MillenniumIT don’t often show up for events: they’re too far away. After running into traffic in Colombo, Borella, Malabe, Battaramulla and Koswatta, we eventually rolled into a long road that curved up to the horizon, empty save for the occasional three-wheeler puttering along. This took us to Millenium Drive, which is something like Sri Lanka’s answer to One, Microsoft Way, Redmond.
Millenium Drive split, went past a gate, a security hut and continued, forking off into a car park and a rising curve that steadily ascended a hill and vanished over the top. Before us stretched what people at MillenniumIT call “the Campus” – a massive expanse of hills and snaking roads peppered with offices, recreational studios, even a cricket pitch. (photos by Ushan Gunasekara)
Now, twenty-odd acres of land is no joke. In fact, we’d go out on a limb and say this is perhaps the only true Silicon Valley-esque “corporate campus” in Sri Lanka – very few Sri Lankan companies are large enough to require roads with speed bumps between the entrance and the canteen. So, the big question:
“All this happened later,” said Lalin Dias, VP of Platform Development, gesturing at the buildings outside the window. We were in the Turing building – a yellow-cream concrete and glass concoction inhabited by neat-looking workspaces: lots of computers, white tables, Herman Miller chairs.
We had walked in expecting men in black suits, and possibly Will Smith lounging in a corner trash-talking the aliens, but instead, we’d introduced to Shanaka Abeywickrama, Head of Marketing, and Lalin Dias, VP of Platform Development, both of them in Tshirts and showing no signs of extraterrestrial combat training. It was a slight disappointment, but we took consolation in the fact that Lalin looked slightly terrified by the cameras trained on his face. As I jotted down notes, he answered the big question: why Malabe?
“This might come as a surprise, but Malabe was supposed to be the IT park of Sri Lanka. So we got this land….and nobody else moved in.” He laughed. “I think it worked out for us. A lot of people are trying to achieve a Silicon Valley culture, but this is the only Silicon Valley-type campus.
Indeed, it’s hard not to be passionate about such a place. To our eyes, the campus seemed more school than office. Just beyond the Turing Building was the cricket ground, with floodlights for night cricket. A large, unfinished building next door held what appears to be a tennis / basketball court, decorated with the banners of MillenniumIT’s four in-house factions – very much like school Houses themselves.
“We tournaments for practically everything, including gokarting,” explained Shanaka. “Sometimes the guys like to go out to the cricket ground for a game of rugby. Oh no, we don’t really have a timecard system. People get work done.“
Outside, a pool’s being built: a few meters away from that is a cosy-looking daycare center, all brick and glass, where they care for not just employees’ children, but also their elderly, should they so require. The lobby, where we headed to next, turned out to be a building half the size of Majestic City, large enough to make a decent wedding hall. And indeed, people have gotten married there.
To understand how this gargantuan building happened, one step back and turn to the history books. The story of this place begins almost a decade ago, in the Open Systems division of ComputerLand, a Sun Microsystems reseller. The division won a contract to set up the automated trading system of the Colombo Stock Exchange – and the Central Depository System at Mauritus. Open Systems needed capital. ComputerLand told them to find new people to invest – or, failing that, they would sell the division off.
So in 1996, in an orchestrated buyout, the Open Systems division spun off and became MillenniumIT, a systems integrator and Sun Microsystems reseller. They had 12 people, each with a stake in the company.
Next year, they landed a contract from the Colombo Stock Exchange: in it was cached an opportunity to design and implement a straight-through processing system – basically, a system to carry out the entire trade process electronically. MillenniumIT took the shot. The CSE project became the basis of what they would become famous for – capital-markets software.
From then on, business wins accumulated. In that same year, they also built software for Dialog, which at that time operated under the shadow of the much larger Celltell. Overseas contracts worked out. By 2000, Millenium IT had a regional distributor for Sun Microsystems; a year later, they’d unlocked their first US contract and were setting up operations there. Computerland had seemingly dropped off the map. The division was a success. By 2002 they’d set up their Monolith.
The journey was difficult. Part of what they had to deal with was a cultural struggle – the sense that they were literally competing with giants like NASDAQ in America, and that brought a lot of pressure onto some people.
The other part was brand-building. MillenniumIT ran into this not so long ago, before the massively publicized sale to the London Stock Exchange. The trouble began when stock, bond and derivate exchanges began to build their own software. Tony Weerasinghe, himself having seen industry giants fall to change, realized that they were running into trouble.
First on the list was the London Stock Exchange, which hadn’t yet stepped into writing their own software. MillenniumIT had the software: in fact, Millenium Exchange – the stock trading platform – was arguably the fastest trading platform at the time. LSE bought the company in 2009, and by 2011 had turned it into one of the fastest trading stock exchanges in the world.
But soon the order came through: make it faster. In an industry obsessed with latency, LSE wanted a system that could operate at a 100 microseconds. Manoj Bandara, the chief architect of Millenium Exchange, commandeered a meeting room on the second floor of the lobby with his team and literally lived in there for months, refusing to stop until the system was complete.
“We were obsessed with that number, 100 microseconds,” recalled Lalin. “People used to go there and ask: what’s the number now? What’s the number now? And they got so fed up of it that they wrote the latency on a piece of paper and stuck it outside. Every morning they’d update the paper.”
The system worked. In fact, the history of the company is peppered with such instances: high-risk moments where great engineers would just bury their heads and plough through what seemed to be an impossible task.
“We’re pretty good at what we do,” said Lalin. “We got here by focusing on one thing, being at it for a long while and having really, really smart people with us. A lot of software companies here say ‘Come to us, we’re in Sri Lanka, it’s pretty cheap.’ We’re like ‘Hi, our stuff is pretty cool. And by the way, we’re from Sri Lanka.’ We’re not saying we’re cheap. We’re saying we’re better.”
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.
thank you for subscribing 🙂
awww something went wrong 🙁
We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously
Seedstars, a global organization based in Switzerland promotes, connects and invests up to $1 million USD in emerging market startups through their exclusive startup competition held in over 60 countries.
Seedstars, a global organization based in Switzerland promotes, connects and invests up to $1 million USD in emerging market startups through their exclusive startup competition held in over 60 countries. Last year, we saw Seedstars come to Sri Lanka for the first time. LayUp was selected as the winner of the first Seedstars Colombo, which was held last year. LayUp then went onto represent Sri Lanka as a finalist at Seedstars Global. Eight startups will be competing at SeedStars Colombo 2017.
The winning startup will receive an all-expenses paid trip to both the Seedstars Asia Regional Summit in Bangkok. They’ll also win a trip to Switzerland to compete at the Seedstars Global Summit for equity investments of up to USD 1 million, and to meet with international mentors and investors.
(Thursday) 5:00 pm - 8:30 pm
MAS Innovation Center
#50 Foster Lane, Colombo
Mobile Application Security Beyond Compliance Speaker Christopher Stewart is an IT Infrastructure and Security Practitioner with over 11 years of experience including cyber defense and Governance & Audit areas. Here's your chance to
Mobile Application Security
Christopher Stewart is an IT Infrastructure and Security Practitioner with over 11 years of experience including cyber defense and Governance & Audit areas. Here’s your chance to catch Christopher’s session on Mobile Application Security: Beyond Compliance.
Sign up via Email [email protected] | Call us on 011 4713290
*Priced at Rs. 500 (free for CSSl members)
(Monday) 5:45 pm - 7:45 pm
Prof Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha, Colombo 00700
Startup weekend-Trincomalee Beach Calling entrepreneurs, Growth Hackers, Dreamers, Rain Makers and Startup Catalysts to change the world in 54 hours! Bring your creativity and skills and Join Startup Weekend Trincomalee
Startup weekend-Trincomalee Beach
Calling entrepreneurs, Growth Hackers, Dreamers, Rain Makers and Startup Catalysts to change the world in 54 hours! Bring your creativity and skills and Join Startup Weekend Trincomalee ,Friday 27th to Sunday 29st Octon,2017 at Trinco beach hotel, Trinco
What’s Startup Weekend, Anyway?
Startup Weekend is a global phenomenon – 54 hours of fast and furious prototype development through to exploring potential markets and pitching. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to build lasting relationships with co-founders; mentors, and investors.The real value comes from taking an idea from concept through to execution using Lean tactics and working under high pressure with the best startups.
Google for Entrepreneurs is the global partner for Techstars Startup Weekend Program, including Startup Weekend, Startup Next and Startup Digest. Google is a sponsor of Techstars Accelerator Programs. Techstars collaborates with the Google for Entrepreneurs campuses across the globe to support engagement with entrepreneurs everywhere.
What You Can Do?
In short, Startup Weekend shapes the lives of many people as a starting point as entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts. Ultimately, it’s an amazing spring board to get started on something (a new business, career at a startup or great relationships).
Come pitch, join a team, iron out your business model, and build away! In just 54 hours teams will come together to create startups from scratch and learn about entrepreneurship in a hands-on and meaningful way. Developers, designers, business experts, and makers will come to build prototypes and launch startups that use hardware or software to interconnect us all and change the world.
WHO GOES TO STARTUP WEEKENDS?
Experienced business people or budding entrepreneurs, Creative designers, Coders, growth hackers who are looking for new ideas and wanting to challenge their skills – Startup Weekends are a fun and exciting way to to upskill and test yourself in the world of startups
WHAT DO YOU DO AT A STARTUP WEEKEND?
Starting from 6.30 PM on Friday registration will be done, Welcome speech, Dinner, Startup pitches ideas chosen and lasting teams formed. By late Friday night you’ll be on your way with goals set and roles assigned.
Saturday is all about validation – contacting potential customers and checking out if there is really a market for your idea – and reacting fast if you need to change. Meanwhile if you’re a developer or a designer you’ll be furiously building the product.
Sunday is about making it work and preparing for the final pitch to a panel of carefully chosen judges. Throughout the process mentors from all backgrounds will be on hand. (link to timetable)
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER
Celebrate! We’ll put in place a follow up event, and there will be other opportunities, including our Co-Starters program.
What is the benefit of attending Startup Weekend ?
Startup Weekends are all about learning through the act of creating. Don’t just listen to theory, build your own strategy and test it as you go. It’s like an MBA in a weekend.
2) Build your network:
This isn’t just a happy-hour. Startup Weekend attracts your community’s best makers and do-ers. By spending a weekend working to build scalable companies that solve real-world problems, you will build long-lasting relationships and possibly walk away with a job or a even an investor.
3) Co-Founder Dating:
We all know it’s not just about the idea – it’s about the team. Startup Weekend is hands down the best way to to find someone you can actually launch a startup with.
4) Learn a new skill:
Step outside of your comfort zone. With a whole weekend dedicated to letting your creative juices flow, Startup Weekends are prefect opportunities to work on a new platform, learn a new programming language, or just try something different.
5) Actually launch a business:
Over 36% of Startup Weekend startups are still going strong after 3 months. Roughly 80% of participants plan on continuing working with their team or startup after the weekend.
6) Get face time with thought leaders:
Local tech and startup leaders participate in Startup Weekends as mentors and judges. Get some one-on-one time with the movers and shakers in your community.
7) Save money & get stuff:
Startup Weekends cost $40 (less for students). Your ticket covers seven meals, snack, access to exclusive resources our global sponsors, and all the coffee you can drink.
8) Join a global community:
Join over 30,000 Startup Weekend alumni, all on a mission to change the world.
Facilities for the Attendees?
Mentors : Whether it’s growth, design, or prototype,you’ll find a mentor who can help
Free WIFI: You will Get Free WIFI Access from our Telecom Partner
Meals : Morning Refreshment Plus Lunch and Dinner
Community Perks and Discounts : Take advantage of perks and discounts offered to all Startup Weekend participants from the Global sponsors.
Much More: Whatever you are building, our sponsors and community have put together some fantastic resources to help you build your idea.
october 27 (Friday) - 29 (Sunday)
Trinco Beach Hotel
326,Dyke Street, Trincomalee