99x: A Uniquely Sri Lankan Tech Success Story Reinvents itself to Seize the Future

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“We’ve been in the industry for 15 years and built this company during the dark years of our country. We boldly went to international markets few dared to venture into. Today 99x is one of the few companies where our success speaks for itself. We’re a uniquely Sri Lankan company. The majority of our shareholders are Sri Lankan, which is a rarity in our technology industry,” says CEO of 99x, Mano Sekaram, as he reflects on the journey of the company.  

Fast forward to 2020. 99X Technology, now simply 99x, recently revealed its new brand outlook and what it means for the company’s future moving forward. With the rebranding, 99x hopes to reflect the company’s image better while setting precedence to its growth ambitions in the international arena. As Mano puts it, the idea is to “stay relevant while projecting ourselves, of what we have been, in a different form.” 

Understanding 99x – A uniquely Sri Lankan tech giant

99x began its journey in 2004 as a young startup but at the time the landscape was very different. As Mano put it, “It was a challenging time. The startup ecosystem and the support we have today for young companies simply did not exist then.” Yet, despite the odds, targeting markets outside of Sri Lanka at an early stage paid dividends as a product development company. 

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Mano Sekaram – Chief Executive Officer of 99x

Over the years, 99x built 150+ products for clients across Scandinavia, the UK, and other European markets. This includes products for software companies in countries like Norway where 1000s of businesses are served through their platforms. It should be noted that this was achieved without a dedicated sales team in Scandinavia. According to the COO of 99x, Shehani Seneviratne, much of the company’s success has been due to satisfied customer referrals.  

Despite predominantly serving the European market, 99x remains a Sri Lankan-owned entity. An 80% Sri Lankan ownership to be exact, something uncommon for a tech company of this scale. It’s success has made it a well recognized name in the industry. Behind the scenes, one of the most critical components of this success has been its culture. 

As a tech company that employs 350+ people, 99x attributes its culture as an important component of its success trajectory. The company has been consistently ranked as a Great Place To Work (GPTW). In 2017, it became the first Sri Lankan IT company to be inducted into the GPTW Hall of Fame. Further to its commitment to fostering a healthy company culture, last year 99x appointed its first Chief People Officer, Damitha Jayasinghe, reflecting its emphasis on a healthy work culture. 

Giving back to promote innovation

99x also continues to focus its efforts on other areas towards promoting innovation. These efforts go beyond the company itself, taking different forms. One of them being to support local startups creating innovative products. Towards this goal, StartupX Foundry is the company’s incubator that helps employees build on their startup ideas. Over the three years, its startups have shown great promise. Last month alone, one of these startups, Tracified received funding from 360ip, a venture capital firm based in Tokyo. 

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Hasith Yaggahavita – Chief Technology Officer of 99x

These efforts to promote innovation also extend to close collaborations with academia. CTO of 99x, Hasith Yaggahavita, shared that the company has set up its own research centers at leading universities. The goal of these centers is to promote closer collaboration between the industry and academia. In turn, allowing innovative ideas to prosper. Hasith added that Tracified, initially began as a university research project. 

The involvement by 99x with academia also extends towards keeping the computer science curriculum of universities relevant. The company’s staff regularly volunteers their time and effort towards this collaboration with academia. Explaining the decision, Mano shared, “In our business, the biggest raw materials are competent people coming from universities.” A fact that rings true for every company in the tech industry.

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99x maintains regular active collaborations with local academia. These efforts continued even during the lockdown where 99x carried out virtual workshops to share industry knowledge with undergraduates. (Image credits: 99x)

Dotitude, the company’s university outreach program has also made its mark in the past few years. According to 99x, the program has engaged with over 50,000 students and has supported 60 research projects thus far. Beyond these efforts, the company also maintains regular active collaborations with 20 universities from across the country. During the lockdown, 99x carried its engagements with the universities digitally via virtual workshops. 

More than a fresh coat of paint 

From a branding perspective, the new 99x look aims to simplify things. The company has been operating for 15 years. Throughout these years, the company was often referred to as either 99x or 99x Technologies. A branding nightmare for a company operating at the scale of 99x. As the company puts it, why not embrace 99x? That’s exactly what they did.

The new 99x logo draws itself from the 1s and 0s of binary.  Taking us through the design process, Chief Marketing and Corporate Affairs Officer of 99x, Chrishan de Mel said, “If you take the roots of computing you have 1s and 0s in even the most fundamental application. The essence of the brand is derived from binary code where ‘1s and 0s’ are cleverly arranged to form our new logo.” This topped off with the coral and grape colour palette, aims to reflect a “simple, clever and playful” outlook. As Mano Sekaram, CEO at 99x puts it, “The new look also embraces our people, and signifies that we are tech team players,” which is an accurate description of the company. 

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Chrishan de Mel – Chief Marketing and Corporate Affairs Officer of 99x

Going through 99x’s success stories, you’ll find that the company has become an integral part and is deeply intertwined with the growth journey of its clients. As seen in the cases of BUS, Hatteland, DRIW, and several others, 99x has become an integral part of their tech teams, allowing these companies to focus on growth. 

The rebranding effort follows up a promising few years for 99x. By 2019, the company hit a 50% YoY revenue growth. Its growth trajectory was further fueled by expanding its leadership team to reflect the company’s priority on its workforce and the financial direction. Here, 99x hired Sherman Gunatillake as its Chief Financial Officer and Damitha Jayasinghe as the Chief People Officer. 

Growth amidst COVID-19   

99x has come a long way since its early days. The company has grown at a 36% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) over the past five years. Furthermore, 99x retains over 80% of recurring revenue from project engagements. “This enabled us to look after our employees and sustain the company over the past few months during the pandemic”, mentions Shehani.  

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Shehani Seneviratne – Chief Operating Officer of 99x

According to Shehani, the company is well on target to meet the revenue expectations, even amidst the coronavirus impact. When the coronavirus outbreak began and Sri Lanka went into lockdown, 99x was one of the first companies to immediately switch gears. In fact, the company’s work from home operations was deployed a week before the lockdowns were announced in Sri Lanka. This was no accident. 

According to Mano, the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks in 2019 was a rude awakening for 99x. Much of the company’s clientele was concerned if Sri Lanka would go back to an era of conflict. Hence ensuring business continuity was vital. As such, 99x partnered up with a telecommunication operator to connect 350 homes. This enabled employees to effectively work from home. Soon afterwards, the company had its critical systems shifted to the cloud. 

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99x was among the first companies to shift operations where employees worked from home. Pictured above, the company held its first virtual General Staff Meeting. (Image credits: 99x)

The digital transformation set up in the middle of 2019’s uncertain times helped set the stage for the company’s preparedness for COVID-19. The result is that 99x has no lost revenue or reduced staff. In fact, Shehani points out that 99x has been hiring and expanding its workforce during the past few months. A stark contrast to the grim situation faced by several companies across industries. 

Accelerating towards a new future

So, what’s next for the Sri Lankan tech giant? As the company looks to grow, 99x has set its target to grow by acquisition globally or expand its existing operations in Europe. According to Mano, the company will explore the possibility of both options. The company also didn’t rule out the possibility of a public listing. Mano specified that the preference is to be listed in Sri Lanka provided a USD listing is a possibility. 

The target market is expected to remain the same for 99x. Talking about the company’s success in Scandinavia, Shehani remarks that 99x continues to grow its presence even when there is no sales team in the region. The company further mentions that it will focus its efforts in expanding its European footprint. Why? Because markets like the ones in the Scandinavian region reflect a similar size to that of Sri Lanka. Of course, with the addition of being far higher up the innovation index.  

“Entering this new chapter in our story as 99x, we look forward to further increasing our global footprint through the creation of impactful digital products together with our clients”, says Mano. The times have been promising for 99x. If the current environment is any indication, it certainly looks like promising times are ahead as well. 

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