The distance to the entrance is marked by a lengthy queue. In the early afternoon this queue consisted of school children. Towards the evening it transformed into one of tech enthusiasts from all across Sri Lanka. But in the center of these queues one thing remained constant – the Formula Student car built by Team Shark of the University of Moratuwa. A symbol of Lankan Innovation. This is how Dialog and GDG Sri Lanka said, “Welcome to Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017.”
Kicking things off at 12 noon was the Innovation Exhibition inside Hall B.
The moment we walked into the hall, the biggest attraction was directly in front of us. This was the Chromium Collision battle ring. In case you’re lost, Chromium Collision was a robot battle tournament that took place at Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017. Two teams with their robots went in. The goal of each match was to knock the opposing robot out of the area. The matches were short and intense with robots of varying sizes battling it out inside this arena. Ultimately, the winners were:
3rd place: Cyclone from the University of Vocational Training
2nd place: Mora Hazards from the University of Moratuwa
1st place: Strike from the University of Vocational Technology
Surrounding this arena was a series of stalls by startups and a few corporates as well. In the immediate center was a few startups that we’ve become very familiar with. We found HypeHash running a bitcoin exchange. The folks from Senzmate were showing off their latest IoT devices. The University of Moratuwa showcased their drones. Bhasha too was there to showcase Helakuru and everything else they have to offer. Igniter Space too was here and running a mini-innovation space. We even saw DotCom Systems and the Colombo Centre for Cognitive Computing. Needless to say, while the biggest attraction was the Chromium Collision, there was no shortage of innovation here.
When the clock read 6 PM, everyone started making their way towards Hall A.
The main event was drawing near and this was where it would take place. Inside Hall A, would be where the main Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017 conference would take place. This Hall A, was the exact opposite of Hall B. Where Hall B was bursting with innovation, Hall A was the definition of minimalism. The stage was in front, with food and coffee counters on the sides. Filling the massive void in the center was the seats for the approximately 3000 attendees.
Once the hall was filled, the main conference kicked off with Roshanth Gaddiarachchi – Manager of IdeaMart delivering the welcome address. Afterwards, we saw Prash Balakirshnan – the Country Manager of Google take the stage. His address was the one that kicked off the conference and it was centered on the topic of serving the next billion users.
Prash began by sharing that 700 million of the next billion users are expected to come from Asia using their phones. Catering to these users has its own set of challenges. While people are having more money due to urbanization and are more tech saavy, they still have the same fundamental needs. However, meeting these needs is challenging as they have low speech phones and slow internet.
To this end, Google has been conducting various efforts to solve these problems. The first is by offering faster and more affordable connectivity. A successful example Prash shared with us was Google’s project to bring WiFi to railway stations in India. Additionally, Google is also making their products more accessible by making them lighter and able to work offline. But more importantly, they aim to make their products available in a multitude of languages. Prash concluded his session by saying, “There’s a lot to do but it’s an exciting journey ahead.”
We then got an introduction to GDG Sri Lanka and their initiatives
Two personalities representing the Google Developer Group: Tharaka Devinda and Michela Thalagala took the stage. Tharaka began by introducing everyone to what exactly the Google Developer Group is. He then went on share more details about the various programs they’ve conducted. Many of them centered about helping people learn more about novel technologies.
One novel initiative they’re carrying out at the moment is teaching 524 children and university students to code. Tharaka concluded his session by sharing with us, what we can expect from GDG Sri Lanka in the future. One is a Google I/O 2017 Recap, which will be around May or June and GDG DevFest in September and October.
Following Tharaka’s session, we saw Michela from the Google Women Techmakers take the stage. She opened her short session by sharing the mission of the Women Techmakers. This mission is to empower women in their careers. She then went onto share that over 30% of participants at GDG events were women. And as of today, the Google Women Techmakers have supported 345 women in their careers in Sri Lanka.
We then learnt how to dance on the network with Ballerina
Ballerina is a new programming language that WSO2 recently released. But what exactly is Ballerina and how do you dance with it? This is what Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarana – Founder and Chief Architect of WSO2 took the stage to share with us. He opened with the definition of Ballerina, which is a parallel programming language optimized for integration. Interestingly, it has both a text and graphical view, which you can use to create your programs with.
He then went onto share three examples of Hello World with Ballerina. The first was in English. The second was in Sinhala. The third was in Tamil. And then we saw an entire module written in Sinhala. Dr. Sanjiva then went onto say that they want to make Ballerina a programming language that transcends languages. The idea is that eventually there will be different language packs. So you can code in Sinhala and your friend you read your code in Thai.
“Why is English a prerequisite to learn programming?” – Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarna
Dr.Sanjiva then went onto share how instructions are executed in Ballerina. Afterwards, he shared how a service can be created in Ballerina. He then went onto share the key concepts of ballerina. He then went onto share a few things that he believes makes Ballerina interesting. The main one being that all programs run as command line programs. Another point was that Ballerina knows JSON, XML, and SQL as part of its type system. And most importantly, Ballerina is open source. Dr. Sanjiva concluded by saying that Ballerina is more than a programming language but it’s an entire system.
Following Dr. Sanjiva’s session, we saw Sameera Jayasoma take the stage. He shared a few technical sample of Ballerina in action. These technical demos shared how to build different aspects of computer systems with Ballerina. He then concluded by sharing why WSO2 created a new programming language. The answer was to help create a language that made creating network applications significantly easier. You can now download the latest version of Ballerina at the official website and get ready for the upcoming Ballerina hackathon.
After a filling dinner, we saw the journey of Arimac Digital
We then saw Chamira Jayasinghe – Founder and CEO of Arimac Digital take the stage at Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017. He began his presentation by sharing the humble origins of his company and how they got to where they were today. Their first client was Dialog, and it was thanks to them believing in Arimac that Chamira says they are now a company with over a 100 clients across the world.
Chamira then shared some of their passion projects. Their biggest one being Kanchayudha, which was a game that set new benchmarks for the Sri Lankan gaming industry. He then went onto share a few details about their next upcoming game: Chakra. Afterwards, he showed that gaming isn’t the only thing that Arimac is passionate about. They’re also interested in mastering deep learning and have created their own deep learning bot.
But the best was saved for last. Chamira at Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017 that plan to enter the world of animated movies as well. Chamira stated that their goal is create an animated move that rivals both Disney and Pixar. He then announced that we can expect to see this movie from Arimac in theaters in 2019. With that, Chamira concluded by sharing a few lessons for the entrepreneurs in the audience of common pitfalls startups face and how to avoid them.
Just before the keynote kicked off, we were introduced to the GSMA Innovation Fund
Maxime Bayen – Senior Insights Manager of the Ecosystem Accelerator at GSMA took the stage. After playing the video above, he shared a few additional details about the GSMA Innovation Fund. The program was born a year ago to help connect startups with the resources of mobile operators. But that’s not all, startups also get access to a large amount of grant money as funding.
So what’s the catch? The catch is you need to be generating revenue, be mobile centric and have a strong social impact. Maxime went onto share a few details of companies that were selected in the first round. He then announced that applications for the second round would be open on the 1st of June 2017 and encouraged everyone to apply. With that, Maxime concluded his session. You can find more details about the GSMA Innovation Fund by clicking here.
Finally, it was the moment everyone was waiting for
When the clock struck 10PM, everyone was in their seats. This was the moment everyone had been waiting for at Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017. This was the reason why they decided to spend their night at BMICH. Yes, it was finally time for the Google I/O 2017 Keynote. As everyone took their seats, the keynote was streamed live on the big screen. You can find the details of everything Google announced at the I/O 2017 keynote here.
Following the keynote, we took to the clouds
Once the livestream of the keynote ended, we were treated to an entertainment act by Iraj. Afterwards, the awards for the winners of the Chromium Collision were handed out along with a few tokens of appreciation. Once the awards and tokens were handed out, we saw Mika Igarashi – the Google Cloud Manager take the stage at Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017. She opened her session by sharing that Google has seven products that server one billion users.
What powers these products is the Google Cloud Platform. Everything from serving videos on YouTube to getting search results is all thanks to the Google Cloud Platform. But how does it look physically? Fourteen data-centers spread out across the world, all connected together and in sync. Following this introduction, Mika went onto talk about how the Google Cloud Platform evolved over the years and what if offers developers today. One of these offerings is live migrations, which help reduce downtime.
After sharing the costs of utilizing the platform, Mika then went onto talk about the Open Source API’s that the Google Cloud Platform supports and services that help build and monetize your app. Afterwards, she went onto share how the platform could be utilized for big data analysis and building AI applications. Mika concluded her session by sharing the details for a free trail of the Google Cloud Platform, which you can find here.
When we came back to Earth, we found Dialog Smart Life
Imagine your wallet connected to internet asked Shafraz Rahim – the IdeaMart developer evangelist, as he opens his presentation. This he shares is what the Internet of Things or IoT is. He then went onto share how industries have evolved over the years and the impact the internet had when they went online. But the next frontier for many industries will involve IoT.
And with that said, Shafraz lifted the curtain to unveiled Dialog Smart Life – the IoT platform by Dialog. This is an IoT platform that’s designed to connect anything any everything. To create a service, you can code it by hand or simply drag and drop. Additionally, another product that we saw announced was the I See You Do Mashup Engine. But most importantly, it offers avenues to monetize your services. To get your hands on these tools, you can over to iotdev.dialog.lk and isayyoudo.io to find the public beta.
Afterwards, we were introduced to IdeaMart itself
Kasun Withanarachchi from the IdeaMart team opened his presentation at Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017 stating that students today have three options after their studies end. The first is to get a corporate job. The second would be to run a startup. The third option is to get married to a rich spouse. Kasun was here to introduce IdeaMart and help people pursue the second option.
He began his session by sharing the origins of Ideamart, which was born in 2015. Since then, the platform has grown significantly. They now have over 10,000 applications and over a million unique users. Kasun then went onto share how you could earn money by building Ideamart apps. There’s a massive market to do so due to the 11 million Dialog subscribers in addition to those from Hutch and Etisalat. Kasun went onto share a few Idearmart success stories before concluding his session by sharing a few sources of funding a startup can seek out.
And then we learned the basics of running a startup
Immediately after Kasun, we saw another member of the IdeaMart team take the stage: Malinda Ratnayake. Malinda opened his session by saying, “Many entrepreneurs believe in becoming their own boss. But building a startup and running it successfully is no easy task.” He then share that there are two types of companies in the IT industry.
The first are product based companies that build their own products and maintain them like PickMe. The second are project based companies that build products for their clients. Building either type of company will come with its own set of challenges and benefits. However, both types of business face a challenge in finding the right people with the right attitude. But as a founder, you would need to be an expert on planning and delegation. Malinda concluded his session with an indepth guide on the mistakes startups might make and how to overcome them.
We also got an introduction to full-stack engineering
The next speaker we saw take the stage at Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017 was Hasitha Liyanage – Director of Architecture at CAKE LABS. He began by giving an introduction to what a technology stack is. In case you’re lost, a technology stuck is a bunch of layered of technologies with each layer of a higher level of abstraction over the one below it. He then went into describing the main topic of his presentation: full-stack engineering.
He shared that full-stack engineering is building products utilizing the technologies in each layer. This Hasitha says it what utilized to build the CAKE POS system. The system consists of two parts: one is the POS system at the restaurant with the other being the cloud based technologies. After describing the system, Hasitha then went onto share a how they solved a few problems when building the CAKE POS system with a full-stack engineering approach.
Afterwards, he spoke on why CAKE decided to design and build their own hardware. He then moved onto share how they built a fast-to-market product. The key was by building on top of existing technologies rather than building from scratch. Hasitha then moved onto share a few problems they faced while building the system and solved with a fullstack engineering approach. He concluded by returning to his point on building a fast-to-market with the words, “Sometimes it’s best to ship an imperfect product late rather than a perfect product too later”
We then learned how to achieve world domination
Following Hasitha’s session, we saw Shevan Goonetilake from the SLASSCOM Technology Forum take the stage at Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017. He opened his session by taking us back in time a few centuries. He did so by sharing details of some of Sri Lanka’s ancient technological feats such as Yoda Ela. Fast forward to modern times and we have 100,000 people working in the tech industry that generates $1bn in exports. Furthermore, many companies in the industry have won global awards. So Shevan asked, “Why isn’t Sri Lanka as recognized as developed countries then?”
Shevan argued that it is possible for Sri Lanka to conquer the world. The main thing required to do so is for us to return to our roots. We already have a lot going for us with strong performance at competitions and open access to knowledge. We’ve also built strong tech companies. However, there are challenges that we need solve as well. One is integrating creative thinking into the education system. Another is improving graduate level research. But the biggest challenge we need to solve Shevan argues is throwing out the traditional mindset of not taking risks.
The Google Business Group Sri Lanka takes the stage
Following Shevan’s session, we saw the GBG Sri Lanka take over the stage. Their goal is to help businesses with Google products. Sajini from the GBG team then took the stage to share some Google products aimed at businesses and a few lifehacks that you could do with Google Docs, Sheets, and Forms. Afterwards, she shared what initiatives GBG carries out to foster the usage of Google products in businesses. She then spoke about the GBG Success Stories Competition before the session concluded with a short quiz run by Alaghan Mahalingam who gave out a few goodies from Google.
Afterwards, we saw Jifry Zulfer – CEO of PickMe give us an inside look on how they disrupted the taxi industry
Jifry opened by sharing that as a startup PickMe was forced to do things in a lean manner. They looked at the simplest technologies available in the market to build PickMe. However, at the beginning the faced many issues. One such issue was their live meter, which utilized GPS in real-time. Furthermore, they were also beginners when it came to much of the technologies they were using to build PickMe.
Jifry then went onto share that the core technology that power PickMe is GoLang. In case you’re lost, GoLang is a programming language by Google that helps build the backend of applications with ease. He also shared that they utilize PostGIS to map the country. He shared that their goal for the future is to create a platform that addresses the needs of the market and helps app developers. Jifry concluded his session with the words, “PickMe is hiring.” You can find the full story of PickMe and its journey here.
We then saw how Helakuru helped make Sinhala more accessible in the digital world
Afterwards, we saw Dhanika Perera – Founder & CEO of Bhasha take the stage. He opened his session by asking the audience how many of them knew Helakuru. Almost instantly, a vast majority of the audience raised their hands. Dhanika immortalized the moment with a selfie and went onto share their story to inspire others.
So how did Helakuru succeed in building a brand? Disruptive innovation, unique value creation, and strategic monetization. Disruptive innovation involves solving real problems by finding marketing gaps and jumping at the right opportunity to solve it. Dhanika credits Helakuru’s disruptive innovation to the passion of the team inside Bhasha. “If you don’t have passion you can’t be innovative,” said Dhanika.
He then moved onto shared that unique value can be defined as both tangible and intangible value. Helakuru allowed Sri Lankans to express themselves in their mother tongue in the digital world. This is value is what
argues, changes everything. He then went onto say that it’s important to maintain the value of the product you created and to do so it’s important to listen to your customers. The third key factor that lead to the success of Helakuru was strategic monetization.
Dhanika stated that he believes what’s missing in the in the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem is not innovative ideas but innovative business model. The most crucial objective of a startup is monetization. This means going out to carry out testing and finding the right market. In the old days, they thought Helakuru’s predications would get people to pay. But that assumption led to failure. Seeing this, they went back to the drawing board and decided to monetize themes, which allowed them to grab the market share and make money.
Dhanika concluded his session by announcing Helakuru for Google Chrome. Initially, the Bhasha team will be bringing Helakuru to Chrome but eventually they want to bring it to more platforms. Dhanika shared that they are looking at bringing OS level support for Helakuru to both Windows and Linux.
The final session was by HypeHash sharing the lessons they’ve learned as a startup
“I was not going to become a tech entrepreneur”, said Ravihans Wetakepotha – Founder of HypeHash opening his presentation at Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017. He then went onto share that initially they were looking at building a product for Silicon Valley. This was so that they can expect to see growth in other countries. But how do you raise capital? You get investors to trust you.
Ravihans then argued that just because your product isn’t working in Sri Lanka, doesn’t mean it can’t work somewhere else. Afterwards, he shared the story of HypeHash from its origins at AngelHack Sri Lanka to winning big at the AngelHack Global Demo Day. Today, they are set to be the first startup to represent Sri Lanka at the Menroca Millenials 2017. Ravihans then shared a quote from Elon Musk that said, “Money is a renewable resource.”
He used this point to share that starting a company is hard. This is why you should pick your cofounders very wisely. You need to structure agreements and ensure you go into the business without your co-founder running away. He also stated that investors believe that two founders is ideal but definitely not more than three. But how do you find the right co-founder? Find people with similar work ethics to you. A little friction is good but a lot is bad. Ravihans concluded his session by sharing the pros and cons of venture funding.
And with that, Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017 came to an end
Once Ravihans concluded his session, we saw Kasun from the IdeaMart team take the stage once again. This time, he took the stage to deliver the vote of thanks. When Kasun walked off the stage, Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka 2017 officially came to an end. And so 18 hours of innovative ideas came to an end. As we type these final words, the weight of that becomes clear. From the intense battles of the Chromium Collision to the stalls inside the Innovation Exhibition to the many sessions of the main conference. This was the longest Google I/O Extended Sri Lanka has seen to date. As we walked out of the halls of BMICH on our way home, we couldn’t help but think, “What’s going to happen next year?”