Hustle Stories: Lessons Learned from the IEEE INSL Meetup

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We saw IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka launch and aim to shape the startup community in Sri Lanka last year. In case you’re not familiar with it, IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka is a startup pre-accelerator. Hustle Stories was launched as part of the IEEE INSL programme as well.

The main aim here is to showcase some of the success stories of startups that have made a name for themselves both in Sri Lanka and globally. The first session of the IEEE INSL Hustle Stories took place on the 13th of June 2019 at Colombo Cooperative. Here’s what we learned from it.

We don’t want stories, we want action

This was the opening line of Jehan Wijesinghe at Hustle Stories. Jehan, the Co-Founder and CEO at Igniter Space, shared the experiences he had when launching companies such as Igniter Space. Apart from running Igniter Space, Jehan is also an entrepreneurship coach for kids. This is his second venture, Startup Academy.

Hustle Stories
“As young people, we want change. We want action” – Jehan Wijesinghe

“As young people, we want change. We want action”, Jehan explained. Growing up, he shared that he complained a lot about how things are not getting done. At the end of the day, he realized that it was pointless. Rather, he understood that taking action was a lot better than complaining about it. The core part of the country’s development lies within the amount of money that we bring into the country, aka exports.

Jehan shared that over the past 30 years, Vietnam’s export has grown almost 12,000x over Sri Lanka. While delving further into how he can make a change, Jehan came across the SDG or Sustainable Development Goals. These are a set of goals set by the United Nations in identifying key social and economic issues that the world currently faces. These include hunger, poverty, reduced inequalities etc.

Hustle Stories
According to Jehan, Vietnam’s exports have grown almost 12,000x over Sri Lanka (Image Credits: Business Times)

Jehan realized that Sri Lanka as a developing nation has these issues. This is the keystone that Jehan set to begin his work. There is a direct relationship between innovation and economic growth. In Sri Lanka’s case, innovation and economic growth are not exactly at a level that we’re comfortable with.

So how do we drive innovation?

Well, it all starts when we’re kids. A child is like a blank canvas, Jehan shared. One of the biggest personality traits that a child has is learnability. This is essentially the ability to learn. Because of this, they are able to walk, jump, eat and even create things. Creativity is another equally important trait in a child. “Kids by nature are very curious”. They want to learn and experiment and learn by themselves.

Hustle Stories
An important trait in a child is learnability or the ability to learn (Image Credits: UX Collective)

If you look at an innovator, they are perpetually curious. They always look at finding problems to solutions. “An innovator is just a child that never grew up”, Jehan added. He also added that you need three things if you are to become an innovator. They are creativity, emotional intelligence and the third is your problem-solving capabilities. These can all be hindered by getting into a routine. While a routine is good, it can also nullify one’s creativeness.  

Hustle Stories Kids
Kids by nature are curious. They like to see how things work (Image Credits: BlogSpot)

Jehan then went on to talk about having a successful future. Now this can be done in a number of ways. Jehan shared that there are two main options if you want to be successful. Firstly, you can do a job and work in a company. Secondly, you can take the less walked on road and be a specialist such as a sportsman or a singer. The third slightly new option is being an entrepreneur. This means you do something on your own. Jehan shared that it’s not easy and it’s not for everyone.

Hustle Stories
You can either work a regular job, or be a specialist. Or, you can put all that aside and become an entrepreneur

Sharing the story of Igniter Space and its beginnings, Jehan urged the attendees at the IEEE INSL Hustle Stories to go out and find solutions to real-world problems. He added that you should do work that you care about. It’s all about empathy and being passionate about it. Not everything will work, but it’s worth taking the risk. There is a plethora of resources and people out there who are willing to help. “If you have an idea, go ahead and launch it, take action”.

Hustle Stories
A snapshot of KidsIgnite, a precursor to Igniter Space

Learning to code in 8 months (not really)

Following Jehan’s session at Hustle Stories, we had Ragularuban Nanthagopal (AKA Ruban), Co-founder of Alakazam sharing his story. In case you didn’t know, Alakazam is a digital marketing assistant that helps businesses carry out their marketing activities. We spoke about how Ruban and Dulitha went on to build Alakazam and the goals they had, back in June Last year.

Hustle Stories
Ruban sharing how he learned to code in 8 months (or did he?)

For Ruban, it all began in 2014 right after he completed his A/Ls. His first job was as a marketer where he wrote and sent out newsletters. From there, he was given the opportunity to run a team at the company he was working. He tried dabbled with coding and managed to automate a few of the newsletter team’s tasks. From there, Ruban realized that he could learn on his own.

Hustle Stories
From finishing his A/Ls, Ruban got a job sorting out Newsletters.

Ruban shared that if you’re arrogant, no one is going to help you. Being the lone wolf with arrogance to boot pretty much means you will be alone in what you do. So, make a few friends and have a down-to-earth attitude.

Googling alone, a developer does not make

Ruban went on to explain at Hustle Stories that just because you google around and find some code, it doesn’t mean that you’re an expert on it. On the other hand, Ruban emphasized that if you ever have to go back to square one and start again, don’t be afraid to do so. If you are to build anything better, you need to first be a better version of yourself. You cannot become a successful entrepreneur if you do not invest in yourself.

Being an entrepreneur also means that you will do a lot of things that you haven’t done before. But you also can’t do things alone. You need to go and talk to people and network. Ruban went on to share his story about how his latest venture came into the picture. This began with the iconic “sushi dinner” that brought together Ruban and Dulitha Wijewantha to launch Alakazam.

Hustle Stories
Two guys + a sushi dinner + LKR 12,000 bill = The start of something new

Ruban went on to share some of the challenges that both he and Dulitha had when trying to promote Alakazam to companies and organizations. It was all a learning experience. The duo also learned that “you should not build your product in a dungeon”. That is to say, you need to build a product by listening to the needs of your customers.

Points for pondering at Hustle Stories

From there, Ruban shared that you should always be open to opportunities. While doing that, you should also grow your team and invest in your team. You should convey your ideas clearly. No matter how large your team is, if they’re not on the same wavelength, you’re in for a really tough time.

In wrapping up at Hustle Stories, Ruban shared that not every journey is perfect. If you want to become an entrepreneur or a better version of yourself, the best way is to do it yourself, rather than follow what someone else has done. Make mistakes, fail fast, and hustle hard.

With that, the IEEE INSL Hustle Stories wrapped up leaving everyone present motivated to go out there and to be the best that they can be.

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