The lessons from Disrupt 2.0

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Three out of five people you meet will want to build their own business. For some, it’s a life goal  or at latest, in their late 30’s. And the remaining two fellows also want to build their business but are afraid to take the leap. Today the startup scene is making a lot of noises here in Sri Lanka. With everyone exploding with so much energy on starting up, how’s the backing? This is where Disrupt 2.0 comes in.

Working around the theme of ‘Inspire, Ideate, Initiate and Disrupt’; Disrupt 2.0 is an initiative by Startup Sri Lanka a project by SLASSCOM to help, identify and promote startups in Sri Lanka.

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Photo Courtesy: Startup Sri Lanka

The event had two segments, the Boot Camp which was for the pre-selected startups and the Main Event which was for the public where we heard a lot of inspirational stories. Let’s take a detailed look at the two segments.

The Boot Camp

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Photo Courtesy: Startup Sri Lanka

The Boot Camp happened prior to the public event. Here, representatives of these selected startups; ideally the co-founders were put into several groups. Each of these groups had a mentor accompanied by a couple of other subject experts and was a space for discussing things related to their startups and the problems they face.

The Mentors were Harsha Purasinghe – Founder/CEO, Microimage, Suren Pinto – CEO, Wavenet and Founder and CEO, Wifyer, Mangala Karunaratne – CEO, Calcey Technologies, Chandika Jayasundera – CEO, Cinergix along with Shahani Markus – Chairperson and CEO, Capaxus Ltd. Together with these experienced mentors, the startups discussed various aspects of the startup life and they could prosper. All the startups that participated in the boot camp session were granted access to Microsoft BizSpark, simply saying; ‘a ton of free software’. With that closing, it was time for the main event.

Disrupt 2.0: Let the House Overflow with Inspiration and Motivation

“Unless we combine innovation and disruption it’s tough for our companies going forward.” – Mano Sekaram

With the conclusion of the Boot Camp, it was time for the main event. Opening up the event, the CEO of 99X Technology and Chairman of SLASSCOM, Mr. Mano Sekaram welcomed the gathering.

The first speaker for the evening was the Chairman and CEO of Laugfs, Mr. Hemachandra Wegapitiya.

“Inspiration is one of the key or very first ingredients to a successful entrepreneur.” – Hemachandra Wegapitiya

Surprisingly his talk didn’t accompany a deck of slides. Explaining why, he said that if you want to become a successful entrepreneur you should be able to imagine or articulate within your thinking domain.

“There was a long debate in the academic world, where researchers were debating over whether entrepreneurs are born or made, whether they are an act of nature or can they be nurtured.” Hemachandra fired the first bullet and here started flowing inspiration we mentioned. Actually, they can be made. The “Imprinting Theory”, you can imprint certain capabilities in an individual. A lifespan of a company is 25 years unless otherwise entrepreneurs plan and pass it down to a successor. Here comes the 30, 13, 3% theory, this is what happens to businesses when it passes from a generation to another. But there are exceptions, there are businesses which sustain passing these theories. So according to researchers, this is by the smart use of the imprinting theory, where they pass on the legacy of entrepreneurship to the next generation.

Hemachandra then went on to share his life story with us. Born to a very poor family of nine kids, he grew up in a village somewhere around Ratnapura. The day he started schooling, Hemachandra’s father told his teacher, “Mei podi ekagei as padanna”. On the way home, he asked his father why the teacher was told that. His father replied saying that there is no use of being an intellectual person if he doesn’t have a vision.

After passing Advanced Levels, Hemachandra came to Colombo with just Rs. 200 in hand. He studied management at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and after passing out, wanted to start his own company. He started my business with just Rs. 5000 as the seed capital, and today he has a complex company that’s among the largest in the island

“You have to efficiently manage your business for today, and on the second hand, you have to be innovative for tomorrow. Otherwise, the competition will throw you away. Innovate or Die.” – Hemachandra Wegapitiya

Continuing his story, “Back in the days, in order to be lean, they merged companies. When everyone wanted to be innovative, things didn’t work out. So they started collaborating instead. You have to be Ambidextrous.” Hemachandra concluded his speech then by telling us that understanding the customer needs before even they understand they need it is a win. If you are capable of dreaming things which others can’t even think of, you are on the right path.

Next up was Mr. Tony Weeresinghe the Founder of MillenniumIT. He opens his speech by saying, “When we started we didn’t even have a handful of 5 startups in the scene.” The time’s changed, indeed. He then took us on a journey back in time to the early days of MilleniumIT. This was back in the day when they were the only company to have every employee owning the company, even the Peons. Tony had a vision, to build a company valued more than John Keels and build a campus. Fast forward to present day and Tony has achieved this dream.

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Photo Courtesy: Startup Sri Lanka

Tony’s speech was broken down into several topics. Below is a summary of few points.

Understanding your Clients: 

Every time a client visited the MilleniumIT campus, they felt that as if they were dealing with a stable company. Tony explains that this is how they got many of their deals. The clients are into finance and they want to buy from a big, stable organization, not from a garage.

Staying Focused: 

Whatever adversity you face, always stay focused. Don’t change your business.

Doing the Impossible: 

When Tony was 25 he introduced e-channeling to Sri Lanka. At first, everyone had doubts. Then when he turned 28, Tony was the first CEO in Sri Lanka to have stock.

Believing in Yourself: 

When Tony sold MilleniumIT to the London Stock Exchange, they offered him a place in the executive committee. He declined and insisted on shares instead. Why? He believed in himself and that he could reform the London Stock Exchange.

Why I decided to Quit trading with a purpose 

When Tony was in the Middle East he met a terrorist. Tony asked the terrorist, “Why do you kill people?” The terrorist replied with his life story. where when he was helpless the world ignored him. The terrorist said he enjoyed people experiencing the same helplessness as he pointed his gun at them. Tony believed that had this terrorist gone to school, he could have avoided taking such a dark path. With this realization, Tony left to build The Cainan Foundation. His vision is to build schools for children all over the world and give them all equal opportunities to make their dreams a reality.

“Why do people give up their companies to venture capitalists, it’s your company, it’s your idea.” – Tony Weeresinghe

Ustocktrade: with a vision to bring Wall Street to Main Street

Tony concluded his speech by introducing us to his new company: Ustocktrade. It’s known as the first retail stock trading network, it doesn’t have any brokers in between. You can get a detailed look at the process here. Ustocktrade is also a social enterprise, with it’s profits funding the Cainan foundation.

Before moving on to the panel discussion was a short sponsor presentation by Microsoft SL which was delivered by Wellington Perera. He basically did a quick walkthrough of Biz Park. They offer expensive industry software to startups for free. Check them out here.

The Panel Discussion

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Photo Courtesy: Startup Sri Lanka

As in any forum, we had a panel discussion here too. Ruwindhu Peiris, the Vice Chairman of SLASSCOM and the MD of Stax Research Inc took the stage as the moderator along with the two speakers. Here’s some of the best questions we heard and their answers.

How do you make your first team?

Tony told us that when it comes to building teams, he values attitude more than ability. He’s hired people that come from backgrounds that are the exact opposite of the companies he runs. All of them were hired because they had the right attitude. When you have the right attitude it’s easy to train abilities.

What advice can you give to young entrepreneurs, who have all the passion and the right idea but not the capital?

Hemachandra answered this question by saying capital shouldn’t be your number one priority. It should be number five. If you have the burning need to be an achiever then the money will come. Tony answered this question on similar lines stating that with a good idea, you will always get capital. If you can’t sell your idea to gain capital then nobody can sell it.

Is it a necessity to have a mentor?

Hemachandra answered this question by telling us to avoid consultants. Give a consultant a disruptive idea and they will say it’s impossible. He went on to say that true disruptive innovation happens in garages, not wherever 10 Ph.D.’s are located as companies believe.

“Never take an accountant or an astrologer as your mentor.” – Hemachandra Wegapitiya

Wrapping Up: It’s quite a load to take Home

With that, we came to the end of an evening filled up with inspiration. A few tokens of appreciation were handed out followed by the vote of thanks by Mangala Karunaratne, the Founder, and CEO of Calcey Technologies. With that, Disrupt 2.0 came to an end. It is extremely hard to wrap things up for this article because every word was pure inspiration. However, there is no use of being inspired unless you act. Take the leap. Build your startup. Let’s Innovate through Disruption.

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