Spike is a monthly tech entrepreneur and startup meetup. We’ve been to a number of Spike meetups and the March edition was the most recent one. Spike March 2019 took the form of a panel discussion. We dropped by and decided to see what we could learn.
Joining the Startup Ecosystem
Dilshan Kathriarachchi – CTO of EQ Works and General Partner at HalfLife took a trip down memory lane and shared his first experience of the internet. He had won a number of free connections and was introduced to it in 1996.
Soon after, Dilshan read a book about Amazon and learned about Jeff Bezos’s story. Inspired by this, Dilshan got a website up and running. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a payment gateway. The global options weren’t worth it because of transaction costs. And so, he ended up as the second customer to use the Sampath Bank IPG (Internet Payment Gateway). “I don’t know why but they trusted a 15-year-old,” he shared. As he was underage to sign any documents, he had his father sign for him.
Dilshan then spoke about EQ Works
Built in Canada, EQ Works helps identify business intelligence. Dilshan went on to share that he moved to Canada to pursue his higher education and built a company in his second year. He built an app by contacting a number of agencies across North America spreading the word about smartphones. It was challenging until Steve Jobs took the stage and introduced the iPhone that year. Dilshan managed to scale the business to be a leader in North American advertising.
He also shared that they went on roadshow to talk to interviewers. This is why they needed to find people that can run the business without them. They made detailed plans and went off for around two and a half months. He says ‘you can either change your goals or raise money’. He chose the latter.
Dilshan shared at the Spike 2019 Meetup that HalfLife was born after he left addictive mobility. The country, he felt, was the primary driver of the success but not a beneficiary of that success. When he exited the business he split the capital into two pools and decided to invest through an incubator. He didn’t have much but could deploy it strategically.
To grow a company, you need capital and luck
Much of the capital he felt was being deployed with people who can quit jobs for six months. But what happens when you’re an entrepreneur who can’t feed themselves until you find product-market fit or vision? So his idea was to hire entrepreneurs to build a company allowing them to iterate and take risks. So they wanted these people to also be founders involved in the startups. They also wanted to create a second generation of entrepreneurs.
Dilshan’s first batch was a lot of ad technology companies. He felt content and blogs couldn’t take off until you could get paid for it and Google’s market was too small. A lot of these companies were mobile or digital first. So the cost of customer acquisition was important when competing with global giants.
Now they’ve started branching out into data because ad tech needs data and there are multiple forms of data. They’ve also invested in the media Sector. They’re looking at machine learning and NLP as well.
Canada is a good place to start a company
Dilshan shared at the Spike March 2019 meetup that Canada is incredibly good to start a company. Startups are a lot about luck. Yet he says luck is biased with Canada making it easier to fail. Canada he says has share credits for R&D startups. They’ll give you money back for R&D which includes costs of people working on R&D. Whereas elsewhere you invest your gains.
Another program involves approving 50% of the costs of a bunch of businesses if they submit a plan. This is why he says Canada makes you lucky. He adds that just because you’ve done something outside SL people here automatically think you’ve done something great without making any validation attempts.
Jumping into a startup is a tricky situation
“More often than not,” Dilshan says “your family and friends leap into entrepreneurship with you”. And it’s a lot of stress which not everyone can handle on their own. All those expectations are on you. Every decision is make or break. Every mistake is your fault.
It’s a lonely place to be and he feels a lot of people don’t understand this when people start their own company. If you’re happy, then things are going too well. Founders will get into depression and not everyone wants to hear it. And founders are probably the only ones that can relate.
Finding a co-founder is hard work
Dulitha Wijewantha – Founder of Alakazam, shared his story at the Spike March 2019 meetup. His views were of another era. This was the era of dialup connections in 2004. He broke his first computer, like many kids do, and never got a computer for the next six years.
Dulitha approached the startup idea differently. He saw the challenges of starting up a business. The biggest challenge for him was finding a co-founder amongst all the challenges of finding clients and so on.
He didn’t look at whether the person can hire another person. He looked at whether this person can help company grow 10x and if that cost makes sense on hit on the company runway. He always hired people through people he knew. Domain knowledge is important especially since it’s not traditional marketing. Despite all this, he agrees its challenging to communicate the vision of the future to the team.
Spreading the word about Alakazam
He took part in Tech In Asia to tell people they were building a product and wanted to explore South Asia. At TIA he met Jun, who introduced them to an accelerator in Taiwan. They had 200 startups and $2.6 billion combined valuations from a country he didn’t know much about. Taiwan despite profiting from the hardware curve, failed to consider the mobile aspect.
So they’re investing heavily in AI and blockchain. And people with AI have different problems. However, the advantage they got was working with people building AI products. It taught him interesting lessons.
Dulitha shared he’s currently raising a round in Singapore. And the challenge is to explain how their product will work, simply because of the language barrier. But the advantage they got was they see problems differently which people in those ecosystems appreciate.
Dulitha says you need believe you’ll succeed and eventually it’ll be a truth. But it bottles up and becomes challenging. This results in you making erratic decisions. So you need to be in your top condition. Try and try, and eventually, you’ll succeed.
Dulitha and Alakazam are aiming to move into fitness in 4 weeks along with fashion, leisure, etc. Expect to see a lot of magic coming your way.
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