It was a Wednesday. Galle Road’s traffic had simmered down and by 10am, Bambalapitiya was almost rendered static by the late morning heat. Resisting the temptation to amble under the unforgiving sun, we were on a quest -to find MyDeal.lk’s office.
Once we got there, however, no one noticed. The lazy pace of the outside world hadn’t made its way through these doors. Eyes glued to their computers, packages at their feet we found a staff busy at work. It took Director of MyDeal, Damitha Ginigaddarage who popped out from a corner of the office-warehouse crossover to help navigate through a maze of packed deliveries ready to go. When he tells us that MyDeal has outgrown the office, there’s little to dispute. “We’ll be opening up in Bambalapitiya soon” he smiles.
By this time CEO of Shopping.lk, Sanjana Bandara has emerged from his respective corner of the office. We were joined by Director of MyStore.lk Shageevan Sachithanandan, as the trio announced their decision to unify their efforts. Working in tandem we learn that they’ve possibly created Sri Lanka’s largest virtual market.
What is MyDeal?
MyDeal.lk is among the few businesses that can get away with creating urgency. “Attaching a clock” counting down the expiry of slashed prices they sell online can have a significant effect on consumers, the Director laughs. Simply speaking, “we sell deals,” subject to availability he explains, “and we are the only ones” to offer a fresh new deal on a daily basis.
Interestingly, this wasn’t Plan A. We would still have little idea as to what MyDeal was, had they continued on their mission of “introducing a Groupon system of buying.” As you might have guessed, four years ago when concepts like crowd-sourcing were still quite alien in this part of the world it took some re-routing.
Nevertheless, we’re told they soldiered on with the initiative, setting up in a single room office it was just a two-man operation he smiles. “One of us had to move if the other wanted to get to his seat” in the dingy office premises on the “Landmark building’s car park.”
Outgrowing offices have since become a habit. With over “500,000 registered users,” just four years down the line MyDeal has made a name for itself, today directly competing against other big names in domestic e-commerce.
How they managed this feat becomes clearer when observing their understanding of the Sri Lankan consumer. A completely digitised, or “Online” model is destined to be less successful according to the Director. A store front or collection point we’re told is yet another innovation in the endemically hybrid model of e-commerce. “Here people prefer to see the product before making a purchase.”
Spilling out of offices has also signaled to the MyDeal team that they have perhaps outgrown selling only deals. They’re moving on to create an online lifestyle store and have joined forces with two other virtual sellers to achieve this.
What is MyStore.lk’s story?
MyStore.lk on the other hand, is “completely online” says Director of the company, Shageevan Sachithanandan. Unlike MyDeal, this entity is focusing their attention on selling a more premium lifestyle. Also unlike MyDeal, MyStore.lk doesn’t have any physical store front, even at a small scale capacity.
This hasn’t stopped them from building a business worth “500 million + Rupees.” Their story started when Shageevan and Prasad Nayanajith decided to buy the domain name “at 1am in the morning.” The duo was situated in Matale and Kelaniya respectively, was on Skype when they “decided to go for it.” Over 8 years of web-development expertise came into play we’re told as they built the website “from scratch by modifying an open-source shopping cart platform.”
Things didn’t get any easier he remembers. After the struggle of finding an investor, for the first 10 months “orders kept popping up on the screen every few minutes” but the entire operation was a 3 man job. There have been instances when resolving to take up a normal job has been tempting, “There was one time I nearly quit” but Prasad managed to talk him out of it. “You’ve got to have a wing man who has your back.”
At the same time, the team’s technical know-how has kept operations completely online. Leaving out the strain and cost of physical storefronts has inevitably got them noticed. The solid build of their user interface has been duplicated by other websites but “we call it our contribution to the industry.”
There are issues they’re ironing out, we learn. Most of them are due to the heavy dependence on suppliers owing to the drop-shipping model MyStore has adopted. As of now they’re working on making warranties more efficient and upping their after-service game. All this fine tuning is carried out by a minimal staff, “Our operations team” is as efficient but “way smaller than our competitors.” The 3,000- 5,000 visitors who stop by at MyStore suggest the team has got their expert tech in place to run a smooth show.
According to Sanjana Bandara of Shopping.lk “My website directly connects the user to a Chinese market” which stocks over 80 million products. Shoes and accessories are top picks he’s noticed, but with 80 million options as one can imagine, customers are generally spoilt for choice. The first version of his website in 2011 however only showcased “10-20 best sellers” and opened operations with 4000 Rupees his mother spared.
Sanjana chose to feed his ambition a healthy diet of success stories. “I read a lot of inspirational stories about Mark Zuckerberg, Flipkart founder, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos etc.” From younger days he planned to “do something big with the internet.”
Similar to MyStore, the sourcing capital was a challenge. Mortgaging a property he inherited, with the support of his family initial operations began. Running a business alone from 2011-2015 can take a toll, and Sanjana isn’t unfamiliar with trying times. Pushing-through he says “When I feel like quitting I always think quitting is what average people do.” His defiant refusal to be classed with “the 99%” who walk away from adversity saw him wanting to make his business bigger and better in 2015.
This time, there was no bank support he says. Pitching his stats to investors who lead him to MyDeal has dramatically changed Shopping.lk’s dynamic. Strengthened by 2 Million rupees of investment and valued at 3 Million, today he says this has risen “about 3-5 times, in just a few months after new operations started.”
Stocking jewellery to heavy machinery, he’s happy to share that “according to Alexa Shopping.lk is the most visited website and is ranked among the top 10 start-ups today.”
The Triune Force, How Does it Work?
How the synergy works is simple, we’re told. MyDeal.lk stands in as the umbrella company of sorts under which Shopping.lk and MyStore.lk continue as separate web entities. Nevertheless, this co-existence is a symbiotic kind. Sanjana’s initiative literally brings home the goods, 80 million of them to be precise, while MyDeal feeds them a customer base.
Similarly, MyStore.lk brings the technical expertise to keep the digital front on point, while sharing MyDeal’s customer base which might be browsing for some high-end branded products not necessarily with reduced prices.
Forging ahead with consumers who are still getting accustomed to online buying poses different challenges according to the three online businessmen. “They generally don’t read terms of the sale,” or even in some instances, instructions. Outstation trips to regional Consumer Affairs Authorities to explain how their terms function have on occasion slowed them down.
As much as they hope to shape the industry, adapting has been a big part of MyDeal’s progress. For this reason, they’re looking to island-wide with collection centres in the foreseeable future, making delivery cost-effective and practical even outside Colombo and the suburbs. Working closely with Mobitel, the collection points are an attainable upgrade they say, making their outstation deliveries less one-off.
After all, accessibility and mobility is the convenience of e-commerce. “You don’t need to come to Colombo” on a shopping trip. This futuristic marketplace, the three hope, will one day soar to become the endemic version of giants like Amazon and eBay.