Sunday, May 10, 2020

Takes a village to raise a child (entrepreneur)

Shakya Lahiru Pathmalal

This article will briefly discuss my entrepreneurial life, its highs and its lows. It will also look at some of the policy changes needed to make entrepreneurial journey easier. What is to be an entrepreneur? I believe entrepreneurs are essentially problem solvers. They see problems that need to be solved (in this context, within a given market) and they set about solving it.

I have lived a few lifetimes before coming to Sri Lanka. I studied and worked, in the US and Australia, in different fields and then ended up in Afghanistan; partly to gain experience in counterterrorism and security studies and partly to prove a point that I could survive in a conflict environment.  When I returned to Sri Lanka I engaged in policy work, and worked at a Presidential election campaign; which we lost. This was my first great encounter with failure and was not going to be my last.

At that point in life, I realized that I needed a change. I wanted to do something in the corporate sphere.  But given my expertise I thought I would not be hired to do a job in the corporate sector. Not a lot of people want to hire someone from a policy and security background. So I ended up setting sights on starting something on my own.

I soon realized that Sri Lankans did not have any real option to buy products on-line. There were a few ventures that did groupon models (coupons being sold), and Kapruka that sold products and services to Sri Lankans abroad. I felt strongly that if I were looking to buy online, there would be others too. Luckily for me I met with Murtaza Moosajee and Dilendra Wimalaseka who were thinking along the same lines; later Kalinga Athulathmudali joined the ranks. The culmination of this thought process led to what is known as  We embarked on a journey to get the Sri Lankan consumer to buy online. A journey that we are still very much committed to today.

At the time I started takas I was broke. I really had no money and at the same time I wanted to get married.  While we raised money to get takas off the ground there was no real money to live off. I was fortunate enough that Osk, who had quit a lucrative job in the Middle East to come marry me and Deshal who is one of my best friends, subsided by dream and ambition for a good two  years.  Here I learned one of the greatest lessons in life; which is that journeys are best done with a team. We almost always stand on the shoulders of our team members and loved ones to reach greater heights. All what we have achieved to date has been done with the backing and sacrifice of family, team and friends.

Anyone’s entrepreneurial life will have challenges, but perhaps one of the greatest and most common challenges stem from being constantly reminded that what you have embarked on will not pay dividend. One of the main phrases an entrepreneur will hear in their entrepreneurial Lifetime is that ‘it cannot be done’. Not everyone will say it in the same way, and at times his or her comments are well intentioned.  You are however constantly reminded that the odds are not in your favor and that efforts are in vain. Thus, the greatest challenge that an entrepreneur must endure is the challenge of self-belief, when almost everyone around you thinks it just cannot be done. As such, the main challenges that are faced by an entrepreneur are internal. There are times of great highs and times of deep lows in the journey. This is something I have not got use to this date, and still grapple with. I believe this to be a constant journey of self-realization.

Additionally, one of the keys in helping  entrepreneurs is making access to capital markets easier. Sri Lanka is a small market, so having access to both markets (to sell products and services) and capital can be very difficult. The state has to play a role in increasing the market Sri Lankan businesses can access by cutting down red tape where possible and getting access to larger markets (through FTA). This will provide the means for  local businesses to attract capital to grow, from here and abroad. It will also support Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to think and aim larger. Easier access to capital through institutions and state banks for start-ups either through loans or co investing is a must as well.

One of the other main challenges Sri Lankans face is that of mind-set. I believe the state should play a pivotal role in changing Sri Lanka’s antiquated education system to meet the demands of the 21st Century. Our education system is geared towards producing risk adverse professionals who all too often leave these pastures post-free education to the West.This has essentially become Sri Lanka’s aid package to the first world. We should encompass a more holistic approach to education, where children are thought to think independently, embrace change, challenge norms and take risks. This I believe will help us create better and more productive citizens, and even professionals. There has to be concrete measures taken to change the current curriculum in public schools to meet these objectives.

Summing up I would state this. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. This African proverb means that an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. There is no difference in bringing up world-class entrepreneurs. In such an environment when the odds are never in your favor it takes a village to raise an entrepreneur. With the correct mindset, with help from team members and loved ones and a policy that supports their journey, I believe we can essentially create incredible entrepreneurs who will help take this country forward.

This story was first written for Advocata. The author of this story is the co founder, , current Board Member of the Lankan Angel Network and a former Board Member of Peoples Bank. He can be reached at for comment

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 goes into drone delivery experiments!

Drone Delivery Test – Takas Experiments
Disclaimer: this was a pre-alpha stage test to check the feasibly of drone delivery in Colomb0
We are kicking off a new series of articles to give our customers a glimpse some of the sexier things we are working on and what you can expect from us in the future. While most of the things we experiment on are not very exciting (UI tweaks, usability tests, A/B tests, etc.), our development team was able to find some time to over the last month to test out drone deliveries.
The main purpose of the experiment was to see if the drone carry a load up and safely bring the product down and manoeuvre with a payload. Secondary questions we were trying to answer were whether we could use drone to deliver orders in Colombo and to get an idea of the technical requirements to carry it out. We used only off the shelf hardware and a “state-of-the-art sellotape based package attachment mechanism” (patent pending) (joking, obviously) to get the prototype ready as soon as possible with limited resources.

Lessons Learnt

  • Terrain and building height data currently insufficient.
  • Package size and how it effects the airflow around the drone is equally important to the weight distribution. We faced a few stability issues because the package was blocking air flowing downwards.
  • Deliveries can we done extremely fast, avoiding traffic.*
  • We need to work with authorities on getting clearance for deliveries.*

Next Steps

  • Decide on specifications for industrial sized drones designed to carry a payload.
  • Figure out a way to obtain better terrain information, at least in urban centres.
  • Design a package attachment and release mechanism.

Equipment & Software:

  • Drone: DJI Phantom 4
  • Automation: Litchi
  • Order Processing: Internally Developed
* Drone movements can currently only be carried out in private spaces and commercial drones require a qualified pilot to operate it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How Sri Lanka can avoid the Middle Income Trap; foster innovation and entrepreneurship.
Post-war Sri Lanka had a significant level of optimism in terms of economic growth, but as many of you will agree that optimism was short lived. Sri Lanka was hoping for FDI to boost our economy and that never really came. To make these matters more difficult we have now got in to a Middle Income Trap where our labor is becoming too expensive to compete with developing countries (tea, garments, etc.) and where we are too poor to invest in value-added products for export (smartphone, cars, computers, etc.). The ratio of Sri Lankan exports to GDP has halved over the last few years. In such an environment, to not get left behind, Sri Lanka must take immediate action boost our economy.
What must be done?
1.)  Reality Check – most export products we have depended on historically are agricultural and they are becoming too expensive to compete in the global market. So we need to adapt fast as a country to tackle this issue. I would encourage changes in policy in regards to re-allocating resources (land in this case) for more profitable ventures. Policy needs to allow for companies to utilize their land holding in a manner that maximizes returns and if this means, for example, that tea plantations should be used to grow coffee, it should be allowed. Furthermore, R&D budgets should increase in order to develop more efficient farming methods or we should learn from countries such as Isreal that has excelled in this space.
2.)  Labor Policy – in the 21st century significant amount of wealth will be created through technology start-ups. Startups generally grow fast, and at times needs to hire and fire people just as fast to keep up with a changing environment. This is nearly impossible in Sri Lanka. Labor policies must reflect the needs of the modern economy.
3.)  Investment Policy – regulations around investment in to Sri Lanka needs to be streamlined and loosened. Ideally all bureaucracy would be handled by one department. Policies should be clear & carried over from one regime to the next.
4.)  Education System – we need to update the education system to get students to be more entrepreneurial. The current system is ill equipped to do so. This would only require a change of thinking in terms of curriculum and value system.
5.)  Data usage- Internet is the great emancipator in the 21st century. We should reduce the tax burden on data that is consumed by Sri Lankan’s so they will have the ability to have access to knowledge no matter where they are in the country.
6.)  Human Resources- The value of Sri Lanka is primarily in its human capital. What this means is that we should be open to having ANYONE who wants to work here being allowed to work here. We should be an immigrant friendly country. For too long Sri Lankans have left in search of better pastures, we should allow anyone who is willing to work and contribute to the growth in SL to make this their home.
All the above recommendations given will not cost the government or the Lankan taxpayer a lot of money. If action is taken we can expect great benefits to come into the island to move Sri Lanka from a lower middle-income nation to much greater heights.
The author of this article is the co-founder/CEO of These are his personal opinions and do not reflect the views of his organization.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why eCommerce will Dominate the Retail Space in Sri Lanka in the next 5 years.

Walmart announced last week that it will significantly increase its investment in their eCommerce operations. They have realized (a little late) what they should have realized a long time ago; that eCommerce will be a game changer in the retail landscape and now they are trying to play catch up. This will end up costing them US $ billions more than if they had either invested or bought over an eCom player sometime back in order to address the balance of power in the retail sphere.

It was not long ago in 1999 when Amazon’s top line was a paltry US $ 1.6 billion compared to Walmarts US $ 138 billion (NY times Report). Around the same time an Amazon market cap was at US $ 20 billion to Walmarts US $ 260 billion (Wiki Inest). I am fairly sure that Walmart saw Amazon as little more than a nuisance, even perhaps a house of cards that was bound to fail. They probably waited for that outcome, but it never came.

Over the last 15 years Amazon has been gaining more and more of the total retail market and now dominates the online market place. This is reflected, now more than ever, in the stock price of each company with Amazon’s stock market value surpassing Walmart’s for the first time in July and now exceeding Walmart’s by more than US $70 billion. Amazon’s stock is up more than 80 % this year. Walmart’s has declined 30 % (NY times Report), and for those who want to invest and make money the better bet has been Amazon for some time now

What does this mean for Sri Lanka? It essentially is a clear sign of things to come in the total retail space in the island. What happened in the US took 15 years, in Sri Lanka this will happen in 5 and here is why.

Smart phone penetration this year is growing at a staggering 30%, with mobile data and access becoming more and more common. What this means is that more people will have easy, cheap access to the Internet than ever before. Mark Mahaney, who covers Internet retailing for RBC Capital stated that in the US market the factors that aid in selling are price, convenience and choice (NY times Report), which are factors that come as a natural advantage for an eCommerce company compared to traditional retail. In Emerging markets I would add ‘Trust’ to be another factor that determines purchase patterns for consumers, which is quickly being established by some of the more entrenched players in the Lankan market among the consumer base. eCommerce will have price, convenience and a choice advantage compared to their brick and mortar competitors.

Some may argue that in mature markets eCommerce has become the norm in retail, whereas in emerging markets such as Sri Lanka eCom continues to be a distant alternative. This may be true today, but times are changing; the eCom players who will weather the current storm in terms of ‘time’ will prosper in the coming years beyond all expectations.

However, this will not take place in a vacuum; to get the ball rolling and for the eCommerce industry to flourish in Sri Lanka it will need a favorable policy to continue to attract investment from here and abroad, and policies that aid in the process of online transactions taking place. I believe from the discussions that I have had with frontier market Venture funds that in time to come eCom will be one of the top attractions for FDI in Sri Lanka.

Further to this the current nascent industry will also be greatly strengthened by the backing of entrepreneurial and industry heavy weights.

What is inevitable however is the rise of eCommerce as both a viable and strong player in the retail fabric of Sri Lanka for the foreseeable future.

All views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author, Lahiru Pathmalal, who is CEO/Co Founder of

NY Times Report

Thursday, February 12, 2015

#Sundaying#Saturdaying #Tuesdaying why I do it?

Whenever I run in to someone I know these days, people always make a comment about if I work or not. “Lahiru, you are always #Sundaying#Saturdaying #Tuesdayingwhen do you everwork?”, the reality is that I work all the time and for the last year and a bit I have not taken a vacation ( otherthan public holidays, and weekends) but if someone was to look at my FB wall it will be full of pictures of my #Sundaying#Saturdaying #Tuesdaying… how is this possible? And why do I do it?

Its possible because I live in Sri Lankaa island that is fairly spectacular. Where most locations that you might want to run off for a break is just a few around the corner. Its easy to drive up to a lovely beach, or get up to the hills. So if you want to do it, the only person whose stopping it is you.

And why I do it because I love to, and as a CEO your generally under a lot of preassure; and as any CEO knows that you have to find your own little way to unwind. Driving a few hours for a night to be at a place that I love helps me deal with work related stress, and this helps me be a better CEO, friend and a overall nice guy.

Also a firm beliver in livinglife to the fullest, so try to do things that I love to do with the free time I have.

Dr. Douglas McKenna, an industrial and organizational psychologist who help establish Microsoft’s executive and management development group in the 1990s, stated that its super important to to deal with stress in an effective way (which could be different things for different people); if they continually manage to do this they can more easily start thinking and reasoning clearly, free of stress responses (FrobesArticle; Stress Management for the CEO)

Making use of the free time you have to relive stress is critical in handling pressure when push comes to shove.  This end of the day makes you better at dealing with both your work and private life.  So if your not doing it already take the time to figure out what works for you! And encourage people around to take some time off and do what they love! It will make them a lot more productive and help you reach your targets much sooner..

Shakya Lahiru Pathmalal is the co-founder CEO of

Thursday, September 11, 2014

eCommerce the great equalizer

It was not too long ago that the electronic retail market was controlled by the big 3 retailers in Sri Lanka;Abans, Singer and Softlogic. While the 3 major players still control the lion’s share of the market there is fierce competition being created by the emerging eCom players in the island. has been one of the players that has played a role in creating direct competition with the traditional retail players for a share in the market. It is certain beyond any doubt that in the next 5 years the retail landscape will be re-drawn and one if not two major ecommerce firms will figure at the very top.


It’s expected that by the end of this year there will be 5 million internet users in Sri Lanka, this represents a growth of double digits in the last few years, and the pace of internet coverage will only grow. It’s predicted that the whole world will be online by 2030 and our little island will be wired far earlier. The cost associated with being online is also coming down dramatically, data is now cheap and the devices that are used to access data are becoming more readily accessible at dramatically dropping prices. Thus, the total number of people who will have the capability of doing online shopping is an ever increasing pool! Even if other externalities are controlled for (economic growth/incomes).

eCommerce is aided by search engines, mainly Google. Customers have far more information at their fingertips today than they ever had before. They are able to carry out market research by performing a few clicks. Thus the ability for huge marketing machines to push products at big margins for certain firms are becoming ever more difficult. This has enabled competitively priced eCommerce companies to capture customers. It has also led the bigger retailers to be far more price competitive. This trend will only continue in the future.

Why Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka has one of the biggest rural populations in the world, and compared to the region SL also boasts a high income level. However, the rural community does not have the same level of access to products that individuals in the urban areas have due to the retail chain network being highly concentrated in urban areas. This has been the greatest driver for sales and penetration for and its growth in the recent past. This will also be the reason that eCommerce will be a far more profitable, and viable business than in other areas in South Asia.

What does this all mean?
eCommerce will explode in Sri Lanka as it has in the developed world, and I am confident it will become a profitable business in a shorter period of time than for our neighbors (India/Pakistan). But the greatest change will be experienced by the Sri Lankan Consumer. The Lankan consumer will be able to get the best possible price for the goods and they will have the greatest convenience ever experienced. Furthermore, and perhaps the best thing about eCommerce is, no matter if you live in the heart of Colombo, or in the central hills of Haputalle, you will be able to get your hands on any product you want at anytime. J

Monday, May 19, 2014

The flip side of the coin (Entrepreneurship)

Recently I read an article by Sir Richard Branson called “Welcome to the Dark Side” essentially out lining seven things that they ‘don’t tell people’ when they get in to entrepreneurship.  ( I was meaning to write something on the topic myself and the article was just what I needed to organize my thoughts and put something down on paper. Here are my five points:

11.)      Entrepreneurship can be a very hard livelihood to be in. Making money is not easy, never easy, no matter how many people talk about how lucky people have been. There are of course exceptions to the rule, but the general rule of thumb is you need to work very hard, extremely hard, in order to make money, or to make it work. The more you put in, the more you get. It’s very much connected.

22.)      Entrepreneurship can also be a very lonely place. Generally while your friends and family are there to support you, you generally have to do things by yourself. If you fail, the responsibility falls unto you. Thus, don’t ever expect sympathy from the people around you, no matter how hard you work.

33.)      You social life WILL suffer. This is very much connected to the first 2 points. Your business will take most of your time. I used to have a regular nine-to-five job, weekends off, poya days off, sick days off, but once you’re the person who’s responsible, this all changes. Your work days become much longer, which means that you will have less time for pretty much everything. Taking days off at a time will also be a challenge, even when you’re not feeling great. In the words of Bruce Almighty: “This is how the cookie crumbles.”

44.)      As Sir Branson states in his article, entrepreneurship leads to you being unhappy. My wife knows this all too well. I am constantly unhappy no matter what achieves. When we raised the second round, at a great valuation, I was down, since I was already thinking of the challenges that lay ahead, and no matter how much we do in sales, I am generally not upbeat since I am constantly thinking how to replicate and make revenues grow month no month. End of the day though, this is what drives entrepreneurs to excel.

55.)      Finally, with the added stress and long work days, your diet and exercise routine will suffer. I like to think this is why I have put on weight in the last 18 months J

So why do it? Because the rewards of entrepreneurship outweigh the downside more times than not and you get to do what you love.