Sri Lankan millennial entrepreneurs defy stereotypes

22 April 2020 12:03 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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 Silicon Valley suffers from a culture of raising money too quickly and bloated growth, something that has become even more apparent during the covid-19 crisis... 

Chamath Palihapitiya

 

  • The stereotype of millennials raising large rounds of financing and turning into multinational powerhouses seemingly overnight is mostly a myth...
  • Each one of these companies was founded by millennials -- when they were still in their late teens to early 20’s -- during a time when venture capitalists were still learning how to adjust to work emails
  • In Sri Lanka, we’re used to staying in, curfews, and being in lockdown. This is familiar to us, and we therefore know how to navigate around such situations

 

Facebook Cofounder and now President of Social Capital, Chamath Palapithiya is inarguably one of the most famous, successful, and recognized Sri Lankans abroad. At 34 years old, and a millennial, he’s amassed an incredible wealth of $4.8B and an impressive following from Silicon Valley’s most notable entrepreneurs. 
According to Chamath, Silicon Valley suffers from a culture of raising money too quickly and bloated growth, something that has become even more apparent during the covid-19 crisis as the startup world experiences a staggering number of layoffs.


The stereotype of millennials raising large rounds of financing and turning into multinational powerhouses seemingly overnight is mostly a myth perpetuated by the popularisation of founder stories from Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.


 

 

 

We became successful without taking in any investment much to the contrary of advice we were given. 

 

 

 


Each one of these companies was founded by millennials -- when they were still in their late teens to early 20’s -- during a time when venture capitalists were still learning how to adjust to work emails. 


Chamath’s sentiment on the other hand is not new and one that more millennials and Gen-Z founders have been adopting under the radar. It is becoming increasingly popular for startups to focus more intently on innovation, product, and go-to-market strategies before taking in too much funding or too early, if at all. 
Sri Lankan politician, film star, serial entrepreneur and millenial Udara Ratnayake cofounded Stripes & Checks in 2013 with two friends with the mission of creating a recognizable Sri Lankan apparel brand. 


Last year, Stripes & Checks reached 100M rupees in revenues, a feat credited to a slow and steady growth strategy combined with the obsession to build a product of value that Sri Lankan consumers would embrace. 
“We wanted to create a local brand. We have a thriving apparel industry in Sri Lanka, but no recognized brands. The first five years of our business, we grew slowly and steadily, as we wanted to focus first on building recognition of our brand. We wanted people to accept our brand before diving into huge expansion efforts or large publicity campaigns. We wanted to get the product just right and be confident in our output. It took time, but now a lot of people in Colombo, who previously only wore imported brands, wear Stripes & Checks,” Udara Ratnayake told Daily Mirror.


Stripes & Checks opened their second store two months ago, shortly before the lockdown. Though they source materials from India, Pakistan, and China, Stripes & Checks’ supply chain is largely contained within Sri Lanka, resulting in the company adjusting relatively well to a pandemic that has otherwise crippled the world’s economy. 
“In Sri Lanka, we’re used to staying in, curfews, and being in lockdown. This is familiar to us, and we therefore know how to navigate around such situations,” says Udara. 
Once the covid-19 crisis eases, the company plans to open three more stores by the end of the year while targeting $1M in sales for 2020.


 

 

 

We wanted people to accept our brand before diving into huge expansion efforts or large publicity campaigns

 

 

 



Now based in the United States, Shavini Fernando, Founder and CEO of OxiWear, TEDx speaker, also a millennial, spent the first year and $45,000 in grants she won building a wearable device that continuously monitors oxygen levels, so that those with pulmonary hypertension can get the critical care they need on time.
Rather than raising a lot of capital too quickly and early, Shavini grew her team organically while taking sole responsibility for the company’s financials, marketing, design, growth, leadership, and tech recruiting. 
It was important to Shavini to exercise lean operational strategies when building her company. 
Swedish fintech expert, entrepreneur and investor Jacob Hansen Karaduman cites similarities between Sri Lankan millennials’ path to success and his own experiences of cofounding and scaling Enklare to become Scandinavia’s 3rd largest loan brokerage platform.


“We became successful without taking in any investment much to the contrary of advice we were given. We focused purely on pushing out good products and addressing consumer pain points in a quantifiable way – we didn’t give ourselves the luxury of playing with large rounds of financing to ‘test’ markets out. Instead, we grew steadily and organically, focusing solely on not just customer satisfaction, but anticipating their needs ahead of the market,” Karaduman told Daily Mirror. 


Advisor to finalists of the world’s top startup and business plan competitions, Jacob Hansen Karaduman explains, “Sri Lanka is in a unique position where the startup environment is gaining traction and the investment climate is warming while millennial and Gen-Z entrepreneurs are finding their footing. Those that have a unique product-market fit, grow at the right pace, and focus intently on the customer will ultimately experience greater longevity and success.” 

 

Shavini grew her team organically while taking sole responsibility for the company’s financials, marketing, design, growth, leadership, and tech recruiting.


The year 2019 ended with the infamous implosion of WeWork and Uber’s disappointing IPO becoming synonymous with millennial delusion and arrogance while covid-19 brings to question why so many layoffs in the startup world are taking place. 


With most millennials now in their late 20s to late 30s, the truth is that many of them are exercising far more financial restraint than they have the reputation for, Sri Lanka being no exception. 


“The next decade will prove to be interesting if tech entrepreneurs and the closely linked investment community push the frontiers of societal, technological, and scientific development ambitiously while employing a necessary degree of checks and balances,” Karaduman said.

 

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