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Sri Lanka has talent, we need to capitalize on it: IronOne CEO

2017-08-17 00:00:09
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Daring to reach greater heights, for IronOne Technologies Co-Founder and CEO Lakmini Wijesundera, the sky is the limit for success. In a nutshell, her mantra for triumph is high risk, high return. 


Wijesundera played a key role in highlighting the local IT sector on the global stage this year by being part of the Entrepreneurial Winning Women (EWW) Asia-Pacific programme 2017, by Ernst &Young (EY), as a top women entrepreneur in the region. With this prestigious inclusion, she became the first Sri Lankan to achieve this great feat and stood among fifteen leading businesswomen named to 2017 EY Asia-Pacific programme.


Wijesundera, who is driven by change and challenge, recently sat down with Mirror Business to share her experience of the once in a lifetime opportunity that transformed her approach towards growth and taking a local entity to the global platform. 
Following are the excerpts from the interview:

You were included in the EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme this year. What were your immediate thoughts on that?
Before I joined the programme I had little awareness of it. I only later learned that I was the first Sri Lanka to be a part of it, probably why I didn’t know much about it. When I walked into the programme the first that struck me was that EY is a great brand and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be global, I had aspirations in being in the global top 100, and I knew this would be a platform that would get me there.


I must add that being in the top 100, it was what I wanted, but the EY programme changed me completely. The Mumbai visit where we had one week with all the other participants along with the alumni, the energy and the confidence was phenomenal. That exposure and experience was probably the best I received in my entire career. 


I am contented that I was a part of this programme. It is an ideal platform for a company that has come to some point and feels it is ready to go further. I highly recommend that since help will come from any direction for such entities. 


Give us a snapshot of the programme.
Essentially it is about scaling. They select companies that have the potential of scaling, the aspiration for it. It is not really for a startup. So I am glad that EY as a global group has already accepted that I am in the level to scale up. They are really talking about companies that are can scale up tremendously. 


What I realized is that scaling is very much about ‘deciding’ to scale. Anyway we work hard, so whether you want to do a midscale expansion or a massive expansion, it’s just that the actions are different. When you have a goal you work towards it. For a smaller goal the actions towards it is quite different to what would be employed for a larger goal, but still working hard nonetheless.


So we have envisioned where we want to be and we are working towards it. We have kick started and we have picked up our pace.


The programme also offered business matchmaking where we were able to meet top companies such as TATA, Mahindra and so on. It worked me since they were the type of clients I wanted and when we pitched, they wanted us.


I took so long to go to India since I was told they would copy our products, tough to sell and so on. The fact is that they are massive, other than that they are like just any other. 

 


This is a Sri Lanka first, so what significance does this bring to the country?
My company IronOne was recognized as being compliant to being a part of that programme that saw top entities from more developed countries participate. So we are competing against such caliber. Being in that forum gave us a lot of opportunity to learn and exchange technological know-how.  A big plus was that we were able to showcase the technologies available in our country and our capabilities, which is not so well known around the world despite many achievements in the IT industry. 


It is really good to be in these forums since it helps us widen our confidence level and aspirations. By not interacting as much, we tend to feel we are not good enough while the reality is that we are on par or even above some of highly recognized entities.  We are certainly not far behind. We have the same set of challenges, just a geographical difference. 


How do you plan on capitalizing on this initiative; on two fronts, for (1) your business (2) the local IT landscape?
From our company’s perspective we are already capitalizing the exposure by having more intense training and mindset change. Somehow, this was very intense, it just shook me. For my company and the products developed, scaling became a very high priority. It was something that was in the horizon but now we are speeding up. 


We realized there is no horizon coming and we need to act now, else we will always be talking about a goal. We have a long way to go, but we have started.  As for the IT landscape, my view is that I am just one owner in that arena. From the lot, 80 percent to 90 percent are IT services companies, which is fine and what we were also. We now want to be an IT product company. In India the reason they are not competing with me is because they are greatly towards 
IT services. 


I personally believe that if we are competing with countries such as India that has more people, we definitely have the talent, so we need to capitalize at that. I feel we are good at product building, but my take is that not much emphasis is given on product selling. That is where I succeeded. IronOne Technologies went out there with confidence. You have to sell, it must be pushed out. That selling I feel the industry lacks. 


I feel that if I have to do something for the IT industry I have to struggle and do something first.
Tell us about your products?

We have three key products. The first is BoardPAC. It is a product that allows board directors to access board and committee papers and supplementary information directly to their iPad device. The solution enables efficient secure access to company board papers. The platform has the collaboration enabled for quick decision making.


ATRAD, is a stock brokering solution. It is Sri Lanka’s only Sun Microsystems certified real time, online stock trading system. It enables clients to place orders remotely, view their portfolios and perform transactions with the highest reliability and quality standards. ATRAD’s ability to provide real-time trade information makes it a powerful tool. It is simple to use and is an ideal solution for online trading and broker back-office operations. 


Then there is InfoSense. It is a platform offering simplicity to the corporate world. Through it’s easy to use templates a company can be up and running within a week with their corporate KPI monitoring dashboards and key services.

 


In the local context, what are the pluses and minuses of the industry?
A big plus is the access to high quality engineers. I started in this field since Sri Lanka is not a country where it is difficult to get IT staff. We have good developers. 


The disadvantage I see is that our market is small. There are many vendors competing for the same set. It’s not big enough to recover your investment. But it helped to bring the money in initially. Also we lack sales persons for technology 
based product. 

 


As an entrepreneur, what drives you?
To a great extent, it is change and challenge. I keep breaking things that get stabilized. I like to be in control. I just try things. I am hugely high risk and ambitious. That has worked well, being bold. 

 


Can you pinpoint three areas that are essential for entrepreneur success?
Start knowing it is extremely difficult. You have to be ready to risk failure. It is a long journey and not a quick win. Have a big dream, as big as you like it to be. Do not be afraid to think big. And stick long enough, it will come right. 


Finally I must point out that you need a good support system, which is to have your family on board. 


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