A small businessman in Kandy.
Since I was six all I ever wanted to be was a writer. Since I was 19 I knew that outlet was blogging. Since then I’ve just wanted to be a pro-blogger (it is possible), I just haven’t focused and done it. Why not? Well, if you’re good at something you keep getting dragged into doing services for other people, and you need the money. Then six years are gone and you’re no closer to your goal.
I think that’s one reason why start-ups in general suffer. If you have a good idea and talent, there’s a real temptation to pick the fruit before its ripe. It’s like a farmer who’s hired to till other peoples fields but then, come harvest time, he’s got nothing at home. This year I’m trying to manage my cashflow, borrow money, and focus, but it’s still damn hard.
I was flying kites with Adnan Issadeen a while back and he mentioned that he wanted to start a Silicon Valley in Sri Lanka. Without thinking I said, ‘that’s a stupid idea’. I dunno what got into me. Silicon Valley was a verdant nexus of universities, capital and coffee shops that Sri Lanka isn’t, but we could still have a start up culture better than the one we’ve got now. I thought about it and it’s not a stupid idea at all, but about the time I figured this out, Adnan had come round to disappointment.
So there I was standing in front of the crowd holding a mars bar in my hand and telling them that the mars bar would go to the first person to say they would step up to take the challenge next month. I knew we had plenty of web developers in there. I know we had plenty of people fresh from their degree with final year projects having been completed and could easily step up to demo them. But as I stood there almost pleading with someone to step up and take the challenge I realised even before I started the auction style count down that no one was going to come forward. And I said, “going once… Going twice… Remember what Steve said people.. real artists ship.. aaanndd… gone!”
The mars bar remained with me. (T3ch |/|u5e)
Why does he think other people didn’t step up?
There’s a big cultural barrier that needs to be broken down to get a silicon valley created in Sri Lanka and ons of the hardest factors to out is our inability to accept failure as something that can be respected. Especially after someone attempts something brand new. Even worse, the critics are happy when whatever they said would go wrong does go wrong. They berate people. And in many communities it becomes something that defines that persons future with him/her being considered unsuitable and far too unstable for a marriage. This is reality.
On this I broadly agree, but I think there is a start-up culture on another level. Otara started ODEL selling clothes out of her car and a small shop on Dickman’s Road. I met a guy in Colombo North who started a business importing locks and supports a family and more now. There are businesses that start, but they’re mostly brick and mortar. In terms of digital businesses we have Millenium IT and Virtusa, which are services companies. There are start-ups like CurdBee and Create.ly, but those are within an international loop, not coming out of any culture here.
Within urban culture, especially Muslim culture, I think there is a premium on entrepreneurship. I know a few Muslim guys who were basically discouraged from school and told to go into business (they went anyways) and that idea of striking out on your own is acceptable. So it is possible. The thing is that great products have to also be of international quality online, so it’s rare for that drive and design-sense to meet.
Is It Possible?
So, is a start-up culture in Sri Lanka possible? Well, yes, I think it is. I mean, definitely. It’s possible, perhaps not likely, but when Kottu started it was like 50 people and I knew all of them. Now there are 1000 bloggers there and like 10 different syndicators. People thought the Internet in Sri Lanka was a joke, or that social media was a joke, but nobody’s laughing now.
But seriously, if you have any start-up ideas, publish them, share them at Refresh, or polish them and let them know. I did some asking around and there’s actually no shortage of funding, and I like to think that ideas are infinite. So grab the Mars bar and let them out.