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Entrepreneurship is the future of the economy. We realise it now. But years ago Chalinda, the investment genius, visioned the potential of finance and sparked an entrepreneurial revolution in Sri Lanka and is now flourishing globally.
Here are our favourite bytes from the podcast.
Gaurav: How did you manage to convince those so-called people with ideas? So how did you manage to convince them to look at this new world called startup rather than joining a bank or joining an organization, which is the government?
Chalinda Abeykoon: I think it was just us going and talking every day, you know, preaching about it. At that time, I mean, even companies like Facebook were slightly larger, but then everything else like Uber, orWhatsapp didn’t exist. None of these big companies, Airbnb had just started. So we haven’t really heard of these things.
We didn’t even have success stories from the west to leverage. But we did have a few, like the Microsoft’s, the Google’s, and so that was the first generation. I think the next part of it was the fact that we had this massive faculty of people, you know, very successful business professionals on overseas companies like Microsoft and all of them. Being there with us really helps build confidence.
And even to this day, you know, when I speak with entrepreneurs, for me, it’s never about selling entrepreneurship. You can’t sell entrepreneurship. You need to have it in your unit. You need to realize that you want to do something, right. It’s not a commodity or other. I don’t see it as being a commodity that can be sold, they need to come, it has to be internalized, and you need to kind of create that environment and facilitate that thinking for the individual. And if they realize it, brilliant.And the challenge part is that, if you do it, suppose for 400 people, each person will get it at different times.
So let’s say you do a training workshop or whatever session for 400 people, when you start measuring your results, let’s say one month, you’re not gonna see much. One year, you might see some. But then when you start measuring them five years or 10 years later, then you see a lot more conversion happening. I see that now, as some of the people that I met, you know, 10 years ago, they’re now coming out because we encouraged them.
Gaurav: What are the initial challenges faced by the early startup companies?
Chalinda: I think there’s a lot of the main challenge is essentially, how do you know you’re solving the right problem? You know, that’s a lot harder.
You know, it’s a classic example of this picture of this iceberg where you see the top and majority of it is below the waterline, it’s similar to that, right? When everyone sees problems, but then, is that the core problem? Or is it the real problem? So, um, you know, identify, and that is, I would say, the biggest challenge, and everybody sees the most obvious part and starts chasing that. And sometimes it’s not the problem. So you end up wasting time, you know, money effort in all of that.
In addition to that, when you’re an entrepreneur, I think, everything is a challenge. I don’t think anything comes easy, right? Every single thing is a challenge. And, as an entrepreneur, you will always have, the amount of resources that you have access to, it will always be much, much lower than what is required from you, what you would expect, not just that, it’s about the things that you need to do.
Chalinda has spent the last 10 years building the startup ecosystem in Sri Lanka. During his tenure, he has mentored over 3,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and helped launch more than 50 startups.
After six years of ecosystem building, he shifted his focus towards entrepreneurial leadership in 2016. More specifically, he helps entrepreneurs fine-tune their business model and formulate execution strategies. As many of them are first-generation entrepreneurs, he coaches them to become investor-ready and support their fundraising journey. As a result, he has helped over 20 startups from multiple domains raise their angel/seed rounds.
His goal for the next five years is to expand the funding landscape in Sri Lanka. He works very closely with angel investors, VCs and startup organisations around the world. Being an intervention leader, he aims to drive value to investors by connecting them with the most promising startups with regional and global potential. In January 2020, he took over as CEO of the Lankan Angel Network, Sri Lanka’s first alliance of angel investors. Together with his team, he raised the first Angel Fund dedicated to early-stage startups in Sri Lanka. He firmly believes that success breeds success. As such, the Angel Fund brings together 100 of the most successful Sri Lankans from around the world. They represent over 20 industries & disciplines and are from Asia, APAC, Europe & North America.
He obtained my Bachelors from the University of London in 2009 and began my entrepreneurial crusade. He was one of three finalists in South Asia for the Entrepreneurial Award, awarded by the British Council in 2018. In 2020, he received the Chevening Fellowship(CRISP), hosted by the University of Oxford.
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