Rohan, Imran and Yusra walk into a bar: F’Up Fridays October 2019

F’Up Fridays. It’s a celebration of failures and learnings from some of the most interesting people from the startup ecosystem in Sri Lanka. At the October edition of F’Up Fridays, we had Rohan Jayaweera, Yusra Aziz Eliyas and Imran Vilcassim take the spotlight.

Passion alone doesn’t cut it

At times passion can be the driving factor in the pursuit of building a business. But it doesn’t mean that passion alone will be enough to carry you through to success. This was Rohan Jayaweera’s experience with The Design Store.

The idea was simple. A book store dedicated to books around design. At the time it made sense. Rohan loves books, his wife was in the design field, and there were no book stores catering to design in Sri Lanka. The store ran for 2 years with the likes of AoD and ODEL in their clientele. But eventually, the business ended up in debt. Rohan describes the situation to have been so dire that they had to sell his wife’s jewellery to get out of it.

Rohan Jayaweera at F’Up Fridays October 2019

This goes to show that domain knowledge is vital, particularly if you’re building your own business. “Domain knowledge is really critical, immaterial of what you do,” says Rohan. But Imran Vilcassim, founder of Lunah Labs believe that It’s also important to understand what you’re good at. This allows you to bring in people with the right domain knowledge as well as individuals who can complement you in the business environment.

Timing and focus

Timing is everything. Particularly if you’re building a startup. It’s easy to get caught in the moment and pack as many features as possible on to a product. This could result in you not only losing out on the potential market, but you may also dilute your initial traction and engagement. This is exactly what happened to Imran when he was first building the product with his team for Lunah Labs.

Additionally, focus plays an important role as well. It may sound like a cliche, but it doesn’t make it any less true today. Rohan recollects that had he left his job at Cisco much sooner, paid more attention to the bookstore, it might have done better.

Early days of The Design Store

This feeds into another point. Planning. After all, planning ahead always helps regardless of what you do. This is something both Rohan and Yusra Aziz Eliyas, founder of Podi Jobs believes in. Even if you don’t stick to the plan, having one would enable better-focused action. This is true whether it’s about maintaining your work-life balance or managing your business’s demand volumes.

Getting your finances right

The importance of personal finance management cannot be stressed enough. Regardless of how old you are or what stage your career is in, personal finance is something many of us could pay more attention to. Rohan learnt this the hard way with his failed startup (The Design Store) and then later, getting fired at 32 after working as a management consultant at Intuition Consulting. To top it off, he had a family to support!

“Question everything you do. Just because everything is running fine now doesn’t mean it will run fine tomorrow”, says Imran

Imran Vilcassim shared a similar sentiment around finance. Imran comes with over a decade of experience at Microsoft prior to his own startup. Moving from the corporate world to the startup world, he realised that “spending your own money isn’t as fun as spending your employer’s”. Putting on the shoes of an entrepreneur meant the bulk of the financial responsibility falls on the founder’s shoulders. This was a hard pill for Imran to swallow during his initial phase as an entrepreneur. 

Understanding different business environments

You might be fresh out of university or you might be coming from years of experience in a multinational company. But building your own business is an entirely new world. It’s important to understand how the business environment works. This is what happened to Imran. He comes from over a decade of experience at Microsoft, a global tech giant.  when he made the decision to build his own startup, little did he know how things actually worked. In fact, during the first few weeks Imran recalls trying to figure out what words like bootstrapping and hustling meant. “I started following people and everybody was using so many hashtags”.

Yusra Aziz Eliyas
Yusra Aziz Eliyas at F’Up Fridays October 2019

If you’ve built up skills across the spectrum among a number of industries, adjusting to the different business environments is a smoother experience. Although juggling with different hats in life can be daunting. This was one of the challenges for Yusra early in her startup journey. Playing different roles and juggling between many elements that required different skills led to her fair share of mess-ups. She goes on to note that its this experience that enables her to manage different aspects of her entrepreneurial life on a regular basis. 

Thriving in a relationship-driven ecosystem

Being a startup with a small team doesn’t mean it has to be unstructured. Imran notes that you could always bring in a bit of structure while maintaining the agile nature of a typical startup. At the same time, It’s vital to understand the dynamics of different business environments and the relationships built around it.

Sri Lanka is a relatively small country with around 21 million. Thereby, many aspects of our society are built on relationships, including the startup ecosystem. During the early years of her career, Yusra would often have disagreements with the management, HR and other departments which sometimes got her into trouble. Something that probably some of us could relate to. As she puts it, sometimes it’s important to open up. But it’s equally significant to maintain silence when necessary. Imran resonated the same point with his experience in building Lunah Labs.

It’s okay to fail

Rohan, Yusra and Imran’s experiences go to show the importance of having the right people around you in building a business. It’s also crucial to be focused and plan ahead. But perhaps equally important, if not more so, is balancing your personal finances.

At the end of the day, It’s okay to say you f*ked up. But it’s more important to seek advice when you really need it. As Podi Jobs was brought to life, Yusra mentions how she held back on investing resources like funding purely out of her fear of failure. Given that failure itself is viewed as a negative aspect, fear of failure is a very real thing for most of us. But in fact, as we ourselves have mentioned before, failure in itself isn’t a failure but rather a learning experience. Hence why F’Up Fridays exist. To celebrate failures and share the learnings from it.

If you’re curious to know what these F’Up Fridays are all about you can join the latest edition, kicking off today at Hatch premises from 6.00 PM onwards. The session will host the likes of Gayantha de Zoysa – founder of Strive, Melissa Dharmadasa – owner of Bakes By Bella and Fathhi Mohamed – Cofounder of Yoho Bed. See you all there!

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