Why join a startup? For today’s youth, the answer is the simple pursuit of freedom and adventure. But, unfortunately, it’s an answer that’s debated heavily by parents who preach the path to success, the traditional one where, “Become a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Then join a respectable company, work hard, and climb the ladder.” By this traditional definition, Mangala Perera is the textbook example of success.
Yet, he recently left his corporate job as the Former Vice President- Software Operations at IFS. Now, Mangala is the Chief Operating Officer and a Partner at Rootcode. If you are aware of Sri Lanka’s tech startup ecosystem, then it’s a familiar name. Thus, we return to the original question. Why join a startup? That’s what we sat down with Mangala to find out.
Looking back on 2 decades in technology
“I joined the IT industry in 1998, and that was the time the IT industry started to pick up,” said Mangala whilst sharing his feelings on the 23-year long career that he has enjoyed so far. “At that time, Sri Lanka was known to the world for the ‘decades-long war’. So one of the main challenges we had was to prove we had world-class engineers in Sri Lanka that can develop global products. We worked extremely hard to prove that we are on par with engineers anywhere else, and at times even better.”
Fresh out of university, he joined IFS as one of its earliest employees in Sri Lanka. But despite its size locally at the time, the company was a multinational tech giant. While headquartered in Linköping, Sweden, it had offices in Norway, Finland, Denmark, Malaysia, and North America. After going public in 1996, IFS set up its R&D centre in Sri Lanka. Today, IFS serves over 10,000 global customers across several industries.
Looking back, Mangala shares, “I have spent more than two decades with IFS. I contributed to growing the company from a few dozen employees to where it is now, numbering at over 1,500. It was a gratifying process to build a massive organisation from the early stage. I want to do the same again. That’s why I joined Rootcode, one of the fastest-growing startups, with a global vision.”
The rise of Rootcode
Mangala continued, “I met the Founder of Rootcode, Alagan Mahalingam, almost a decade ago. Over the years, I’ve been fascinated with his leadership style and how he brought his big vision to life. And I believe our combination can do wonders.”
Rootcode was founded five years ago under its CEO and Chief Software Architect, Alagan Mahalingam. As a pioneer in developing mobile apps, the startup now specialises in several areas from its humble beginnings. These include Artificial Intelligence, crafting user experiences, data analytics, and enterprise app development, to name a few.
Alagan goes onto state that the overarching mission of the startup is, “To build world-class software products by being the technology partner for organisations.” It’s an approach that has paid off immensely. Today, while headquartered in Sri Lanka, Rootcode has corporate offices in Europe (Estonia) and Silicon Valley (San Francisco, USA). Active in 20+ industries and counting, its world-class software solutions have impacted over 400+ businesses worldwide.
“I have been watching the growth of Rootcode very closely, and I am impressed with the way the organisation is taking steps towards its grand vision of becoming the most sought-after technology provider. I also love the culture of the company, where everyone takes ownership of the work they do, which is a strong indicator of high-performance organisations. As a result, I am very excited about my new venture with Alagan and the Rootcode family,” Mangala noted.
The importance of entrepreneurship
As he dives into his new role, Mangala notes that startups and more giant corporations face different challenges. For the latter, it’s about formulating strategies to sustain their achievements while growing further. In contrast, startups should have a plan to capture the market rapidly. Hence, he argues that it’s unfair to compare the two.
However, he believes that both can learn from each other. For this reason, he explains, “At Rootcode, we’re pursuing a hybrid model for our growth. We want to ensure elements of a startup remain within the organisation, such as the startup mindset and the culture.” It’s for this reason that the Rootcode Incubator exists.
The incubator offers the opportunity for employees within the company to pitch their ideas. If selected, the company will invest and offer guidance to bring their ideas to life. A recent success story out of the programme is Trakee.com, a workflow management application focusing on bringing Operational Transparency into business processes.
Such initiatives go a long way towards encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset within an organisation. A firm believer, Mangala goes on to state, “Every organisation should have employees with an entrepreneurial mindset. We call them intrapreneurs. They take direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable product or service through assertive risk-taking and innovation. They will not own a company, but they are the ones who carry the company towards the vision of the entrepreneur. Every company needs them.”
Looking forward to a promising future
In the past, software developers were tasked with building sizeable monolithic desktop applications that operated on-premise. Today, we’re creating applications that work on a wide range of devices that run on microservices in the cloud. Over 23 years and counting in the technology industry, Mangala has watched the landscape change with a front-row seat.
“A few decades ago, the expectations on software systems were simple. They just store, process, and transfer information. But now, we want these systems to make smart decisions on behalf of the users and automate manual processes. One of the best lessons I learned during these two decades is that if your software can’t change at the same pace as the evolution of the technology and the expectations of the new generations of your users, you will have a hard time staying relevant” shares Mangala looking back.
As Rootcode continues to move forward in its scale-up phase, the company aims to hire 50 more IT professionals over the next six months. Many of them will be serving in roles assisting efforts on expanding into North America and Europe. With a cheery smile, Mangala looks ahead, “The grand vision of venturing into multiple areas is gradually taking shape, and we are beyond excited.”