Over the past decade, the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem has grown steadily. But as we look across the region, we see that we still have much to learn. Just an hour-long flight away, our neighbour India is home to the world’s third-largest startup ecosystem. Already, India has produced 10 unicorns in 2021 – 6 of them just last week. Some of these like Byjus, Flipkart, and Ola are even giving global giants a run for their money in the growing subcontinent market.
With very similar cultures to our neighbours, Sri Lanka is uniquely positioned to learn from this success and follow in their footsteps. In line with the 1st Sri Lanka Internet Day 2021, the CEO of PickMe, Jiffry Zulfer hosted a conversation with the Founder and CEO of YourStory, Shradha Sharma. The conversation between the two explored how entrepreneurs could succeed, in turn, helping the wider ecosystem grow.
Lessons on success for entrepreneurs
The conversation between Zulfer and Shradha explored many facets of entrepreneurship. Among them, a great taboo in South Asia culture called “failure”. Something that’s very much part and parcel of entrepreneurship. Remembering his early days, Zulfer shared that when he told his parents he’d be starting his own company, the response he faced was, “Son, you better not fail.”
Alas, there’s no foolproof manual that guarantees success for a startup, although it’s possible to take steps to reduce the odds of failure. A crucial one being that entrepreneurs shouldn’t be blindly passionate about their startup ideas. In a worst-case scenario, they risk failure by shrugging off critical feedback from people willing to help. Hence, another step for avoiding failure is to invest in building a credible personal network. It’s also crucial that an entrepreneur knows when to let go of their startup to grow beyond them.
Ultimately, failure at any point is inevitable. Even if a startup raises millions after an IPO to gain unicorn status, it can still fail and shut down. Taking this example, Shradha added, “When such a startup raises millions, they’re praised as a success but when they shut down, they’re written off as a failure without a second thought. So who decides what success and failure are?” There’s no supreme authority to do so. For entrepreneurs, failure is merely a stepping stone to more significant learning for the next time.
Diving in further, the conversation between Zulfer and Shradha explored what lessons the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem could learn from India. A crucial one the duo identified was the importance of entrepreneurs looking beyond simply generating revenue. Their vision should be impact-driven, where they ask, “How can I improve the lives of others? What technologies can I use to remove barriers for others?” Such thinking is a necessity to build long-term sustainable businesses.
In retrospect, another aspect the duo discussed at Sri Lanka Internet Day was how entrepreneurs should prepare for fundraising. Typically, investors seek founders that have big ideas, who are entrepreneurial, can communicate with clarity, and have a proof of concept or minimum viable product. Shradha particularly stressed the importance of clarity. It’s a trait prized by investors as they dig into the details like the target market of a startup.
How PickMe empowers Sri Lankan entrepreneurs
Over the past year, particularly during lockdowns, PickMe has become a vital tool that allows several small businesses to continue operations. This was driven largely by the introduction of new services like PickMe Market (MarketPlace) and PickMe Flash. Such services have allowed pharmacy chains to deliver medicines and even smaller home bakers to deliver food to your doorstep. The company is expanding its logistics arms to continue these efforts, being mindful of helping small businesses grow.
Taking a step further, PickMe has also focused careful efforts on diversity and inclusion, building a strong record of empowering female entrepreneurs. PickMe’s ride-hailing platform has eliminated many barriers that previously prevented women from entering the transportation industry. The platform has seen a steady growth in female drivers, many of them driving tuks and delivering goods on motorbikes. Likewise, there’s also strong demand for female drivers. According to a study by the IFC, 90% of female riders prefer female drivers. As more women join the platform as drivers, PickMe has continued to expand its efforts to remove any remaining barriers that hold women back in the transportation sector.
Looking beyond the pandemic
In closing, the conversation between Zulfer and Shradha returned to remind entrepreneurs about the importance of an impact-driven vision. Particularly, after a challenging year like 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s still possible for entrepreneurs to overcome these challenges and create a large positive impact on the world. As Shradha puts in her own words, “Go and create your own stories, create a very powerful story and create impact.”