If you have been in the tech startup scene for a while, you wouldn’t have missed his name. But if you haven’t heard of him yet, this is a name you should definitely get to know well. He runs 4 tech startups and 80 employees (including virtual employees from USA, Europe, India, and Philippines) are working for him. The turnover of his tech empire is more than Rs. 4-6 million in a given month. Since 2012 he has received 9 awards for entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka, the most recent being “Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 – Silver (National).” If you’re still not impressed, get this. He started all of this from Vavuniya!
Sharanyan Sharma is the founder of Extreme-seo.net which is an Enterprise Digital Marketing agency that’s based in Vavuniya. He also runs 7Arena Technologies (web and mobile application Development Company for Extreme-Seo customers), Privilegeserver Technologies (a PaaS company) and Uplist.lk (interactive business directory for locals).
He is also a well-respected supporter of Sri Lankan startup ecosystem, organizing and contributing to various startup programs and helping the next level of entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka.
His journey is a courageous story which folks at Readme.lk have posted previously and you can read it here. This post is all about his beliefs, tips, tricks, hacks, and advice for upcoming Sri Lankan entrepreneurs just like you. Ignore this at your own peril.
What excites you about life?
I strongly believe that my life depends on my actions and those actions depend on my continuous practice of self-discipline. In order to make my day more productive and better than yesterday, I need more energy and inspiration. So my morning starts 5.00 a.m. at sunrise with regular jogging and meditation. These habits have always helped me to stay focused and deliver best results. I spend 40% of my time with my family and 40% of my time in my second home (I mean my workplace!) and 20% of the time, traveling or hanging out with my community. I feel great for what I have right now which is more than what I expected!
What do you like about being an entrepreneur in Sri Lanka?
I strongly believe that Sri Lanka is a country that provides so many challenges for a person who wants to become an entrepreneur! This country always has big NO’s for early-stage entrepreneurs and gives almost everything once they become a grownup. If the government provides everything free and easy, then there won’t be any entrepreneurs. Only a bunch of “business people” who wants to utilize the resources, which is consuming; not development.
If you’re a tough person, you’ll become even stronger. That’s how entrepreneurship works. Sampath Bank rejected my Rs.30, 000 loan in 2008 because I had nothing back then. It doesn’t mean that the bank didn’t help me, but I was not the right person for that loan at that time. Now the same bank is giving more than Rs.3 million loans without any collateral from my company because of the journey that I had with them.
Being an entrepreneur is an opportunity for people who really want to test themselves every day. Mostly because the opportunities are strictly limited until you prove something to the relevant authorities. Instead of complaining the government or the system, find a way to get it done or pass it to the next level. We are the government and the system has been developed by people like you and me. Let’s face it like real entrepreneurs rather complaining like Wantrepreneurs.
Do you think you have work-life balance? If so, how have you achieved it?
For me, nothing is more important than my lovely family. I always prioritize family when taking major decisions. We all have just one purpose in our life; that’s to live. NOT living for work! When you have a great passion for your work and unlimited love in your family, you don’t even think about balancing anything. It’ll happen itself without even knowing terms like “work-life balance.”
Mostly, I spend 5.00 a.m. to 7.00 a.m. in the lakeside for daily workout and meditation and then one hour with family, helping them to clean the house or preparing my kid for school. If I don’t have any priorities at the office, I will drop him to school. If not my wife, grandpa or driver will drop him. More than anyone, I love to spend time with my kid and family, listening to their needs and playing with them.
I always want to prioritize my schedule based on the circumstances. This is where I can make myself available for family and office members. I believe if someone is saying that “I’m busy,” that means he/she doesn’t know how to organize and manage their schedule. Of course, there are situations but prioritizing your options, people and time is key for everything.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in your life? How do you feel about it now?
In 2011 I went to Kandy to buy a second hand Maruti car with just Rs.50, 000 (to pay as an advance) and ended up reserving a Rs. 6.3 million Prius! The interesting thing was, my bank balance was negative (over drafted) and the vehicle seller gave me 30 days to sort out the money. I promised “her” (the Prius) that I will be back soon to take her home!
Within 20 days, I was able to generate Rs. 1.5 million through my personal earnings (I offer consultation and strategy development) apart from my company sales and the rest came from a financing company. Finally, she (Prius) was mine and with the same strategy, I own 3 vehicles so far!
This isn’t about the car or money, but this is where I got to know about myself and my hidden strength. Thereafter my risk taking abilities and positive attitude has been improved. I started believing that anything is possible if we have great passion, courage and the willingness to do it.
What advice do you have for a person who is stuck in their 9-5 job and considering whether to leave or not?
Changing jobs often isn’t good. You may be in this situation because you joined a company without conducting proper research or taking it seriously. If you’re a results-oriented person, you can always prove yourself and change the company based on your needs. Companies are never ready to lose their best employees who are delivering profit and excellent results. Be the one or leave and start your very own venture that’s based on your passion and gut feeling rather than focusing on industry need or profit.
What was your biggest fear and how did you overcome it?
That’s undoubtedly my health. Not just for me but for most emerging entrepreneurs, this is an issue because we work for our passion and we forget everything about time management and food. Meals are always delayed or postponed and mostly junk food replaces real meals just to keep up the stamina.
It happened to me as well and I suffered too much with stomach ulcers in my early days. I was finally admitted to the hospital with a severe case when my wife was pregnant. That was a hell of a day and my family suffered, business suffered and I suffered from pain.
Lessons learned and I’ve been recovered and for the past 6 years, I’m taking care of my health very well like how I’m taking care of my girlfriend ( I mean my car). Ask any startup entrepreneur and 6 out of 10 might be suffering from ulcers or diabetes because entrepreneurs always learn things “practically” unlike others.
Do you have a favorite failure? Something that would set you up for later success?
Yes, I do. Thanks for asking this. In 2012, I was invited as a keynote speaker for a Regional Tech summit and I had prepared for a presentation with 23 slides full of texts, graphics and more and more stunning animations!
When I stepped on to the stage, they said I have (just) 30 minutes to do it with a microphone and a podium. I hate podiums and have never used microphones before. That moment I just lost it and you can imagine the rest. I got nervous when I started speaking. I started showing my back to the audience and started “reading” what was in the presentation with an unstable voice. At one point I realized that I was unable to talk further; I apologized and left the stage.
I felt guilty and embarrassed about myself. While returning home, I cried loudly in my car scolding and blaming myself. After two days of contemplation, I promised myself that I’m going to speak in the same venue and I’m going to do champion it. Until then I didn’t want to let the pain heal itself and kept reminding myself every day to harden myself with practice and learning.
Now, I’ve attended more 40+ conferences and summits as a speaker (yes, with microphones and podiums) and most people say that they enjoyed and it was inspiring, inviting me again for more.
That was one of my favorite failures and I’m proud of that.
What’s the best way to fund your startup idea? What would you recommend?
Very interesting question. I started my company with Rs.26, 000 minus investment and within 8 years the company value became 47 million. Investment is always good for scaling the business quickly with stability. But finding the “Right” investor who can understand your vision and passion is the tricky part here.
Typically, entrepreneurs are happy to receive advice from investors who are like-minded and share their stories and insights in a friendly manner. But, definitely not from 100% business-minded people who only care about profit and immediate return.
Getting a huge investment is everyone’s dream, but the purpose of our life is to live happily with people who we want to live with, and not with strangers. When you’re raising money, your organization’s plan is to be in charge. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going to appoint a CEO or a Vice President. Your commitments are now going be bigger than your previous lifestyle. This is going to make your life busy and will create a distance between you, your family and friends.
My suggestion to the startup entrepreneurs is, start small based on your passion, and gut feeling will lead you to the rest for a while. Once you reach a certain level, maybe you can hook up with a right investor or go with a short-term collateral free small bank loans (recommended) for product development and marketing activities.
Trust your gut and feel your passion; love your co-workers. Trust me! You don’t need an investment because those are the priceless investments that I saw in my life.
What are your favorite apps, online tools, hacks that you use to make your work/life easier?
Between 2013 to 2016, I used so many apps for personal improvement and business. I killed almost 80% of that and started managing everything through daily habits and routines. I felt like relying on technology is slowly erasing our creativity, memory and willpower. 2016 Onwards, I’m just using Google Calendar, Asana, Flock for business, Any.do, Goyo, and Headspace. Nowadays I’m waking up without an alarm and have tripled my productivity and results without too many apps to help.
I strongly believe that it’s all about our priorities and mindset.
What books do you recommend as must-reads for any Sri Lankan entrepreneur?
By the way, we all have a great story, isn’t it? But still, it’s in our hands to decide whether this is going to be a remarkable one or not. Your practice will be the answer for this result.
What do you look for when recruiting people for your company?
I always look at their attitude and passion for initiating casual conversation. I strongly believe if a person has a personal passion then he/she might definitely be able to pursue their life’s journey. Their job performance depends on the organization culture and the leader’s objectives.
What tips do you have for managing your employees better? How can you lead them to a common goal?
Coworkers (employees) are the pillars of the organization. If your foundation is strong with a proper formulation, then there is no doubt that your company will be strong.
- Maintain a very transparent relationship with your people and get their feedback when taking actions that are related to company objectives. Remember, they are the actual people creating the products and delivering them to your customers. People who join just for money will leave you when your company is in trouble. But the people who work for their passion and knowledge will definitely stay with you and even work better than before to make you stronger.
- I strongly believe company growth and success are depended on your co-workers (employees) skill level and lifestyle improvement; definitely not the bank balance or the awards. Those two will happen eventually when you spend time to improve your co-worker’s skill level and solving their problems as a teammate rather than a boss.
- Creating a perfect culture within your company is very important to keep your co-workers inspired. Providing typical industrial training will make them deliver the results. But if you can show their value and how important they are in this mission will triple their productivity and greatness.
What is the best investment you have made so far?
My Prius GS! She is the person who is always taking me wherever I want to go. She always instantly syncs my mind and understands the circumstances and prioritizes quickly. For others, it’s just a machine but for me, she’s just an amazing and intelligent person with human sense. If I want to talk about the value and the connection that we have, then it will take two pages so I leave this question here for your curiosity.
What advice do you have for a Sri Lankan student who wants to start their own business?
I’m a college dropout and I used to regret this in my early days but not anymore. Because two of my professors are working for my company and I visit my college that I dropped out as a guest lecturer.
My suggestion for the students as I mentioned above is that Sri Lanka’s Startup Ecosystem is growing day by day with government and private sector support. Therefore, use startups to get to know and sharpen your passion. Focus on innovative or disruptive ideas instead of cloning existing concepts (there were too many in 2016 and 2017.) Finally, have very strong team members who have the same mindset like you have now because this is going to decide your startup’s success and failure.
Finally, don’t bother about hunting investors in the initial stage, but try to find relevant mentors for your startup team to build your product and gain momentum with earning amazing customers through your awesome products and strategies.
In this stage, trust your team members and rely on your passion.
If everything you have done so far as an entrepreneur was wiped out, how would you start everything from the beginning?
My name is Sharanyan Sharma and I know myself for 33 years, which is more than enough to re-build anything from scratch.
How do you look after your health and well-being?
From 2014 onwards, I’m prioritizing my health as one of the important unstoppable goals which I don’t wanna skip for any reason. This is my weekday routine.
- Wake-up 04.15 – 05.00 without alarm and plan my day
- Prioritize the schedules, email and Push Notification replies
- Disconnect from technology and start reading Physical books
- Enjoy the Sunrise (if possible from any Lake-view)
- Do at least 1-hour meditation, running and workout
- Make sure to help cleaning your home and to buy groceries
- Try to visit the temple and relative houses (at least twice a week)
- Check-in workplace and reconnect with technology
- Plan my office schedules and prioritize my to-do list
- Say NO for distractions (example – unnecessary meeting chats)
- Review and benchmark almost everything very quickly
- Talk with my co-workers and listen to their feedback
- Delegate tasks, follow-ups, escalation plans
- Make my office green, encourage organic food and drinks
- Fragment my goals and work few blocks every day
- Sign-off from office on time
- Do at least 30 minutes walking or cycling after 19.00
- Spend more time with your family and less with friends
- Drink more water and read
- Turn off Wi-Fi, alarm and go to bed early to wake up early
- Do NOT answer business calls and prioritize most of my time for family and friends.
- Have a lean budget travel plan and travel alone; spend most of my time with nature.
- Avoid expensive food, stuff and invest that money with experience and homemade food
- Learn something new and make sure that I’m recovered and fully rejuvenated.
- Find the perfect option for all my problems and be ready for another wonderful week.
Try this for at least two weeks and then share your feedback 🙂
How can someone reach Sharanyan Sharma?
Simply, reach me via WhatsApp +94771379653 or Facebook me via Facebook.com/sharanyanlk
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