SPIKE ‒ Mellow Startup Networking

Andre Howson
Andre Howson

Staff Writer

The startup scene in Sri Lanka is growing really, really fast. But it is also in a state of flux, as any new industry will be. Some parts are further along than others, while there are plenty of aspects that still need to catch up. The tech and tools are freely available, the desire and drive is growing, the culture is developing gradually, and corresponding government regulation and the appetite for risk and investment is still maturing.

There are lots of people with ideas, people caught up with the idea of having ideas, people with a great product who are not sure what to do with it, investors looking for the next best thing, and founders looking for money. But no one really knows who these other people are and how to find them.

A lot of these issues will iron themselves out as the industry grows but there are ways to speed things up, and SPIKE Lanka has been working on it for a while. What SPIKE aims to do is to set up a regular idea-sharing and pitch event that will bring founders, startups, investors, and technologists together to hear from each other, network and meet in an environment that is relaxed and casual. The formal part of the event usually takes less than an hour, and you get to hear short talks from speakers who may be founders of their own startups or experts in the tech industry. The audience then gets to ask them questions briefly. The meetup then dissolves into one big networking session where people, drinks in hand, get to meet other people, also with drinks in hand.

From SPIKE’s latest networking session at the Barefoot Gallery Café. Image courtesy SPIKE
From SPIKE’s latest networking session at the Barefoot Gallery Café. Image courtesy SPIKE

 

This sort of networking is essential to a small ecosystem like Sri Lanka, where there are just a few degrees of separation between people, but where they just haven’t met yet.

SPIKE held its July networking session at the Barefoot Gallery Café. The place was packed with techies and a few confused individuals who had only come for the drinks. There might have been around 200 people there. The two speakers were Amit Damani, who is the founder of Vista Rooms, and Rukman Sivaloganathan of Trekurious.

The speakers just had ten minutes each, but those ten minutes were filled with a wealth of knowledge. Amit spoke about how great Sri Lanka was for startups. For one, it is full of tech talent, and for another, its location makes it a great place to reach out to other countries in Asia. He said that the fact that Sri Lanka is small is an advantage. By being generally protected from competition, it makes itself the ideal testing ground for ideas. You can work your idea out here in Sri Lanka, and then apply it to other Asian countries. Amit was also able to test out ideas at a much lower cost, and much faster in Sri Lanka than he would have been able to in India. India is a much more saturated market, but in Sri Lanka it was much easier to acquire customers. He also mentioned how great the startup community is in Sri Lanka, and how willing people are to talk, and to offer assistance.

Amit Damani addresses the gathering. Image courtesy SPIKE
Amit Damani addresses the gathering. Image courtesy SPIKE

Rukman’s journey was almost in the opposite direction to Amit’s. He put his concept of Trekurious and experiential travel through the first Venture Engine seed funding competition and used the funding he won to develop the business. It then evolved from travel to a more lifestyle-oriented service. Once it was fairly settled in Sri Lanka, he took it to the Indian market. However, the market in India was a very different one to what he was used to in Sri Lanka. Trekurious tried out a home dining experience in Mumbai, which became very popular, but they ran into a problem of scale. There were only so many people they could fit in a home, so they started BOXED, which delivered home cooked food. Unfortunately, they had trouble raising investment in India and had to scale down operations. What Rukman said was that as CEO, your primary task is to raise funds and manage investors. He said you never raise funds when you need money, but always raise it from a position of strength.

During the Q&A session, both gentlemen pointed out that you must study the market very carefully before entering it. India and Sri Lanka, though neighbours, have very different markets and ecosystems. They also said that there are plenty of investors around and that a lot of Angel investors bet on the person, though the idea has to be sound. It is important to make the right connections and to get to know people and investors before heading into a market.

These insights and a great deal more were what the audience had access to at this last SPIKE session. It’s fascinating to hear the experiences and advice of founders who have already been through the grinder and survived. If you are thinking of starting your own company, or if you are an investor, SPIKE is the place to come to, to check out what the startup situation is like at its ground level. Follow the SPIKE Facebook page to find out when the next event will be and who the speakers are. It’s well worth attending.

Featured Image courtesy: Barefoot

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