“Be FEARLESS Be PASSIONATE Be HONEST”


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Mr. Sushena Ranatunga, Director and Co-founder of Creative Softtware is a pioneer in Sri Lanka’s tech industry and a brilliant intrepreneur who has outdone himself in the field of software and software development. As one of the keynote speakers for the Exposition launch, Mr. Sushena joins with Exposition to share his thoughts on the current trends in the tech industry and experiences he has had in his journey to emerge as a successful entrepreneur.

Q:

How would you describe yourself?

A:

I think an “optimistic realist” would be it in a nutshell. To clarify: Optimism is more than just “hoping for the best” – it is an attitude that embraces challenges and risks. As for the “realist” part, in my case, it acts as a filter to the types of challenges and risks I opt to take. This comes after careful consideration of all pieces of the equation and the goal I am trying to achieve – the “big picture,” if you will. Optimistic realists -myself included- believe that it is important to be bold, but it is equally as important to be cautious.

Q:

What is your educational background starting from your school days?

A:

I am from Ratnapura, I had my primary education at Ferguson High School and continued on to St. Aloysius College for my A/L’s. I followed the Mathematics stream for my A/L’s, but my scores were not good enough for a state university. Back then, we had very few opportunities. I enrolled at the National Institute of Business Management (NIBM), where I obtained a diploma in Computer Systems Design. Shortly after, I joined Informatics as a programmer. This was 1990. Informatics started Informatics Institute of Computer Studies (IICS), which is now the Informatics Institute of Technology (IIT), introduced the Information Technology Honours degree and I was in the first batch that pursued it while working at Informatics.

Q:

Was there any particular reason for you to choose IT?

A:

To be honest, I selected IT because we had very few options to choose from. When I started my IT diploma, I had not even seen a computer! I first saw one when I arrived in Colombo in 1987. This is when they were so big that they’d take over a whole room. We developed projects on the so-called “minicomputers”, but even these would be considered huge by today’s standards. That was the era in which I started my career. And back then, the tech roles were less defined. Programmers would do everything that a software engineer, a systems analyst and an IT manager do today. Even though I initially almost fell into the IT field through necessity, I quickly developed a keen interest in the IT field and went on to do a Masters in the same field.

Q:

You started working parttime at Informatics; how did you end up forming Creative Software?

A:

I worked at Informatics for ten years before setting out my own. I also spent a few years working in Singapore and Germany before I decided to build my own business in 1999.

Q:

Why did you take the next step of starting your own company?

A:

I think my inspiration came from two sources:
         1) The optimism we discussed earlier, and
         2) The work ethic my mother instilled in us.

I come from a lower-middle-class family, you see. My  father  passed  away  when  I  was ten years old and my mother, who was a teacher, was left to look after my sister and  me alone. Her salary  wasn’t  nearly  sufficient  to  look  after  a  family,  so  she,  who  was  a teacher, did dressmaking, gave cookery lessons, and  conducted  tuition  classes  during school holidays to supplement our income. I am, to this day, in awe of  her  strength  and dedication. This would  become  the  driving  force  behind  my  choices.  I’d  always  ask myself: If she could raise two children, run a household and work, sometimes three  jobs at   the   same   time,   what   is   there   that   I  can’t  do?  The  way s he  coped  with  her circumstances, without ever shrinking in the face of adversity, gave  me  courage.  And  I needed all the courage I could get when I was starting my own  business!  In  1997,  with the permission of the company I worked for, three of my friends  and  I  started  our  first business.   A    training    institute    called    ‘The    Net’.    We    provided    education   on   internet technologies, Microsoft Word  and  Microsoft  Excel.  We  had  adopted  a  non-certificate based approach to our courses. Industry  standards  demanded  a  certificate on completion of the course. Our success was limited due to that fact and the very  little spare time we had  to   invest   in   this   venture.   About   the   same   time,   we   started   a vegetarian restaurant called ‘Maple’ which also met the same fate. So when I  met  my first business partner and decided to start Four Corners Lanka, my  main  objective  was to recover the money I invested in the previous company which yielded poor returns.

Q:

Throughout this journey, what is the biggest strength that you have had, and what were the challenges that you had to face?

A:

I would say that my biggest strength is my friends. This is years of experience talking and it says that the people you surround yourself with will inevitably have a profound impact on your circumstances and yourself as a person. My life took a major turn when I met Dr Keerthi Premadasa, a lecturer at the University of Colombo, and Sajith Peiris, one of my business partners. The two have not only become my good friends, but also advisors and, at times, mentors even. I always sought to surround myself with people I can learn from, be they personal friends, colleagues or employees. This respect and acknowledgement of the value they bring into my life has defined our relationships and translated to the success of my business.

Q:

In 1999, you started both Creative Software and Four Corners Lanka Pvt. Ltd. Why did you start both of those companies parallelly?

A:

In the late 90’s, at the time of the internet boom, businesses wanted to be on E-commerce platforms. The initial partner of Four Corners Lanka was an American jewellery manufacturer who wanted a B2B platform to connect jewellery manufacturers with retailers, but it was not the right time to expand into E – commerce platforms. At the same time, my other partners started a product company, Software Solutions, which created a tea factory plantation management system.Four Corners was outsourced as a supplier by Software Solutions. Later, in 2002, the two came together to form Creative Solutions.

Q:

You have been running this business for 20 years. What is the secret to your longevity in this industry?

A:

I would say hard work coupled with building and maintaining relationships. In 2002, I could have easily closed down the company and gone back to being employed by someone else. If I had faltered, then today Sri Lanka’s software industry would have been nearly a thousand jobs short – jobs that are now filled or available at Creative Software and Cambio Software Engineering. It is not easy to maintain an organization in an upward trend for twenty years. Very few companies in Sri Lanka, especially in the software industry, have survived for so long. Most companies have had management upheaval -at the very least- or formed breakaway groups. I am proud of the fact that my partners and I are still going strong. We have grown together and we have multiplied our business. At one point, one of our largest clients, Cambio Healthcare Systems in Sweden, wanted to start their own operations in Sri Lanka. We thought the best way to engage with them was to undertake the management of their company. We have built a very strong relationship over the last fifteen years. From my point of view, Sri Lanka will be a debt-free country, if the IT industry works smart. Sri Lanka is mainly into the service industry, but the money is with intellectual property rights. Sri Lanka should focus more on owning intellectual property rights. We should think beyond the colonial mentality and do our part for the country. There is no use of cursing the darkness; what matters is whether we have lit a candle. The best thing that I can do for my country is to earn export revenue and provide employment to people. We have always looked to give back to our community. The project called ‘Little Hearts’ was started by us in collaboration with Lady Ridgeway Hospital as a CSR project. Amongst the other projects, we have also initiated a program to encourage entrepreneurs, built an R&D center for students of the University of Colombo -School of Computing. We are also trying to implement some research and development projects and have started an autonomous driving car project. We try our best to facilitate and expand our industry. Creating just a job opportunity is not the objective, it is a lot more than that, and you should be smart enough to understand it.

Q:

As a successful entrepreneur, what tips or advice would you have for the emerging entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka?

A:

Be Fearless. Be Passionate. Be Honest. Surrounding yourself with the right people matters a lot. There is a saying “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”; It is important to have mentors and peers who not only support you but also have the insight to help you steer clear of costly mistakes. People value integrity. Being diligent with the needs of your partners and stakeholders shows them your genuine desire to help them achieve their goals. When Cambio started with us in 2004, they had forty or so employees with them in Sweden and we only had a five-member team to cater to them. Upon how we treated them, they understood the genuineness and hard work of us which lead to a successful relationship. Because of this relationship, they started their own R&D Center in Colombo under our management. The client should be comfortable working with you, and he should know that he is getting value for his money. Also, aim to create a sustainable work culture in your organisation. At our company, this translates to flexible work times and task ownership. It means extending trust to your workforce to work with integrity to achieve our overall goals.

Q:

What would your advice be to balance your professional and personal life? (Work-life balance)

A:

My advice is to “ Be Present”. I do not mix work life with my personal life. Taking work home, and adding pressure to my family, or bringing my family concerns to the workplace and adding pressure to my employees will always create a huge problem. My principle is, when you are at work, do it right. Working around the clock is not required. Eight hours is more than sufficient if you commit yourself to your tasks and work effectively and efficiently. If you do not have a proper family life, it is very difficult to concentrate and work. So, support should also come from your family. Keep in mind that, when you are in the office you should be a person with integrity whom others can look up to. There should also be a mentoring culture which allows for easy conversations. That is the type of culture that we have strived to build over the years. This has given us a lot of good results.

Q:

Exposition Magazine is a unique magazine published by the University of Kelaniya, addressing the merged arena of Management and
IT. Could you give us your valuable advice and guidance to succeed in this journey?

A:

Being organised is key. The continuous commitment and the ability to foresee challenges are essential. Scheduling and conducting interviews, taking pictures, getting advertisements, content writing, editing, proofreading, graphic designing, printing, organizing the magazine launch are all part of running a successful magazine including other areas that I may not even know about. There are so many organisations within this business. I would encourage you and your team to look at this as a valuable learning opportunity to start your own business. Do the work that you have been allocated to the best of your abilities and take this experience on to your next venture. There is a lot more to this than meets the eye.

Exposition Magazine Issue 15

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