A toast of town| Lakmini Wijesundera | Co-Founder and Executive Director of IronOne |TBCY

A toast of town| Lakmini Wijesundera | Co-Founder and Executive Director of IronOne |TBCY

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Hey, Lakmini thank you for coming in to share your experiences,  your wisdom, and all the things you do to   our global audience, you just have such a  remarkable background as an entrepreneur,   and having an impact within your community  across so many different dimensions. And,   again, congratulations on the many awards you won and continue to win and so on and driving these companies to be globally  recognized companies as well. It's just remarkable. So, thank you for sharing  experiences today with our audience.

Thank you so much, Stephen for having   me. And thank you for those kind words. It  means a lot coming from you. Thank you. So, Lakmini my audience consists of   CEOs and investors and scientists and  engineers. And so, it's quite broad. Though, when I post my interviews, and I  actually track who's watching them,   or when I write Forbes articles, where I have the  interviews embedded, I find that it's a lot of   board members, CEOs, founders and companies and  things like that, but it's really quite broad.   But the question I always get from my audience  is, you know, what were those special moments   in your life that made you this wonderful  person that you are today? Maybe it's two   or three inflection points. And it could be when  you were like five or six, there is no age, sort   of period. It could be any time in your life, you  know, what were those magic moments for you? It's quite interesting, Stephen,   because, I mean, as a child, I don't  think I had a clarity that I would be exactly   this. I was just a curious child, I guess, just  roaming around, so to say. I love maths. That was  

something. And then that drove me to engineering.  And so, I studied in Imperial College in London.   And I came back to Sri Lanka, where I live,  Colombo. And again, curiosity has driven all   my milestones, really. And somehow I just wanted  freedom, you know. I felt you know, we could do   something impactful. I didn't really  know what the impact would be or what it would   be. I'm still searching in a sense, because as  you know, we're never happy, right? We're never  

satisfied with what we do. We keep moving the  milestone or moving that bar. So after I came back   from studying engineering, what happened is I sort of stumbled upon software because I   studied hardware, I started making chips  and stuff like that. And the software just   liberated me in a sense, because you could pretty much like do any solution to a problem. I mean, vast amounts of things,  and you could do it from Sri Lanka.   Because all you need is like internet and  access. So, that was quite liberating. And then from a milestone point of view,  when I started the company, it's really evolution. So, BoardPAC,  which is going really well right now  

wasn't what I started with. I started with Boston based Stock Exchange-related SaaS products,   right at the beginning in  my parent's garage. That didn't go too well right at the beginning,  because there was a massive dotcom crash during   that time. And I learned it the hard  way, so to say. So, we kept on scrambling   again and again, and came across BoardPAC. So, subsequently, when it came to BoardPAC, really  

right now, we are covering like 40 countries, many  forbes companies and their boards using BoardPAC,   which is, you know, quite interesting and quite  rewarding for us. But the path has been quite   grueling up to this stage, and really quite, quite happy with what we've done so far with BoardPAC. I hope that answers the question. Yeah, it does. And I got to go back to some  of the things you said. So, I'm hearing that   you are good at math, you love math. And so that means that would draw you to   things like the sciences and so on. And because of  your interest of math and your gift for math,   you then got into engineering. And you  studied at Imperial College in London,  

which is a quite a famous college, one of the top in the world.   So, what was that experience like getting into  Imperial College and being there and you're from Sri Lanka, and that's like the heart of  Europe in a sense, Imperial College. So, well,   what was that? Was it shocking for you or  not, that experience? You can describe that. So, during my time, when I was studying  in Imperial, even at that time, I didn't have a   clear picture that I would be an entrepreneur.  So. again, it was curiosity. Suddenly,  

culturally, I started meeting so many people with  so many different views, different backgrounds. That was quite absorbing because you  know, being an island nation in Sri Lanka,   I thought, like all of  us sort of thought alike, a little.   And it was quite shocking for me. And it's  great, because it took away my fear of,   you know, different people. And that's  really helped me now. Because it's really a good global village, isn't it?  And we have to work with all sorts of people   and that experience during Imperial and, I mean, at  Imperial, there were so many smart people.

So, that also raise the bar, really, there were so  many people from Europe who had come in my class,   I mean, I would really call them  geniuses, really. I mean, I had   never met such people before. So, it was, I mean, sort of a culture shock for me,   but also a really good one, because  it set the stage for me to really not fear anybody or anyone from any place, just sort of made me confident. Again, I find   that really fascinating. So, you come from  an island nation where there's some   sort of homogeneity in the thinking. You go to one of the best schools in the world,  

there's people from everywhere there. And that really opened you up into this diversity   of thinking and points of view and from what  I'm hearing and respecting all the different   alternate points of view and you  grew from that because it's different from what   you experienced from Sri Lanka, to when you went  to Imperial College, and that helped you in your   journey. But you're saying that even at that time,  you were entrepreneur oriented, you're curious,   asking questions. And that was the root of what  you're doing. You mentioned that you study chip  

technology then or something like that? Yes. So,  actually, my in Bachelor's, my project for the   Bachelor's was to design a chip, silicon chip.  So, the university had all the facilities and that was interesting. I mean, I could  not use it in real life in Colombo. But knowing that, you know, I mean, it's  quite liberating understanding everything down   to the granular level, so, kind of nothing  really shocks you. And something I'd like to also   mention, Stephen is, throughout my studies, of  course, being a girl in the class there were, I mean, out of like, 100 people,  students in the class, there was like, less   than I remember, there was 10 to  begin with. By the second year, it was like 5

girls. I always thought that girls just  didn't like doing engineering. I mean that was my thing because I liked  it. And even in my school, there was hardly any   girls who really wanted to do maths. For  some reason, I didn't know why. But now that I'm entrepreneur, I hear this a lot. And  we're trying to advocate girls to be in math. And, you know, the social conditions of  the whole thing, but honestly I didn't think anything of it. I would put my hand up, I didn't think that  

there was a difference being a boy or a girl in  my class. And it's kind of I don't know, I mean,   throughout my entrepreneurship time, apart from  socially being sort of told that girls had this   handicap. I haven't faced it. I mean,  it's kind of an unusual situation. I never knew. Again,   I find that fascinating. So, you go to Imperial  College. Your final project was to create a chip,   which you did. And you find yourself  in a community of, let's say, five

females out of a class of  over, let's say 100 students. And then in your journey in Sri Lanka, you found that as a girl, you were in the minority always  but you never found that to be an impediment.   But you realize now because you're being  out there, you're working, you founded these   companies and so on, that there could be  certain conditions that are creating that.   And you're just trying to address that,  trying to address it to help, support young people, very diverse backgrounds to come  in and not just be sort of male-centric. So,   that's interesting, those lessons, you're now  applying in your life and you took engineering   and you got into hardware. So, what's that  electrical engineering or something like that?   So, my initial bachelor's was electronic  engineering with computer science because I wanted to learn computer but there  wasn't a computer engineering subject,   exactly where I wanted to be in London. So, it  had to be electronic engineering with computer  

science, and then went on to communication in signal processing, which was more telco. I was kind of struggling to  find the subjects. Because   I also was trying to figure out what  I wanted. So, I thought maybe telco   because internet, telco all that was happening. But anyway, you know, I ended up in software.

That's fascinating. So, electronic engineering to telecommunications. And then also computer science. So, you've got a  great interdisciplinary background, in essence,   so you can see this entire spectrum. So, you graduate from Imperial College,   and then what happened next, in your  journey? You're thinking, Oh, I'm going to   start a company or oh, I'm going to work for  a company or, you know, what was that like? So, I came back to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Within a week of me coming back,  

I got bored. I thought I'm gonna spend about a  month of you know, finally relaxing a little,   I think I cannot relax that's some problem maybe, inherently. So, within a week, there was a very   interesting job company that was forming, that I  got to know about, there was a satellite company,   a company that wanted to put up satellites to  give internet to all of Sri Lanka. Of course,   it's a bad idea, now, the cost of satellite is  so expensive. Sri Lanka cannot afford satellite,  

you know, in the rural districts but it seemed  like a great dream, the chairman of the company,   had this dream. And I was like the first  employee, actually, it was a startup.   So, I got to know what a startup is, like. Did that for about two years, obviously,   because of the satellite. And the cost, it  didn't really take off to the ultimate level   that we wanted to. And then, I moved over to  telco which was my curiosity to begin with. And there was a Bell Canada-related partnership called Lanka Bell  at the time, so I joined it, because they needed, again, I was still in hardware at  the time, they needed someone to look after   the large hardware and look after the systems. So, it  

was quite unusual that a girl would be doing this  job. I still remember walking into the interview,   Stephen. I had not seen such large servers. I had  worked on standard size servers in my previous   data company. So, I walked into this room, they had the interview inside the server room. It   was so cold, I still remember. Two gentlemen, actually, they were Canadian, both of them.   Because the Bell Canada people were leaving,  and giving us the jobs, the locals.

I mean, I think I did pretty well. I was  like looking at those servers. They were   like cupboard, I was thinking, I mean, can I do  this? But I thought if they believe in me,   surely I should be able to do it. And that's  kind of my motto. If somebody believes in me,   who understands what they're tasking me, even if  I don't know exactly how to do it, I'm thinking   if they believe it, why should I doubt it? I  mean, that's kind of like a motto that I have,   and generally has worked for me. So, that's what happened to me after I got back. Well,   that's interesting. So, you get into a satellite  company, it's a startup you're the first hire and because I'm an investor so I understand what  that is. And I've started companies too and   or started social enterprises or company  so I understand what you're saying. And

when you have a startup, there aren't, you really have to do many roles. Because  you have to be agile and flexible. And   there's volatility in startups, that's a good  experience for you later in your journey. And   then you end up working in this telco kind  of company. And even though like you said,  

you walk into this room, you see these huge  servers and you're supposed to manage them. And even though you don't have maybe a deep background on those huge servers,   you thought, you know what? I can do this.  And now that's your vision today.   You presented with a problem, even though you  don't know a lot about that scenario, environment,   you'll say, No, you know what? I'm gonna go  for it. Yes. And that's very entrepreneurial,  

as well. Thanks, Stephen. So, I  mean, I guess, all my milestones are kind of like that. Because I  mean, I couldn't have gone linear, I think.   So, the next, how did I become entrepreneur? I  mean, while I was at the telco, I kind of felt there were boundaries. And I was looking after the servers,  

which had the software, so I was very much  involved with the software people. And the company decided to build the billing  system from scratch. This was like a very unique   situation, it's still operating in that telco. And I had a really great boss, who was an architect,  

Software Architect. So, I got exposed to software,  Stephen on that. And he calls me into the team,   I was his hardware person but will come into the  team on the business analysis and stuff like that,   I got to know everybody in that company.  And I got a flavor and a taste for software,   you know, giving solutions and started talking  to lots of people, lots of my friends. And   that's how this Boston project came up. Somebody needed a local partner to set   up the software for Boston firm  that was looking for SaaS when the word SaaS wasn't quite known, I think it was a little ahead of its time.

So I again, jumped at that. And, of course, the environmental conditions kind  of really busted us. Because all the contract,   I mean, the dotcom bust happened, leaving quite a lot of dust out   there. So, as usual, I sort of scrambled again,  focused for a little while internally, because   Sri Lanka has a stock exchange. So I kind  of focused it back on that. And honestly,  

Stephen, I now have two companies. So, BoardPAC  is really doing great globally. The starting point of the stock  solution is actually the dominant   player in Sri Lanka right now. I mean, if you're trading   stocks in Sri Lanka, you'll be using my system. It's called ATrad, it's dominant. And I mean, other than BoardPAC, we are now taking  it to India. It's in a couple of other countries,  

but we're taking it to India, which is again, a leapfrog because everybody fears, India  being such a fast stock exchange.   So, this is kind of a challenge that I'd  like to take the next couple of years. So, I'll pause there for a little. Yeah, again, I find this really  

interesting, you start working on. So,  you're working in this company,   but you get exposed to everything and you got to meet everybody, work with them. And   there was an architect, a software architect,  so you learn all about that architecture side and on how that business process works  on architecting that into software.   But you also have a computing science background.  So, getting into software would be a natural,   you get the necessary background to learn  and to incorporate that. And that gave you  

a basis for starting needs companies which are the top companies in your region,   but also now growing rapidly throughout the world,  and you've won many awards for the work   you've done. So, let's drill a little  bit further into these two companies, then. You founded these two companies with partners  or you founded it, and then you brought on   partners and what was that entrepreneurial  experience like with both of these companies,   when you first started to, when you grow  it to, when you go to market strategy   and you're able to get some penetration? How much did you have to pivot   or change as you're having these startups  and now you're prominent, those are very   prominent companies you have. So, describe that  entrepreneurial journey because there's a lot   of people out in my audience who are maybe  thinking, I want to start a company,   they have an idea. And they think, Oh, I have  an idea, I've got a bit great background,   I'm gonna go to an investor and they're just gonna  give me money or something like that. They may  

think that way. You would have that experience. You know, no doubt have to raise some funds as well   but build a team and go through some of  those initial stages of a startup. What   are elements of that journey?  What are some lessons from that journey? Absolutely, Stephen, I'd love to. So, IronOne technologies is the first company,

BoardPAC came subsequently. So, IronOne is where  we pivoted so much because as I mentioned,   the stock method pivoted internally to Sri  Lanka. So, that product still continues. I started more products, we tried business intelligence,   it was absolutely difficult to sell. It's still  my pet product. I think one day, I'll pick it   up. But it's kind of not quite there. Then, we started working with the telcos to   find out what works for enterprise customers.  Because I had come from enterprise background,   that was my comfort zone. So, talking about a  founder, I have a good friend called Sanji. He's  

based in Texas, Austin, Texas. So, he's kind  of we're tag-team together. But he of course,   runs other companies in other fields. So, I'm the  operational person, I'm the person who sort of   is rolling up the sleeves and doing stuff here.  So, when it comes to IronOne, we pivoted a lot,  

tried all sorts of things. Because we couldn't,  I just had to feel that we had the right   thing to move ahead with. So, we are very well known in Sri Lanka   for enterprise software. We did lots of services,  both in Sri Lanka and overseas. And overseas,   we had some really not just enterprise,  but we've had some really good projects,   even from like Victoria’s Secret and some good brands. But meanwhile,   I was always searching for this product. So,  stumbled across BoardPAC, actually.  

And BoardPAC we created as a company. So, Atrad which was one of our original   products that too is a successful  product that is taken overseas and growing.   Those are pretty much the two main products that  came out of this total pivoting this-way-that-way,   and recently, I have sort of looked around and  figured out we should start a, when I say   research, it's been two years really, we've  started a Artificial Intelligence Unit, doing some very, very interesting FinTech projects  right now. So, these are the areas   that sort of currently, as I'm talking to you  today, these are the main focal areas that have   emerged from the two companies, Stephen. So, they're enterprise  

companies in IronOne is in stocks and stock  markets and so on. And that's the one that's   going into India now. Because India is such a big  market. In fact, there's   recent stories in the media about India,  you know, just growing so rapidly, and it's one of the biggest economies in the  world will probably overtake Japan as well,   within the next, you know, let's say, 10 years,  something like that. And in terms of the economic size of India,  and you're getting into India,   it's because you have partners already in India? So, if you have a company   and you want to penetrate a marketplace,  what's your strategy to do that? So, okay, my strategy may be a little different  to what lots of consultants probably say,   and lots of consultants talk to us  about these things earlier on. The confidence really came, I mean, I  believe if you have a product that you've crafted,   that has worked in some markets, like in  our case, it started off in Sri Lanka. When we take it out to another market, so long as the product has similar elements,   you know, at least 80% that  can work in another market.

I didn't do market research, Stephen. You know, everybody's talked about market research. But honestly, I mean, it's not that we don't do market research,   but we don't do extensive market research.  We kind of have a model now that we go out there and find partners.  

So, in my case, the first country that we went  with BoardPAC was Malaysia, we were actually   invited because as a cross-sell, the Malaysian  telco had invested in Sri Lanka's telco. And when   I went for the Sri Lankan telco meeting, they  invited me, so we went over just like that. I mean, obviously, even with the CEOs blessing,  we have to work really hard and push at the second   level and third level, because nobody really  wants to start new partnerships at operational levels. And that was kind of a  fun thing, later that we talked about how much we push them, pressure  them to partner with BoardPAC. And today, in fact, the company name is Maxis  the telco. That's one of our best partners.   And we've got from the stock exchange to the central bank, to the top banks, to pretty much   any company that you you would like to  mention, in Malaysia, they're using BoardPAC.

I mean, I would say through the brand of  the telco and the good work we've done on the   product. And I mean, literally there's like  zero churn. It's such a great. So, that's my   motto. So, once we did it well in Malaysia, we ventured to South Africa, Vodafone. I mean, it's not that we only do partnerships,  we also do, we set up officers now and set up like, if it's South Africa, we set  up South Africans to sell for us,   it gets Malaysia we have Malaysians to sell  for us, we find that using that nationality,   they can talk the language, they understand. So, of  course, because of that model, we can't just do 60   countries, I'd love to do 60 countries, that's my  goal, to cross the billion dollar mark,   etc. But we have to be a little disciplined,  I guess, and select priority countries,   find good partners, as well as the position but we  do it ourselves, Stephen. I don't use consultants   so far. So, I just want to pause there for a little  that's a go-to market strategy we have.

And BoardPAC is a company that has board  automation software. So, really any company could   use the software and you've expanded in different  regions of the world. So, I can see your go-to   market strategies, that's really interesting.  You mentioned that you also have an interest   in AI and you've already created an AI  company or you're about to create an AI company?  So, the AI company is actually a  offshoot within IronOne right now.  

It is likely that like BoardPAC, it will become  something of its own. It's in the transition now   because usually, we incubate things in IronOne.  And I mean, out of all the technologies,   I feel that Sri Lanka has a lot of potential  in building an AI, like a brand,   I think. And on top of it, what we thought is that  the girls, we can attract the girls to come into   AI because it's statistical and it's not hardware oriented as such, so they would be more interested. So, our target  for this AI is to be like 50-50 girls and boys,  

at least to start off with. So, that  divide of gender, whatever is going to   be taken away. So, that's a goal that we're  having internally, Stephen for the AI. So, IronOne is the incubator for  other companies and BoardPAC came   out of IronOne and now you have an AI group within IronOne and you're thinking   that it'll become its own company as well. You've  seen a lot of news now because the ChatGPT and   generative AI using generative large  transformer models that are pre-trained, you're seeing this fugit  models that are used in creating graphics and a lot of excitement. You know, what are your views on generative   AI and are you incorporating some of  that in your planning or not? Absolutely, Stephen. So, all of the  technologies that we are doing now,   we are specifically looking at how to absorb  generative AI into it. Because if you take the  

stock exchange, we already started many  projects with the university collaborator. FinTech is an area that AI really can do something.   So, we've gone into ESG and carbon and  looked at modeling on companies that are behaving more sustainably as an  example. So, I mean, just talking about the India matter one of the  thoughts that I'm having is that we could make a really good impact on India, it's  a large country, which has a impact in the world.   So, if we advocate the masses to invest in  the sustainable companies, and through AI,   if we can identify these and sort of  push them open to the retail market, we believe that we could make some serious impact to the world,   just by sort of creating that awareness  as well as good information. So, I mean,  

and also just to mention, a question that you asked earlier, why India? Because India, again, just like  Malaysia, we've got the stock exchange,   we've got Central Bank, all of the top  banks and their boards using BoardPAC. So, we have visibility with the  decision-makers of that country. No other product, I believe has that access,   Stephen. So, I think that's an edge that we have.   So, with that, getting into the stock exchange, and  the broker funds is sort of a warm introduction.   So, I'm really looking forward to that.

I mean, I can see now the advantage of you have   one of the leading board software packages in the  room for managing boards. And as a result,  you have relationships with board members and  CEOs and you are dominating in those areas,   for example, in India, you're dominating in those  areas. And then that is a natural anchor, a base   in which to propose other kinds of enterprise  software that can help companies.  

So, on the AI side, you've indicated that you  can identify maybe these ESG. Does it create a   dashboard where companies can help to make sure  that they're more ESG compliant? Or is it   something that provides visibility of whether a  company is adhering to ESG compliance for other   people to look at? Is that a tool that a company  can use to help with their ESG compliance and making sure that there's a term called Greenwashing. So,   they're not greenwashing and so on. So, it's actually both, Stephen. So, on one side,  

when it comes to BoardPAC, we are actually  pulling up data from third-party solutions,   because obviously, the whole ESG and  the carbon is a very complicated, wide   system that is very industry specific or  company specifics, but we're pulling it out,   simplifying it for the board members. So, that's  dashboarding. When it comes to ATrad for the stock market, that's more numeric, we do the rankings and things like that.   We haven't started dashboarding for ATrad here. But that possibly could also start  

happening. But we're really sort of identifying  and pulling up more sustainable companies and trying  to be more accurate on it. Because, as you  know, the data is quite not so linear. There's a lot of information that  is not public yet. So, we are working through that.  

And believe that probably we would be one of  the first to get this right, hopefully. Yeah, I mean, you're definitely moving in the  direction that the world is moving in. So, you won a number of awards. How did that come  about? Just people nominating you? Or, you know,  

what's that process like? Have you got a lot of  recognition? So, thank you, Stephen. So,   there's a lot of nominations. I believe, being from Asia initially,   we get a lot of opportunities too, I believe  that and being a woman as well. So, lots of  

nominations happen. So, like if women do well, in  this part of the world, they do get recognized and   that's a great thing. And I am sort of honored, quite lucky to be that. So, there were lots of   awards like the SAARC Woman Entrepreneur, so I won that. I mean, this is across many SAARC countries and sort of surprised, actually, but so happy. Of  course, the Sri Lankan entrepreneurship. And

one of the most interesting things or  impactful things that happened for me,   was the Ernst & Young Winning Woman sort of program that they had put up.   So, I won that in 2017. And we got incredible,  incredible exposure. There were events in Palm   Springs, where we could meet all the growth  companies that EY had as clientele and all sorts of very, very famous people as well. So,  this really brought a lot of confidence for me,  

Breaking Through Barriers, just like the  Imperial College or, you know, schooling time, a little later, but after being an entrepreneur,   I honestly felt empowered. I mean, you know,  like, just because people from Sri Lanka,   or Asia, it didn't matter if he had done great  things. And that's carrying through. I can see how you're correlating or that sort  of Imperial College where you're getting   into all this diversity, and it opens your  eyes. And it's a growth experience for you   because you're meeting people with different  backgrounds, and their points of view,   and you think, Wow, it's really interesting, and I  can learn from them as well. And then you got this  

Ernst & Young Winning Woman of  recognition. And you're seeing the same   thing, you indicate your palm springs, and  there's people from different backgrounds,   and you get to commune with them and through that  you're building your own your community and those relationships are helpful,  because you can help each other. This SAARC work, can you define  what that stands for, that SAARC term?   So, SAARC is, I forget the actual acronym,  but it's about seven countries in Asia. So, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, there's a couple of other countries including Sri   Lanka. So, it's a woman entrepreneur award, across  all these seven countries or the SAARC nations.  

So, the inaugural one, I believe they held  in Sri Lanka, they did the interviewing and   all that earlier on. And it was all a surprise,  really on the day. And I was under a little bit   of pressure because it was hosted in Sri Lanka,  that particular event. And I really wanted to   be in front of, you know, all my colleagues. So,  that was great. So, it wasn't only for IT, it was for any industry, was like open, even the  Entrepreneurship Award in Sri Lanka is open for   all industries. So, I felt a little responsibility  that IT being such a good industry, when I was   nominated, I felt I needed to win, you know,  for IT. So, I should do both of that. Yeah, so the SAARC Woman Entrepreneur of the year, you won that in 2019, and that's across many   countries. And you were the overall winner, which  is remarkable accomplishment. You've also won the  

Stevie International Business Awards. And you've  got four key awards in leadership and innovation,   and also the Woman Leadership Award at Asia's IT Excellence Awards. So,   can you describe what that's like,  or what these awards are about? So, in fact, the Stevie awards are quite interesting and quite special to us. So, first,   we won Asia award. And I remember going to  Hong Kong and picking it up with my COO. Again, it gave us confidence that we should  just go for the global one. So, the four   awards, four or five awards that we won, I think  most of them came to me as personal awards in addition to the company achievements. So, I  mean, it really sort of gave us confidence again,  

Stephen, that we could be in par with anybody  really because these are really international   awards. So, I mean, it's really great to have won them. And Stevie is very well-recognized in   the forum's of BoardPAC or board governance. I  have seen Stevie awards being sort of published  

by even NASDAQ as an example, in their site where  they sort of put out there information about their board portal. So, I mean, I think we're right  up ther with everybody with after   winning the series. You're also part of the ICTA. So, can you  describe what is ICTA? What is  

its purpose? So, the ICTA agency is the single  agency that the government has installed to support the strategies of  the country in terms of ICT. I mean, it was  formed in the early 2000s, in Sri Lanka. I believe every country sort of  has some kind of agency of that nature. So, I   actually have always been a part of it in a sense  of voluntary contribution earlier. But I also took  

up the role in the board for a couple of years  there and got privy to like a lot of information   and all the challenges that ICT agency has, when  they have to run these things with the government.   So, it's sort of the agency that  has been put up both for capacity building, in terms of IT to be   like a leading industry,  as well as usage inside in terms of government usage, health care,  and all these different organizations for   productivity, like smart cities, so to say. The third prong is for entrepreneurship. So,   for the last, I would say almost seven years,  I've been very much involved in ICTA on the   entrepreneurship side, to try and encourage  more women, as well as in general because   our company has done pretty well in the landscape  of Sri Lanka, in terms of product, and the kind   of clientele we've have overseas. So, we try  to sort of encourage others just to be bold,  

and go ahead and take their  products out to international markets. And Stephen, I'm really glad to say  that there are many, I mean, when we do   evaluations of startup grants and things, there's  many, many women startups, women founded startups,   quite interesting one, so it's quite  encouraging, Stephen to see this in Sri Lanka. Again, fascinating. So, you're  mentioning, you're involved in judging

startup programs in your region. Can you talk about that seed grant program   that you're involved with as a judge? Yes.  So, the ICTA for many, many years now has a grant   program that it gives several grants, seed grants  to new startups that have potential to provide   good services productivity in Sri Lanka. The  other option is they've tried to go global. So, the criteria is very, very stringent.  I'm one of I think, 677 judges. And, I mean, we've seen the quality  of these companies improving year on year.

And we've seen them  growing as well, the ones we have to given the   grants to, so they get a basic grant  first, but it's along with mentorship. And ICTA has a really, really good program,  and very dedicated team   that supports a mentorship where they bring in,  now actually, even tomorrow, I'm going in for   a mentorship. So, they bring us in. And  we're very close to the ICTA as a startup ecosystem, that all of us are always volunteering  and supporting it. So, this grant is pretty  

much for a year. So, gives money as well  as once they get the ICTA, it's called   Spiralation actually. Once they get  the Spiralation, we see that the other   agencies are giving them money for the next  step, there's some kind of endorsement. So, it's one of the pioneering systems, Stephen. That's interesting, you know, and then it  

contributes to the innovation entrepreneurship  ecosystem. So, you're involved in that.   You're also involved with initiatives with  the Slasscom, CIMA Global, ICTA, British Computer Society (BCS). Can you describe what  you're doing with those organizations?   Yes, so all of them, I would say goes under  the umbrella of supporting entrepreneurship,   and sometimes even just mentorship of students  who have just come out and try to find their way.  

Should they go pick up entrepreneur or should they  go into management, you know, go that part? So,   just like me, there's a wide group of people. So, the companies that you mentioned  organizations like, CIMA, Slasscom, CSSL, BCS, does different programs. So, time  to time the programs are different. But as an   example, Slasscom, we have this thing called PPC.  It's a Product Platform Council,  

we are trying to advocate in Sri Lanka, product  builders. So, as being a builder of multiple you know, like a serial entrepreneur  building multiple products successfully,   we share our knowledge and also mentorship. And literally, give them confidence and some   guidance to go ahead. So, it's working  out really well. And there's quite a large   cohort of mentors as well as PPC companies'  membership. So, that's Slasscom 

where I'm involved in. There's a whole  lot that Slasscom does. But this is what I'm   passionate and embodied in Slasscom. When it  comes to CIMA, it was a little different. It was a bunch of students who had just  graduated from CIMA, who had to, like, it was almost six months. There were many sessions that  

we have to just interact with them, and show  them what it's like to be us. So that they   learn different subjects of management or ethics  or things like that, so that was very different. I too had   to learn a bit, because sometimes they do things  organically. And CIMA is an

accounting certification organization. So, they're  a little theoretical as well. So, I had to learn   some theory because I came from engineering  and we had skipped management. So, everything I learned was, it was kind of  funny because when I learned the theory,   I was like, Oh, I'm already doing it. I just found  it accidentally. So, it was kind of fun as well,   Stephen. So, different organizations,  but essentially helping are youth to, you know, speed up really.

You're a very successful entrepreneur, who also happens to be a woman who has some of the most successful companies  in your region, and also now ranked globally,   like, BoardPAC is ranked when one of  the top companies in the world now.   And you're not just in your area but  just in all the things you're doing. What kind of recommendations would you give to  the audience? Like, what are some lessons   or tips? Can you describe, for example, some  challenges you had or continue to have,   perhaps, and then how are you addressing that?  What is the process? What are the skills? What   are the tips you can provide to the audience  that they could use based on your experience? Yeah, Stephen, thanks. So, I think underlying I mean,   above everything, I think is about everything that is achieved is because of a   challenge. If there was no challenge,  I believe it's nothing, it's useless. So,

being ready to, you know, accept challenges,  as something interesting to solve, I guess,   is the theme of everything. So, when it comes to the company,   I mean, like as you  mentioned, I mean, everything is a challenge,   until you fix it. And then you have to go on to  the next challenge. So, that mindset of not fearing to take it on even if you  don't know the answer, possibly is what everything is about for me, because,   honestly, when things are fixed, it  becomes like, oh, gosh, I have nothing to do.   So, what do I do? So, I'm sure you know,  that feeling being entrepreneur yourself.   So, I'm sure any entrepreneur, person  who wants to be entrepreneur knows exactly   what I'm talking about. A person who probably  isn't the entrepreneur is like, she's crazy.

It's a distinct difference. But essentially, the problems we have, when the company was  small is different. As you mentioned, we have   to do everything. We have to be the seller, we  have to be the accounting guy, the tax filler,   everything. So, I remember like doing everything,  and it's quite interesting, because at one point,   if you keep doing that, as an  example, if you're the seller for too long,   your company is not going to grow. So, I tell  the entrepreneurs that I ask them, do you have a  

seller? Have you got your salesman? And  he goes, no, no, I sell myself and they're like   really proudly saying it. And I can see myself in them because I used to do that initially    until we got our sellers. And that's when we  started growing. So, things like that. So, we   have to delegate and focus on certain things  and get other people to do things. So, growing   is all about that. And you may already  know that we've got a CEO for BoardPAC.  

So, BoardPAC is kind of my baby. And it took me a  while to sort of let go, in a sense. And I think   that's the best thing I've done. Because I  can see that David, who's my CEO, for BoardPAC, he's   doing a tremendous job. And I can focus on a lot  more things and support him. So that's kind of, I guess, my advice. So you have to, as the company grows,   you have to start changing your CEO or whatever  founder role, otherwise, you're gonna get stuck   at some tiny little company, like for  100 years. So, I'll pause there, I guess. So those are, you know, very good  lessons. And I can see this aspect of  

you throughout the entire interview here, where  you're always looking for that challenge, the stretch goals where you're feeling  stretched and you not necessarily know   how to do something, but you take it on, it's  a challenge and you acquire the skills to overcome that challenge and to  address it. And I find that it's common among   entrepreneurs and successful entrepreneurs, you  have to be to embrace challenge, not be afraid of   it, and just go for it. Yes. And in fact,  I was at a board meeting this past week,   and I was remarking to somebody that, who's embarking on a new journey of changing   an organization and I said, there's going to  be more reasons not to do it than to do it.

And that's always the case when  you're breaking new ground.   And you got to go through that, you got to break  through that and not let that stop you. But that's particular mindset required to  be successful. And you clearly exhibit  

all of this, all of these qualities of a  successful entrepreneur. Go ahead. So, sometimes,  I mean, there are times when it's   really tough. Do you think I mean, I got to be  crazy to keep doing this. But then, like, you   wake up the next day, and it's all gone. I mean, I can relate, because I'm entrepreneurial   too. But not  everybody has that mindset, right? So,

it is. Yeah, it can be hard. Now, let's see here. We're at the end of our interview, are there  any other recommendations you want to give to   the audience, you know, tips, lessons, and so  on? So, you've given a lot of tips just based   on your experiences throughout this chat Are there any other lasting recommendations   you wanna give it to the audience? And that's  the last. Yeah, I mean, I'd like to share   something from a perspective of, you know,  a company that has been started in Asia,   in a smaller country in Asia. So, I sort of  believe that it doesn't matter where you are.

The world is kind of global now.  And sometimes I do hear this coming from a smaller country, that we think  that we have to go in smaller steps. I mean,   I honestly I don't. It's not that I've  been successful every time, I've crashed landed   too. But it's still worth it. Because after  like, I mean, sometimes you do three things,  

and one comes right. So we just like, go  out there and do the biggest thing we can. And that's sort of my thing. And some  of them work out. And it's worth it rather than going slow. So, I  don't know whether it's good advice or bad, but   it's something I do, and it's worked for me. And  I'd like to share that with especially Asia. So,  

get advice not to do things fast.  So, that's a parting word from me. I mean, I understand what  you're saying too. And it's   true. I think some people if they come from a not from America or something like that, you  know, or some of the countries in Europe, they   may think, well, how am I going to grow big and  you're just saying, don't worry about it. Just go  

for it. Yes, yes, exactly. And you're  doing it you know, you have some of the biggest   or most successful companies that you created and they're continuing to expand and you're growing. And it's just remarkable all that  you're accomplishing and continue to accomplish.   Maybe I'll ask one more question  and this will be the final. You know, what are your ultimate  personal goals? So, you've got these impact goals that you have within your  community to help on entrepreneurship,   to encourage diverse populations to get involved  in innovation, entrepreneurship, and so on.  

So, you're doing a lot for social impact. And  you have these companies, which are growing in   a remarkable way, ranked in the top in terms  of solutions that you're offering. How about   your personal journey? Where do you want to see yourself in let's say, 10 years? So, that's actually a really tough question.  Because I mean, it keeps shifting,   Stephen. So, right now, up to now, I was thinking  that through the work I do, if I can make like   a big impact, so I'm thinking like India or even BoardPAC itself for carbon and ESG because of the visibility  of the top-level people that we could really be a driver for carbon and ESG, just BoardPAC can be a driver, because I'm just   thinking, because we have access to keep the powerful people in each country   aware. So, that has  been my, I would say, my prior goal up to now,  

I'm still searching because I feel it's not  the ultimate one. So, I'm in a phase right now   to figure this out. So, I don't have the answer  today. But if I talk to you, maybe like in a year,   I will know this. And this is my constant  journey, because I keep changing my goal,   so to say, because what I just said about the ESG  and the carbon, I think we can do it, it's already   sort of happening, we're putting a lot of it in,  that challenge is not big anymore, so to say. So, I just want to do like a  impact that would be like globally impactful,   Stephen. And I'm still searching. You know, just before we started our chat,  

we had a brief pre-chat. And we  mentioned some people we know in common,   who belong to YPO. Do you belong to the Young  Presidents' Organization? I actually do not. I haven't joined it. I've been so absorbed   with the companies that I haven't really joined a  lot of things. I've been in a few things like TiE 

and things like that, but probably something I  will look into. I have heard of it quite a bit. You know, it's interesting, there is one   chapter within YPO. And they're looking for  women who have these big visions and who are   very successful and so on. You'd be such a perfect  fit. So maybe, after the chat, I'll describe this   in more detail. And then if you wish, I'll do  an introduction. And it's a virtual chapter. Everybody within that chapter are   changemakers like yourself, just really remarkable  people. And I think you would find the experience   quite rewarding. And in my  opinion, you would qualify. Now, I should clarify to  

the audience. I'm not a member of YPO, it's just that  I've been supporting for so many years, a number   of years ago as they asked for some help. So,  I've been supporting them pro bono by the way. Brands within the community and from what I  understand you'd be such a perfect fit for this   particular chapter and especially because  the way your vision goes, but anyways, it just a real pleasure to spend this  time with you. You're outstanding, thank   you for taking the time.

Really. Likewise, I really enjoyed the  chat and the questions were like amazing.   So, thank you so much. Okay, take care. Thank you for listening to The Brand Called You,  videocast and podcast. A platform that brings your   knowledge, experience and wisdom of hundreds of  successful individuals from around the world.   Do visit our website, www.tbcy.in to watch and listen to   the stories of many more individuals. You can also follow us on YouTube,  

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2023-04-08 21:58

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