In conversation with Lahiru Pathmalal on Youth & IT in the Covid 19 era
Lahiru Pathmalal, co-founder of Takas.lk joined the Values4all webinar series to talk on “Youth and IT in the Covid 19 era”. The discussion took place in Sinhala via Zoom on September 3rd, 2020. As an entrepreneur, Pathmalal served as the CEO of Takas since its inception for close to 6 years. Takas.lk was conceptualized in 2012 in a setting where only Sri Lankans expats could purchase goods online and when only those with credit cards and Groupon accounts could buy online. It was important for Pathmalal and his co-founders, Dilan Wimalasekere and Murtaza Moosajee to fill this gap and come up with a solution. And so was launched one of Sri Lanka’s first and most popular E-commerce platforms providing anyone in Sri Lanka the opportunity to purchase electronics online. Takas was also the first to offer cash-on-delivery. Commenting on the state of Sri Lanka’s e-commerce, Pathmalal shared insights on the increasing trend of online business. In Sri Lanka, e-commerce accounts for 40-50m US dollars against 13 billion USD of commerce in traditional shops. It is estimated that e-commerce will reach 1 billion USD in transactions in the next decade, indicating that this is a thriving market opportunity for potential investors and new businesses. Quoting a recent report published by Asia Securities, he also pointed out the increase in online shopping from 13% before the pandemic to 63% post-Covid 19 (i.e. lockdown period from March to July 2020) and the decrease in supermarket shopping from 83% pre-Covid 19 to 53% post-Covid 19 – predominantly in the Western Province. Recalling how large chain-supermarkets struggled to meet the demands of online purchases during the lockdowns in March-April 2020, Pathmalal also noted that Takas and other smaller businesses took on the challenge by using WhatsApp and Instagram, thereby further making social media businesses relevant. He also noted that a key factor in this change was the availability of smart phones. Further speaking on youth and opportunities in this evolving environment, Pathmalal assures that there are more opportunities today for youth to engage in investing in businesses thanks to the advances in IT and the internet. Sharing more experiences from Takas’ early beginning in 2012, Pathmalal noted the difficulty in delivering goods to customers in contrast with todays’ multitude of delivery companies making the process easier. He also observed that the expansion of support industries around e-commerce including banks have enabled convenient payment gateways for smaller companies. Unconventionally hailing from the policy field with degrees in Political Science and Psychology, Pathmalal urges anyone interested to engage with the IT field as he did – where he learned ‘on-the-go’. According to him, with IT and the internet, geographies have reduced, and distance is not as relevant anymore – anyone from Matara to Jaffna can buy online today. Accessing knowledge is made easier too, with a simple google search or by attending a free online seminar at esteemed and exclusive institutions such as Harvard University in the USA. Pathmalal also emphasized that learning basic English should be a mandatory requirement for every youth wishing to engage with IT. Regarding the adequacy of the Sri Lankan Education system, he also Criticizing the lack of critical thinking perpetuated through our existing education system, Pathmalal invites the youth to embrace failures as opportunities for learning and growth instead of taboos. From a former beneficiary of the Lanka Angels Network to becoming a member of its board, Pathmalal says that it is important to ask for help to push ideas into fruition. As the world keeps changing so will business models, therefore young entrepreneurs need to be able to adapt and provide versatile solutions to their customers as Takas did by stepping outside its e-commerce platform to offer e-business solutions. Understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses was a key challenge and requisite he admires in a successful leader. He further stated that by knowing one’s limits, you can ask for help in areas where others excel in and this is how a entrepreneur should construct for his team to support his business. Among many challenges facing the Sri Lanka IT industry, Pathmalal focused on two issues mainly; the small market size and the lack of access to IT in the rest of the country, apart from urban centers (such as Colombo, Kandy, Gampaha etc.). He also commented on the need for more females to enter the industry and break the trend of the male dominant field. While appreciating the opportunity to speak at this webinar, Pathmalal emphasized on the importance of possessing values when engaging in business. Being fair and avoiding short-cuts will ensure success, he noted. Pathmalal is also proud that diversity was ensured from all aspects of the Takas team, be it from its employees or investors. He concluded by observing that while there is continuous abuse and misuse of IT by the wrong-intentioned minds there is also a great potential for the evolving IT field to be a powerful tool to enhance understanding among communities in this country. Here is the link to the live Zoom chat available on the Values4all Facebook page, if you missed it.