Holding over two decades of enthralling experience in the ICT industry, Kanishka Weeramunda, Chief Executive Officer of PayMedia (Pvt) Ltd and DirectPay (Pvt) Ltd, invested in five active startups throughout his career. Sharing with us the timeline of his entrepreneurship journey, Kanishka reveals the many experiences he gained and lessons he learned along this pathway.
He has taken the challenge in converting a 95% cash market to digital payment by way of digitizing the transaction, a firm believer that payment is a byproduct of a transaction happens between the merchant and the customer, Kanishka has invested on providing the utmost convenience to both by way of facilitation a cashless truncation through LankaQR, Cards, Payment App’s, Contactless and digital payment platforms. Kanishka is looking forward to continuing excelling in the FinTech startup world by taking DirectPay to great heights with a much more remarkable process today DirectPay has been the fastest growing FinTech crossing LKR 5 Billion transaction flow within 27 Months.
Starting by recalling his schooling days at Maris Stella College in Negombo, Kanishka talks about receiving an opportunity to volunteer in a bookshop at the age of 13. As someone who hadn’t previously done commerce, his learning curve began there. Upon obtaining an interest in business at a very young age and finding the inspiration behind technical architecture soon after his A-levels, Kanishka started his first venture in computer assembling at the age 19. Having held the trump card in running a successful pursuit, he realized that being an entrepreneur was in his blood. However, fate had other plans for him.
An entrepreneur at that day and age was often frowned upon. Kanishka explains how every parent’s dream was a white-collar job, as it was a general Sri Lankan parental culture. “As a nation, we have a drawback, where several generations didn’t understand how to position their children towards becoming entrepreneurs”, Kanishka says. On account of facing family pressure for the same reason, Kanishka had to give up on his first venture.
In the wake of graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from the University of Colombo, Kanishka set out to work in the corporate world. The first firm Kanishka worked at was Asian Cyber Market, one of the first web designing companies in Sri Lanka. Fast-forwarding to Kanishka’s last day there, he met Shrimarl Heenetigala, a client of the firm. Having attended an exhibition to demonstrate a system developed by himself, Shrimarl had offered to drop Kanishka back home. Little did Kanishka know of the opportunity ahead of him in the next 45 minutes to come.
Disclosing that it’s his last day, Kanishka had told Shrimarl of his plans to join one of the leading web designing firms. Shrimarl, who had a better proposal for Kanishka, responded by offering him his own job. And thus, over a ride from Colombo to Seeduwa, both Shrimarl and Kanishka formed a partnership for Global Cyber Works. As someone who commenced his career with a startup of his own and found working at an 8-5 job to be a discomforting challenge, he found the decision he made significantly impacted his entrepreneur life.
While Kanishka polished up several skills such as customer service, corporate level sales and marketing, he also brainstormed different dimensions to innovate and digitize the Apparel industry products. “Shrimarl was a good guru in embarking those skills on me”, Kanishka expresses. It’s well known that one learns to build success through failure. Although the two eventually decided to part ways, Kanishka understood the importance of a stakeholders input when building a thriving business.
Amidst the separation, Kanishka was building software for Asian Alliance Insurance Company that would help calculate their retention. While another company had quoted in 1 million for the same solution, Kanishka had taken an invoice of fifty thousand to Ranjith Weerasingha, the CEO of Asian Alliance, upon which he asked if Kanishka wanted the amount put into his bank account every month or a one-off payment instead. At the age of 22, Kanishka had no clue about the definition behind such a question, therefore leading him to respond, saying, “No sir, this is for the work I have completed, it’s a one-off payment.” Having praised Kanishka for his fantastic piece of work, they explained their plans to hire him. It was only then that he had realized the concept of such a question. Taking up the offer, he went back into the corporate work field. “Although I don’t come from a software development background, for some unfortunate reason, I was hired for that field, and it wasn’t the right fit for me,” he says. Getting through with a set of struggles, he worked in Asian Alliance for two years.
Kanishka, who chose to do part-time work on web designing, encountered an opportunity with the help of a former colleague. He set to work after being given a floppy disk with all the requirements needed for a website and an advance by the colleague. Receiving highly positive feedback on his efforts, Kanishka’s colleague wanted to meet up. Due to work rush and busy schedules, the two found a mutual timing, which once again led to an unexpected meeting in a vehicle that further led to entrepreneur opportunities for Kanishka. He “jumped the gun” on the colleague’s request to join his son, Hiran Karunaratne, in starting up a company that provides digital services, digital marketing and web content.
Hiran, who holds a background in marketing and Kanishka with experience in tech, made for a great team in bringing to life DreamMedia, funded by Hiran’s dad. Serving many well-reputed clients, DreamMedia boomed in advertising, digital content, newspaper editorial, etc. However, Hiran, a backward migrator from Australia, wanted to head back and have Kanishka take over. “We had a good cash flow coming in but didn’t have enough resources,” Kanishka explained, and due to the circumstances that surrounded Kanishka and Hiran, the operation had to shut down.
Bringing to light Kanishka’s learning point from this venture, he says, “no matter how successfully you run the operation, if you do not have the right backing and assurance of funding, you can still fail.” He talks about the debts he had with suppliers and others in shutting down DreamMedia. But, he states, putting an effort to run the business until all debts were written off, “historically, even at a failure it was closed down in a clean slate”.
In the process of looking for a job, Kanishka was offered one from a former client. “Heading a manufacturing paint and coatings plant gave a lot of opportunities in terms of understanding a completely different process than IT, advertising and technology”, he stated. At the age of 26, he not only got to work with two labour unions for the very first time, but he was also the youngest head of operations within the company. Despite being faced with a set of challenges, Kanishka turned a loss-making company into a profitable one within 18 months by introducing a contract manufacturing compass for white label products. Alongside that, Kanishka turned the sum of the operation into a gravity flow to attain a certain level of engineering skills. Understating that the most significant investment in the manufacturing plant lies in its machinery, he turned an 8 to 5 operation into a 24 hour one to receive a 100% outcome. While having his fair share of bitter experiences with the labourers, Kanishka learnt many more skills, including overcoming problems.
Seeking to get some foreign exposure, Kanishka headed to Dubai, UAE. “The nature of entrepreneurship is that nothing is enough”, Kanishka says. Although his initial month was a challenge, Kanishka found inspiration all around him. Choosing to extend the visa for a month more, he was called in for a web designer position, where Kanishka had to head over to Sri Lanka to return with a work visa. However, a few hours before his return flight, Kanishka was asked to attend an interview for a position he had applied for in a company called Landmark Group ME. Although he initially applied for a job in data entry, Kanishka was called aside and offered the role of an assistant coordinator due to his qualifications, which was finalized after a short interview with Shuja Jashanmal the CEO of BeautyBay LLC, A subsidiary of Landmark Group.
Impressing the general manager and CEO with his work style, Kanishka was later promoted as the head of IT for both the BeautyBay and LifeStyle divisions at Landmark Group in Dubai. However, due to language barriers that caused profound challenges, Kanishka handed in his resignation. Receiving one of the best pieces of advice from his general manager at the time, who told Kanishka “You can either change your playing field or change your team”, Kanishka opted for the latter, thus breaking the language barrier he faced. Two years in, Kanishka had formed one of the best teams in the company, leading to forward-thinking and the introduction of retail and warehouse operation automation.
Choosing to move back down to Sri Lanka when offered a position at LAUGHS Holdings by Thilak De Silva and WKH Wegapitiya themselves, Kanishka was given the role of Group Chief Information Officer at LAUGFS Holdings. This leap he believes would have taken beyond a decade to achieve while at Landmark Group. He expresses that being a Group CIO at 32 was a “significant moment” as he was the youngest CIO in a large conglomerate. Conducting several major tasks and being involved in many projects, Kanishka brought to life a vision and solution to LAUGHS called LAUGHS Pay and Go, inspired by Thilak and Wegapitiya. The purpose of the product was to provide easy access to household bills payments. However, the operation didn’t move forward due to the lack of machine to machine experience. Facing a much more challenging and hectic time, Kanishka decided to move on and start a new venture.
Commencing an accidental startup after Kanishka’s time at LAUGFS Holdings, PayMedia came to life when offered an opportunity to introduce the same machine at Sampath Bank in 2013. While he succeeded in the given task within eight months, the process came with its own set of challenges that Kanishka faced head-on. He employed two full-time employees whilst he took a job as the founder CEO of an educational campus to fund PayMedia after being assured that the machine would be paid for only after its completion. However, his hard work and efforts paid off in building the first real-time cash deposit machine in Sri Lanka by the year 2014. Since then, PayMedia has worked alongside other banks, financial companies, and the government in cash and cheque collections.
The digital era was taking the world by storm and continues to do so with its rich discoveries and advances in technology. This includes financial technology, requiring Kanishka to think and act accordingly, thus coming up with DirectPay, a fintech startup that allows consumers to process digital payments. Like every other startup, he revealed the struggles he had to overcome with DirectPay.
Having sharpened the economy of Sri Lanka, he is eyeing Micro Landing Platforms, his next big venture M1 is laying the foundation for BuyNowPayLater (BNPL) and PayDay Loans based on artificial intelligence (AI). Overcoming several obstacles throughout his journey, Kanishka now holds some of the most outstanding achievements in hand with rich experience and worldly knowledge and shares them with leading MBA readers in the country.
As a tribute to the nation, he formed SquareHub, which is a Co-working Space for a startup that needs grooming, inspiration and strength to arise within the local startup ecosystem. Therefore, Kanishka helps and heads the incubation and accelerator programs for a startup that needs to grow. He has been a mentor for about 35 successful start-ups and he passionately contributes towards building the start-up and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country as well as in the Asia Pacific region. SquareHub began as a helping endeavor buddying founders and prospective entrepreneurs thrive in order to realize his vision of Sri Lanka as a technically savvy nation and creating a unicorn of the country.
With more than 20 years of high-level experience in the ICT industry, he has contributed towards building the ICT industry of Sri Lanka by being a co-founder of Sri Lanka’s first-ever tech start-up conference, DisruptAsia, co-chairing StartUpSL and he is also a community leader of StartUp Weekend Sri Lanka. He is a member of the British Computer Society, a Chartered IT professional, an alumnus of MIT Global Startup Labs, a scholar of the Global Connect Program hosted by the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology in Singapore.
One of the highlights in Kanishka’s professional life was recently awarded as the CSSL Best Founder of the Year award at the CSSL National ICT Awards 2020, ICT Leader of the year at Computer Society of Sri Lanka, CSSL Awards 2018 and Entrepreneur of the year at National ICT Awards in 2018, with that by winning the Gold award at the Asia Pacific ICT Awards (APICTA) among 16 countries in the region in 2018 Kanishka brought the pride to Sri Lanka.
Ending his account with a remarkable statement, Kanishka annotated, “You should have the courage to knock on doors for opportunities, and if one door opens; it will open up many doors for you. Therefore, opportunities come only once in life, it is up to you to take it or leave it.”