Welcome to Dare To Dream SL!
Silicon Valley is widely regarded as the central hub for tech startup culture and innovation. The Hewlett-Packard Company (now known famously as HP) that spearheaded all tech innovation of Silicon Valley has an 82-year history.
Here in the island of Sri Lanka, tech startup culture has just begun to take flight. CloudCone LLC is one such tech startup, with data centers based in California, that truly sets the standard for the future of cloud computing.
Among many other industry-breaking services and innovations, they’ve introduced the world’s first mobile cloud hosting app with on-the-go client support. Operating with a diverse team of employees from around the globe, CloudCone LLC is currently valued over a million dollars. Over 15,000 of their cloud servers have been deployed by customers, worldwide.
And the person who has led CloudCone LLC to where it stands today is Dulsara Premalal. Becoming an entrepreneur at 16 years old, he’s Sri Lanka’s youngest CEO. And I reached out to him to find out more about the tech startup climate of Sri Lanka for aspiring tech entrepreneurs.
Here’s how the conversation went down:
First off, for my readers who are a bit in the dark about CloudCone, would you mind giving a brief premise about what the company does?
CloudCone is a Cloud based hosting company providing managed hosting solutions ranging from servers, business email and few other products that helps web based applications go live and stay available on the world wide web.
CloudCone sprang from the success of your first venture, QuadCone, which was launched in 2012. So that was the first entrepreneurship experience for you. Starting out, what kind of future did you have planned out for QuadCone?
QuadCone’s first website and server were actually configured on my 16th birthday.
I did not have much funds to throw a launch party back then, so the plan was based on a birthday wish which was typed out on a text file right after everything was set up.
The wish was:
I do not know why this wish has so many typos, this file was never changed up until now, to preserve the originality. In other words, there was no future planned for QuadCone at launch other than a few goals that were outlined, which are:
- Be profitable
- Appear and grow global, not local
- Customer is #1
A tech startup comes with its fair share of challenges that can take a toll on your own mindset. What kind of challenges did you have to face initially and how did you overcome them?
Initially when launched, the biggest challenge was to break even and to build a customer base, as hosting is a heavily competitive space.
In 2012, to acquire customers online at QuadCone, I had to incur a monthly cost of USD 40 (approx. 4,400 LKR at the time). This was only to keep the business alive. My costs were low, as I was a coder/programmer myself, and all of the setting up was done solo.
I had about 15,000 LKR in my 16+ bank account, which was only enough for me to keep QuadCone running for approximately 4 months.
The initial goal was to reach break-even in 4 months. During that time, I emailed, chatted and contacted almost all possible colleagues I thought were interested in my product. And finally, Going after multiple prospective clients, I was able to reach break-even point in approximately 4 and a half months!
Another big challenge was accepting payments through PayPal as this option wasn’t available for Sri Lanka (even as of 2020 it’s still not available). To overcome this challenge, I tried out many different things; I read a lot of articles but still found no solutions. In the end, I was able to create a US based PayPal business account to accept Payments from customers.
Something that every young entrepreneur worries about at first, is when their business will see stability or whether they would reach stability at all.
How was QuadCone able to gain a base of loyal clients and reach this stability? What did you learn from your journey towards this milestone?
Stability refers to many areas. I had to introduce more product types to reach a higher financial stability. In my industry, what matters the most is the quality of the service, reliability and the ability to provide the services on time to the customer.
I did a few possible sponsorships as well like the following:
Simply put, two things that helped the brand grow were,
- Word of mouth
- Advertising and branding
In addition to this, I had some helpful friends who also became my clients. That helped me find new leads and prospects for QuadCone. And they are still customers at CloudCone to this day.
Knowing the right sources of finance to fund their venture is a crucial factor for young entrepreneurs in reaching success.
How did you deal with the initial financial requirements and finding investors?
I have a lot to talk about here, I’ll try to keep it short.
The initial financing differs per industry. My industry is e-commerce, which is one of the industries that require the least amount of initial investment.
After 3 successful operational years of QuadCone reaching better financial stability, I incorporated the company in the USA, for a couple of reasons. One of which was to secure angel investors from the Silicon Valley.
One of the biggest turning points and the biggest challenge of my life was when I flew to the USA myself right after graduating college in 2016 with a single goal in mind: to find investors to fund my company. I attended multiple conferences and pitched my products (mainly Mailcone, which was another product under QuadCone).
After multiple unsuccessful meetings, there was one meeting in which two angel investors loved what I had built. I can remember exactly; this meeting took place in the 4th floor of the AON Building, Downtown, Los Angeles. They were interested in funding my venture.
What was it like switching from QuadCone to the more complicated CloudCone? How were you able to meet staffing requirements, accommodation and other changes that came with CloudCone?
After I secured funding from angel investors, I decided to re-brand as CloudCone. These decisions were made suddenly. And soon a lot came into the picture, that had to be done. If I list some of them down:
- Making a lot of purchases to run the company
- Achieving a much faster growth rate
- Acquiring a much bigger technology stack
Altogether it was all a much bigger responsibility. I was 19 at the time. These challenges were all new and tight. However, this was now my full time job. Nothing was easy; everything was as complicated as it sounds.
In the beginning, every decision made was a lesson learned.
Have you always dreamt of being an IT entrepreneur or did it come out of your passion for your chosen field?
I chose this industry out of passion. But when asked, “Dulsara what’s your ambition?”, “To become a Director and a CEO” was always my answer from childhood.
Most aspiring young entrepreneurs wish they had a bit more confidence to get started.
How were you able to become an expert in your chosen field? How would you advise aspiring entrepreneurs to achieve this feat?
If you are unconfident about something, here’s what you should do:
- Read more and get the knowledge
- Experiment with that knowledge
- Validate assumptions and ideas
- And finally, educate yourself with the results
How do you define success?
My definition of success might change in the future, because success is a combination of multiple factors that change with day and age.
As at this moment however, Being able to innovate among a highly competitive, global marketplace, executing the unusual, and being different is how I’d define success.
Do you have any words of advice and motivation for aspiring IT young entrepreneurs of Sri Lanka?
Yes, if you have an idea, just go do it. Talk to a lot of people who you think can help you, build confidence, talk to yourself, and tell yourself “You can do it”. Because if you don’t do it, someone else will.
That was what Dulsara had to say about his experience as an industry pioneering entrepreneur of a tech startup here in Sri Lanka. According to him, as long as you keep believing in the goal that you have initially envisioned, you can welcome anything in the road to that destination as a lesson learned.
Surely the entrepreneurship climate of a tech startup changes everyday with the advent of new technology and strategies. But I hope that today’s interview inspired and motivated you to be the next revolutionary entrepreneur of Sri Lanka. In the meantime you can read about this trending technique to achieve success as a CEO.
This is the first of many more interviews to come in my Dare To Dream SL blog post series. Hope you found it to be an insightful and fun read. Let me know what you think, send in your questions, and share your own entrepreneurial ideas and efforts, down below, in the comments!