How Facebook and Flipkart inspired Sanjana Nuwan Bandra to startup Shopping.lk and Sellonline.lk

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Sanjana is a student at Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIT) and has started up not one but two ventures. He got attracted by the internet in 2009 and one fine day he came across an article about Mark Zuckerberg being the world’s youngest billionaire. The 17-year-old was amazed to know the exciting story of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.

Addicted to internet and fascinated by the power of it to create businesses, Sanjana started spending more time exploring internet than his academic curriculum. “I started learning various things online. Google was my teacher, I learnt how to create advance website, how to create them using wordpress CMS, then I moved to Adsense, creating forums, news aggregators and many such small things,” says Sanjana.

He started looking at money making opportunities over the internet and knew that he needs to give out something new to a niche market to start up with. “Sri Lankans started using internet broadly around 2009 and it was definitely the next big thing in a few years.” All he knew was that he wanted to start up an online venture in Sri Lanka. He started following the Indian startup space and stories to find an idea which could work in Sri Lankan market as well.

Flipkart founder, Sachin Bansal, was one entrepreneur I admired and who inspired me a lot. I read a lot about Flipkart’s journey,” says Sanjay. Sanajana started up an e-commerce venture Shopping.lk to serve the Sri Lankan market.

In January 2013, Sanjana was in talks with some Sri Lankan web design agencies for designing an e-commerce website. The price quoted for a very basic website was exorbitant. The demo website frustrated Sanjana as he was sure he could do it himself. He knew many people in Sri Lanka who were using Facebook to sell their products. He checked most of those businesses online and found that they didn’t have a functional website to sell products online.

Sanjana searched for e-commerce site creation platforms online. “I got many results including world famous players like Shopify and Bigcommerce. Then I searched for India and saw Zepo, Buildabazaar etc but there was nothing for Sri Lanka.” He started his second venture, Sellonline.lk to provide a cost effective platform for businesses to create their e-commerce websites. Sellonline.lk is an ecommerce platform which helps Sri Lankan small businesses and entrepreneurs open their online stores in a minimal time and start selling online easily without any technical knowledge. The market that Sellonline.lk is catering to is ‘pretty big’. He explains that Sri Lankan buyers are looking for options to buy online but 95% of the SMEs don't provide online buying facility. It is majorly because of the lack of e-commerce support technologies in Sri Lanka.Sellonline.lk was launched on July 7th and they have got 10 paying customers till date. Sanjana says, “We have got these 10 early adopters without any marketing, ads or PR. Facebook messages and personal cold e-mails worked for us.” Being the only company in Sri Lanka providing SaaS for e-commerce site creations, Sanjana sees a good profitable future ahead in the e-commerce technology services and is pretty confident of acquiring more customers very soon.

Most of the business-owners in Sri Lanka are located in Colombo but Sellonline.lk has also partnered with businesses in Jaffna, Kandy, and Negambo looking to expand their service even more. Sellonline.lk has two full time members and other part-time resources and is now planning to build a sales team. Sanjana has invested seed money from family and the profits earned from his first startup Shopping.lk into Sellonline.lk. He shares that finding a Sri Lankan investor who is willing to invest in an online venture is really hard.

Opportunities in Sri Lanka’s e-commerce sector

“Sri Lanka has big untapped business opportunities, large markets to serve to and is very cost effective to start a business,” says Sanjana. This is his second venture in the e-commerce sector, after Shopping.lk. Seeing and analyzing the customer behavior and trends in the Sri Lankan market, Sanjana is very optimistic of the sector’s growth in Sri Lanka. His ultimate vision is to ‘develop an e-commerce eco-system by providing all the e-commerce solutions and services needed under one umbrella’.

The first and foremost challenge, which also translates into an opportunity, is the absence of online payment gateways. The only option available for merchants looking to enter e-commerce is to get it set up through banks which is a very tedious and expensive process. ““There are two main banks and they need somewhere between 1 to 2 million deposit to start a merchant account and a payment gateway. Only one bank helps out for less than a lakh."

Sanjana’s learning as an entrepreneur

1 . You must be willing to take risks. Period.

2. Try to find a niche target market and build for the customers in this market. Your idea may not be one of a kind in the world but if it serves your niche market well, you don’t need to worry about the world.

3. If you have an amazing profitable business idea today, don’t wait until next year to start on it. Don’t wait to finish studies, to get to the next level, to get some funding, just implement it.

4. If you ever succeed, don’t forget the people who helped you when you were not successful.

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