The Director, Chief Operations Officer, and co-founder of POTENZA discusses local attitudes towards startups and building a successful business globally
What led you to co-found POTENZA?
I come from a strong family business background, but I had no interest in joining the family business. I always wanted to do my own thing and make an impact in the process. Growing up, I loved playing video games and still do. My father was not thrilled about my passion which he saw as an obsession. He used to take the consoles and cables with him to work! He would often ask me if I intended to make a living by playing video games. I took that as a challenge. I was determined to prove that I could. After completing my university education in the UK, I applied for a job at Warner Bros and worked on Mortal Kombat 9 and proudly gifted my dad one of the first copies signed by director Ed Boon!
When I returned to Sri Lanka, there was an expectation that I would join the family business. However, I wanted to cut my own path, so I joined Virtusa instead, and in three years, moved up the company ladder. But I always had an intense desire of starting my own tech company someday.
The opportunity came when I met Dhanusha Muthukumarana, then the Chief Enterprise Architect at London Stock Exchange Group. Together we founded POTENZA: he is the tech guy with a strong engineering and business background, while I had expertise in Marketing, Finance as well as looking at the world through a new lens.
What were you trying to solve with POTENZA, and how has the business grown so far?
We both marvelled at how tech companies help transform businesses, yet we also experienced how companies here and overseas struggled to make the best use of technology. POTENZA could fill this gap, and by doing so, potentially grow into a global company. So, we quit our jobs at LSEG and Virtusa, two leading global tech companies that had originated out of Sri Lanka, invested our time and money, and started POTENZA with just four people, including Dhanusha and myself, in 2016. We spent a year building the team, so we started operations in 2017. The first year of operations was tough! However, the business made a profit the very next year on $1 million of revenue.
Initially, we faced considerable pushback from local companies because we were a local company; and a startup too! They often preferred to engage global brands even though we had better solutions and understood their needs better. So, we focused our attention on international markets.
Our overseas business is growing strong despite the pandemic and today accounts for over 70% of revenue. Some of our top clients include AIA Global Insurance and US-based Bombardier Inc, the world’s fourth-largest aviation company. We will soon onboard one of the world’s leading spirit companies.
Our local clientele includes some banks and conglomerates, but breaking this market was not easy. For one thing, most local companies still prefer to deal with global consultancies because they do not believe that a local company can solve their problems. Most companies are also not clear about what they need because they are most concerned about running daily operations. In the early days, local companies wanted to see our books before they gave us projects. Whereas overseas, companies are interested in solving their business problems, so they would always listen to us.
Our overseas business is growing strong despite the pandemic and today accounts for over 70% of revenue
What differentiates POTENZA from other consultancies?
Today, POTENZA employs over 80 people, and we have offices in Australia and Singapore serving clients in Asia, Europe, and North America. We have built a young brand that is well known overseas, beating bids from global consultancy firms like Accenture, Deloitte, and McKinsey. We recently won a big project to deploy SAP ERP solutions for Myanmar’s largest retail chain by edging out SAP itself! We did this by identifying their problem better than any of the global consultancies, and the solution we offered made more sense to them.
We also see a difference in how local companies approach business: most are traditional, slow to innovate and do not put the interests of their customers, suppliers, and employees first. For instance, the retail chain in Myanmar, ten times bigger than Sri Lanka’s largest supermarket chain, wanted an invoicing system to scan over 12,000 invoices a day. They wanted this to pay their suppliers as fast as possible to attract better quality products (in Sri Lanka, most retailers still demand a credit period from their suppliers). We, however, showed them that we could easily digitalise their entire procurement process from placing an order to transferring payments direct to their suppliers.