An Echelon Media Company
Wednesday May 12th, 2021

Niranka Perera on scaling ecommerce solutions amidst crises

Niranka T. Perera Co-founder, Chairman and CEO, Antyra Solutions

Antyra Solutions was co-founded by Niranka T. Perera and Rohan Jayaweera, and the initial core services offerings were a personification of their skillsets. Niranka discusses how the company transformed and learnt to scale in the last two years

What about Antyra’s future excites you?

As a leader in the digital space, we have a very lofty goal of wanting to democratize eCommerce – to make it possible for any Sri Lankan brand, irrespective of size or scale, to access a global market. Today, digital consumption is booming and bursting with opportunity in South Asia. All indicators point to rapid adoption.

In Sri Lanka too, digital adoption is growing across the spectrum and local brands are increasingly taking digital seriously. For example, an eCommerce solution that was considered a ‘good to have’ not long ago, has now become a ‘must have’.

We also see that brands are demanding more from their digital partners and are willing to push boundaries to stand out. This opens many doors for companies like Antyra, which are passionate about innovating, solving problems and helping brands engage with consumers in new and inspiring ways. Since we began operations six years ago, we have worked with over 100 brands, handling large volumes in terms of revenue and a diversity of products.

Building on this experience, during the lockdown last year, we introduced an eCommerce product suite called AnCom on a subscription/ commission-based model to allow any brand to launch an enterprise grade eCommerce solution at a fraction of the cost. I believe that it is one of the things that takes us a step closer to achieving our goal, and I’m excited to see where this journey takes us.

Can you give us a scale of success for the AnCom platform?

We have had an extremely positive response for AnCom, with some of the biggest brands in the country coming on board. I think the appeal of our enterprise solution is that we offer brands a risk-free option to test their capacity for eCommerce. Furthermore, the platform is an extension of our know-how and best practices in managing an eCommerce business, which offers even those just entering the market a great place to start.

The demand for a solution like this has translated to something very tangible, and now AnCom generates more revenue for us than any one client in our portfolio. We are emboldened by this, and we are continuously investing in this solution portfolio. In less than a year, we have now launched AnCom version 4.0.

We are constantly speaking to our customers and expanding to related services based on market demand as well. An invoicing solution coupled with AnCom is on the way, for example, and it would allow any offline transaction to be converted into an online payment.

We understand it is challenging to break into a foreign market, as brands need to look at the entire ecosystem and address all the little pieces that need to seamlessly come together. With this in mind, we are also taking an ecosystem approach, signing partnerships with payment providers, looking into warehousing options in foreign markets, offering branding, packaging and digital marketing services and similar as part of a bundled eCommerce solution.

As a leader in the digital space, we have a very lofty goal of wanting to democratize eCommerce – to make it possible for any Sri Lankan brand, irrespective of size or scale, to access a global market

How have you grown since founding Antyra? Why do you think you are successful?

I can honestly say that leading Antyra has been a journey of learning, with plenty of triumphs as well as sleepless nights along the way! Rohan Jayaweera and I co-founded the company because we believed we both had a skill set that could be monetized.

Over the years, we have added to that skill set – figuring out how to run a business, how to manage power dynamics, how to manage people, how to use our knowledge and experience to innovate and define processes for assured success. One of the key challenges we faced while expanding the company was finding the kind of talent that we wanted. So, we began an internship program to train enthusiastic youngsters from scratch.

About 50% of the current leadership at Antyra joined us as interns or executives and moved up through the ranks. Throughout this time, we have held on to one guiding principle – performance is key, and we are hyper focused on delivering on behalf of our customers. With every client engagement, we ensure we can justify the time, effort and money invested in the work we do.

I think that focus has helped us build trust with a portfolio of clients who have been with us for almost our entire journey. During the first four years of our operations, the company grew almost entirely based on referrals from existing clients. I am acutely aware that certain people and brands trusted us and took a leap of faith working with us when we were just entering the market.

During these difficult times, Antyra has waived-off millions in service fees in honour of those relationships. As a team, we are grateful to everyone who gave us an opportunity to prove ourselves over the years.

How do you maintain an edge in the market?

The reason we were able to grow at this pace is because we take a very consultative approach to what we do. We understand that in the real world, business objectives are often quantified in Rupees and Cents. As such, we take a holistic approach to solve a problem. Websites, ad campaigns and similar deliverables are always quantified in the context of solving a particular problem.

Most clients appreciate this approach and it has been our primary differentiator. To this effect, I have developed the “7-pillar framework”, an in-house process for eCommerce and Digital Marketing. In my opinion, most eCommerce failures in Sri Lanka are due to brands thinking of it as just a website.

In reality, it is an ecosystem with so many different pieces. My team is trained on this framework, and as part of an eCommerce strategy, we help clients from price and packaging benchmarking, to in-bound content marketing when we discuss eCommerce.

What is it that you learned the hard way?

There is this concept of working ‘in’ the business and working ‘on’ the business. Initially, I was heavily ‘in’ the business. So, when we would acquire a new client, I would be involved in the entire pitch, defining the strategy and execution.

For instance, we managed social media for other brands but had not updated our social in months. I found myself spending more time on a client brand than I did on my own brand. To me, this was my biggest mistake, the company was growing comfortably purely on referrals in the past.

Without specifically intending to at the onset, we become one of the largest digital service providers in the travel and hospitality space in Sri Lanka, working with close to a hundred hotels. In the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks, we lost millions in projects and over 40% of our retainer business. I realized then that we needed a strong awareness development and sales process in addition to building a diverse portfolio across multiple industries.

This was a turning point for me, as we finally invested in ourselves. Implementing a SEO strategy on our website led to an 800% increase in leads generated in one year, for example. Taking the concept of ‘single point of failure’ from the computer networking industry, we also ensured our customer acquisition strategy did not focus on any one industry.

We invested in our processes and knowledge sharing so that we armed our team with the skills and workflow to ensure continued client satisfaction. Over the last two years, this new outlook has been showing results. I am proud to note that over half of the new business we brought in during the last several months was purely based on the portfolio of work we have done and the visibility we created in the market.

To me, that is the primary benchmark of success; that we are building a brand that people want to work with, and it is no longer centred around any one individual.

What do you think are the forces, beyond your control, that are impacting your business?

Antyra has helped Sri Lankan brands generate more than 10 Billion Rupees in online sales during the last few years. To do this, we procure digital services ranging from website hosting to media buying to maybe even paying an influencer abroad to promote a brand. Ultimately though, we are helping Sri Lankan businesses sell globally and bring in foreign revenue.

So, if there is a risk that the country’s macroeconomic conditions suddenly prevent foreign party payments, for example, that can impact us overnight. Any digital agency is fundamentally dependent on many such foreign services. We have been sensitive to these risks and have global partnerships and a regional office strategy to ensure we can help our clients continue to bring home the dollars.

Besides macro uncertainty, what other forces do you think will shape your future?

I see an increasing willingness of brands to go online, especially after Covid-19. This growth in demand sees new entrants of varying skill enter the market almost weekly. This has triggered price wars, with some agencies and individuals rushing to the bottom.

I am afraid that if a brand has a negative digital marketing experience, they would believe digital doesn’t work for them, as they may not appreciate the nuances in the actual products and services offered. However, I am also optimistic that the growth in demand is also triggering awareness of digital services, with the spectrum of available customers growing at a pace to offer everyone a playing field.

There is this concept of working ‘in’ the business and working ‘on’ the business. Initially, I was heavily ‘in’ the business. To me, this was my biggest mistake

As a CEO what is that the one thing you can’t ignore?

We are a knowledge-based and people-centric business. The main investments we have made are in people. From higher-than-average salary increment scales to building a learning environment that enables upskilling and levelling-up as soon as possible, I feel we have created an environment that fosters employee growth.

Currently, Antyra is structured under three verticals – Labs (technology), Studios (design) and Digital, with each team providing specialized services. I’m proud of the fact that the company has grown in capacity with a structured distribution of knowledge, instead of being centred around one or two individuals. It may have taken several years to get to this point, but I am confident that the effort was worth it!