Entrepreneur and pioneer of digital marketing in Sri Lanka Rajitha Dahanayake is the driving force behind the success of eMarketingEye, a digital marketing company he founded in 2007 and is its Chief Executive Officer. As the name suggests, a passion and an eye for creativity-led digital innovations drive eMarketingEye. The company has an impressive clientele and has completed over 4,500 projects for over 1,000 clients worldwide.
It would seem that Rajitha built the company’s success on several bold moves. First, Rajitha had an unshakable conviction to take the plunge when digital marketing was in its nascent state in Sri Lanka.
The second was building a suite of services targeting companies overseas first, even before considering the needs of the home market. The resolute five-member team working out of Rajitha’s home in the formative days of eMarketingEye eventually built the company into a leading name in the global industry. Today, the company, now a team of over 120-people, derives up to 80% of its revenue from overseas clients.
The third was deciding to specialise in one key sector, hospitality, to focus on innovation and growth. Competing against global digital marketing companies was arduous, and eMarketingEye had to fight hard for a piece of the pie.
The company has its geographical footprint spans across 25+ countries in the Asia Pacific, Middle East including Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, China, Maldives, Indonesia, Seychelles, Mauritius, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand and more.
In this edition of Echelon’s Daring CEOs, Rajitha Dahanayake talks to us about the unfolding challenges and opportunities and inspiring teams to stay focused.
What were the founding objectives of eMarketingEye, and how has the journey been so far?
My professional background is in digital, and I started my career as an e-Marketing analyst. Early in my career, I realised the opportunity to be had by doing things differently, so I left my job and started eMarketingEye 14 years ago. My objective was to start something more knowledge-based that could quickly move into the international markets. However, we took the bold step of launching our services in the global market first before even considering the domestic market.
When we founded eMarketingEye, digital marketing was a novel topic in Sri Lanka, and we were aware of the risks of plunging in. Today, digital marketing is an inherent part of any business, and many have joined the bandwagon. However, what sets us apart, and a big reason for our success, is our focus on our areas of specialisation from day one, and we derive our innovation and growth strategies from that focus. We have worked on over 4,500 projects for over 1,000 global and local companies.
eMarketingEye initially focused on providing digital solutions for the hospitality industry. Today, around 80% of our business is from this industry, even though we have moved to other verticals. The single industry focus allowed us to expand quickly in the last decade, and we are now well versed in this domain, and our expertise is peerless.
In all these years, we are fortunate to have never had disruptive challenges confronting the business.
We provide a whole range of digital solutions, including web development, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and PPC (Pay Per Click) services etc for top local and international brands. Our portfolio of services also includes digital marketing consultancy, content marketing and development, email marketing, web analytics and social media optimisation. Over the years, eMarketingEye has won over 250 international and local awards for its impact.
Last year, however, the travel and tourism industry halted operations globally due to the pandemic and, for the first time, we felt the pressure challenged our business operations.
We managed cash flows prudently during the unfolding crisis and looked out for new revenue generation channels, which eventually helped us to get it back on track within a couple of months. And our plan today is to double our revenue (Pre-Pandemic) within the next 1 -2 years.
It is obvious that the pandemic impacted profitability in 2020 but we still had an encouraging profit margin. We know the hospitality industry has a long recovery ahead of it. However, we are confident eMarketingEye will be just fine because we have found new ways to take the company forward and engineer growth.
Had we been a bit more adventurous in the formative years, perhaps eMarketingEye would have been a larger company than we are now. However, we are happy to see us as one of the leading digital agencies in Asia for the Hospitality Industry.
We never position ourselves as just an agency to our clients. Instead, we position ourselves as their partner for growth.
What are some of the innovations that you are particularly proud of behind the successes of eMarketingEye?
We have launched a lot of innovative solutions during the last 12 to 18 months. One such product is RestaurantsEye, a platform that facilitates restaurants to directly reach out to their end-consumer with a lower cost of distribution and higher yield. This was a major success and we have already signed up with top hospitality brands locally and are also gaining momentum in international markets as well. We always strive to bring something new to the market. However, these products are not our competitive edge, but our willingness to innovate and do new things is one reason why clients are willing to work with us. Our competitive edge, I would say, is our transparency, our KPI-driven approach, and delivering what we promise to do.
We never position ourselves as just an agency to our clients. Instead, we position ourselves as their partner for growth. Our mission is to help clients grow their business and revenue, and reduce distribution costs with higher yield through online channels and effective digital strategy.
As the market leader in this space, there is constant pressure on us to deliver new solutions, and this fuels the passion for innovation.
What is your vision for the company? Where will you see growth coming from in a post-Covid environment?
Today we are known as one of the leading digital agencies for hospitality in Asia and our goal is to be the same in other markets as well.
We have set ourselves a target of doubling revenue over the next one to two years. It is a matter of scaling the business, and we believe the environment is conducive for growth for several reasons. First, post-Covid, consumers everywhere have emerged more tech-savvy and more trusting of online platforms. Also, people will prefer making a booking directly with the supplier/hotel on their website compared to going through a third party. Therefore, when things get back to normal and global tourism sees a revival, we can surely see more people wanting to book online directly with hotels compared to traditional channels, or online intermediaries, so hotels will need to have the right digital strategy and platforms in place, and this is where we come in.
Tell us about your team and how you align them to a shared vision?
No company will get built by people who have no passion. I can only support employees, motivate them and set targets, but at the end of the day, we need people who bring in new ideas and go at the same speed as we go. So, without passion, no one will be able to do this; even now, my team works without complaint at any time or day. I know that at least 80-90% of the employees work with us not merely for a salary, but they want to achieve something. It is this collective passion that has brought eMarketingEye to where it is today. And we have proven our success:
eMarketingEye is listed as the only digital agency among the ‘40 Best Workplaces in Sri Lanka 2021’ by Great Place to Work (GPTW) Sri Lanka and also recognised as ‘10 Best Workplaces for Millennials in Sri Lanka 2020’ and ‘10 Best Small and Medium IT/ITES Workplaces in Sri Lanka 2021’ as well.
What was the one business lesson you had to learn the hard way?
Nothing comes to mind personally, but as a business, there is one impactful lesson. We had to learn to make decisions fast because sometimes people tend to deliberate on the border of procrastination. It is far better to make decisions quickly so that even if you make a mistake, you can pivot as fast and keep the momentum going. We do not take breaks to mull over important decisions, and I encourage my teams to leave a problem (and re-group) that takes more than 10 -15 minutes to find a solution: there is no point in dragging out a discussion for so long because we will not get anywhere. We may end up complicating a problem rather than getting closer to a solution. I hate when people come up with complicated solutions too, because if the solution is right it has to be simple. So how can a team deliberate faster? My advice is to fix the basics and do little things right.
We do not take breaks to mull over important decisions, and I encourage my teams to leave a problem (and regroup) that takes more than 10 -15 minutes to find a solution: there is no point in dragging out a discussion for so long because we will not get anywhere
What is the boldest decision you had to make?
Maybe it was starting this company because I had a very stable job at the time. Leaving a steady job and devoting my time to eMarketingEye was quite challenging, and we never had a five-year plan at the beginning. Today, we are much more structured and have clear goals and strategies because we are a bigger operation. We have created challenges for ourselves and pushed ourselves harder over the last five years because we want to grow faster and be more impactful.