Founder Sanjiva Weerawarana moving on from Sri Lanka software giant WSO2

Sanjiva Weerawarana

September 1, 2018 (LBO) – Founder Sanjiva Weerawarana is moving on from software company WSO2, relinquishing his employment as Chief Software Architect.  This is after relinquishing the CEO position in the recent past.  The 500 employee firm is one of the most successful software companies in Sri Lanka.

Weerawarana will continue on as Non-Executive Chairman and retain a shareholding of close to 5% of the company. He recently released his farewell email to employees.  The full email is reproduced below:

Time for me to move on from WSO2!

I guess this will be a bit of a surprise some people :). Let me start by sharing the email I sent to all WSO2 people a few days ago:


From: Sanjiva Weerawarana <sanjiva@wso2.com>
Date: Tue, Aug 28, 7:53 AM (3 days ago)
To: team-group, Architecture, Ballerina-Group
Subject: CONFIDENTIAL: time for me to move on from WSO2 onto another chapter of my life

Hi Everyone,

Its now been more than13 years since WSO2’s birth and I’ve decided its time to move on from my employee status as Chief Architect. This coming Friday, August 31, will be my last day of work as a WSO2 employee.

I’m actually not going that far though 🙂 .. I will remain on the board and will continue to be the chairman. Further, I will also be continuing to provide technical leadership to Ballerina but as a consultant and not as an employee. In particular, I will no longer be owning product architecture or strategy as I have from pretty much the birth of the company.

So its not really a full good bye at all but rather a change of relationship for me. But it is a big change for me to say I no longer work in WSO2 :-).

Why and why now? Its been nearly an year since Tyler took over as the CEO. The company is growing nicely and while we don’t always agree on everything (um, serverless anyone? ;-)), I am extremely pleased with how Tyler has taken over and transitioned the company to a new leadership architecture. That’s not easy given I’m still around and that I, um, can (apparently) be a bit of a PITA for anyone and everyone. No one who managed me has ever said I was easy to manage :-).

Our current business is doing really well and the changes Tyler’s been driving are working well to keep the growth going. If we sustain a 50% ARR growth rate for 3 more years we’ll easily be worth $1B+! And we can do it while generating money! We have a fantastic engineering and product innovation approach and team that can keep us ahead of our crappy-ass competitors and our marketing and sales can keep generating money while finance, admin, legal and HR keep spending it wisely! So this is a done deal if we all keep doing the right things!!

We’ve started on a brand new product architecture with DICK/VICK and I have 100% confidence the architecture leaders in the company can see this through to its rightful course.

In the meantime Ballerina is chugging along well but there’s a lot more to do. I am not leaving Ballerina at all — I will continue to be its technical leader but just operating as a consultant to the company and with my responsibility limited to Ballerina (in totality) but not to the WSO2 products.

To be honest, stepping down from the CEO job and being around and watching someone else mess with “my baby” has not been easy for me personally. But I couldn’t be happier with Tyler as the new CEO and he will have my full support from the board (minus the meddling as an employee) to continue to build tremendous value for WSO2.

Thus, I leave with the full confidence that I’m leaving a company in good condition and in solid hands; and that’s not just Tyler- its all of you.

What’s next for me? RETIREMENT! Hell bloody no. I’ve never worked a regular 8hr day so I don’t expect to start now!

A few weeks ago, at LSF’s 15th anniversary, I rebooted Lanka Software Foundation, version 3, where we are going to focus on building software to (help) run the country.

[Sidebar: Many of you may not know that LSF is the cause and birth of WSO2: LSF created AxisMora (in 2003; Srinath (leader) and DimuthuL were interns when they worked on it) and then Axis2 (2004/05) which is what gave the idea, the opportunity and initial team to start WSO2. All of the original team went onto grad school, finished CS PhDs and are all over the world .. including in Sri Lanka in the form of Srinath who was the original brains behind AxisMora.]

I have a bunch of plans on that and we already have 6 full time engineers working on things and I plan to get more people. I will be spending a lot of my time helping with that work. I’m also advocating good architecture to various parts of the Sri Lankan government and I plan to do a lot more of that too.

I’ve also been meaning to start teaching again .. so maybe one of these days. Oh yeah plus blog a lot more and be even more critical of politics and politicians (globally of course; I don’t discriminate).

All that is beyond my “day job” .. first will be to see Ballerina to 1.0 and then we’ll see what next. I also will be more active on the board and will likely end up being a bigger PITA through that than before! 😉

You. Until Tyler took over, I used to interview every single person who joined. That means I’ve interviewed most of you! When we started, many of you were people I had taught .. but over time that changed of course and now we have people from all over Sri Lanka and globally. I never checked for skills, I only checked whether your values fit with wanting to leave your mark on the world.

In the end, life is not about titles and salaries. Its all about what impact you have in the world. If you have children then how you raise them and how they act in the world is the biggest impact you can have. Children or not, as individuals we all can have a positive or zero or negative impact .. and WSO2 was always designed to be a company that focused on delivering a positive impact for the world by giving its people the environment and the opportunity to have a positive impact on the world. Oh yeah, and to create value for all its stakeholders along the way 🙂 .. but really that just falls out naturally if we do it right.

[Sidebar: One of my interview questions used to be “what do you want people to say when you die?” .. and if the person answered it wrong I wouldn’t hire the person.]

One thing I always believed in, and still do, is that anyone can do anything given the right opportunity, the right environment and the right support. I have been tremendously lucky in my life to have got many amazing opportunities in the right environment with the right support to be able to do what I’ve done in my life so far. So I’ve always taken it as my duty to give others a chance whenever I can .. a chance to be successful by giving them the opportunity, the environment and the support. Of course, not everyone will take it and run with it but most do, sometimes after a kick in the nuts to wake them up!

Not everyone is as lucky as many of us have been to get to where we are. Now its your turn to give a break to someone: Give that person with a weird resume a chance. Give that person with poor confidence a chance. Give that person with bad English a chance. Give that person with a good heart a chance. Give that person with no experience but with passion a chance. Who knows, some of them might end up being people who help you build a billion dollar company!

Working with you all has been a tremendous honor and a privilege for me. I have learnt sooo much in these 13 years that its beyond description. When I started I knew nothing about middleware .. and many of you know way way more than I did back then! I leave with not just technical knowledge about middleware, but also how to deploy it for real in the form of a solution to a business problem! I was a CS researcher who became a CEO so you all helped me build the company from 0 to nearly 500 people and taught me what leadership at non-trivial scale means. I of course made plenty of mistakes along the way but c’est la vie.

From a Sri Lanka specific angle: we were repeatedly told by experienced pundits how so many things couldn’t be done from Sri Lanka: product design, product management, engineering leadership, sales, marketing, events, research etc. etc. etc. .. and we proved all those naysayers wrong! Hell we were doing content marketing before that even became a “thing”! As a Sri Lankan, I’m tremendously proud of what we all achieved! No *software* company in Sri Lanka has come even close to us and even out of India there are only like 10 that have come this far. That’s pretty damned awesome and we’re in elite company. (Unfortunately that hasn’t stopped the pundits yet, but that’s the way with the world: we have to keep proving them wrong forever.)

Of course we didn’t achieve that in isolation. WSO2 is a global corporation with a global family of awesome people working together to impact the world in a good way. I know its not easy to work in a company with people separated by the largest possible number of timezones, especially when there’s a skewed center of gravity in one location. So I owe a special thank you to all those from outside of Sri Lanka who patiently dealt with all the complexity of being global and more impatiently, lived with my often (!) country biased opinions!

In life, nothing is permanent or absolutely true. So remember to be always dispassionately passionate about everything and never hesitate to call BS on things. Above all, never lie to yourself .. its ok to lie to others sometimes but never to yourself!

Thank you once again to everyone for giving me (by far) the best 13 years of my life. I have full confidence that WSO2 will go on to being an awesome company because of all the amazing people that you all are. Never forget the goal though: its not to make more ARR or to do the product release or whatever; its all about making it possible for all of us to impact the world in a positive way. Whatever gains we get will come out of working hard to do the right things, not the other way around.

Steve Jobs said “The journey is the reward.” It has been indeed been an amazing journey for me, and hence a tremendous reward.

Thank you.

Sanjiva.

Sanjiva Weerawarana, Ph.D.
Founder, Chairperson & Chief Architect; WSO2, Inc.; http://wso2.com/
email: sanjiva@wso2.com; office: (+1 XXX XXX XXXX | +94 XX XXX XXXX) x5700; cell: +94 XX XXX XXXX | +1 XXX XXX XXXX; voip: +1 XXX XXX XXXX; twitter: @sanjiva
Lean . Enterprise . Middleware


So yeah, time for me to move on from WSO2! Interesting times ahead :-).

Wait, what? Isn’t this your company? Some people, especially in Sri Lanka, seem to think that WSO2 is “Sanjiva’s company” — in the sense that I own it. Well that’s not even remotely true and it never was! I am the founder of it and owned 40% of it when we started. The way venture funded companies work is that your ownership percentage goes down as you sell more shares to bring in capital. (I explained how that works in this talk.) As a result I now own a small percentage of the company (around 5%). In fact, all employees collectively own about 25% of WSO2 right now — and even a big part of my ownership is from option grants I received after the first 6 years so my 40% dwindled down way below 5% even. That’s normal as the expectation (hope?!) is that your small piece is now part of a much larger pie and therefore worth more. That certainly is the case for WSO2 — we started off with the “company” (which only had an open office slide deck as its assets) being valued at $1.5M and are now a real company worth at least a few hundred million dollars. Note that for a privately held company “worth” is really a theoretical concept as its real value is what someone is willing to pay for it and, being privately held, no one knows for sure :).

Ever since WSO2 became 10 years old I’ve been meaning to write a series of blogs documenting the history of the company. I want to do it to both record the history (as I remember it) and to help others who are struggling through as entrepreneurs see that I (and WSO2) have gone through lots of pain and problems too.


In my email I briefly mentioned how I got a ton of lucky breaks to get to the point of starting WSO2 and to being able to build it up. I don’t come from a rich or powerful or connected family and father worked in Oman for many years which is what facilitated my going to the US to study in 1985. Yet I was one of the lucky ones in having amazing parents who absolutely valued education and made it our number one goal. After that I got many lucky breaks that took hard work to take advantage of, but there are plenty of people who do the hard work but don’t get the break and end up on a very different opportunity trajectory.

When I write the history of WSO2 I plan to individually highlight people who made it possible by sometimes small and sometimes massive gambles that made it all possible. In the meantime, thank you to all of you who made it all possible:

There is no such thing as a “self-made man”. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the makeup of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.

George Matthew Adams