By Jekhan Aruliah
The Yarl Geek Challenge has a strong record as nursery for tech startups. By 2022, its 11th season, YGC alumni have started more than 60 companies employing hundreds of people. This doesn’t include those who emerge from these companies to setup their own startups. Yes It’s great when competitions and colleges give birth to startups. However the real Virtuous Cycle comes when these companies themselves develop people who leave and spawn even more startups. This is when the engine starts. Teams launching teams with real world experience and momentum truly achieves “critical mass”. This achieves the dreamed of self sustaining growth of the industry. We’ve seen this in California, in London, in Colombo. It’s starting in Jaffna.
The ICT sector is particularly suited for entrepreneurial startups. The setup costs of the company are low. A decent laptop and internet connection can be bought for less than US$1,000. An office setup on mother’s kitchen table costs nothing other than a strained relationship with mother. Access to market is fast. Via the internet a bedroom in Jaffna’s Kokuvil is connected to an office on New York’s Wall Street.
ICT has a huge advantage over most other products. The best mango chutney or the finest handicraft in the World made in rural Kopay has a slow difficult journey to get onto a supermarket shelf, having to convince layers of corporate executives. An app, whether good or not, gets an international audience in seconds. GooglePlay has space for an infinity of apps. Though making money, whether a chutney or an app, depends on your product and your marketing.
Tech startups around the World have kicked off by building an application for a single shop, or a single hospital, or a single business. This first system may have been built by two people in their bedrooms. Once the first system is built, they find more customers who want asimilar system. They make a loss on the first system, where they had to put in thousands of hours of effort while earning little or even zero cash. On the second sale they only need to make small changes to this existing product, expending little effort but charging the client more making a decent profit. They sell the same product to ten more customers, making even more profit. They expand the team, chase bigger clients, diversify into more lucrative sectors. In time a pulsating company is born. Hungrily searching for opportunities, creating jobs to generate the revenues to keep itself fed. Apptimus Tech, the subject of this article, is a company like this.
The ICT sector is very much suited for this Darwinian world, where the fittest survive. Even the startups that fail teach their founders valuable lessons. Lessons for them to try again with another startup. Or take their experiences to get a job with one of the established companies as employees on their payrolls.
I have already written about some of these companies that came through the Yarl Geek Challenge: 3 Axis Labs; SenzMate; Arogya Life. This article is about the winner of YGC Season 8 in 2018, Team Magenda, setup by Apptimus Tech a company based in Jaffna.
Apptimus Tech was founded by Anojan Kaneshathas, later joined by his younger brother Manojan. They come from a prosperous family in Chunnakam a few kilometers north of Jaffna Town. His father is a retired Grama Sevaka (senior local government official), his mother a registrar of marriages. Both brothers attended the prestigious Jaffna Hindu College, known for high academic performance particularly in maths and sciences. Anojan took his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Kelaniya and then his MSc at the University of Moratuwa, with Manojan graduating from Esoft in Jaffna.
As part of his degree programme in 2014 Anojan went to Delhi to do his six month internship with the NGO HISP (Health Information Systems Programmes). While in Delhi Anojan developed a Point Of Sales (POS) system as a way to learn the C# programming language.
In 2015 Anojan sold the POS to a small Jaffna business. From there he made more sales in Jaffna through his network of friends. A restaurant needed a basic POS. A fashion clothing store wanted the POS integrated with stock control. For other clients he developed the system to integrate with finance and HR modules, and also with a payment gateway for online shopping. In this way Anojan’s software product evolved.
Anojan’s parents were pushing the two brothers to get government jobs. The stubborn brothers saw the potential in IT and stuck to it. In 2015 Anojan took on his first employee Vithushan to do marketing and support even before the company had been created. It was not until late in 2016 that he recruited his next two staff. Anojan formally incorporated Apptimus Tech in 2017.
To start their office was inside the family home. Then they built a separate office in the garden. By the end of 2018 the company had 10 employees, too big for the garden shed. So they moved back into the family home, taking over the first floor.
In 2019 Apptimus Tech won its first big client, the Valampuri Hotel. Valampuri is one of Jaffna’s most successful hotels. Even through the crash of the tourist industry in Sri Lanka starting with the Easter Bombings in 2019, Valampuri’s restaurant stayed busy. Valampuri isn’t dependent on tourists, its authentic and consistently good Jaffna food is popular with Jaffna’s local people.
In 2022 Apptimus Tech, by now employing 52 staff moved into a new 7,000 square foot office in Mallaham, a town in the Jaffna peninsula. Anojan is aiming for 300 staff in the next two years.
Over time the Apptimus Tech applications developed into a fully-fledged integrated ERP system for small and medium enterprises to run their businesses. They branded the system naming it “Apptimate” (https://apptimate.io). As Anojan prospected for clients he saw a pattern and a particular opportunity. Anojan realised many of the older larger businesses had highly disjointed systems. Over many years when they were still small these larger businesses may have bought a POS from one supplier and a simple finance system from another. They might have had a stock control system developed by an independent local programmer, and perhaps had no CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system at all. For many businesses in their early stages a key driver for selecting systems would have been cheapness. But as they became established and successful they were ready or could be persuaded to invest in something better. Apptimus Tech saw great opportunities in these growing businesses ready to integrate their systems, successfully seizing them.
The company also started building systems for different specific sectors:
Hospitals: Apptimus Tech has hospital clients in the Northern Province, including the North Central Hospital. It sold a system to India’s Apollo Hospital in Telangama State who wanted a custom built application to sit on top of the standard Apollo group systems. Apptimus Tech is pitching an integrated system at a well known Colombo private hospital, which currently runs on about 30 different applications.
Legal Firms: Working with a respected Colombo lawyer Apptimus Tech is developing a system for legal firms. A system to make this notoriously inefficient profession less so. One only has to walk around Hultsdorf in Colombo, or the Jaffna courthouse to see the swarming black clad legal eagles wandering around. One only has to watch the lawyers seated patiently and their clients waiting impatiently on courtroom benches (I have been there more than a few times as observer, not participant) to realise the huge market potential here.
Tourism: Apptimus has already implemented systems in well known Jaffna hotels including The Valampuri, Tilko Jaffna City Hotel, and Reecha. The system has been installed at hotels in UK and France with other sales in the pipeline.
Recruitment: Placements.lk (https://placements.lk) is another service developed and run by Apptimus. Anojan describes it as “Sri Lanka’s first candidate-centric recruitment ecosystem”. Apptimus is partnering with the private and government universities/institutes in Sri Lanka to enrol their students onto the platform. Several hundred companies have registered to advertise vacancies in the last 12 months.
Anojan told me Apptimus is serving over 500 clients from 16 countries in 13 sectors. Along with their products, they are also building custom software solutions as per the client needs. Be it a Web, Mobile, or Desktop Application, they have the expertise and team capacity to build them all.
Anojan’s strategy for the future is to develop overseas sales. He will be putting branches in Australia, UK, Canada and India where he has many clients and sales opportunities. Anojan commented while small clients are happy to be supported out of Sri Lanka, larger customers like to see a local presence in their countries. He plans to spin-off certain subsidiary companies, to focus on different market segments and innovations.
Anojan started his company as a hobby, building a POS system simply to teach himself to code in C#. The hobby grew into a company. First in his parents’ house, then their garden then taking over their home’s first floor, and in 2022 moving into a new 7,000 square foot office. Starting with just him alone, the company employs over 100 staff with plans to multiply this. Apptimus Tech sells product and services to 16 countries around the World. Still a young man Anojan has plenty of time and energy and ambition to take his company much much further.
Manojan can be contacted at email@example.com
( — The writer Jekhan Aruliah was born in Sri Lanka and moved with his family to the UK when he was two years of age. Brought up in London, he graduated from Cambridge University in 1986 with a degree in Natural Sciences. Jekhan then spent over two decades in the IT industry, for half of which he was managing offshore software development for British companies in Colombo and in Gurgaon (India). In 2015 Jekhan decided to move to Jaffna where he is now involved in social and economic projects. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org — )