About a decade ago, Sri Lanka was not familiar with online services until entrepreneurs took the risk of taking the challenge and starting unique platforms to give back to society. The Develop It Yourself (DIY) this week interviewed Takas.lk Co-Founder Lahiru Pathmalal, one such person who risked bringing a change by launching one of the very first e-commerce websites in Sri Lanka.
When inquired if the Sri Lankan market was a feasible place for him as an entrepreneur to operate, Pathmalal expressed that the journey was extremely difficult due to several reasons. Explaining further, he said it was hard to bring in investments into the company as it was a new product/service in the market, as many do not desire to infuse capital to a start-up.
Secondly, he stated that an extreme technology barrier was present prior to Covid-19, where people really took a slow time to embrace and adapt to technology. Next, he elaborated that the market size in Sri Lanka is simply too small, where large businesses make it even harder for younger and new entrepreneurs to not commence any business as they do not leave space for newcomers in the market.
“Big businesses collect ‘rent’ either through products developed efficiently (by taxes) or through asset bases, which they have inherited for a long time. These businesses have zero incentives to evolve with time and adapt to technology that could bring a change into the country,” he said.
Pathmalal, along with Dilendra Wimalasekara and Murtaza Moosajee, took the opportunity to establish a product that had not been operated by anyone in Sri Lanka, through the funding of the Lankan Angel Network during the year 2012.
Responding to the question of what challenges were faced after launching the website, Pathmalal said it was difficult to sell goods as people in the country were not familiar with online purchasing, for which they had to build the brand name first.
“Initially, we started to use our personal contacts to build the brand, marketed ourselves by attending events, and also started to promote social media marketing platforms to raise the brand name amongst the people,” he noted.
Along with building the brand name, Takas.lk introduced the service of cash on delivery where consumers could either use cash or card to purchase goods, as it was hard to gain the loyalty of consumers who were not aware of an e-commerce operation.
“Since our products were price-competitive, consumers thought we sold refurbished products. They just didn’t understand e-commerce in Sri Lanka, hence we introduced things like cash on delivery to overcome the challenge,” Pathmalal added.
From primarily selling just electronic items, Takas.lk has now expanded its product range during the course of nine years. As of today, Takas.lk has more than hundreds of products under the categories of Electronics and Computers, Home and Garden, Beauty and Health, Toys, Kids and Baby, Car Care, and much more, for any and all consumers of Sri Lanka.
Commenting on the reason why Takas.lk diversified the product range, Pathmalal highlighted that it was due to the objective of providing better customer service that could encourage repeating purchases while also simultaneously increasing profit margins of the company.
When inquired what is the uniqueness of the service in comparison to its competitors, he stated that Takas.lk is different as it offers the best price to all its customers while providing a convenient method of shopping with the widest range of possibility to choose a product from, and also due to excellent customer service that assist via phone, e-mail, social media, or live chat. “The unique key point of Takas.lk is doing small things right at all times,” he noted.
Being one of the very first e-commerce websites in Sri Lanka, Takas.lk has a client database of over 50,000 customers islandwide. However, with the recent partnership with a reputed conglomerate, Ideal Industries (Pvt.) Ltd. (now known as Ideal Takas), Takas.lk will be able to further enhance seamless customer experience.
With reference to the company profile, Takas.lk was the first e-commerce company to have a strategic relationship with MasterCard to tokenize credit cards and also to directly work with Visa for a range of over 15,000 products catering to all its consumers islandwide.
Moreover, one of the greatest achievements of Takas.lk to date is the fact that the company has beaten more than 94 registered sites in Sri Lanka. During the year 2015, the website was selected by www.startupranking.com as Sri Lanka’s best start-up based on the SR Score.
“Our best and the biggest competitors have already gone under us. The reason why Takas.lk survived this long is because of team effort and flat managerial operations where all employees of the company are treated equally, even though the responsibility differs from one another,” Pathmalal highlighted.
As with any business and industry, hurdles will be present in order to survive and succeed, especially with the current Covid-19 pandemic and other external barriers that exist in today’s market. However, speaking on behalf of current Chairman Nalin Jayaraj Welgama, Pathmalal stated that the goal of Takas.lk is to regain market dominance and be the No. 1 1 e-commerce website in Sri Lanka.
“Currently a foreign-owned e-commerce business in Sri Lanka has gained the top spot, as they are backed by the Alibaba Group. We want a truly Sri Lankan company to be the number one company in Sri Lanka, which has Sri Lankans’ interest at heart,” Pathmalal concluded.
Sri Lanka is a striving country with many great ideas from entrepreneurs; hence, if the right path of direction is given with the support of investment, any unique establishments such as Takas.lk will be developed and enhanced to improve people’s lifestyles in Sri Lanka.