ARIMAC: DISRUPTING BUSINESS THROUGH INNOVATION

In a country not known for creative prowess, a digitally disruptive agency raises a new funding round to build leading-edge Human Computer Interaction (HCI) products with the potential to rank the company a leader in the area

Investors often fall into the trap of conflating invention with innovation. Invention itself cannot propel a company to a competitive market position. However, innovation propels companies to cutting edge and success. Potential investors may have confused some of Sri Lankan tech and design firm Arimac’s most important work as inventions without real-world application, rather than innovation contributing to an ecosystem that makes its leading edge products and services possible. Therefore, Arimac’s Founder and Chief Executive Chamira Jayasinghe has turned down as many potential investors as he has engaged due to confusion about the business’ goals in the first place. However, one such investor fund that streamlines itself with the vision of the founder recently valued the company at Rs1 billion in its second round of funding.

Arimac, where many of the team have a technology background, isn’t a typical tech company for a few reasons. Its products and services target five unique business areas and aim to take a Human Computer Interaction (HCI) optimising approach to solving problems. Second, its team spends significant time and resources chasing its founder’s audacious vision to be a product-led creative firm; and third, its accelerated delivery model has no parallels.

Many potential investors suggested that structure and ambition were too complex for a $2 million revenue company to pursue. However, what they failed to gauge was that its founder’s vision and company culture aren’t typically what venture capital is used to backing. This is proven by the company quickly finding traction and world-class clients in most of the new business areas it has entered. Arimac is now finalising its second funding round with a global private equity firm. That its new shareholders must align with the company’s unconventional structure of products and services, and its continuing to invest in moonshot projects, is a foregone conclusion.

Founded in 2011, Arimac has emerged as one of the country’s leading firms at the intersection of tech and creativity. At its core, it makes mobile and web applications and digital content for brand communications for corporate clients. However, its most promising products and clients are attracted to it because of its world-class ability to deploy leading technology including AI, AR and robotics into products that are also intuitive, user-friendly and forward-thinking. Unlike inventing and filling lots of patents that never get used, the proof of success for innovative companies is growing revenue and a path to profitability. According to Chamira, Arimac has beaten the growth expectations of its first round investors.

EXPANSION PLANS: Arimac plans to expand to 15 regions by end-2021. Headquartered in Sri Lanka, with branches in the UK, Australia, Trinidad & Tobago, Abu Dhabi, and plans to expand to France.

Its second round or series B funding is expected to be more than two times the series A valuation from 1.5 years ago, at Rs1 billion.

Chief Executive Chamira tells us of the company’s five main operating pillars: Enterprise Web and Mobile Development, Immersive Technologies, Gaming and Digital Entertainment, Cognitive Sciences and Robotics, and Digitalisation and Consumer Ergonomics. “They are all people-centric solutions that aim to enhance the human experience in both the digital and real worlds,” he explains.

ENTERPRISE WEB & MOBILE DEVELOPMENT
“Simplicity is beauty,” according to the founder. At its core, Arimac develops cutting-edge web and mobile application for Android and iOS platforms, with a focus on ultra-responsive interfaces that provide a seamless user experience. As its largest revenue stream, this vertical targets key industries to provide state-of-the-art digital solutions. “Targeting the aviation industry, we’ve developed a solution called Arimac Air Space,” he reveals. Used by the staff and crew of Emirates and consumers of Etihad, for the time being, this is a digital product suite that streamlines the multiple processes and functions of a flight crew on one platform, enabling them to stay on top of their tasks through updated crew rosters and access to passenger notifications to provide a more seamless experience.

IMMERSIVE TECHNOLOGIES
Through augmented reality, the company has also forayed into Immersive Technologies, which blur the line between the physical and digitally stimulated worlds for an immersive experience. Identifying interactive technologies as a complement to marketing efforts by businesses, Arimac has developed several solutions to provide such experiences for renowned brands in the island.

“We provided an immersive technology solution named Arimac Visualiser to Rocell, where we created a digital, immersive space that allows users to outfit a virtual home with the accessories they’d like to have and see how it looks,” he explains. The hands-on visualiser allows users to design the interiors of their home, as well as test pre-made layouts of floors, ceiling and wall surfaces, as well as products like furniture and bathware, prior to making their purchase decision.

Arimac also developed WynkAR to bring print to life through the use of augmented reality. Allowing companies to reinvent their marketing and advertising strategies, WynkAR engages users via interactive digital content through a truly immersive experience.

DIGITALISATION AND CONSUMER ERGONOMICS
“Our digitalisation arm is about empowering people by connecting them with technology.” Think virtual assistants and intelligent agents that have natural language and dialogue processing capacities, through customised conversational AI capabilities.

Under this vertical, Arimac introduced Sri Lankans to the first-ever phygital (physical + digital) bank branch in South Asia with NDB, where all banking facilities have been replaced by cutting-edge tech processes.

Introduced for the first time in Sri Lanka, NDB will be the first bank to offer this comprehensive interactive digital platform connected to multiple devices; an efficient queue management system; paperless transaction processing and account opening; and the successful implementation of workers through Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

GAMING AND DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT
Following the success of Kanchayudha, Arimac has delved deeper into its game development capabilities through its game portal, IMI Games. With over 50 mini games from different genres, modified to work on multiple platforms like PCs, smart TVs and such, IMI Games hopes to take locally created games to the international market.

Harnessing the growing capabilities of VR and AR, Arimac is also straying from ‘just for fun’ games, and exploring what Chamira says is the “next wave of movie-making”.

“It’s all about HCI. Back in 2013, I started a PhD project on how the brain can communicate with computers, called the brain computing interface.” Stemming from this, the Arimac team did research on how this technology could be used to help differently-abled kids or kids with autism who are now a part of its own employee base. “We’re helping empower them by developing and enhancing their skills. They are fantastic coders because of their ability to focus intensely,” he says proudly.

This led to the creation of neuro feedback games that can help people with ADHD, dyslexia, hyperactivity or Alzheimer’s. “In a nutshell, the games use waves to stimulate parts of the brain for curative solutions. We are working with blending psychology and movie-making techniques to create films that stimulate parts of the brain to evoke emotional responses,” he explains.

The brain drain is a big problem in Sri Lanka, so we wanted to create opportunities for local women and men to stay in Sri Lanka and build successful lives. We have so much talent here, they’re passionate and intelligent and share our commitment to creating smart solutions.

“We’ve also created an artificial intelligence game where we measure elements like emotions, reflexes and six other behavioural aspects, which records things like user memory strategy, observations, predictions and one’s actions. Basically, we’re able to understand you better. As a part of a CSR initiative, we’re also working with disabled children to address conditions like brain-related ailments through a different level of gaming.”

COGNITIVE SCIENCES AND ROBOTICS
With Arimac’s foray into robotics in industrial applications, perhaps its most exciting new development comes in the form of Diyazen, a fully fledged humanoid robot, created completely and solely with local talent, according to Chamira. “We’re now seeking investors as we want to tap into the global robotics market, which is worth $5 billion. Currently, mainly Japan does robotics, and India is raising money for one. So we’re looking to capitalise on it.”

In line with Arimac’s HCI philosophy, Diyazen is an in-house prototype of an advanced concierge robot developed to offer the first level of customer interaction at a store, such as direct and immediate access to bill payment,  planchanges, etc, for a telco store customer. He also quotes examples of hotels in Singapore using robots to deliver water bottles and such, citing Arimac’s focus to utilise robotics as an assisting interface for customers and employees of an organisation.

With these and many other projects in the pipeline, Arimac is on the fast track to digital disruption. Following its next round of investor funding, the company plans to launch the IMI Games portal in three countries by the end of 2019, as well as drive the product teams working for its SBUs WynkAR and Visualizer, and in robotics.

“At Arimac, our aim is to make the first unicorn hailing from Sri Lanka by 2028. With the launch of more neuro feedback games, the next wave of movie-making, I believe we can mature our capabilities to start winning Oscars by the mid-2020,” Chamira adds optimistically, and rightfully so.

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A STRATEGY TO INNOVATE

Arimac is taking a lead in three areas of innovation: building products that improve user experience, building these with leading edge technology and making the product development process cheaper, quicker and better.

During an interview, Arimac’s Chief Executive Chamira Jayasinghe discussed how he expects to maintain its competitive edge.

What can you tell us about the planned venture capital investment?
We are ironing out the details, but we are very excited to be working with this fresh infusion of financial trust. When I started Arimac, I wanted to push the limits of creativity in technology.

My background is in programming, but I also wanted to craft beautiful software. I dreamt big and wanted to make those dreams a reality. We have exceeded all investor expectations with the investments we’ve received thus far. It’s now been eight years and I’m amazed at how far we have come and very excited about where it’s going.

Can you outline Arimac’s strategy?
When I embarked on this I realized in order to create great things, you need to invest in great people. The brain drain is a big problem in Sri Lanka, so I wanted to create opportunities for local women and men to stay in Sri Lanka and build successful lives. We have so much talent here, they’re passionate and intelligent and share my commitment to creating smart solutions.

In return, we believe our employees deserve to be compensated well, which we do by providing accommodation and competitive salaries. This is all in hope of retaining talent in the country and helping to fulfil their potential.

The second core thing is our products and solutions. We are motivated by the possibilities of human-computer interaction (HCI). Ten years ago, software was difficult to navigate. We wanted to make that simple and easy. That’s what people want: software that looks beautiful, is innovative and breaks new ground. We’ve built an impressive array of products, if you don’t mind me tooting our own horn. We’ve managed to achieve this track record of success because we practice a culture of constant learning, and we aren’t afraid to dream big and attain the impossible.