Bridging the gap between technology and art

Arimac Founder Chamira Jayasinghe is determined to build a world-class creative studio, something like Pixar

It’s 11pm and the Arimac office is still brightly lit, buzzing with energy, perfectly juxtaposed to its dark and mundane Athurugiriya neighborhood. “They cook and live here. They go home only in the weekend,” says Chamira Jayasinghe, founder and chief executive of Arimac. The unshaven team is clad in air-circulating pyjama shorts while putting final touches on a mobile app to be delivered the next day. Arimac’s core business produces mobile and web applications, and digital content for brand communications for corporate clients. However, the spotlight fell on the company when it launched a PC game, Kanchayudha. Set in medieval Anuradhapura, the game follows a
warrior named Bhadra who is seeking to atone the murder of his family by foreign invaders. As Sri Lanka’s most technically advanced, fully fledged PC game, it reached 60,000 people after being made available for free download, sparking the country’s languid game development scene. This is the closest a Sri Lankan company has come to building a blockbuster game, known in the industry as Triple A’s, the likes of Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. “We will always have to live under the shadows of these huge gaming studios,” says Lahiru Jayakody, who headed the development of Kanchayudha. Global studios have access to talent, and often budgets to match. The fundamentals of the game’s storyline fell into place years ago, as Jayakody was completing his final year project for an integrated design degree at Moratuwa University’s architecture faculty. With Kanchayudha’s release, the company had an unexpected visit from Ubisoft, a game developer in Germany. “They were amazed that we had completed the game in four months.” For Arimac, the game is just an offshoot of an overarching vision. Behind the smoke screen, they are planning a full-length animated feature film and discussing the release of Kanchayudha 2 in collaboration with an Indian publisher.

“We want to marry art and technology,” Jayasinghe explains his vision. “In Sri Lanka and South Asia, it’s really rare to find people who do this. Either they are a software engineering company or a creative agency.”

Jayasinghe looks less like a tech company chief executive and more like a collegiate cricket captain. His nonchalant attitude and locker room banter is the signature of his personality. Jayasinghe had prodigious beginnings when it came to computers. At school, he was an all-star programmer, winning the 2007 national young computer scientist award for creating an operating system developed entirely in Sinhala. And as an undergraduate, he undertook web development, design work and social media account management for companies and celebrities.

This soon led to Arimac’s biggest break with the Sri Lanka Premier League cricket tournament. An event production firm required a technology partner to live-stream the matches on YouTube. The common hardware accelerator-based method was a costly option. “Without considering anything, I said yes to developing a software solution,” Jayasinghe says. “I had a feeling if I do this right, we’ll go far.” The five-member team back then took just four days to develop the software. The payback was enough to meet the company’s annual revenue target. Other sporting tournaments took note. The company then introduced the technology to the ATP Tennis World Tournament in Chennai and the Indian Hockey League.

“Our vision is to rank alongside Disney and Pixar in the next 10 years”

When the company pivoted to focus on digital interactive media, it was the vanguard in the local market. Clients weren’t interested in a tech company also offering to do creative work. An established model of conceptualisation done by a creative agency and technical execution contracted to a developer was common. “Clients didn’t believe that a single company can provide all digital services. Even when they did acceptthis, the y doubted the quality of the work,” he says. “It was difficult to get them onboard at first.”

Today, Arimac has a strong presence as a digital media provider. Companies like Nestlè, Dialog, Rocell and Unilever are some of its major clients. They have even developed a mobile game featuring Sri Lankan cricket captain Angelo Matthews for Milo and a virtual reality-based kitchen experience to be used at promotional events for Maggie. Arimac is also one of the largest app developers for Dialog. The company has created more than 15 mobile applications and is the leading VR content provider for the market-leading telco. Internationally, the company recently secured a global contract with Emirates and has partnerships with Vodafone Fiji.

Last year, Arimac, with 50 team members, achieved a million dollars in revenue. Its financial success enables the firm to provide pay that rivals leading IT companies in the country. “For a fresh engineering graduate, we are the highest-paying company,” confides Jaysinghe.

Arimac focuses on its web and mobile enterprise for brand engagement as its core cash flow. “This makes us money,” says Jayasinghe. The second objective of the company is investment in its moonshot projects. Many of its ambitious initiatives, like Kanchayudha and the upcoming animated feature film, fall into this category. The moonshots are also proxy R&D investments of the company. Game development and animation often use technology at the frontier level. This creates knowledge spillovers that elevate the overall performance and the product quality of the company.

This also means a huge opportunity cost for Arimac. For Kanchayudha, Jayasinghe calculates an investment topping Rs20 million, including the cost of client projects that had to be foregone during the four months it took to build the game.

The company’s next big idea is ‘Adventures of Tia’, in development concurrently, a PC game and animated feature film slated for release in 2019. When asked whether it would be a financial success, he resorts to his usual reply, “We are going with our gut.” “Our vision is to rank alongside Disney and Pixar in the next 10 years.”

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WHAT WORKED FOR ARIMAC

Arimac Chief Chamira Jayasinghe strongly believes these five aspects helped him take his business to the next level

1/ Don’t Be Afraid To Take On Ambitious Projects
Arimac is no stranger to ambitious projects. One of the company’s earliest and biggest breaks came when a client asked the company to deliver a software-based solution to live-stream the Sri Lanka Premier League Cricket Tournament on YouTube. The team completed the project in four days. The technology was thereafter also sold to ATP Tennis World Tournament in Chennai and the Indian Hockey League.

2/ Not Only LinkedIn, Facebook Can Be A Great Recruitment Tool Too
LinkedIn may be the best portal to look for potential hires. But for creative professionals, the rather bland layout is a limiting experience. Jayasinghe recruited both his co-founder and lead animator after seeing their work published on Facebook.

3/ Talent Over Credentials
The company professes to be one of the highest paying tech companies in the country. However, according to Jaysinghe, the company doesn’t get hung up on credentials. A self-taught programmer himself, what he admires most is one’s ability to learn on their own. “About 80% of our staff are selftaught,” he says. “We have dropouts as well as student who made the dean’s list. But they all have to prove their abilities.”

4/ If The Technology Is New, Show What It Can Do
“Most clients lacked confidence in local companies in the field of UX, advance 3D simulations and game development. But with the help of a few prototypes and the delivery of high-quality products and services, you can soon convince them.”

5/ Jump The Curve To Your Next Success
“We don’t have a direct competitor as we provide the full spectrum in the digital interactive space.” Recently, the company also launched its own AI division to further solidify its game development and animation capabilities. “We have to create our own paradigm shift,” Jayasinghe says.