Lessons from an entrepreneur – Sheyantha Abeykoon

Starting your own business is like being a celebrity – everything looks beautiful and glamorous on the outside, but in reality, it’s messy and hugely stressful, and not everyone succeeds. But the success of a few encourage those entering the fray

It’s common knowledge that being successful in business calls for perseverance, hard work and being nimble, mainly on the part of the founder. But there is no set formula to achieve success, as no two startups will ever be the same. Echelon spoke to three entrepreneurs whose brands have achieved market leader positions on what it takes to win at the startup game and their tips for budding founders. Also featured is a business leader that made a daring decision to leave the comforts of corporate life to realize a greater vision.

 

SOLVING THE E-COMMERCE RIDDLE

Navigating the online space can be daunting for any startup. But innovative ideas and constant evolution can help gain a competitive advantage and win at e-commerce

In a developing e-commerce landscape like Sri Lanka, offline retail is still the dominant marketplace. It’s estimated that the country’s e-commerce contribution to total retail is less than 1 percent. Due to factors like the close proximity of supermarkets and shopping malls, e-commerce companies find it difficult to shift consumer purchasing behaviour from offline to online.

Sheyantha Abeykoon, the former chief executive of Wow.lk, was brought in to head the company after Dialog’s acquisition of anything.lk and rebranding. A major shift under his leadership was transforming the company from a daily deals site to an online shopping mall. “In the online space, you need to be disruptive. You can’t think conventionally,” he says.

Here are some learnings from Abeykoon’s e-commerce journey…

Get ready for trench warfare
● The highly competitive e-commerce environment thrives on rapid evolution. “It’s almost like trench warfare,” says Abeykoon. “We need to continuously transform the consumer experience to stay ahead of the game.”

A key element brought in by Abeykoon was differentiating Wow.lk’s product catalogue just enough to gain a competitive advantage by sourcing products others didn’t offer. “If you have the same kinds of stuff, then you are selling a commodity,” he says.

Consumers seek a rich and diverse shopping experience, even online. Successful e-commerce provides a better user experience, more attractive deals, and free and faster delivery. “You can’t afford to be quiet and limited to seasonal promotions. There has to be something new every week.”

Control is everything
● The traditional role of e-commerce companies was client-facing, while backend operations including warehousing, delivery and customer services were delegated to third parties. Today, the e-commerce landscape has evolved to companies taking ownership of the entire value chain to maintain quality and consistency.

“Eighty percent of e-commerce is not the website,” he says. “It’s about the supply chain, inventory management and the rest of the infrastructure.”

Amazon, Flipkart and Alibaba are now setting up their own fulfillment centers and investing in courier companies. To be successful in the modern e-commerce arena, Abeykoon stresses that companies should be the nucleus controlling each and every node of the value chain. “It has to become a hub and spoke model to control the total customer experience.”

Combine online with offline to create brand loyalty
● Customer loyalty is scarce in the online space. A desktop or mobile interface is a limited space to generate consumer affliction. So, most e-commerce platforms fall into a trap of aggressive price cuts to attract and retain consumers. This eventually leads to a negative impact on their bottom line.

To ensure brand loyalty, Wow.lkleveraged its partnership with Dialog  by setting up 300 kiosks at its service centers.

Expand around the core
● E-commerce sites are consumer hotspots. Nearly 300,000 customers visit Wow.lk every month, where high-value electronic items and mobile phones are the major drawing points and the biggest revenue generators.

In mid-2015, the company added travel booking to its product portfolio. They partnered with Walkers Tours, a destination management company, and Codegen, who provided the booking engine. “We didn’t want to get too distracted from our core mission of e-commerce, but we wanted to take advantage of the high traffic destination and build a portfolio around it,” Abeykoon explains. The move paid off well for the company