After working in the banking sector for five years in London, I decided to move back to my country of birth, Sri Lanka, to pursue my dream of being an entrepreneur working in both the financial as well as technology area. I had no idea what I wanted to do or how to go about things. I just wanted to play to my strengths, such as setting up financial desks and building cutting-edge technology.
With this in mind, over a span of eight years I founded four companies in the tech and finance sector. Was it easy? No. Did the companies take-off instantly? No. Was it easy to attract new talent? No. Was it the best decision you ever made in your career? Yes.
Age is just a number
I started my first company, a structured fund, at age 25. I initially got bombarded with questions like How old are you again? or Do you have a more senior co-founder? People tend to not take you seriously because they think you are too young. They are used to seeing silver haired well-dressed fund managers rather than a 25-year-old in a tee-shirt operating from a co-working space.
I did not let this deter me and initially started out with just family as customers. Eventually, by word of mouth, forums, and speaking at events and conferences, I was able to get more business and make my mark in the financial industry.
Getting traction for my data analytics company which I started at age 29 was far easier because clients were convinced that as a millennial one can build cutting edge technology. The lesson is that in the end, your should see your age as a strength and use it to your advantage.
Don’t be afraid to launch
One of my favourite quotes from LinkedIn’s co-founder Reid Hoffman is: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you have launched too late.”
At the initial stages of my data analytics company we were waiting to get the product 100% ready before launching it. But we realised that by doing this, we were not getting any upfront customer input. Sometimes it is useful to get a test run of your product with clients so you can get constructive feedback and maximise your product’s effectiveness.
For everyone who is trying to build the perfect product in order to launch—don’t! Get your product out in the market as fast as possible. It will help you find product-market fit, identify any leaky buckets, and give you an overall understanding of where your product stands in the market and what you can do to make it better.
Hire people who have skills that you lack
One thing that I have learned is that as the founder of a company you should always identify your weaknesses and hire people who complement you by possessing that missing skill.
Identify what your strengths are and try to get people on board who can play to these strengths. At my tech company I have a team who have advanced skills in Machine Learning and can add humongous value to my financial knowledge.
Always look to learn from anyone who possess skills that you may lack, be it a C-suite executive or even an intern at your organisation.
Don’t restrict yourself to one industry
Very often I have been advised to stick to one niche industry rather than building companies across multiple. In my experience it always helps to be a part of multiple industries.
For example, I have a degree in Computer Science from Imperial College, London, and I worked in financial institutions like Nomura and Kotak for five years before I started my own companies.
Having the domain knowledge for different industries helps in developing a new technology for it. As such, I was able to use the financial industry insights in building models and developing logic for financed focused technology at my services-based company.
Fail fast and learn from your mistakes
The most important lesson that I have learnt while building my companies is that the key to success is to fail fast. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?
In the technology industry, with things moving so rapidly, the time to market your product should be minimal – even if it means failing quickly. This is one thing that we as a company did not practice in the early stages. We wanted to put out a product with all possible features rather than introduce an MVP and incrementally build on that based on client feedback.
Don’t get me wrong, “failing fast” does not mean providing clients with a non-functioning product resulting which will automatically result in failure. Releasing the first version of the product early to check customers’ opinion, get feedback, and monitor sign ups can help you prepare and design a better roadmap for upcoming features.