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Last week, I did an interactive session on Growth Hacking at a startup workshop. First thing I mentioned was that growth is a relative term. It means different things to different people and organisations.

Massive crowd pullers like Air BnB, facebook and instagram heroic stories are plenty on internet and I hear them thrown around in forums very losely.

Here’s the thing, most of us, will not build an Instagram. What startups need to understand is, ten customers who will pay you is a good start.

I know a company housed in World Trade Centre that has only 4 clients, but their revenue is growing year on year.

I know a sillara kade ( corner grocery shop) which is surviving despite flashy super markets popping up around it. Secret is this grocery shop does not try to be a super market. They know what their customers want and offer that consistently: giving good quality food items at a cheaper price, credit limits to good customers and by keeping the overheads to a minimal. It has survived 15 years doing just that. That shop made sure the owner had money to put food on the table and send his kids to school.

What growth is, depends on your priority. It is NOT just the number of users in your app, not just the number of views of your Instagram video. For me it is the number of customers who are willing to pay you to get the services you offer. You don’t need to go after more and more customers all the time, sometimes you just have to treat the existing customers well. You will know the power of a happy customer, only when you have survived to have few of them. 🙂

My life has changed 180 degrees, when I did the data science coursera course from Johns Hopkins University, . That new learning cannot be undone. My understanding of the new world has changed. I started conversations with few of my colleagues and mentors on how Data Science, Machine Learning and AI can make a real change for a country like Sri Lanka. How can it help the common man, Siripala and Sumanawathi who are left behind. It was a very limited niche conversation for me, until yesterday.

There were 350 people packed in to a hall in Kingsbury: developers, junior and senior Managers, CEOs, academics, and of course a fantastic lineup of speakers from across the world

Although it was a full day event, which most of us find impossible to commit in this age, I was glad to see most of the audience staying until 6 pm. Kudos to Jeevan and SLASSCOM team for making this happen.

I had a lively conversation with Yasantha Rajakarunanayake, who went viral in social media when Jeff Bezos introduced him to the world as the smartest guy at Princeton. Yasantha is back in the Sri Lanka after 30+ years and he’s excited to see the enthusiasm for AI , because he believes customised education is the only way forward for a sustainable world and that is only possible with AI.

It was good to catch up with Chrishantha Fernando, a Sri Lankan working as a Senior Research Scientist at Google Deepmind. Yes, you saw that right. I told him about the new digital aspirations of young people in Sri Lanka and also about the mental blocks that prevent rural Sri Lanka from reaping those opportunities. He listened carefully and said “Keep on doing what you guys are doing, because future waits for no one. It is here to be embraced. Do not be in the sidelines.”

Yep.

 

I did my first talk in Pecha Kucha format at Facebook South Asia safety summit. 

 

I loved it. 

Because I could use only 20 slides of 20 seconds each. Slides need to be mostly of pictures/diagrams and may be few words. Which means I have only 6 minutes and 40 seconds to tell my story. I immediately loved this format which induces brevity. I prepared for 4 days. Rehearsing over and over, removing all unnecessary words to get that perfect story. I have never pushed myself to a talk like this. It is hard to find time with all the work circling around. For that I am so thankful for pecha kucha format.

I was so ready. I was excited. Until I went on stage and saw a timer ticking in front of me all the time.

I hated it.

It was not TED type, where they start the timer at 16 minutes. No, this was a 20 seconds timer. Repeating for 20 freaking times. I was ok with slide automatically move on to the next in 20 seconds. But I was not ok to see a constant time bomb reminder.

I felt as if I was playing a T20 cricket match. You may not see much of that tension when you watch me in the video. But you may see couple of instances where I ran out of time in one slide and had to wait awkwardly until the next slide came in. That made me not to have the most important thing for me when I talk. To have eye contact with the audience and adapt with their responses. I feel alive only when I can engage with the audience no matter what the setting is.

See, I love the brevity of 6 minutes 40 seconds. But I am tensed to be timed for 20 seconds for 20 times.

Here’s the format I love, for the sake of clarity. 

I get 6 minutes, 40 seconds. I can choose 20 slides or less. Timer starts at 6 minutes, 40 seconds, just like in TED.

I have the control of the clicker. I have control over the time I spend on each slide. But I will stop at 6 minutes, 40 seconds.

Every single day, every single talk is a learning. The more I tell stories, the more people I connect to.

I am grateful for this challenging opportunity given by Facebook team in India. Thank you !

 

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Dec 6 update: Talk in TEDx is alive. Watch it here. 

I could not attend this year’s TEDx Colombo. I was out of the country. When I asked my wife ‘what was the takeaway of Yudhanjaya’s talk?’, she said ‘He asked us to mingle with people outside our range.’

I smiled because it is absolutely true. It is astoundingly true and simple, that is exactly why we don’t do it.

It is easier and fun to conform to a band of brothers/sisters. There are perks in that.

But when I was 26, I stopped subscribing in to things that society asked me to. Because I did exactly what the society wanted me to. Go to University of Moratuwa. Do CIMA. Get a job. Your life will be taken care of. You will live a happy life.

I was miserable after all those achievements. Why? I questioned.

I started reading. Philosophy, religion, leadership, management, arts, technology, sociology, psychology and anything outside my Engineering circle.

I started watching documentaries on true nature of life.

I started reading biographies.

I started meeting people who are out of my circle. Who are 10 years older than me. At 26, I spent time with people who were 35-40.

Now I am hanging out more with people who are 45-50. Guess my age ?

The reason is I wanted to see what happens to people who took various decisions when they were my age. I ask questions from them and get honest answers most of the time. I pivot decisions based on those observations.

So, what Yudhanjaya said is true. Do it more often.

I’ll be speaking at Facebook South Asia safety summit in Delhi on Monday.

Right now, I’m in Delhi and preping for my first talk in Pecha Kucha format. It’s simply creating 20 slides of 20 seconds each. Total speaking time of 400 seconds or 6 minutes 40 seconds. Slides should preferrably have images and may be few words. No bullet points.

Brevity and sharpness is real hard work. I thought 400 seconds is easy. I am completely wrong and rudely surprised.

There’s a famous story about Einstein.

When he was requested to do a 10 minute speech he had asked for few days to prepare. The organiser then asked “how much time would you want to prepare if I asked you for a 2 hour speech?”

Einstein had said “if it is a 2 hour speech I can do it right now.”

Brevity and clarity is extreme hard work. I had to keep on removing ideas and thoughts until there was nothing to remove. Some of the ideas were hard to let go. But that is exactly why I have to do it.

As Dileepa Abeysekara said in his workshop,”to be a good editor you have to let go of your darlings.”

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I was a participant at AK lit fest workshop by Dileepa Abeysekara.

I went there primarily because I wanted to personally thank him for the fabulous Sinhala translation he did for ‘chinaman’. Big Fan.

That was a very rare occasion a speaker/moderator got my 120% attention for all 90 minutes he spent with us. I wanted to write one big post about my learnings. But then again I thought some of the insights are worthy of short single blog posts. I will write a few. Here’s the first.

“There’s nothing original”

Yes, there’s nothing original. We think the thoughts crossing our mind or that music note glides out of nowhere is our divine skill. Dileepa says it is not. Everything that we create are a combination of things in our consciousness. Past experiences savoured from our six senses collide to provide something unique ( that we think) , but it is just a combination of some old patterns.

He asked “ Have you ever tasted a cheese popsicle?”

We: “No”

Dileepa: “Cheese popsicle is a novel idea. It may not be palatable. But this new idea is a combination of cheese and popsicle, both of which we know very well.”

He concluded, “ We are not gifts of Gods as we are trained to believe from our childhood. Creativity is a learned journey as we toss and turn through life. What we make of it, and create is what makes us creative.”

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Yesterday at the A&K literary festival, the ‘Koombiyo’ panel discussion was a revelation.

The panel had the 2 creators ( Lakmal and Dhamitha), 2 actors ( Thumindu and Yureni) and the official from ITN (Wimal) who made sure Koombiyo got the air time. Wimal has played a major role, because Koombiyo was refused by many parties, because it was not main stream.

They were brutally honest and candid with their responses. They appreciated the complex changes happening in society, attraction of online video streaming services and social media. Everyone could feel their energy resonate inside the dome of the Empire ballroom of Mount Lavinia hotel.

The creators mentioned the fuel for their creativity was never the money or the desire to get it aired on a TV channel. Rather they wanted to do something ultra fun (අපි ආතල් එකට මේක කලේ). Come to think of it, ‘Koombiyo’ is the only Sri Lankan teledrama I watched again and again since ‘Palingu manike’. Fun fact: ‘Palingu Manike’ was created in 1985.

I was particularly impressed with answers the creators gave to the question; “ When will we get to see Season 2?”

Dhamitha said “I don’t think we will do season 2. It is nearly impossible to do a sequel when this much fandom has been popped up. When we did season 1 we had nothing to lose. Back then we were kicked in ass and we could not even stand up. But now, we have everything to lose. If we do not do something better, we will lose all the hype we created.”

Lakmal said “I have to tell you something. I want to do season 2, but this guy ( Dhamitha) pushes me down.” ( Laughter from both)

I think what made ‘koombiyo’ that much entertaining with a script that is almost made in heaven is due to the creative dissonance, the tension the two creators have for almost anything that they say and do. In normal life, we think agreement is better. But I found out from them that healthy argument is what makes something beautiful.

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One last thing. The actors were humble and very approachable for the fans to get selfies and to do small talk. We never felt they were celebrities. Their individual brilliance have been collectively driven towards a dream that is “koombiyo”. No wonder they have created ripples in TV and social media.

I would like to see Season 2. But I am ok if they decide not to.

uber eats

Yesterday I ordered my first Uber Eats. A vege fried rice got delivered in 35 minutes. Very impressive service. What uber and pickme have done to taxis, was not a thing until it was introduced. Now it is the new normal. Uber Eats and Pickme food will change food industry with in 2 years, that we will not be able to think of a colombo with out 30 minute food delivery.

Right now, both are serving a very small area in Colombo. Testing times for both. Burning money for both, I guess. Because Uber eats did not charge me for delivery. Idea is to get more people try the service. These services need thousands of users to make it viable. Scale is the game.

While we customers enjoy the convenience, most of us have no idea what a rough sea this delivery business is. Pizza hut do 30 minute delivery with their own cadre of delivery army. They do pizza hut delivery only. They are fondly called ‘suicide squad’ by taxi drivers, obviously because of the way they drive to deliver with in 30 minutes.

In Uber Eats and Pickme Food, non-employee freelance riders are connecting multiple restaurants to hungry customers. It’s a rougher sea. Tech and People are needed to be in perfect symphony. Customers are getting grumpy and impatient by every passing minute. Welcome to the world of convenience driven by Gig economy.

But this convenience comes at a price. Some issues are now coming in to surface. Majority of Uber and PickMe taxi drivers I drive with are not happy. They do not get many rides as they used to, because there are many vehicles in both services.  Price per Km is fixed, even though fuel prices are in the rise ( inflation) .

It’s way too early to tell what will stick and what will not. Is Gig economy the new evil? It is easier to condemn new things as a fad. But Gig economy is here to stay. Can we make it work for betterment of every stakeholder by balancing the benefits?

A brave new wild world is waiting to happen. What do you think?

think-safety-first-when-online

Yesterday I started helping a friend of mine to recover his facebook account. The process is still on. His account is hacked. The linked email account is hacked too. The hacker is sending messages to his friend list asking for weird things.

This can easily happen to you. There were recent hacks in to many accounts of FB. But hey, it is not just FB, there are multiple breaches every day in many digital services.

Have a good digital hygiene.

Here’s a previous post of mine. Change your password. Make it a better password. 

I have posted this earlier too. If you or a friend of yours is affected by hacking and online harassment, drop me a email ( isura.silva@gmail.com ) with details and links.

In a brainstorming session at a recent workshop, I listened to a banter between two participants. It made me laugh. It was also profound.

A: “It’s a dream you are proposing. It’s impossible. How can we make impossible happen?”

B: ” You mean, you don’t know how to do the impossible?”

A: ” yes, that is why it is called impossible”

B: “well the way to do the impossible is to do it. “

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Neil inside spacecraft Gemini 8 , in 1969

Later in that day I watched “First Man”, the movie about Neil Armstrong. As a kid, when I learnt about Neil, it was just a fact. Neil was the first man on moon. On that day in 1969, 530 million people watched him take the ‘giant leap for mankind.’

The movie shredded my perceptions about landing on moon. I never knew the hardships in many fronts. How Neil struggled at home with sick kids. His daughter died at age two suffering from a malignant brain tumor. Never knew about his wife’s enormous strength and endurance. How he lost 3 of his fellow astronauts from a fire in a testing capsule. Never knew he escaped near death in many a missions. How thousands of NASA team members worked day and night to achieve the impossible, while citizens marched against mega budgets dedicated to moon landing, which could have gone in to pressing needs in America like poverty and racial tension.

It was impossible to go to moon, until that very moment Neil landed on Moon.

The more we run from our fears, the bigger they get. Yet, when we go right in to them, fears evaporate and vanish.