Life in 2019 is unrecognizable compared to the days of painfully long dial-tones and slow internet speeds. Technology continues to improve rapidly, and with it so do the ways we communicate and do business. There have always been people that thrive during times of great change, those who’ve capitalized on their ability to see a wider range of possibilities. Although what grabs our attention is their success, the reasons behind it remain more mysterious. We sat down with Anish Wijesinghe, a Sri Lankan guilty of serial entrepreneurship, to identify what he believes are the reasons behind his wide success. Anish started developing an interest in Minecraft characters and 3d animation around age 12, and by 14 he’d done enough research and groundwork to start his first business based on them. From then he hasn’t seemed to be able to stop himself, co-founding Motion Miracles; a game development company, Cryptec Innovations; a cryptocurrency and IT firm, Nimby; a developer for big data solutions utilizing lidar imaging, and Wibble; an all in one solution app for vlogging.
It's important to gather knowledge from multiple fields in order to channel them into innovative products and services (P2)
Being a Careful Generalist
When initially prodded about what gave him his apparent mastery-of-all-trades, Anish spoke about being a generalist. Starting early was a huge advantage and balancing different tasks at a young age helped him transition into the extremely complex role of a project manager and CEO. Even at Google, generalists are put in charge of product management for their ability to channel learnings from multiple areas into innovative ideas for their projects. With the intention of facilitating the mindset of an adaptable generalist and leveraging on the financial successes of his earlier company, he willingly threw himself into lots of businesses and tried to figure them out; sprinting from one thing to another.
The mantra: ‘Put yourself in an uncomfortable situation and adapt fast’ he promises that it is extremely stressful but worth it. The endeavour makes you confront your weaknesses, one of his was time allocation, and he was forced to address it quickly. Now, any new product he builds, he draws on his past experiences, using models from his blockchain project, gaming company, and drone sensing project to envision tools and services that can leverage on the rapid evolution, and increasing market penetration of technology. This practice is essential to succeed in the technology landscape in the long run because; “if you want to do something innovative you should have started 10 years ago” – a slightly altered Bill Gates quote.
People and teams that feel supported, take initiative, which is essential to long term success (P3)
Supported People Make Efficient Teams
If a team relies on you to the point you can’t disappear for a week, then that team is unsustainable. Having an efficient team with initiative is crucial to the success of a company, but that being said: being organized is also key; schedule, and follow up on promises given by your colleagues and employees. The main component to leading successful teams is genuinely caring. It requires the difficult but vital shift from thinking purely about the numbers to focusing on the people in your teams. It is shifting your mindset from CEO to coach. Here, progress comes from being able to honestly look at your people and say, ‘you have this problem, let’s figure it out together’ and proceeding to do so. Giving them the space to freely express their weaknesses without feeling like it will result in a pay cut or demotion.
This shift in mindset created the Silicon Valley boom; the foundation for its success was the dearth of excellent universities around it, but what catalysed it was the ‘love-based management’ style adopted by its major companies. Companies and countries worldwide have tried to replicate the success of Silicon Valley by setting up incubator programs, accelerators, and other expensive ventures that sound the part while missing this key factor. Bill Campbell, a professional football coach that turned to corporate coaching, helped establish this management style by mentoring people like Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt; influencing the rise of Apple and Google. The fact is teams function extremely efficiently when they know they are in a supportive environment – the way young birds are encouraged to take first flight.
Love based management, however, is not coddling. When Anish was closing in on becoming a professional tennis player, in his youth, he worked with a highly regarded coach, who had also trained Roger Federer, that relentlessly pushed him to his limits. It was just for a short period but during it he improved vastly. He would train so hard that he would burn through the sides of his shoes and socks, exposing his feet (he needed a new pair of shoes every week). Sometimes his exposed feet would bleed on court, causing him to slip during drills, but his coach would amusedly implore him to continue running. Anish would be stunned by this behaviour, but after practices were over his coach would return to being his friend; taking him out to meals and showing him that he cared deeply about him. This demonstrates that the best managers care about the people in front of them. Good coaching is irreplaceable, but for people that didn’t have it at a young age, books and even corporate coaches are good alternatives.
Investors need to be convinced that if they don’t invest in your idea they will miss out (P4)
Creating ‘FOMO’, or the fear-of-missing-out, in the minds of investors is how to get them on board with projects they aren’t familiar with. With ‘Cryptech’ Anish’s cryptocurrency venture, there was an easy metric to show that investors would understand, even if they weren’t experts on cryptocurrency – ‘put this amount in and in 2 years you will see this return on investment’. The strategy for winning investors may not always be that straightforward, and will depend on the type of business, but in the end, the investor needs to think that if they don’t invest in the person now – they are going to regret it.
A key to this is showing your identity as an entrepreneur; showing how much you’ve scaled the business without funds and how you’ve done (or are doing) the groundwork necessary to understand and position yourself in the industry you are entering. These indicators tell an investor how efficiently your venture will progress. For one app-project, Anish’s team had bootstrapped a prototype with the best UX (User eXperience) tools for video editing and created a small community following in a short time-frame. Showing an investor their progress; the investor’s impression was ‘if this team is scaling up this fast already, if we put money into this imagine what they could do.’
Proving there is a demand for your product immeasurably strengthens your case, making it crucial for you to evaluate your customers’ interest. A crafty tactic used to find out how many are willing to pay for an app at a certain price point is creating a website that only appears to sell it, for example: there will be an option to purchase it at 10 dollars, and when a customer tries to buy it they are not charged but instead, are redirected to a page apologizing for the malfunction and asking for their email address so they’re notified when the site is functioning correctly – creating a database of unique potential customers. This way you can show an investor how many people are willing to pay for a product that doesn’t even exist yet.
Nurturing a supportive environment from early days is critical to developing the ability of original thought and a sense of self confidence (P5)
The Secret Ingredient
In addition to a multitude of factors falling into the right place at the right time, a crucial reason for Anish’s success is a loving and caring family environment, which he concedes is ‘cheesy, but that’s actually what it (the major ingredient) is.’ A pivotal moment in his becoming an entrepreneur came from doing something we all do, learning through play; using the basic computer his parents agreed to buy him at age 13 he happened upon Youtube videos of 3d animations of Minecraft characters. Just like every kid buys action figures to play with, creating different characters and storylines at each play-time, he started doing the same thing with his computer – downloading new characters and creating animations to tell their stories, eventually creating new characters to weave into his play.
Work often occupies an isolated space in people’s minds, even how we approach and feel about it draws influence from the other parts of our lives. Lessening those mental boundaries to leverage genuine interests, learnings and strengths from all aspects of life has the power to change how we think about and perform at work, revealing to us opportunities for growth. Just as work is embedded in a person’s life, each person is embedded in a network of other people is just as influential in their lives. One consequence of this is standard setting, but the most important consequence of being part of a network of people is support. Especially early on in life, a supportive family can create fertile soil for nurturing original ideas and a sense of confidence. In professional life, the same tools for pursuing and troubleshooting ideas can be developed continuously when a culture of support has taken root.