A One Day Business Trip To Sri Lanka

Late last week, I saw a post on LinkedIn by Jiffry Zulfer, CEO of PickMe which said there was to be a start-up tech event being hosted with IIT Madras at the Taj Samudra. As I am in Chennai, I thought it would be good to attend it and tried to register for it. 

I Googled Taj Samudra and Colombo, Sri Lanka popped up. I wasn’t sure. I emailed the event organizers and Jiffry Zulfer to find out if the event was in Chennai or Colombo. They confirmed that it was in Sri Lanka. This was more like a meet-up. I wasn’t too sure if I needed to travel from Chennai to Colombo to attend the event.

Luckily, Zulfer got back to me and said that I should definitely come. This was a warm welcome. Sri Lanka is a place so close to home that I always wanted to visit, but couldn’t. I decided to use this opportunity.

Who is Jiffry Zulfer?

Zulfer leads PickMe, as CEO. The company he leads is the equivalent of Uber, Ola, or Grab in Sri Lanka. 

They not only take you from point A to point B, they are also a delivery service (like Uber Eats), and getting into a whole lot of other sectors. I knew traveling to Colombo would be a great opportunity to meet up with the local start-up community and talent in the region. 

Travel Plans:

In instances like this, I just say Yes and travel. I decided that this would be a short trip, and booked my tickets: to leave on Tuesday (June 18, 2024) and return on Wednesday (June 19, 2024). 

Arriving in Sri Lanka:

My flight was at 10 am in the morning and the event was from 4 pm to 7 pm in the evening, on June 18, 2024. Visiting any new country is an exciting experience and thankfully the flight landed on time. 

I decided to use PickMe to travel from the Bandaranaike International Airport to Colombo. Instead of taking the car, I decided to go in a tuk-tuk (equivalent to auto-rickshaws in India, three Wheelers). The driver turned out to be a good host. He took me through the streets of Colombo and it took one and a half hours to reach the hotel. 

I later learned that tuk-tuks are not allowed on the highways and they have to take the normal roads. It was a great experience anyway as I got to see the roads and streets of the country/city.

It was 1:00 pm or so and I wanted to have lunch. I asked the tuk-tuk driver to take me to a restaurant and we found a local shop that offered great food. I had a very good meal and finished it off with a Coke 🙂 It was exciting.

Attending the SLASSCOM Event with IIT Madras (4-7 pm)

I was also able to meet Sheyan Suraweera, a Magento Developer from the Klizer Team in Colombo for the first time. Sheyan also attended the SLASSCOM event. On trips like this, it is a blessing to meet up with our own team. 

I met with Zulfer and it was that he remembered that we had met in Australia at a Magento-Live Event (Thanks Magento). The theme of the event and the entire discussion centered around how IIT Madras, and IIT -M Research Park are incubating start-ups, sharing some of the know-hows, and how the local Sri Lankan talent can benefit from the learnings of IIT-Madras and India. There were presentations from IIT Madras (Dr. M.J Shankar Raman).  Dinakar M (SecurWeave) and Dr. Aravind, Bharadwaj (TuTr Hyperloop) were the two start-ups from IIT-Madra that were showcased. Both Dinakar and Aravind shared their experiences working with the IIT-M Research Park.  Eshini Samarasekera from SLASSCOM Mc’ed the event

It was very interesting to see the potential collaboration that will be happening with IIT-Madras, SLASSCOM, and the start-up community in Sri Lanka. The Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka also coordinated this event. The work IIT Madras is doing the MOUs and the potential collaborations is very promising (this event is one great example).  

Networking:

After the speaking sessions, there was some time to set aside to network. I met with entrepreneurs and tech folks from around Sri Lanka. It was great to meet with local talent in the region. I also met folks from Jaffna who had traveled over eight hours via bus to attend this event in Colombo. We were chatting about the work they were doing in Jaffna with respect to tech. They explained why they decided to stay in Jaffna and build a presence that could help develop the region. This was inspiring. 

Became a Fan of Jiffy Zulfer:

Zulfer and I had previously planned to have dinner together after the event. As it was my first time in Sri Lanka, he played a great host. He took me for a walk on the streets and the strip across the beach. He showed me the different buildings and its significance. Later we had dinner at the newly built ITC hotel(ITC Ratnadipa).. We had a great conversation and it was great to share learnings. 

Post this we walked back to the hotel. He then took me for a ride in his car to show me around the city of Colombo. He mentioned that Colombo is divided into 15 parts, named in numerical order.

Zulfer was a great host. It was very nice of him to spend this much time with me. This was a great experience for me personally, to spend such quality time with someone like Zulfer. 

I learned about being a great host from our friend Chaitanya K, Magento Developer, Klizer, when we visited Mumbai last year and this time it was Zulfer.

By the time I got back to my hotel, it was almost midnight. The next morning (Wednesday, June 19, 2024), I woke up, went for a run by the beach, enjoyed a good breakfast, journaled these notes, and boarded my flight back to Chennai.

This was a great event and trip to learn about Sri Lanka, the people, and the talent in the region. Sri Lanka is definitely working hard to build a successful future. Business and entrepreneurship can and will help tackle a lot of the challenges in the region. 

Thankful.

Karthik Chidambaram.

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