Programmable Communications Innovator Interview: Ruwan Dissanayaka, Co-Founder and CEO at Extrogene Software
Ruwan was one of the first ever TADHack Global winners in 2014. It’s amazing how many of the TADHack winners have gone on to found companies and build exciting new businesses. In February 2020 Tim Draper put $1M into the Aragon blockchain project, founded by entrepreneurs Luis Cuende and Jorge Izquierdo. Luis was also one of the first ever TADHack Global winners in 2014.
I first met Ruwan face to face at TADSummit 2014 in Istanbul in November, you can see his TADSummit presentation, and his pitch from TADHack Global 2014.
Extrogene Software, is a startup tech company founded in Sri Lanka and funded by the Lankan Angel Network (LAN). They build their own products as well as we help to build great services for our clients, such as Dialog Axiata, Unilever, GroupM. They work in the eCommerce, telco app, mobile app and web development space.
We’ll covered in this interview:
- Ruwan and Extrogene’s story: from winning TADHack Global 2014 with Extrogene’s idea for OfferHut; going live in 2015, then through 2016 and 2017 ramping up in Ideamart; to today with their Coffer app. All your banks. All your card offers and promotions. All in one app.
- What he has learned in programmable communications, through all his successes and failures;
- Why he thinks IdeaMart has not caught on around Asia given its success in Sri Lanka.
- And what he’s looking to do next.
Ruwan provides and excellent review of how he and his co-founder Thushara Rankothge began Extrogene. The initial 4 challenges they faced were:
- Funding; and
- Recurring Revenue.
Winning TADHack Global with OfferHut gave them the recognition they needed to start local recruitment. With the support of the IdeaMart team (Dialog Axiata) especially in market testing and outreach they were able to bring OfferHut to market and quickly gain 1500 small businesses who made offers through their app.
With the service launched and rapid end user uptake, they were able to raise funding to build out the team and scale up the business across Sri Lanka. I can not understate the importance of the support the IdeaMart team gave in making OfferHut a success.
They helped OfferHut craft a service that met a need in a way optimized for the Sri Lankan market. This is something only possible through the collaboration of IdeaMart (telco), hSenid Mobile (technology provider and incubator), and the innovators at Extrogene Software. No Bay Area company can copy what OfferHut achieved, it’s a unique combination of technology, service, and market reach. Its defensible – yes, a small company in Sri Lanka can build a defensible business to the BABS machine.
They experimented with an app based version of OfferHut, but found merchants and end-users preferred the ease of use and mass-market reach of SMS and USSD. BUT through this failure they did find a segment of customers who were interested, and in combination with the local banks and credit card companies they created the service Coffer, card offers. Which is now doing well, and they’re building out a analytics platform for the banks and credit card companies.
The core advice Ruwan has is ‘know your customer’. The combination of IdeaMart, hSenid Mobile and Extrogene helped them do that and build a successful business with recurring revenue and an expanding portfolio of services. Its not a technology issue, or being smart about using an API, its the core of any business, understand your customer so you deliver continuous value.
There have been challenges, one of the significant problems is international payments in the expansion of OfferHut to other countries. Which has meant Extrogene has focused on the Sri Lankan market. Yes, there are local financial regulations, but telcos are big enough to influence those regulations to redress the billion dollar innovation revenue gap we see in Asia, as discussed in the CXTech Landscape presentation at TADSummit Asia 2020.
Extrogene are now focused on a chatbot service (TADHack has seen many hacks in this space in 2020) and an education service Vibaga (past papers for students). We’ll be interviewing the CEOs of Buddy4Study and MySchoolPage at TADSummmit Asia. There are many insights and advice shared by Ruwan in this interview. It’s well worth your time to listen to Ruwan.
In an interview with David Curran on hackathons, he provides some excellent advice on what is required to build an innovation hub. Every telco should have one, not something built using expensive vendors and consultants. Rather something built by a committed small team wanting to make a difference in their home country – just copy IdeaMart. If you do not, you’re making your country poorer on many levels, not just financially. The Bay Area web companies are doing it in your countries, you can either let them capture wealth creation in you country for their profit, or help your country capture it. The programmable telecoms innovation race is well underway.