Never one to shy away from new challenges, Theekshana Kumara built up extensive experience across different disciplines before setting up his own company, VizuaMatix, which now delivers multi-million dollar telecom projects in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. One of the very first students to do UCD’s management information systems programme in Sri Lanka, he was named the country’s UCD Alumnus of the Year in 2016.
About Theekshana Kumara
Tell us a bit about your education and early career
After doing my A levels in 1992, I was selected to be among the first batch of students to do the UCD MIS programme in Sri Lanka. I think it was the first MIS degree to be offered in the country so I was quite excited. Although I was already doing software development by that time I really wanted to learn more about management and when I looked at the content of the MIS I felt it was the perfect choice.
At the same time, I followed another degree programme. In Sri Lanka, education is free so I took advantage of that opportunity and did a BSc in applied sciences –maths, physics and statistics – at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. So I was doing two degrees in parallel – it wasn’t easy!
But I was also working as a network administrator at the National Science Foundation at the same time. I love to stretch myself and test my capacity. From the very beginning I have done that and I continue to do it.
After graduating I worked for the government for a couple of years before moving into the private sector, starting with a company called Infotechs in 1999. A year later, I co-founded Wavenet, which is now one of the leading telecoms solution providers in Sri Lanka.
Then I joined Comverse, which I think was very instrumental in how my career developed and the fact that I ended up starting my own companies. Comverse is a leading telecoms solutions platform provider and I was quite fortunate to join at that time because it was when the company was really at its peak. And the technology it was doing really fascinated me. I started as a systems engineer and moved up quickly through the ranks.
In 2003, Comverse decided it wanted me to become one of its partners and offered me the agency for the region. So I was forced into becoming an entrepreneur. I formed a company called TSD Technologies and started hiring a couple of people and growing very gradually.
After three or four years, we were providing our services to Indian and Maldives telecom operators through Comverse from Sri Lanka. Then I saw an opportunity: telecom operators in this part of the world have to pay a lot of money to buy their equipment from the world leaders like Comverse. I knew the numbers, because I was the regional agent for them and, being a techie, I felt there was a big opportunity there.
However, we continued supporting foreign companies wanting to do business in Sri Lanka and the Maldives and India. As a result, we started a joint venture with a foreign investor to set up Sri Lanka’s first GSM-based public phone service called Simphony. I was a co-founder and the COO of the operation and we managed to build a nationwide operation within very short time period.
In 2007, we started local software development. This was the birth of VizuaMatix. From there, we kept on progressing and delivering increasingly powerful solutions to Sri Lankan and Maldives telecom operators.
Right now, we have a team of 34 in Sri Lanka, as well as three senior engineers in Dubai and two senior engineers working for us part time in Melbourne.
We have done some work in the Maldives and, as our expansion drive continues, we are in discussions with a couple of operators in Africa and in Eastern Europe.
What motivates you?
It’s really the challenges that drive me. From when I was doing my degrees and the beginning of my career, challenges have kept on motivating me. This is what makes me really try.
What’s your leadership style?
I think I’m a diplomat. It’s the culture here. I think most Sri Lankan corporate leaders want to have deep personal bonds with their employees.
What are your main influences or inspirations?
I think it was probably the phenomenal rise of Comverse during the early 2000s, which I found really fascinating and inspiring. I was there at the company’s very best time and saw the innovations it was making at that time, how it was investing heavily in research and development, and always staying ahead of the game. That inspired me to try to do something similar from this part of the world and really making a mark in the international domain.
What is your biggest achievement to date?
There are a couple of things. I was chairman of the IT Resource Development Institute of Western Province – a government agency that provides IT training and software development to public institutions – from 2011 to 2014. When I joined it was completely mismanaged and had highly inefficient processes.
Taking it on was definitely another challenge and one I considered very carefully for a few days and discussed with my wife and kids. Within two years, I completely turned it around to be a modern institution and a profit making entity. Career-wise, that was a big challenge. In the government sector, every decision has to be based on financial and administration regulation.
Developing the VisuaMatix Policy and Charging Control (PCC) platform in the last year is closest to my heart. I really cherish that. Our main objective was to develop a platform that was extremely cost effective and help the telecom operators to build a viable business case in mobile and fixed broadband service delivery. With a high investment and lot of dedication by our R&D teams, we finally managed to deploy our first fully fledged PCC platform to Sri Lanka’s leading mobile broadband provider, Hutch. With several innovative features that were never experienced by broadband users in this part of the world, I am excited to see Hutch becoming the fastest growing mobile broadband provider in Sri Lanka.
Are there failures you want to mention?
Yes, there were failures and I think it’s through them that you really learn. Around 2009 or 2010, we were doing quite well financially and I started diversifying into non-tech industries like construction and partnering with some big companies like Homestead. That didn’t work out and we wasted a lot of money. It took a while for me to realise that I was losing my focus and got carried away. However, I did manage to get back on track.
What are your tips for success?
You have to take every challenge as an opportunity. It’s so important to do that rather than just complaining about the challenges. I would say that to everyone. It’s how I came to be successful. And, I must say there really are a lot of challenges in doing business in this part of the world. People think in a different way here.
What are your plans for the future?
Well, this year is going to be quite an interesting and challenging one. We are planning to establish ourselves in the US. We are also planning to introduce a very interesting product. We are converting our PCC platform into a small portable device and planning to introduce it to the home and SME markets.
Tell us about winning the UCD Alumnus of the Year 2016 for Sri Lanka
That was quite a surprise so long after graduating. To reconnect back, especially after being in the first batch of students in Sri Lanka, was touching and I really cherish it.
THE INSIGHT TRACK
What are your interests outside of work?
I play chess and I’m quite a decent player. I have over 1,200 points in blitz chess. A game of chess always gives me energy and gets my brain really working.
And I love music and I’m always playing and listening and play the keyboard/piano whenever time permits.
How your degree benefited your career and/or personal life?
The MIS degree programme put me on the correct track to become an entrepreneur. I was considered to be a very good programmer, in other words ‘a techie’ during the initial stage of my career. So learning the fundamentals in accounting, marketing and business management gave me the confidence to become an entrepreneur at an early stage in my career.
What is the thing that not many people know about you?
I think not many people know that I am a perfectionist. Although I try to avoid being one, my inner senses always push me to make everything perfect. Especially in this part of the world, being a perfectionist can be a serious hindrance for one’s growth. I am aware of this and always adjust myself according to the situation.
What would you bring with you to a desert island?
My co-workers from the office
What piece of technology can you not live without?
What is your pet hate?
People who always complain without appreciating the benefits
What’s your favourite book?
Stephen R Covey - 7 habits of highly effective people
And your favourite band or musician?
Eagles and Ed Sheeran
What book are you reading right now?
Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
What are your travel tips for people visiting Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is a paradise island where you can enjoy multiple experiences. On the one hand it’s a surfer’s paradise – Arugam Bay in the east coast. Then it becomes a nature lover’s paradise – Sinharaja, Wilpattu, Habarna are popular wildlife sanctuaries in Sri Lanka. It’s also a destination with thousands of years’ history – Sigiriya is believed to be the eighth wonder of the world and Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are ancient kingdoms that saw the legendary kings ruling the island nation over 3,000 years ago. Then suddenly you are at 6,000 feet above sea level in Nuwara Eliya, which is also known as Little England and where it’s 10C all throughout the year. All these destinations are reachable within few hours by road.
And do you have any tips for doing business in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is paving its way to becoming the business gateway to India. With a strong and expanding bilateral free trade agreement already in place and with higher and better living and business standards, Sri Lanka is getting lots of attention from foreign investors. The IT and financial workforce in the country has proven to be one of the best in the world already providing back office services to many global conglomerates. So, setting up regional business hubs and starting BPO operations in Sri Lanka are becoming increasingly attractive for foreign investors. At the same time, the government of Sri Lanka is also providing a lot of support to encourage foreign investment into these areas.
What is your own favourite place in the world to visit and why?
Vienna. The amazing mix of contemporary and historic buildings always fascinates me. The street food and wine taverns easily take Vienna into the top place of my favourite places to visit.
Name three things on your bucket list
- Obtain an international patent for VizuaMatix
- Find time for a world tour with my family
- Excel in meditation