A conversation with Duleepa Wijayawardhana, CEO of Empire Avenue

Empire Avenue is the latest social media tool to hit the internet and its expanding rapidly even as I type this. Still in beta (till 20th July 2010), this has become a tool for social media experts and the newbie alike. It’s a fun way of looking at your social media presence and can also be used to increase your followers on twitter, facebook and other media that Empire Avenue would add.

It is a great privilege to have the CEO of Empire Avenue here with us for a short interview. Oh, if I didn’t mention already, he is a Sri Lankan born. Let’s see what he has to say about his new venture.

Q: So, for someone who hasn’t heard of Empire Avenue, can you explain in one sentence what it is?

Empire Avenue is a virtual stock market where the commodity being traded is your activity and your influence; you can buy/sell/trade virtual shares in anyone else on the site using free virtual currency, rate their influence, create value relationships, seek out and reward content creators and finally be rewarded for participation. It's a game, it's real life, it's really about you!


Q: Why should they get on Empire Avenue?

We believe in the idea of creating "Value" relationships. By this I mean the idea that just like with everything else in the world, the content that people create on the web has value and meaning. Why spend money for an item that you don't want? So on Empire Avenue, you buy the rights to listen to people with the free virtual money on our stock market, and as you are active online and your investments in Influencers are successful, you will earn more virtual currency (we call the currency "Eaves")!

If you are a content creator, active on the web then you want to be part of Empire Avenue so that you can increase your audience, find out what your share price value is for all that you do. For those that are content consumers... imagine all this content being thrown at you through Twitter or elsewhere, it's time to make it relevant! By valuing those people you want to read/follow, you can filter based on the value they are creating, the minimum shareprice, the number of shares you own and so on.

Now, imagine your community, your town, your interest group and more. With Empire Avenue you will be able to find people and brands who are creating valuable content and which brands are valued by other people.

We want people to take it even a step further and then profit from Empire Avenue. I don't mean the content creators but you generally. By investing and participating in the success of those on Empire Avenue, you could be creating real-world value for yourself!


I was able to get on Empire Avenue via my twitter friend @budhajeewa since its still on beta and its only available via an invite. I feel that its still in beta because you are still not happy with the features available. You want to add more.

Q: If so, what functions are you hoping to add to the product before going mainstream?

We could be here for hours talking about the things we want to add and frankly a lot of what we plan are under-wraps. We are not necessarily implementing what people want, but features that people never know they needed! For sure, we will be rolling out better and greater features for Empire Avenue Communities that will make these Communities unique on the web and certainly a place you really want to be a part of on and outside Empire Avenue.

We will be always striving to increase the number of external sites which you can connect to us. Our immediate plans include LinkedIn, YouTube, MySpace, Friendfeed, Friendster and more.

Our API is a work in progress, we want this to be as highly used as Twitter and getting into the mobile space is extremely important. Another important feature is our Advertising and Rewards platform I alluded to earlier. Anyone will be able to use the value of their influence, their share price to negotiate advertising of their choosing to be carried on Empire Avenue or elsewhere. More, we want those that participate in Empire Avenue and "invest" in content creators to be able to redeem that participation for real-world, local rewards.


So Empire Avenue takes the main social media such as facebook, twitter and blogging and increases points based on the daily social media usage. This might be seen as a good platform for trend setters and people already in the social media business professionally.

Q: What advice would you give to members of Empire Avenue who are working as programmers, web designers etc..

I would look at how this can help create new economies of scale. We are not doing this as "simply" a game. There is a very real component to this that goes beyond pure enjoyment. We have game elements because we believe that enjoyment can be derived in being social. Empire Avenue can be a real venue and use for companies as we grow. Reaching new clientele and reaching new audiences is critical for all modern businesses.


Q: What ethics should they follow before their companies ban Empire Avenue too?

I would hope nobody bans Empire Avenue. It is in everyone's best interests to both be social, be open, but also consider what needs to be done for work and so on!


Q: So are you relying solely on word of mouth to spread Empire Avenue or do you have any other tactics to get this mainstream?

Our team is a multi-talented team of super heroes working to spread the word of Empire Avenue far and wide, from the beaches of Sri Lanka to the arctic tundra of Canada to the frightening heights of the Andes! Word of Mouth is critical to our success but we will be persuing every method feasible to get the word out about Empire Avenue. We are out to prove to this world that we can make a profitable company from being open and honest with a business model that rewards our customers and users. Our success will mean our users' success.


Q: On your profile at Empire Avenue you have shown an interest on FOSS (Free and Open source software). What are your views and encouragements on FOSS?

Having worked for MySQL for a couple of years I am a huge fan of FOSS. Much of Empire Avenue runs on FOSS and without it we would never even have been able to concieve, launch or even operate Empire Avenue. For countries such as Sri Lanka, FOSS is a way to leapfrog technology at low costs and to innovate rapidly. But there's nothing like a "Free Lunch". FOSS users must be aware that there is a cost and they should pay it. For one, if you use FOSS remember to give back to the projects that you use when you can, if you can, and by giving back I mean, contribute code, contribute help, open source software that can help and teach others. Openness can breed incredible innovation and still create immense wealth.


Q: Your portfolio says that you have worked at BioWare Corp. Can you tell us a bit about your experience there?

BioWare is an amazing computer games studio. My 7 years there were some of the best of my life. The teams and the intellect I worked with are second to none. It is no surprise that most of the Empire Avenue team have worked at one time or other at BioWare before or after the acquisition by Electronic Arts. If you haven't played a BioWare game you should.


On the 2nd of November 2009, you announced on your blog (http://www.dups.ca/blog/?p=262) the following:

‘Here’s what I am going to reveal: We’ve managed to put together a really neat and incredibly talented team of individuals to take on the challenge of revolutionizing online advertising. We’re not just a bunch of technology geeks, but people with passion and a fair amount of experience over numerous technology, game and marketing fields.’

Q: You talk of taking on the challenge of revolutionizing online advertising. What kind of impact do you see with Empire Avenue Inc?

We want YOU to take on the challenge of revolutionizing online advertising. As with every project things do change as our product comes more into focus. So our advertising platform is likely to be different than what we envisioned at the start. However, it still comes down to the following simple rules. Allow people to choose the brands and businesses they want to promote. Give choice to the advertiser in who they can target with their advertising. And finally, charge people not just on clicks but on the influence you wield in your social networks!


Q: You want to pay the people who use Empire Avenue by sharing advertising revenue? What kind of revenue share are we looking at? Can you elaborate on this further please?

We have not finalized details on specifics. Our goal is to distribute a majority of any real-world cash revenue to the Influencers who carry advertising through our network.


Q: You currently have twitter, facebook, flickr to your list of web connections. What about YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace, hi5 to name a few? Any plans to add them to EA?

We intend to add every possible external site that allows us to do so. When these connections will come is an unknown as we work with external sites and numerous other priorities! Our most recent addition was Flickr.


Q: You are a Canadian citizen, but before that you were born a Sri Lankan. What are your words of encouragement to fellow Sri Lankans (and others) on the pursuit of entrepreneurship and what obstacles you had to overcome to come to the position you are in now.

Life is short. Dream as high as you can. I do not know where Empire Avenue will lead. With the team around me, every day is a wonderful day of discovery and along the path of life that's all that matters isn't it? Entrepreneurship is not easy, no matter where you are born or where you live, more important is hard work, dedication, and the will to continue even when everything is going against you. I know that many Sri Lankans know this lesson well. Positions mean nothing, teams and people mean everything. This project is not about me, it's about the group who make up Empire Avenue.


Q: When did you emigrate from Sri Lanka and what are your experiences in Sri Lanka that you like to share about?

Sri Lanka is a beautiful place. I have to be honest in that I left Sri Lanka very early in my life and would then spend the next many decades visiting the country of my birth. While I can sing Sripada Samanalekande verbatim, sing the national anthem and have an endearing love for curried lentils (paripu), every visit to Sri Lanka is a visit of discovery. My only dear wish for Sri Lanka is for all its disparate peoples to live in harmony, we're not all that different you know :)


Q: Were you able to enjoy the free education system in Sri Lanka? What are your thoughts on that?

Education is the key to success for any society. I didn't get the chance to study in Sri Lanka, but am impressed with the quality of the education and the learning that is there whenever I visit.

I was doing a small search of you online and found that you are the adventurous type having summitted Mount Kilimanjaro and gone kayaking in unknown parts of the world to name a few.


Q: What motivates you to do these things?

Oh dear. Err. Please don't ask my mother. She would give you a very different answer! The wonder of this world lies in every rock and every leaf and every cloud that races by. How can you not want to see what's beyond the next hill, up the next mountain and around the next tree?


Q: Any future travel plans that you look forward to?

Empire Avenue! Come travel the Avenue with us as we take to the world. I am touched and honoured that Sri Lanka will be one of the most active communities on Empire Avenue right out of the gate. I think there is a chance here for a South Asian community to really find a place in a growing global Social Media world: an online movement which is creating new avenues for knowledge and growth. It's a chance for individuals for sure, but also for businesses to reach new clientele both in Sri Lanka and outside!

So in this case, come on an adventure with us!

Empire Avenue Team and Volunteers

Empire Avenue offer for diGIT readers

Empire Avenue is still in beta so entering is only via an invite. Duleepa has been kind enough to offer invites to our diGIT magazine readers. So if you want to explore the Empire Avenue world, then send us an email to comments@digit.lk with your email address and we will get you logged into Empire Avenue.


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