The modern technological enthusiasm among the younger generation has instigated a paradigm shift in the local business industry by inspiring them to form start-up companies providing technology based services. Square Mobile is one such Sri Lankan venture that has reached global recognition through innovative mobile applications. Tharindu Dassanayake, CEO of Square Mobile in an exclusive interview with GSMA Intelligence discussed the inception of the company and its progress over the short time span.
When asked about how he conceived the idea to form his very own company, he explained, ‘I developed an application called Word Puzzle when I was in second year of college at University of Peradeniya. The idea came by chance when I participated in Etisalat’s Appzone Champions competition in March 2011 and won the intra-university level. I was interested in their workshops on app development and decided to participate. The success of Word Puzzle after the competition boosted my entrepreneurial spirit and the exposure I received through the competition events led me to launch Square Mobile’. Word Puzzle is an interactive SMS based educational service which aims to improve English language vocabulary of its users. It is also recognized as the first tri-lingual application of its kind in the country and is offered through Etisalat in Sri Lanka and Nigeria. Application works by recording responses of each user to questions based on English vocabulary and then ranks users relative to other players. This competition guarantees that the users are encouraged to perform well, hence providing an incentive to learn.
Mr. Dassanayake further elaborated that since its launch in 2011, they have increased Sri Lankan subscriber base to 5000. By collaborating with Nigerian firm IntoMobile, Square Mobile expanded their operations to Nigeria in February this year. In Nigeria, Word Puzzle has attracted a staggering user base where almost 300 new subscribers are registering every day. With such a high user attraction, Square Mobile expects around 100,000 Word Puzzle users in the coming six months.
Reminiscing the humble, arduous beginning of Square Mobile, Mr. Dassanayake stated, ‘We faced some issues in setting up partnership agreements because we did not have any legal expertise. Lawyers are not only expensive but very hard to find for our field of operation (IT and communication). However, getting initial funding was the biggest challenge. There are very few funding opportunities in Sri Lanka. We raised some initial money from our friends and family, and since then the revenue from Word Puzzle has helped us sustain operations. We also got $5000 from ICTA’s Spiralation competition to develop a travel app. Before we were selected by ICTA it was hard to find mentors. There is no ecosystem for start-ups in Sri Lanka yet. But the market is opening up and there will more opportunities in the future.’
Seeing how ICT is boosting in Sri Lanka, Mr. Tharindu Dassanayake is hopeful that many more technology enthusiasts would venture boldly by starting up their own companies. The increase of smart phone usage and the improvement in mobile telephony have acted as a catalyst to inspire prospectful young entrepreneurs. ‘In the last two years, mobile developers have become interested in developing applications in the local context. Earlier there was no local language support for Android mobiles, but Sri Lankan developers overcame the problem and now there are more mobile apps in native languages. This is a good foundation for the mobile app industry in Sri Lanka.’