News ≫ How founder Pathmalal’s twisting career path led him home

How founder Pathmalal’s twisting career path led him home

Apr 28, 2016
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Lahiru Pathmalal is full of interesting contradictions.

The 34-year-old angered his father by abandoning his economic major to study politics and psychology in the U.S. Yet Pathmalal ended up being one of Sri Lanka’s most successful entrepreneurs, having set up, Sri Lanka’s biggest e-tailer.

“I remember my father calling me and saying, ‘You’re probably never going to get a job’,” he laughs. “I started Takas in 2012 because I felt that, with my educational background and work history, none of the corporate entities in Sri Lanka will hire me,” he adds.

Pathmalal may be modest, but he does have many entrepreneurial traits.

He dabbled in real estate while he was a student in the U.S. and used the profit to finance his graduate studies in Australia. He is also a risk-taker, choosing to work in a psychiatric ward for children with behavioral disorders in the U.S, and as a field researcher in war-torn Afghanistan, when his peers pursued more mainstream career paths.

But Pathmalal doesn’t view his return to Sri Lanka just as the country’s civil war ended as a risky bet.

“I think Sri Lanka today is vastly different from the Sri Lanka I grew up in,” he tells CNBC. “People here are breaking lots of boundaries, and technology is empowering entrepreneurs.

“I feel now, more than ever, there are more reasons to come home.”

Pathmalal was away from Sri Lanka from 2001 to 2010, first as a student and then to work in the U.S, Australia and Afghanistan.

Two years after his return to his home country, he set up with two friends, and is now chief executive of the company, which has 38 employees and sells $200,000 worth of goods on average every month.

But Pathmalal says he understands why some of his peers prefer to seek greener pastures abroad, especially skilled professionals in the IT sector who can command a larger pay packet overseas.

Official figures show that nearly 300,000 nationals emigrate from Sri Lanka every year, out of a population of about 22 million; 7 percent of those leaving are professionals.

However, Pathmalal has faith there are opportunities to make an impact in his home country.

“I believe we can make our mark here, much faster and much more prominently than we would elsewhere,” he said.

When he set up the with his friends four years ago, there was no e-commerce company catering to the needs of Sri Lankans, Pathmalal explains.

“So my personal belief is we will conquer Sri Lanka first, be the top e-commerce site and in the next five to 10 years, given our geographical positioning and logistics, become a regional player catering to both Pakistan and South India,” he adds.

Pathmalal also feels that work aside, Sri Lanka has much to offer.

“It has to be more than money. The quality of life here, at least for me personally, is far superior to any other place I have lived in. For instance, in an hour’s time I can go to a very nice beach, or in two hours I can be in a hill country,” he says.

– Sri Jegarajah contributed to this report. -CNBC

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