Creating Opportunities in Sri Lanka: A Win-Win Business Venture
“I wanted to be loyal to the customers and the employees” stated Shaun Jayasundera (MBA ’93). By strategically building his company, Monthly Warranty, from the ground up, Jayasundera has been able to do just that. He employs six software programmers in Sri Lanka while Jayasundera and his partner focus on business development from Austin, Texas. Their business systems and processes work so seamlessly that customers do not realize that Monthly Warranty relies largely on employees based primarily in the former civil war-torn city of Jaffna, rebuilding their own community and lives.
The ideas of Monthly Warranty and Jayasundera’s dedication to taking good care of his employees were born largely from his 12 years working for Dell. After finishing his degree at Darden, Jayasundera started working in finance, held various executive positions in marketing, and finally led Dell’s South and South East Asia’s Small, Medium Business (SMB) and Consumer divisions. During his time at Dell, he helped the US Consumer division reach the number one market position though innovative pricing management and monthly payment plans, and expanded Dell’s markets in Asia, including launching SMB units in India and Taiwan. Upon returning to the States, Jayasundera found himself frustrated dealing with internal challenges rather than going to market. He came up with the entrepreneurial idea of Dell offering extended warranties to customers on a subscription basis. Upper level executives at Dell, including Michael Dell, loved the idea but Dell’s internal IT department did not have the resources to support the new initiative. Jayasundera decided that while he benefited greatly from his experiences at Dell, it was time to prioritize his own initiatives and found his own company.
Both Jayasundera and his wife are originally from Sri Lanka, and in the summer of 2005 when Jayasundera left Dell, he and his family spent a couple of months in Sri Lanka and South East Asia where they visited relatives and former Dell colleagues, introduced their children to their roots, and Jayasundera thought through his business ideas. This time was critical because Jayasundera saw a market full of talented technical workers who were not being utilized to their full potential. Sri Lanka was still engaged in a three decades old civil war, which limited multinational companies from recruiting or investing there. Jayasundera saw an opportunity and set a goal to access that talent when he started his company, which would also leverage the country’s lower cost of living and help contribute to re-building his native economy.
In 2006, Jayasundera hired his first Sri Lankan programmers and worked with them to develop the new software platform his company would use to offer and manage subscription-based extended warranties, from sales through service. Over time, they added capabilities that included automatically displaying warranties on e-tailers’ web sites during customer product purchases and enabling customers to request service on their products from their online portal. With his mechanical engineering and software development background, Jayasundera took an active role in designing the monthly warranty system. The software went through rigorous testing, both internally and externally by Dell which was a potential client “looking under the hood” to make sure the software could handle the volume of activity required.
The 12 hour time difference between Sri Lanka and Texas benefitted the young company because someone was working at any given point in a 24 hour period. The developers worked while Jayasundera slept and then Jayasundera and his partner conducted tests and made suggestions while the Sri Lankans slept. The team touched base every morning and evening so there was never more than a 12 hour period without contact, a practice they maintain to this day.
The Sri Lankan programmers “appreciate getting to work during the daytime hours, unlike typical off-shore opportunities originating in the U.S. and Europe” explained Jayasundera. The two programmers Jayasundera hired to get Monthly Warranty off the ground are still with the company today. “They perform at the level of four or five new programmers because they know the system so well. I really value their loyalty and internal knowledge. I want them to know that the company values their loyalty, and loyalty goes both ways” said Jayasundera. He takes care of his employees by being flexible and promoting a healthy work-life balance. When one of his top programmers, who was originally from the Northeast part of the country, where the civil war caused the greatest damage, asked to return home at the end of the war, Jayasundera not only agreed, but also decided to hire more people from that part of the country. He promoted his top programmer to manager, opened an office in Jaffna, and hired from a talent pool that lacked opportunities because of their direct proximity to the war. He commented, “I feel great that we’re able to provide employment to people in Sri Lanka. But had I not gone to Sri Lanka, we might have not have been in business after the first few years, when we were still developing the software and establishing the business.”
Though the deal with Dell did not ultimately pan out, the focus on creating an excellent software system from the beginning opened up a new market that Jayasundera did not initially identify as part of the Monthly Warranty plan. In addition to being the only warranty company offering subscription based, pay-as-you go warranty options through retailers, other warranty companies became interested in the software. Within the first five years of starting, Monthly Warranty competitors became clients by hiring Monthly Warranty to customize and implement the software as a service, in their own brands. Jayasundera noted, “It’s all very exciting. We get paid based on the results of our partners. We are motivated to execute flawlessly so their sales are maximized, as are ours.”
Monthly Warranty is currently growing at about 50% a year, which Jayasundera attributes to customer expectations being repeatedly exceeded by the software implementations as well as the growing network of small and medium sized retailers and e-tailers Monthly Warranty now supports. Jayasundera expects to hire two more programmers to work in the Jaffna office by the end of the year to meet increased demand.