Mangala Karunaratne

Never go to bed with an unfinished to-do list for the day. That means two problems: I have unfinished work, I can’t sleep without them being done.

Working in Silicon Valley for start-ups and large corporations, Mangala experienced the frustrations of the traditional software development outsourcing model first hand. After losing his job during the .com crash, Mangala set out to create a solution by founding Calcey Technologies – a boutique software product engineering house with a development center in Sri Lanka. Today Cacley’s 130+ team of engineers serve household names in the technology industry – such as PayPal and Stanford University as well as fast-growing startups in USA, UK, Nordics and Australia. Mangala also plays an active role in building Sri Lanka’s budding startup eco-system. He’s an angel investor and the Country Ambassador for SeedStars – a global accelerator program and frequently supports programs to encourage entrepreneurship and STEM education in Sri Lanka.

Where did the idea for Calcey Technologies come from?

Back in the days of the .com boom, when I was working in the Valley, I’ve worked with teams from all over the world. I’ve outsourced some of my own projects to different parts of the world. Lots of them failed due to various reasons. Some ran over budget, some failed due to below par developers. Some development teams just did not have empathy for the end user or the necessary commitment and engineering culture to build good products. On the other hand, I saw corporations spend millions of dollars on top five consultancy firms for solutions that could be built for a fraction of the cost.

I’ve lost my Silicon Valley job in 2002 during the .com bust and started looking for new opportunities. I thought of bridging the gap by starting a customer-centric boutique software engineering company. My dad, who was also a self-made entrepreneur, encouraged me by letting me incubate Calcey at one of his small office spaces for a year. That was Calcey’s first ‘development center’ and that’s how we got our start.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

We work with clients from all over the world ranging from Adelaide to San Francisco. I am a night person, so I wake up at around 6.30am, then after a glass of water, I spend 15 – 20 minutes enjoying a coffee. Then I quickly check my messages and emails for anything urgent and attend to those. After that, I have a light breakfast and hit the gym. By the way, I love dogfooding the products my team develops for our clients. So these days my preferred workout app is this guided workout app that we built for a fitness influencer in the UK named Alex Crockford. Then I leave home at around 10.00 am and during the drive to the office, I listen to either “How I built this” by Guy Raz or few other podcasts I like. The first order of business is meetings with my senior staff to review a few key aspects of our business; on-going projects, sales pipeline, recruiting, etc. I sometimes join calls with clients to get a quick pulse check or walk into internal demos (of new digital products that my team has built). Then I work the rest of the day before coming home to spend a few hours with my family before putting the kids to bed. After kids go to bed I usually spend a few more hours working, reading or just thinking.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have this Startup Vitamin poster behind my desk, which says “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”. I love doing things, I tend to learn from mistakes. In other words, I just jump into action right away. Sometimes too early. I have learned that I go through the following phases with new ideas: initial excitement, wanting to “do it”, lining up everything I need and pressing go. Some ideas fizzle out in the middle and some ideas I see through to the end. So now I have adopted a bit of “design thinking” mindset, where I run them by people, let them mature or as I like to say “incubate” in my head for a while and if I am still excited about them, then I will start “doing”. For example, my latest project is It will be a beach front oasis for digital nomads, creative types and startups to get away from big cities to “get shit done” and connect with people from around the world. It helps that Calcey – my company, frequently works with entrepreneurs all over the world bringing their ideas for new digital products to life. I’ve learned a thing or two by watching our clients over the years.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Well, I am not a big fan of the hype cycles. I love connecting with super straight up people. I’m also really passionate about supporting disadvantaged people to help themselves. We run an organization ( that does that in Sri Lanka. Even with Hackers Beach, my plan is to connect people from these disadvantaged communities with global visitors and their communities. I also love to meet candid people. Authenticity and straight talk are really important to me. I connect with people like that well.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Never go to bed with an unfinished to-do list for the day. That means two problems: I have unfinished work, I can’t sleep without them being done.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I’ve learned a lot from all my mistakes. However, I wish I have been a bit more careful with my adventures (I love mountain biking and snowboarding by the way) because now that I am in my 40s it hurts. I’ve had five surgeries so far. Wish I had not pushed it so much and managed with 2 surgeries instead of five.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Social Enterprise is a fad in my part of the world. Any ethical business is a “social enterprise” in the developing world because employment and economic opportunity is all we need to help the disadvantaged people to step up to the next level. We can worry about philanthropy or actively “doing good” later, it will be a good problem to have, ethical and profitable is good enough for now.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Empathy. It’s amazing how much you can do if you can simply see the world from the other person’s shoes for a few minutes. In our line of business, we really need to have high empathy for the end users of the products we build. Without empathy, our work is just lines of code, not a product.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Customer service, delivering on our commitments, keeping our word, being an absolutely reliable and ethical partner at any cost.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve had lots of failures; however, one key issue was my inability to delegate. Now I have a team of trusted managers that I have been working with for a long time. I have learned to delegate a lot to them, however, I still tend not to delegate something to someone new till they win my confidence. I do not take risks with people where it puts my clients’ projects at risk. That puts a lot of stress on me at times.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

My family comes from a traditional printing business, so I’ve grown up watching the printing and publishing industry evolve. I think there is an opportunity for someone to make a book vending machines, with real-time book printing. This machine will not store the actual books, it will have hundreds of thousands of soft copies of books, a user would walk up to the machine, goes through the categories and shop for books. Then the machine would print the purchased books then and there for the user.

This is just in time book printing. The unit cost of printing a single book at a time would be more than a large print run. But by cutting out the many middlemen, expensive store fronts etc. there should be significant margins to capture. Overall less harm for the environment saves a lot in terms of shipping and storage. End users get to buy any rare book without waiting. I am sure someone is working on this already, however yet to see anyone doing this at scale.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Getting a puppy for my kids. Well, the puppy was slightly more than $100, however, she puts a smile on all of our faces whenever we are home.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

WhatsApp: instead of picking up the phone or emailing people, I use WhatsApp more often now. I always like to do things then and there, so it helps me to get things done faster. However, there is another tool I have to mention; my note-taking app. I know I am forgetful, so whenever I think of an idea or need to remember my thought process, it gets noted in OneNote (it used to be Evernote).

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Rich Dad Poor Dad, Kiyosaki, Robert T.

This is the book that helped me to empathize with the disadvantaged people in Sri Lanka and not measure everyone with the same yardstick.

What is your favorite quote?

“I have always been of the opinion that unpopularity earned by doing what is right is not unpopularity at all but glory.” – Cicero

Key Learnings:

– Be adventurous, continue to dream big, however, do not jump to action right away. Run the idea by your team, potential users and then make it happen.
– Always be reliable, responsible and dependable. Have a get shit done attitude.
– Know your limitations and use tools to overcome those.
– Learn to delegate.
– Being candid and honoring your own code is more important than money. Don’t put up with bullshit for a bit more cash.