Entrepreneur of the Month - January

Ecommerce in Sri Lankan is on the rise. Today we had the pleasure of speaking to a young and dynamic ecommerce entrepreneur, Mohamed Imath, founder of ebug.lk. Ebug.lk is an online store selling a wide range of consumer products from clothing to electronics. Imath gives a brief insight into his business and journey in this interview.

This is our first of many stories from the series, “Entrepreneur of the month”, which will be published in our blog. And we’ll give you one aspiring digital entrepreneur each month, talking about their struggles of starting an online business in Sri Lanka, their eventual success and how they figured out everything in between.

How did you get Ebug.lk off the ground?
Ebug.lk was not always ebug.lk. Before owning my own ecommerce store, I listed my products in online marketplaces and began building a following on Facebook. But selling through these marketplaces did not contribute too well to my bottom line with their hefty commission rates. And I also noticed early on, that I did not get the brand awareness that I expected; the Ebug brand was shadowed by the marketplace’s brand. So, when I had sufficient traction on these platforms, I had to evolve and take this business to the next level. At this point, I purchased a domain, set up my ecommerce store and online payment gateway, and the rest is history.

What were the challenges you faced early on in your online business? 
Starting an online business in Sri Lanka is not as difficult as it used to be, but the real challenge is staying in the game due to the level of competition. Such challenges are faced by all businesses regardless of industry and if you look at the number of ecommerce businesses springing up every day, only a handful make it through a year.  Because we had a head start in the ecommerce game, we did not face significant competitive forces at the beginning but as time went on, we were forced to differentiate ourselves from the rest.
Also, in early 2010, people at that time were not ready to place their trust in online purchases. So, overcoming this mass skepticism and gaining consumer confidence was a big struggle for us. We tackled that problem by consistently providing excellent customer service, on time delivery and quality products with warranties. It didn’t happen overnight, it took us several months if not years to create a sense of credibility and a loyal customer base. But the effort we put in really paid off in the long run. We garnered 5000+ frequent customers in the website alone.

What tools do you depend on to run your online business?
I use Google Analytics to measure my website traffic and to understand customer behavior, their purchasing journey, the number of visitors, average time spent on the site and a series of other critical metrics. For accepting online payments, I use WEBXPAY’s payment gateway due to the convenience of accepting multiple payment options. And to manage my marketing campaigns across social media, search engines and email I use a few marketing automation tools to schedule and monitor my campaigns.

What is next for ebug.lk?
For now, almost 75% of our customers are from Colombo and its suburbs. And we are seeing growth in terms of order volumes beyond this geography. So, we intend to have more targeted marketing campaigns to ramp up order volumes in key districts around the country.
We also intend diversify our product range by variety and price. Since we recently began depending on basic analytics, we’ve noticed that the variety of products in our portfolio was critical to increase repeat purchases and to accommodate movement of high value items we will be taking maximum advantage of WEBXPAY’s installment plan payment gateway.

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in online business, what would it be?
Ever so often people say that the Sri Lankan market is saturated with plenty of online businesses and it is impossible to compete; I have a different view. Internet businesses always evolve and will never be the same, which means that there are and will always be plenty of opportunities to take advantage of. It’s up to the individual  to figure out what they are and when to get in.
The world is full of opportunities. Your birth place, financial background, gender or age is never a barrier if you have a clear vision and rock-solid determination. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you must be ready for a rough ride, because it’s not going to be easy. But will be worth it at the end.