Mr. Dhanushka Fernando
“Life is a process, not a product.”
Entrepreneurs constantly give power to this process by propelling it through their passions. With entrepreneurs like Mr. Dhanushka Fernando, this life process influences others to be very passionate and make any industry where it needs to be, securing maximum profitability and longevity. Mr. Fernando believes that entrepreneurship can play a vital role in income generation and the revival of the economy. It is with great pleasure that Exposition Issue 18 presents Mr. Dhanushka Fernando, hoping his exemplary personality will inspire undergraduates and others to pursue their dreams.
How did your upbringing and formative years influence who you are today?
It all goes back to my school and college days, where the exposure and motivation, both from my parents and my school, taught me to be independent and perseverant at a young age. I played sports and even captained some of our school teams. Also, the belief that ‘knowledge is very important’ was inculcated in me at the time. It was those early days that made me who I am today, and I would like to thank my parents and my school St. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia for molding me into a “total personality.”
How has the volunteer work you were involved in at Red Cross led you down your current path?
While I was reading for my degree, the Tsunami struck Sri Lanka. I noticed the need to support the people affected by the tragedy. The Red Cross was doing a lot of projects related to construction, healthcare, education, water, and sanitary care. I got the opportunity to volunteer with them. That made me understand the vulnerabilities of our fellow citizens. Red Cross gave me a way to give back to the country and encouraged me to stay in Sri Lanka. Initially, I did not have the financial capability to support those in need but through Red Cross, I was able to join in on projects and achieve self-satisfaction that I am doing something for our community.
What compelled you to start a firm specializing in marketing and then later focus on furniture, when you began your undergraduate journey in Information Technology?
My first degree was in Information Technology. But after a couple of years, I realized that I am better at PR and sales. So, I did my CRM certification and continued my studies in marketing. While studying, I wanted to get some work experience, so I started off with Red Cross. There, my role was associated with communication and project management. Afterward, I joined an online marketing company. Today, marketing and technology go hand in hand. But around 10 to 15 years back, these were two different subjects. In 2010, I noticed an opportunity in the industry for a newcomer in the digital marketing and technology solutions provider domain. The background I got from learning IT helped me immensely to master the technological part of marketing and make a name in the industry.
Could you explain what “FINEZ” is, and why you started it?
My father was in the furniture industry. And having seen the works at a young age, I thought of venturing into the field. So, we opened a new factory called “FINEZ” in 2015. There was also a boom in construction at the time, and I noticed the demand for furniture. Instead of going the conventional route, our business model prioritized quality, design, and delivery. We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the other players in the market. Now we are more of a home decor retail brand, offering other products and solutions in addition to furniture.
Since the beginning, how have your priorities evolved?
Those in their 20s often get pressured to do a degree, find a job, get married, build a house, and so on. Youth should get a chance to pick their path. What you have experienced during your 20s enables you to apply what you have learned and make better decisions when you are in your 30s or 40s. I took a bold step in my 20s to venture into entrepreneurship when people were not too open to the concept. With experience, ups, and downs, my priorities have evolved from establishing a business to sharing knowledge and experiences, guiding and motivating the younger generation to learn from their mistakes, be courageous and do what they like.
What were the obstructions along the way, and how did you overcome them?
There are two obstacles I have identified. First is the obstacle created by my own mental barriers. Feeling demotivated and stressed is tough. There are days you might feel discouraged. It is necessary to talk with someone, especially with people who have already done what you are doing, and learn from them. Next are the environmental factors-political, economical, social factors that could affect a person. Even in the last couple of years, there was COVID, and a lot of businesses went through the pressure of how to pay their team and keep the business functioning. That is where it is important to diversify or be innovative. My experience is, if a business can innovate ahead of the market changes, they are always able to stay ahead of the curve.
You are more than just an entrepreneur. You are a social activist, an athlete, and a consultant. How do you structure your life to manage all of these activities?
People need to recognize the importance of nurturing both their mind and body. If you want to see a change in your body, mind, or career, you need to act now so you can see the results after a year. These should be taught. Self-care is important. There is a saying that some people die in their 20s and get buried in their 70s. You should not let this happen. Just make an effort, even the little things like dressing smart can go a long way. Then comes the learning part. You should seek knowledge, to not only get a job but to become a better person. The more you read, and the more you learn, the more balanced you become. Another thing is to discourage negativity because it is through positivity and optimism that you always try to find a way. Once you nurture yourself, then only you can give back to the community. One should always try to give their best version at all times, irrespective of what happens around them.
You have amassed many accolades and respect in the industry as a successful entrepreneur. What achievements make you the proudest, and what do you believe is the driving force behind your success?
When I started as an entrepreneur, I had the freedom to do what I wanted to do. Being my own boss, the sort of satisfaction and freedom I felt was immense. Another achievement was getting the right type of people and seeing them succeed in what they do. When seeing people achieve things and grow into their roles, I feel proud. The other satisfaction is like planting a tree and seeing it come to fruition. It is not only about making money. Providing employment, giving support, and seeing customer satisfaction, add value to society and also to the community. Yes, awards bring recognition and validity, but more than that, being a value-adding entrepreneur and encouraging others to do the same are my biggest achievements in terms of myself. If you condition your mind to be satisfied with those achievements, you won’t go wrong as an entrepreneur.
Everyone understands how difficult it is to start a business. If one wishes to invent a new idea, many risks will be involved. As a result, young people frequently have feelings of self-doubt and fear of failure. How did you handle your anxiety and skepticism when you first started?
For about 5 to 6 years, I worked for corporates. I wanted freedom, I wanted to get away from that culture, and it was more towards doing my own thing, and being my own person. I didn’t have a lot of anxiety in terms of taking that risk since I wanted to do so. I had some savings with me and it was enough for me to work on. Initially, it was only me, but then I hired a couple of designers and someone to coordinate. Financially we were successful. But then we moved our office to Colombo and there were a lot of overheads like traveling costs. So from around 2014-2015 the “real business process” started. We were expanding, hiring, so there was a lot of stress and pressure. It was a learning curve, from starting a business to registering the company, to opening up the bank accounts. I had to learn the hard way, with no one to guide me through the process. So if someone wants to start as an entrepreneur, I would suggest getting a mentor. At the same time, it is important to develop a mindset, to not give up, and to learn from failures without being afraid to make mistakes.
As a consultant, what insights would you share with entrepreneurs looking to break into the field?
Entrepreneurship is about finding opportunities and solutions to solve problems. In the current market dynamics, the available opportunities and solutions that can be given, change very fast. It is important to understand that because what trends today, might be forgotten next year. Also, after finishing school or graduating, you have sound knowledge in certain areas. It is easier to venture through those areas as you have a better understanding of that field. If you want to do something completely different from what you have studied, then it’s important to put forward your skills and knowledge. Entrepreneurship revolves around dealing with people and finding solutions, selling them to people, understanding their psychology, and why they would buy your product or service. You have to be creative and innovative. And in this day and age, you can use social media platforms to reach a wider audience.
In your opinion, what are some business prospects that fresh graduates would find worth exploring?
The main thing is to focus on an area where they can generate revenue outside of Sri Lanka. Our market conditions are tough, and it is difficult to enter the industry, so that is the best option. There is a lot of opportunity for local products to earn foreign income. Then there are freelancing platforms where people can offer their skills at a dollar rate. As long as you have a computing device and an internet connection, you can offer these services. So focus on that. These avenues will guide you to become an entrepreneur. What you need to do is start from somewhere and grow through it.