Suranga Chandratillake OBE Podcast Transcript

Suranga Chandratillake OBE Podcast TranscriptListen to episode here

Suranga Chandratillake: [00:00:00] Literally, I lost my job, so I literally had to, like, leave the country. So that was a very, kind of, stark failure, from sort of hero to zero, very, very suddenly. I wasn't like that, right? I'd been coding since I was nine. I'd done computer science at uni. I was pretty much a techie's techie. Blinkx is the company that I actually started, and it was the one that, you know, took us the longest way.

Suranga Chandratillake: And that went from being, you know, a zero dollar business to being a 250 million dollar business. Like, what do we do next with our lives? Our job is to, my now firm, Balderton, invest in, back. believe and, you know, enable amazing entrepreneurs and founders. I mean, you know, nine years later, I love my job.

Amardeep Parmar: And we're live. Today, we have with us Suranga from Balderton Capital, who's a partner there, and they've got 6 billion dollars at Assets Under Management. If you're joining us for the first time, we're The Bae HQ. And I'm your host. If you enjoy this podcast, make sure you leave us five star review on podcast platforms and subscribe to us on YouTube.

Amardeep Parmar: So I want to dive in straight away with you. When you're [00:01:00] growing up, like what did you want to be? What was your dreams and ambitions? 

Suranga Chandratillake: It's a great question. I mean, I think I had lots of different dreams and ambitions. Honestly, the one that, that really stuck for a long time and ended up being relevant was that I really wanted to write software, to write computer programs, and to make a company around that idea.

Suranga Chandratillake: It was a very, I mean, I was young, so it was a very sort of naive, not particularly well thought out, detailed plan. But I just had this sense that this was a thing I enjoyed doing, and it was a thing you could do to build a company. I don't think I even really fully understood what starting a company was, or why that might be interesting, but it just seemed like, you know, a cool thing to do.

Suranga Chandratillake: And in particular, I really wanted to write computer games. That was my big passion at the time. Not unusual for, you know, a nine year old or whatever, but yeah, that's kind of what, where I started and, and, and sort of started taking me on this journey. 

Amardeep Parmar:And you grew up in Sri Lanka as well, right? 

Suranga Chandratillake: So I lived there for the first couple of years of my life. And then Sri Lanka, as unfortunately continues to be the case, has gone through a lot of challenges of various sorts, including, of course, a very long civil war. And my parents, both on a very personal level, because my dad was a bit politically active at the [00:02:00] time, but also on a sort of just bigger kind of opportunity level, just didn't think it was the best place to bring up a young family.

Suranga Chandratillake: And so they, my dad had done his PhD in the UK earlier, gone back to Sri Lanka to try and be elected to teach there. But when he was struggling with feeling at home in his home, and so they decided to move to the UK when I was two. So since then, I've pretty much grown up here. We lived in a few different places while on the way, but mainly, mainly here in Britain.

Amardeep Parmar:
And then as you said, so you went to university to study. Was that still to go onto that path of building computer games? 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah, yeah. So yeah, I was very lucky. My dad brought a computer home from work when I was about eight, nine years old. It was BBC Micro, didn't have any games on it. He sort of promised that he'd buy me and my brother a game if we showed him that we could do something useful with a computer.

Suranga Chandratillake: So basically that's what gave us the incentive to learn to program. And it was one of those things where once I started to learn to program, that was actually more fun than the games, certainly at the time. So I, I just always. coded in the background. I wasn't particularly good. I didn't do anything particularly impressive, but it was like a sort of [00:03:00] hobby.

Suranga Chandratillake: And so when it came to applying for uni, I sort of thought to myself, well, I could do something I'm interested in. I was really interested in economics. I was interested in politics and a few other things. But then I thought, actually, if I did computer science, I reckon I can do a lot of it kind of quite easily because I've already done a lot.

Suranga Chandratillake: And that would give me more spare time to do other things as well. So that was kind of the vague thesis that made sense when I was 17 to apply for computer science. 

Amardeep Parmar: So even when you're at university, did you start trying to build out different companies out with different products? 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I mean, I think so, you know, I went to college between 97 and 2000.

Suranga Chandratillake: So the dot com boom, basically, it was a really exciting time for someone like me. By this point, I was pretty convinced that I wanted to go into something very commercial and start a company and so on. And, you know, it was amazing. Going to university at that time, I'd read Wired magazine every month, and there were just loads and loads of stories, um, about, uh, you know, people starting companies, leaving university, becoming millionaires overnight, all this kind of exciting stuff.

Suranga Chandratillake: And so, yes, it was a, it was definitely a focus for me, and me and meeting a couple of friends tried our hand at starting a company in our final year at [00:04:00] university. They actually kept running it for a couple of years after university as well, but, you know, it didn't, didn't really go anywhere in the long run, but, you know, that was the beginning of doing it for real.

Amardeep Parmar: And when you went to actually do it for real, was there any things which maybe didn't quite match up with your wired perspective of,

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah.

 Amardeep Parmar: you start it, you become a millionaire straight away?

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: What were some of the roadblocks that you like? 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, it was very... The first thing I’d done after university wasn't.

Suranga Chandratillake: Start a company. So I went and so, you know, I thought, okay, this is really exciting. I need to go learn how to do this a bit. So I went, I ended up joining a US software company that was amazing. And they were a company that really put a lot of focus on entrepreneurialism and kept encouraging you to try your own ideas.

Suranga Chandratillake: But unfortunately, they, the dot com crash happened, uh, within the first few months of me being there. And so they laid me off along with about two thirds of the company and I was in the US at the time. So I had to literally, I lost my job. So I literally had to like, leave the country before the, uh, you know, the immigration services came for me.

Suranga Chandratillake: So that was a very kind of stark failure from sort of hero to zero, very, very suddenly. And then I thought, okay, well, I really need to like find a safe place to sort of rebuild from. And I joined another software company [00:05:00] back in the UK at that point. And then that company took me to California and it was really, Once I went back to the U. S., to California this time, to San Francisco, that I thought, okay, I'm seeing more and more people doing this sort of thing around me. I can, I can do this, like I'm ready for this. And I was again lucky because actually the, the founder of that business that I was working for was really supportive. And, you know, originally the, the, the thing that became our company started off as an idea and a kind of incubated project within that company.

Suranga Chandratillake: So we had a bit of a safe start. But I think the biggest difference was simply that, you know, I started that project in 2003 ish, 2003, 2004. And by then, You know, there'd been this big economic crash, particularly in tech. And, and so this idea that you were going to be overnight success was just gone, you know.

Suranga Chandratillake: And I, and there were times when I'd look back at, you know, the good old days, just five, six years earlier, and thought, if only I'd done it then, you know, it would have just taken off like that. But on the other hand, The fact that it was a harder journey was worth something because I think, you know, that builds resilience.

Suranga Chandratillake: It, you know, it means that you get through the tough times. And in the end, I was probably better for it as an entrepreneur, but it definitely was slower [00:06:00] going and less glamorous than I hoped it would be at first. 

Amardeep Parmar: I guess it's interesting from like your perspective of where you saw that dot com crash, but you still decided you still wanted to continue in the software industry.

Suranga Chandratillake:Yeah

Amardeep Parmar:. And I guess some people right now maybe think, did I make the right choice by entering the tech world? Or have I, like, was it just that exuberance of people doing so well and maybe I should have gone some another route? What kept you in the game despite seeing all that kind of failure around you?

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah.So, I mean, look, there's always, whenever you get one of these sort of waves, uh, you know, unkind person might call them bubbles. You get, you know, some people who are at the heart of it and you get others who are attracted to it, of course. Right. And you can sort of tell this, the classic signal in the US is, What are the most desirable jobs for MBA graduates from the top MBA schools?

Suranga Chandratillake: Places like Harvard and MIT and Columbia and Stanford and so on. And during tech booms, they all want to go to California, and they all want to work for Google or a startup or whatever. And then when the tech boom ends, they all want to go to Goldman Sachs and go to New York and wear a suit. And I think there are a lot of people like that.

Suranga Chandratillake: There's nothing wrong with that. It's, it's, you know, it's [00:07:00] good to be, to be fluid in sort of defining who you are and what job you want to do. And, you know, if you believe in a capitalist system, part of that is a free flow of talent, right? So talent should go to wherever it's needed, wherever it's valued.

Suranga Chandratillake: But those sorts of people, I think you're right. There isn't necessarily a lot of staying power. They were there because it was an interesting, opportunistic, profitable place to be. And of course they're drawn to it. And when things are not going so well, they're less drawn to it. I wasn't like that, right?

Suranga Chandratillake: I've been coding since I was nine. I'd done computer science at uni. I was pretty much a techie's techie. There was a brief period when I was at uni where I did an internship at an investment bank. And in fact, I applied to and got a job offer to be not on the IT side or the tech side, but a sort of proper banking job as an equity analyst.

Suranga Chandratillake: And I decided not to, and I joined that software company instead. And that was really the last moment that I seriously considered something outside tech. So by the time I'd made that choice. I was done. You know, I'm not, I was just going to be a tech person through and through and I guess I was lucky that I was in San Francisco at the time as well, where although it had changed a lot and a lot of it had depleted compared to a few years earlier, there was still a lot of tech around.

Suranga Chandratillake: I remember on [00:08:00] my very, very first trip to California to Northern California, I had a free weekend and I drove down the valley on the 101 from the city and then back up again and I stopped off at a whole bunch of You know, to me, iconic places, you know, and it was this kind of funny little pilgrimage I went to, the garage where HP started, the garage where Google started, you know, the, the, the building where the Yahoo guys first met when they were doing research.

Suranga Chandratillake: I mean, and, and like, I was really excited by this whole thing because it was, it was big to me, which is a bit tragic, really. But, but anyway, if you're that kind of person, I think. There was no doubt that this is what I was going to do. 

Amardeep Parmar: And then obviously you then went on to build your own companies, right?

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar:  And there was one major success. Well, you had different successes, but was it Blinks is the one that you really?

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah. I mean, really, while I've been involved in various things, Blinks is the company that I actually started myself and, and, you know, with my co founder, Matt. And it was the one that, you know, took us the longest way and was the most interesting journey for sure.

Suranga Chandratillake: And it was a 10 year journey, right? So a lot of ups, a lot of downs, a lot of learnings.. 

Amardeep Parmar: What was like for people who don't know what it is. 

Suranga Chandratillake:Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: What did  Blinkx do? why did you get into that in the first place?

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah. I mean, [00:09:00] it's very non glamorous and not particularly clever, but basically my co founder and I are both technical.

Suranga Chandratillake: We both had computer science backgrounds, and so we both came at it from a tech point of view. And we took some stuff that we were working on at our previous employer and said, well, couldn't we build something that was sort of similar? But applied into a new market. So whereas our previous employer had sold what would now be called AI at the time it was called kind of information retrieval to enterprises to large businesses, we thought, Well, couldn't we build some kind of consumer product?

Suranga Chandratillake: And so we started this company called Blinkx. The name didn't really mean very much at the time, and it was just this General concept of, you know, make stuff that lives on your computer more searchable. So you can find the right email, the right document, the right photo, the right video whenever you want it.

Suranga Chandratillake: And slowly that blossomed and it turned out the most valuable bit of that was actually the searching of video content. Because video is really hard to search because there's no... There's, apart from maybe a title or a file name, there was no other information. And then we discovered that, at the time, although people had some video on their laptops or their computers, actually most video that people wanted to watch was out on the internet, because it was really [00:10:00] exploding at that time.

Suranga Chandratillake: So this is the era where YouTube started, Hulu started, iPlayer started, etc. And so then we built a video search engine. Using the same core tech, but applied in quite a different way. And that was the business model that really worked. Powering, you know, video search and video, uh, matching and targeting and recommendation basically for a variety of different companies.

Suranga Chandratillake: So all kinds of websites that had a lot of video online used us as an underlying tool to basically make that video more manageable. And we would just charge, you know, a tiny fee every time any of those things, any of those transactions occurred. And that went from being, you know, a zero. dollar business to being a 250 million dollar business.

Suranga Chandratillake: Um, so, and it grew very rapidly. A lot of that was right place, right time. You know, I mean, we, you know, this video thing was just exploding and, and, and a lot of people needed to figure out how to make it work. And we were there. 

Amardeep Parmar: One thing that's interesting  with me, like all the people I've interviewed, is that the people have really made it to the very top.

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah

Amardeep Parmar: it was very open about saying it's right place, right time,

Suranga Chandratillake: Sure

Amardeep Parmar: and there's always an element of it. Right. And I think it's, it takes some kind of level of maturity of people to realize that. Whereas a lot of people might say it's all down to me being amazing. It's [00:11:00] like, there's lots of people who are amazing and incredible at what they do, but it's about getting the right product for the right time.

Amardeep Parmar: Like you did. 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: With you and your co founder, how did you split your roles as well? What was the aspect that you gravitated towards in terms of building Blinkx up.

Suranga Chandratillake: So, no. I mean, like I said, Matt and I both technically had a technical background, but he's honestly a better technologist than I am. And so naturally he gravitated towards being the CTO.

Suranga Chandratillake: And so he ran the tech team, built the product, all of that, and CTO doesn't really give him justice. I mean, he thought about the product. He thought about even the commercialization of the product a lot as well. And my job was to do what was left, a bunch of which was very unglamorous. So, you know, setting up offices and, you know, buying chairs and all that kind of stuff.

Suranga Chandratillake: And then some of it was obviously more front facing stuff. So, you know, trying to figure out who our early customers were going to be, raising some money at various points and all that kind of stuff. Um, so I became the CEO. And that was the last time really that I coded until I restarted it a few years ago to help my kids.

Suranga Chandratillake: So, so that was like the end of tech from a sort of hands on perspective for me. 

Amardeep Parmar: And you mentioned how you love tech so much,  right? So is it difficult for you to get out of the tech side and like [00:12:00] admit, okay, Matt's probably best to lead that side than I am?

Suranga Chandratillake: Actually, no. I mean, I was very fortunate. I went to Cambridge University for, to do my computer science degree.

Suranga Chandratillake: And when I went to Cambridge, I did, I did fine, but I, I mean, I met a lot of people who are very, very smart and who are. You know, way more academically able than me in a variety of different subjects, including computer science. And I had, by that point, I had absolutely no, you know, aspirations to try and be the best technologist ever.

Suranga Chandratillake: I just didn't think that was where my, my, um, you know, my, my sort of real strength was. What I've always really enjoyed is sort of bridging the gap between technology and everything else outside. I love talking about tech. That's why I'm here today. You know, I love the idea of products. I love marketing.

Suranga Chandratillake: I love sales. I've always enjoyed all that kind of stuff. I've enjoyed even the sort of teamwork side of it. Like, you know, for me, some people love tech because they can really disappear in an introverted world and just work on their own thing, which is wonderful for them. For me, actually, I've always loved being in a team working on something to build it together and so on.

Suranga Chandratillake: So, So actually, I naturally gravitated more towards all those bits. So it was [00:13:00] actually quite a nice balance between the two of us. And then, you know, later we were joined by other really critical people without whom the journey would have never worked. You know, our CMO, who was amazing and helped us tell the story.

Suranga Chandratillake: We had a great CFO, a great COO and so on as well. So it's all about finding the right people at the right moment in time. 

Amardeep Parmar: Is there  anything from that journey as well,

Amardeep Parmar: which maybe is a hidden innovation, which maybe wasn't very front facing, 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah

Amardeep Parmar: but you're really proud of in terms of a problem you had to solve?

Suranga Chandratillake: That's an interesting question. Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that we that we did, which we even have a patent for, but it's never been enforceable or enforced, but which I now see everywhere, which is that we realized very quickly that and this will seem really obvious to anyone who's like under a certain age.

Suranga Chandratillake: But honestly, like at the time, this is not obvious when you're doing stuff with video online. Then actually you, you know, video takes time, right? So if you look at a list of text results, you can very quickly skim read what's going on. You kind of know what you're looking for video unless if there's no description, you have no idea what's in the video.

Suranga Chandratillake: And so we built this really, really neat [00:14:00] what we call the moving thumbnail feature. Which basically meant that if you put your mouse over this little video screen, it would start to move. You know, you've heard of this, you've seen this, we've all seen it on Instagram, on YouTube, on everything else. But until then, that didn't exist.

Suranga Chandratillake: So people would just have like a still, and people would have a little description next to it. And for, for many years, as in for decades, that's how video was done. And we said, no, that doesn't make any sense, you can't see what's going on. So we built this really cool system that would look at the overall video, try and pick out key scenes, and then essentially take a few...

Suranga Chandratillake: screen grabs from those key scenes and animate those. So that you could, the idea being that you could very quickly get a sense of what was in the video. So like I say, I've got a patent on that. And you know, Matt and I, and a couple of our other engineers were on there. It's still proudly on my LinkedIn, I think.

Suranga Chandratillake: Never made me a penny. And now of course it's used by everybody else. Many of whom have made much more out of it, I'm sure, than I have. But, but you know, we did that. I think we did that first. 

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah. Cause it seemed like, for example, people watching this, right, they're going to probably hovered over the thumbnail before they watch that, right?

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah. I said, it's now obvious to us.

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: But you have to do, somebody had to do  it first, right? 

Suranga Chandratillake: Exactly. Exactly. I mean, the analogous thing that has [00:15:00] nothing to do with me is the whole closed captioning thing. You know, like I remember there was one point when we looked at the application of closed captioning because we had rebuilt technology that could do the speech recognition.

Suranga Chandratillake: And, and create a speech track. And we thought this is not really very interesting business because actually there's only so much TV content where you have to have closed captioning. It's things like news and so on, where there's some kind of public service. And so we, and, and, and we sort of thought that's, there's not a very big market.

Suranga Chandratillake: Turns out it's now a massive market, right? Because so many of us watch so much video online in a place where we can't have the audio on. So we're always staring at the text. And, you know, if we'd just done that, we'd probably built a bigger business. 

Amardeep Parmar: And obviously you then exited that business, right?

Suranga Chandratillake:Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: And what was that transition like? What was the process? Did it was, could you build the business hoping one day you'd be able to exit, or

Suranga Chandratillake:Yeah.

Amardeep Parmar: where did that opportunity come from?

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah. I think, I mean, again, this is hard to sort of explain at this point because I think the whole vernacular and kind of methodology of startups is much more advanced and mature now.

Suranga Chandratillake: But at the time there was no obvious. Outcome that we were aiming for. It was kind of like, [00:16:00] build a thing, do well at it, hopefully make some money, and so on. And it was just like, you know, fight, you know, live to fight another day, essentially, or live to fight another week, maybe at best. And so that's what I did for close to a decade.

Suranga Chandratillake: And we went through a crazy journey, you know, we were, we almost, fell apart about three times. We did, you know, multiple acquisitions. We raised money multiple times. Uh, we took the company public. So I was a public CEO, which was a really interesting experience in itself, uh, and so on. But I got to the point about, about eight years in where I just felt really quite tired.

Suranga Chandratillake: It wasn't like a sort of burnout. It wasn't like an overnight thing, but it was more a sort of, you know, I can just feel the fatigue. And when I look forward, I can see that I've got this job. For years, if I wanted, just keep, keep on going and I'll make a bit more each year and the company will get a bit bigger each year, but really it's not going to change fundamentally.

Suranga Chandratillake: You know, there's not big, there's not any big change that's going to happen. We weren't, you know, we hadn't built the next Apple or Google. It was a great business. It was a big business, but it wasn't, it was a billion dollar business, but not a 10 billion dollar  business or 100 billion dollar business. Um, and so, and I just sort of realized that that lack of [00:17:00] creativity in the future was ultimately going to poison the whole thing for me.

Suranga Chandratillake: And so at that point I talked to my board and said, look, I don't need to quit right now, but I will quit at some point in the next 0 to 2, 3 years. So let's figure out how we do that. And so that was quite a hard, you know, thing to come to terms with. It was a really hard thing to communicate to various people.

Suranga Chandratillake: But, but I did do that. And then, and then there was a sort of transition period. And in the end I handed it over to my. My number two, and he was a great CEO for a number of years after me. So the company continued on. And in fact, it still exists. It got merged with another one a few years later, but, um, and I was on the board actually for probably five, six years after I left.

Amardeep Parmar: And then once  you left that, right. So then obviously you've now gone into the venture capital world. 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: What was behind that transition right. Because I think. It's people hopefully one day who are listening to this might exit their business 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar:and they're going to look at different options they have.

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: What made you go down the investment route rather than going for like building more and more businesses yourself? 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah. Um, so, you know, I, I hope people who listen to this or watch this do consider VC. You know, it definitely needs more people who are sort [00:18:00] of not already VC insiders. It historically was a bit of a sort of job you did after you'd been a successful entrepreneur.

Suranga Chandratillake: been a successful financier or whatever. Nowadays, actually, it's, it's more professional. You can join VC, you know, pretty much out of university if you've got the right kind of stuff done at that point. Um, and you can certainly join a few years later and you can sort of become a career VC. And I think VC is, is good for that.

Suranga Chandratillake: Like, I think, I think you need a mixture. You need people like me who've done something very different, but you also need people who've kind of done it as their stock and trade, you know, for many years. And certainly our firm has a mixture of both. In my case, I was kind of intrigued by it in a very high level from a distance, but I'd never really.

Suranga Chandratillake: Fully considered it as a big career choice. Uh, certainly not at that point in my life. I was sort of in my mid thirties, I guess when I stepped down from blinkx, but I took a couple of years off after stopping down the CEO job just to sort of recuperate a little bit. And my wife was super busy at the time.

Suranga Chandratillake: So it was quite nice to sort of balance things out with her job going on. And so I did that for a while. And in that period, you know, we looked at like, what do we do next with our lives? And a couple of things happened. First of all, we said, let's move back to [00:19:00] Europe and to the UK in particular. And as part of that, I started talking to people in the tech industry here.

Suranga Chandratillake: And that led me to my now firm, Balderton, and one of the partners. And he had had a similar sort of story. He'd also grown up in Europe, in his case in France, built a business, gone to Silicon Valley, taking it public there, and then come back to be a VC. And he said, Look, I've loved this second journey of mine, you should, I think you would too.

Suranga Chandratillake: And he convinced me basically, and he was right. I mean, you know, nine years later, I love my job and I wouldn't, you know, change it for anything. So, you know, your other part of the question was, why not do more companies? And I think it's a very personal choice thing. You know, I loved building a company. I can imagine doing it again, maybe.

Suranga Chandratillake: But I do know that especially if you want to build a high value, fast scaling, you know, venture style business, which is what I would do, then it's really hard work. And it requires a level of commitment and obsession that gets you through irrationally challenging times. It's really, really hard. And, and to do all of that, you need to have an idea.

Suranga Chandratillake: So for now, that's not the right thing for me. 

Amardeep Parmar: I like what the point you made there as well, because I think [00:20:00] sometimes there is a kind of glamorization of the hustle culture. 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah

Amardeep Parmar: Like,if things are hard, still go for it no matter what. 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah

Amardeep Parmar: But I think like you said, it's got to be because you love what you're doing so much 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah

Amardeep Parmar: that you're willing to do that.

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah

Amardeep Parmar: Whereas if you're just doing that just so you prove a point, I think that's sometimes that adjustment needs to be made and people need to think about it. It's like, if you're only working the long hours because you want to tell people, I'm working 16 hour days, I'm doing this. It shouldn't be the status is the hard work.

Amardeep Parmar: It should be the status is I'm making this impact. This is what I'm changing. Here's how I'm making, like, why I really care about what I do. But it was interesting when you said about you moved, you decided to move back to Europe. 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: Why  did you make that decision? Because obviously America, the Silicon Valley space is a lot more mature than the UK. 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah.  Yeah. Two reasons. One was family and the other was I think the fact that we're quite entrepreneurial. So the family reason was an obvious one. We'd had two little kids while we were out in California, and we could sort of tell that they were just not going to get to know their grandparents and their, you know, aunts and uncles and cousins and so on.

Suranga Chandratillake: Both my family and my wife's family are here in the UK, in different parts of the UK. So we sort of thought It'll be nice for them, particularly [00:21:00] while they're young, to sort of know that. But then the second reason was that we came and spent a bit of time back in Europe. And we, you know, she's a biotech person.

Suranga Chandratillake: And we realized that, that the UK in particular, but Europe in general, was sort of where we had been in the US about 10 years behind. And there was a real opportunity to kind of join that ecosystem quite early, hopefully have an impact, hopefully make a difference, share some of the things that we'd learned, and just enjoy being part of that ride again.

Suranga Chandratillake: You know, because it's very different. I mean, at that point, 2013 2014, Silicon Valley was in full swing. I mean, it turned out that would go on for another five, six, seven years. But even at the time, it felt pretty peaky, you know, and so we were like, this has been great, but how about going back to what it was like when it was scrappy again?

Suranga Chandratillake: And Britain felt really quite like that at that point. You know, we were, we were just beginning to like. you know, start to create some billion dollar companies and all that kind of stuff. And, you know, now there are whatever tens, if not, you know, a hundred of them or whatever. So, so I think that that, that was just a great moment in time to do all those things.

Suranga Chandratillake: And that's why we, why we came back on the point you made earlier. So I want to pick up on that, this thing about people working hard. I couldn't [00:22:00] agree more. Basically, I did work really, really hard. And I think to be a successful founder, especially of one of these high growth companies, there will be times when you will.

Suranga Chandratillake: Have to work harder than anyone really ought to work and there will be stress that really is, is, is kind of an unpleasant level of stress. However, there is this really, in my opinion, immature mentality around just do more time, just do more hours. Um, you know, the kind of like, I take a sleeping bag into work every day, you know.

Suranga Chandratillake: If you need to take your sleeping bag into work once or twice because you really have to that particular day. Sure. That's the dedication. But if you're bragging about it, there's something wrong in my opinion. And my firm is pretty obsessed with this idea. So we launched a thing, you know, recently that we call the Bulletin, the Bulletin founder performance and well being platform.

Suranga Chandratillake: And it's basically a platform to help founders think about the fact that the journey they're on is going to be hard, but it's a long term journey. So it's incredibly short sighted to just You know, burn the candle at both ends constantly from day one. If you do that, you'll basically just burn out at some point.

Suranga Chandratillake: And [00:23:00] that's not good for you. But it's also not good for the business or for your investors, frankly. You know, we're in it to make money. And for us to make money, you need to be in it for 10 years or more, because that's how long it takes. And so, you know, we're trying to create this whole thing around, let's talk more about that.

Suranga Chandratillake: And, you know, it's, it's, it's not a new idea for other fields, right? If you talk to sports people, professional sports people, they don't, you know, if they're a sprinter, they don't sprint every day. They have rest days, you know, they have day, they think about their diet, they think about their family, they think about their mental well being and so on.

Suranga Chandratillake: And so hopefully the industry can start to introduce some of that thinking. Um, you know, we're going to kick it off with some of this stuff that we're doing, but I hope it, I hope it spreads, as you said. 

Amardeep Parmar: Like as you've been like  investing in so many companies now, right? What have you seen as like one of the things which maybe people listening who are trying to raise capital or they should be thinking about differently or like maybe a common, I guess, misunderstanding a lot of people have about building companies and you're trying to change that mentality or the way they think about it beyond just the burnout side of things.

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah, yeah. So that's, that is an important point. So we should, you know, that's definitely one that it's good that we talked about that already. I think, I think the biggest thing that I [00:24:00] see is around getting the sort of long term, short term balance, right? And it's a really hard thing to do because there's no single one answer to it, the question, if I'm honest, but, but, um, there are many, many companies that get very, very hooked on short term tricks that have worked for them well.

Suranga Chandratillake: So, you know, various growth hacks or, you know, particular, uh, PR narrative that's worked well in the press or whatever it might be. Um, and, and that's great. And, and actually that, that initial kickstart can really help you. But at the same time, you've got to be building underneath all of that, something that's strategic and that's long term.

Suranga Chandratillake: Now, equally, there are other companies we meet who seem to spend, you know, five years building this amazing, magical platform and never getting it out there. And then when they finally turn up, um, they've now got three months, you know, funding left to sort of... make it work. And of course, the first customer has an issue with it, and it just falls apart, and then it's all over.

Suranga Chandratillake: And I think the best companies know how to marry the two. One of our portfolio companies is, uh, is Revolut, which is obviously a fairly well known, uh, neobank here in the UK. And Revolut's a great example of this. We, we led their Seed and their Series A rounds, and so we've known them for a [00:25:00] very long time, since Vlad and Nikolai started the business, and just two of them at the time.

Suranga Chandratillake: And they did have one of those growth hacks in the early days. You know, Nick, Nick was really obsessed with this idea of, yeah, if you're someone like me... A sort of somewhat international European kind of person you're traveling around, you just know you're getting ripped off every time you go abroad and you use your card, like you just get ripped off by your bank, and we just want to change that.

Suranga Chandratillake: And I think that if I change that, like, people like me will tell other people like me. And he was absolutely right. There was this initial upswell, and that gave them amazing, very early traction. But they didn't, they didn't just get hooked on that. You know, they realized that for this to be a really interesting, really big business.

Suranga Chandratillake: They had to appeal to other people that had other problems. He was very self aware that, you know, he was an ex trader at, you know, I forget which bank, you know, in Canary Wharf. There weren't that many of him. Like if you built a business just for people like him, it wasn't gonna be that interesting. And so, you know, in behind the scenes, while they absolutely milked that word of mouth, uh, growth for every bit it was worth, they also built a much more strategic, much more long term roadmap about all the other things that would layer in, some of which seemed almost farcically long [00:26:00] term at the time, you know, because you're saying, guys, you're like five of you, you know, in a tiny room somewhere in, you know, in London, like feverishly working away at this.

Suranga Chandratillake: And why are you planning a roadmap, which in six years might have a whole wealth management platform that seems a bit over the top, but actually, you know, X years later, they do have a wealth management platform. It's one of the biggest ones in the country, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. So I think having that balance is critical.

Suranga Chandratillake: And I see a lot of companies that either are too perfectionist. So they'd spend for ages planning everything and you've got to get it out there. You've got to get people using it and telling you what works and what doesn't work. And you get the flip side, which is someone getting a bit too caught up with something that's worked well for them and forgetting that in the end it's about building a lasting, enduring business.

Suranga Chandratillake: And that means it's going to be bigger than just one trick.

Amardeep Parmar:  I think we've run out of time now.

Suranga Chandratillake: Okay.

 Amardeep Parmar: So I'm going to jump to the quickfire questions. 

Suranga Chandratillake:Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: But I could talk all day. So that was really good. Thank you. Um, first one is who are three British Asian entrepreneurs that you'd love to shout out that you think the audience should be paying attention to?

Suranga Chandratillake: Well, let me do, cause we're on a big, given, given the topic, I'll, I'll do three [00:27:00] British Asians. That's all right. And the three I'm going to pick, not all entrepreneurs, a hundred percent, but um, One is Simon Arora, who's the, the CEO of B& M, who I just think is a really low profile person for what he's achieved.

Suranga Chandratillake: You know, he is very, very smart, very analytical, very strategic guy. I don't know him, but I've watched him build B& M from, you know, a really tiny business into an absolutely huge one, which is, you know, it's interesting. A lot of people talk about online commerce and online retail, but the sort of discounted market, which he has been at the forefront of.

Suranga Chandratillake: It's almost as big and grown almost as fast, in fact, faster, I think, in the last few years. Anyway, so just for me, one of these people who just keeps his head down, works really hard, but has actually built an incredible business, employing thousands of people. The second British Asian I would nominate is my mum, if that's all right.

Suranga Chandratillake: So, you know, to me, she is a great example of the sort of, you know, Ingenuity and kind of energy that that's so important. And also, frankly, a reflection of the opportunity that this country certainly gave my family, which is that, you know, she when she first moved to the UK, she was 19 years old, just got [00:28:00] married to my dad, very, very young, didn't have a lot of education, but was smart and was ambitious, unsurprisingly, for a woman of her age, over her era and generation, who's Asian, who was that young, she spent the first X years of her marriage, you know, bringing up me and my brother, you know, Um, but she always wanted to do more, and then she, so she went and did loads of courses, learned English properly, went to university, became a teacher, ended up becoming an advisor to teaching schools all over Manchester where I grew up.

Suranga Chandratillake: And you know, just very inspiring from that point of view. Like I say, both her, her own energy and efforts, but also the fact that she lived in a place where that was possible, which wouldn't have been possible had she, you know, stayed in Sri Lanka, for example, I think. And the third Asian that I'll, that I'll nominate is, is RPM, Rishi Sunak.

Suranga Chandratillake: Rishi's funny because I don't, I don't share a lot with him in many ways. I mean, you know, he went to the finest schools in our country. I went to the local comp. You know, he and I probably don't see eye to eye on a bunch of political things. However, I still think it's really inspiring that he has the job that he has and that he's doing it the way that he's doing it.

Suranga Chandratillake: And, you know, yeah, I'm certainly [00:29:00] not above or beyond sort of respecting that and, you know, congratulating him for that. And I think it's just a really important role model for, for, for people that You know, like you and I grew up here to see that actually, you know, whatever you want to do and wherever you want to be and whatever kind of job you want, there's an opportunity and that people are out there doing it.

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah, I agree in  terms of like, I think sometimes we get caught up in the details. Whereas at the end of the day, if somebody is able to do that, it just shows, okay, there is space for everybody at the top there. 

Suranga Chandratillake: Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: And the next question is, if people listening right now could like. reach out to like, follow you or follow Balderton.Where should they go to find out more about what you're doing?

Suranga Chandratillake: Oh yeah, sure. So, I mean, they're more than welcome to connect or follow me on LinkedIn. Uh, that's probably the easiest thing to do. You know, if you are an entrepreneur and you have a company you'd like to talk about, then feel free to email me,

Suranga Chandratillake: I may not be the right person in the firm to look to talk to you because I look at certain areas, but happy to bounce you to whomever is the right person. And if you're interested in the firm, generally, you should sign up for our mailing list, which you can just do on our website. And that's particularly good because that will have announcements of events that we hold.

Suranga Chandratillake: And although we [00:30:00] do a lot of stuff for our own portfolio of companies we've invested in, because we have a great office in King's Cross in London, we actually do a lot of events just generally open to anyone who's interested. So whether it's a particular area of tech, like AI, whether it's a particular kind of job, like how to get into tech from finance or whatever, we have, you know, probably about 50 or 60 events a year that you can come along to and be part of.

Suranga Chandratillake: So hopefully between all of that, you should be able to find the thing that works for you. 

Amardeep Parmar: And then on the other side is I think You need help with right now for that border to need to help with.

Suranga Chandratillake:. Um, Oh, that's very nice of you. Um, I know, I mean, look, I think just what I just said already said, I mean, you know, in the end, our job is to invest in, back, believe, and, you know, enable amazing entrepreneurs and founders from all over Europe to build great technology companies.

Suranga Chandratillake: We don't back every kind of company. We back companies that. have tech at their core. And we back companies that want to take on, you know, venture investment from people like us to grow rapidly and unprofitably at first to build ultimately a really large business. It's about taking a lot of risk and it's [00:31:00] about trying to go for something really, really large.

Suranga Chandratillake: Uh, if you are one of those people, we'd love to talk to you. 

Amardeep Parmar: And so thank you again  so much for coming on. Have you got any final words to the  audience?

Suranga Chandratillake: No, it's been a real pleasure. Thank you very much for having me here.

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