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Work In Sri Lanka is back!

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From last year’s conference

Gather round, ladies and gentlemen, because the third Work In Sri Lanka conference is going to happen in 5 days at the Kingsbury Hotel. That’s on December 22nd, if you’re keeping track.

What is Work In Sri Lanka, and why should you care?

The goal of WISL is to spread the word on how awesome Sri Lanka is for working from. (It’s not just about the beaches). To that end, every year we host a conference that brings together expats, recent returnees and corporates so they can exchange ideas, talk shop – you know, network a bit.

We’ve also got a stellar roster of speakers: Eran Wickramasinghe, of the UNP, Hiran Cooray (Jetwing), Ajit Gunawardane (John Keells Holdings), Manjula Mathews (Dunamis Capital), Suresh Shah (Lion Brewery Ceylon & Ceylon Beverage Holdings), Arjuna Sirinanda (Brandix i3), Tilak Dissanayake (Ants Global), Sameer Nagarajan (Unilever Sri Lanka) and Mr. Prajeeth Balasubramaniam (Blue Ocean Ventures).

That’s quite a slice of Sri Lanka’s top business chiefs, venture capitalists and out-of-the-box visionaries. They’re going to be talking about stuff from country’s vision for the public and private sector where Sri Lanka is headed. There’s also a lot of panel discussions talking about employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, regional and global competition, and even what it’s like to be an expat in this country.

In short, it’s practically everything you need to know.

Why are we doing this?

Two words: brain drain.

Getting a job and getting out of the country is a thing, and it’s led to a lot of really talented people leaving these shores. Recent years are seeing this trend reversed. However, there’s also a dearth of information regarding the actual working conditions in Sri Lanka, which is where WISL comes in; we aim to provide information people considering moving to Sri Lanka. We’re entirely volunteer-run, apolitical people dedicated to showing the world what Sri Lanka is like to work from. And of course, the best way to do that is to get talented people together in one conference and let them talk to each other.

So sign up, and join us on the 22nd! Tickets are priced at Rs 3,500 and Rs 5,000. There’s cocktails afterwards.

There are two types of people in Sri Lanka: those who like startups, and those who don’t.

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The ones that like startups are cool. They’ve read the stories about Apple. They use Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Instagram and tend to live in Colombo.

Talking to them is a bit of a surreal experience, because it requires a lingo that you’re not quite accustomed to. A Facebook page is “a platform”. Three people eating isso wadey (the street food version of prawn crackers) is “a conference.” They generally wax lyrical about the #startuplyf. Mention that you, too, have a startup and they’ll surreptitiously try to figure out who you’re related to, who you went to college with, whether you have an epic office, and whether they can drop by.

For some reason, very few of them actually have anything resembling a business operation.

The ones who don’t like startups are the old crowd. Their idea of success is rigid: join the bank. Become something sane, like a doctor or an accountant. The job description of choice is a manager. Take on enough loans to own a house and drive a car.

Talking to these people is also very interesting, because they tend to have picked up a lot of knowledge, an incredible amount of history (regardless of how old they are) and will generally be mildly amused at you. They don’t understand ‘this Facebook thing’ or ‘that website business’. If you really want to bust their bubble, talk to them about personal finance and mention PewDiePie’s annual income. But don’t: they’re alright, really. There’s a lot you can learn from a casual chat – especially about the ins and outs of the business scene here.

Then there’s the third type. The crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. People quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.  Because while everyone’s busy hashtagging bottles of beer in the firelight, they’re watching them and wondering what they can convince these people to buy, download or share. They’re thinking of the next big thing. You rarely find them in the limelight. Half the time, you won’t even know they exist. Because they’re really too busy being out there, hustling, making stuff work. By the time they take the stage, they’ve made it.

So come on down to Sri Lanka. The vibes are good and “conferences” don’t cost a thing. And because we’re a little behind the rest of the startup curve, there’s always space for a few more troublemakers.  The question is, what do you want to be?

Expenses, Colombo versus New York

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We were recently looking up the costs of staying over in New York, and we came across this article on the Brokeandthebeutifullife.com. We ran the numbers past a distinctly Sri Lankan internal checklist and couldn’t help thinking that that’s a little bit too much.

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Not that we’re comparing any part of Sri Lanka to the Big Apple as a whole, of course. But still, for a country with great beaches, broadband, good hotels and an impressive variety of cuisine, we’re actually surprisingly cheap.

Let’s have a look at this stuff.

Cellphone: $75 a month. Whoa. In Sri Lanka, you’d rack that up only if you made an hour-long IDD call every other day. Because of market saturation, our rates are dirt cheap: we’ve got five cell network operators jostling for competition, and on an island just 400 kilometers across, that means we get some of the cheapest rates on the planet. Even better: almost total cell coverage, including 3G. It’s actually almost impossible to find a place without at least a 2G signal.

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Groceries: $300 a month, for organic stuff. Again, we’re not entirely sure what kind of organic produce this is, given that our vegetables are quite fresh – over eighty varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown barely a few hour’s drive apart. More importantly, it’s cheap: In fact, $300 could feed a family for a month, and we’re talking three balanced meals a day here.

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Utilities and Internet: $50 and $30 a month, respectively. That’s spot on. We actually have data caps, usually at 30 and 60 GB per month, so our Internet isn’t that cheap.

Rent: $900 a month. $900 a month in Sri Lanka would rent you a mansion, or one of the pricier apartments in one of the priciest areas of the city. If you want to save on this, it’s easy: prices drop drastically just a few kilometers away from the city centre, and since Colombo is such a small city (37km squared), being a few kilometers away is nothing.

And then someone came along and idly commented that you could get an education in Sri Lanka for barely a tenth of what you would spend anywhere in the US. While somewhat unrelated, it made us think.

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Thoughts: Most businesses rely on you being physically present somewhere (meetings, anyone?) but increasingly, there are businesses where it doesn’t really matter where you work from. Graphic design? Technically, all you need is a good computer, Photoshop and Internet. Programming? Again, the same. And if you’re earning in dollars, conversion to a local currency just leaves you better off.

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