Rooting for Growth

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By Shanuka Kadupitiyage

It is said that from small things, shall great things come to pass. The same can be said for Alagan Mahalingam. From the humble beginnings of a young man who loved technology, Alagan is now the Founder and CEO of Rootcode Labs; one of Sri Lanka’s biggest startups that has grown to become a truly global brand.

Recently, Rootcode celebrated the launch of Rootcode studio, the company’s latest arm in its hexagon model. In wake of this exciting achievement, Ceylon Today reached out to Alagan to learn more about Rootcode’s story and its future direction.

Pursuing passion

Alagan grew up in a period of time when technology and its impact grew at a rapid pace, throughout almost every industry. “I’ve always loved tech since I was a young child,” he shared. “But everything truly changed once I started studying software engineering.” Of course, Alagan already knew how to code and create software by that time, but he was dedicated to gaining as much knowledge and experience as possible during his time as a student.

Alagan was able to land an internship at the Geoinformatics centre attached to the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand, and subsequently as a research assistant in Japan for the University of Tokyo. He also was able to bag a bunch of other accomplishments and internships under his belt, even becoming a student ambassador for Google.

Singify

“I met a few like-minded people that were interested in building a singing app. Using artificial intelligence, the app would be able to identify the pitch you’ll be singing in and you could compete to see who is the better singer. You could even learn how to sing using the app,” he narrated.

Accepting the job to build the app was an opportunity that Alagan saw the benefits of. But there were also a number of risks that came with being an entrepreneur. Hailing from a family with no background in business or entrepreneurship, the decision to go ahead wasn’t easy Alagan.

But after many sleepless nights, with Alagan literally living in the office space they rented for over a year-and-a-half during the development phase, the app was completed, and Singify was born, and soon became a global success.

Singify was soon acquired by a firm in the UK, leaving Alagan with a decision to make.

Having made a globally recognised mobile application gave him a level of credibility that he could use to leverage new customers, developing software and apps to a global clientele. And so, Rootcode Labs was born.

Rootcode Labs

“Over the years, we’ve grown from helping smaller, startup companies to making apps for larger corporations which are listed in the New York stock exchange including companies such as banks, financial firms,” he explained. 

Doing business with organisations that previously would have been reluctant to work with companies established outside of the familiar territories (such as England, Europe or even Silicon Valley in the USA) is a massive success in his eyes. Today, Not only is Rootcode labs a well-sought-after place to work with, but it is also highly sought after among the Sri Lankan developer community to work in, which is evident with the number of software developers in the country naming Rootcode labs as their most preferred place to work.

Today, Rootcode labs have expanded far beyond their humble beginnings. Although its headquarters remain in Sri Lanka, it has expanded its presence through its corporate offices located in Estonia, and Silicon Valley (San Francisco, California). Not only that, Rootcode aims to extend its capabilities even further in the near future through its new arms, engaging with new fields within the industry.

Never easy

But the journey to where Alagan is today wasn’t easy. From getting on a plane to Thailand, equipped with nothing but some clothes, the clothes in your bag, an old Nokia and some prints off of Google Maps to living in your own office for more than a year to build an app you didn’t know was going to work; the journey hasn’t been easy for Alagan at any period.

“I took out a loan in order to start the business when we were developing Singify, and halfway through the development process, we ran out of funds. Then there was the time we had made mistakes in hiring,” he recounted. “There were so many challenges, but we managed to work through it all.”

“I think it’s those moments that define you, and really help you grow as an individual,” he opined. “A lot of people advised me to give up, go abroad, do a masters’ and settle somewhere,” he said with a chuckle.

“You need to love what you do and have a little crazy in you,” he continued. “I could have failed. I never even imagined we would come this far. But I was okay with failing because I believe that we come to this world with nothing, and leave with nothing but what we did while we were here. So why not try something new and make the world a better place?”

New Frontiers

Rootcode has achieved much in its time, Alagan’s vision for the future of Rootcode is an inspiring one and one that is already being developed from the ground up. Noting the six sides of the Rootcode logo’s hexagon, he explained that Rootcode aims to gradually expand into more fields.

This includes the development of global-scale software products. Expert Republic; is a product developed by Rootcode that allows anyone to book a one-on-one video conferencing session with professional experts from every field and study available, from fitness training, personal coaching to even cooking and baking.

Another example is Rootcode’s expansion into different fields, beyond creating software for clients. The recently launched Rootcode studio is one of six ventures that Alagan has planned for the company.

“Speaking with clients, I realised that Sri Lanka isn’t known as a good design destination, but history says otherwise with the likes of Sigiriya and our ancient architecture. Doing a little more research, we discovered that Sri Lanka has a lot of great artists, but we don’t have a lot of great digital designers.”

By scouting for individuals talented in art from within and outside the IT industry, then equipping them with the necessary training and expertise, Rootcode studio is already working to bring Sri Lanka back on the map in terms of design in the digital age.

Rootcode Labs and Studio are only the beginning of Alagan’s master plan, which aims to expand into multiple fields which include artificial intelligence, enterprise solutions and investments into supporting Sri Lankan startups.

Lighting up the end of the tunnel

“I think today we are facing a very difficult time for our country, but Sri Lankans are known for being hardworking and dedicated. If we can work together and find a way to amplify our skills into technology, I think Sri Lanka can become a great destination for technology and design, competing on the global stage.”

In the end, we have to leave a better country for our next generation, so it’s important we work together, setting aside any prejudice and differences or preferences in political views, to make it happen,” Alagan concluded. 

(Pix by Laksiri Rukman)