Building Medical Mobile Apps in Sri Lanka with Sandaruwan Gunathilake, Co-Founder of Medical Joyworks

Sandaruwan Gunathilake co-founded Medical Joyworks in Sri Lanka, a company that develops medical mobile applications and was accepted into the Startup Chile Program. We chat with Sandaruwan to learn his story.

Sandaruwan, please introduce yourself

I’m Sandaruwan from Sri Lanka. I studied Software Engineering for my undergraduate degree. I’ve been programming since I was 12 (I’m 28 now).

What’s the story behind creating Medical Joyworks?

I used to participate in programming competitions (International Olympiad in Informatics) in my high school days. I started my first company with friends I met in the competitions. It was an outsorucing firm. We launched multiple iOS projects with that company.

My co-founder (Nayana Somaratna) is a Medical Doctor besides being a programmer. While we were working on the outsourcing company, he had the idea of creating a simple case simulator as an iphone app.

He quickly did a basic prototype of the app and showed it to some doctors at some hospitals and they loved it. After that, we got together and created the first version of Prognosis : Your Diagnosis.

We did lot of alpha/beta testing with doctors in Sri Lanka and once we were satisfied with the result, we released it. Just after releasing the app, we got featured in some prominent blogs in medical sphere and our app quickly became the #1 app in the Medical category on the iOS appstore (In many countries including USA).

How’s traction working out so far?

We have ~2 millions downloads of the app. The users consist a mixture of doctors, medical students, nurses and nursing students. Most downloads are from English speaking countries (around 50% from USA, then UK, Australia, etc).

Please share with us your experiences getting accepted into Startup Chile?

We released our first version of the app in November 2011. After the first year, we had a lot of users yet we were not profitable. It was just Nayana and myself doing all the work.

Then, we got accepted into Startup Chile (January 2012). That was a huge opportunity for us. We used the Startup Chile investment to hire people and expand our business. During that period we created several Prognosis based apps each specializing in different specialties such as Cardiology, Diabetes, etc.

Regarding the Startup Chile experience, it’s been really great. We met lot of exceptional people there. The most fascinating thing about Startup Chile was that there were so many companies building great products and each of them were in different stages of development. You could truly see all steps of the startup lifecycle in one big room.

What is the story behind basing operations out of Sri Lanka?

We are from Sri Lanka. That’s one of the main reasons behind basing the company here. Also, we have lot of contacts in the Medical field in Sri Lanka – which were essential when we were getting our operation off the ground, although now we have an international panel of specialists aiding us.

What are the benefits of being based in Sri Lanka?

One of the main benefits is that living cost is low in this region. That was a big help when we were not profitable. The other benefit is that you have lot of technical/creative talent here.

What is the best way to find exceptional talent (designers and developers) in Sri Lanka?

You can easily approach tech universities and get the word out among students. Lot’s of universities have a internship programs which can be very helpful if you want to hire interns.

How do you see the startup ecosystem developing in Sri Lanka?

A few years ago, there weren’t many startups in Sri Lanka. The startups we had in Sri Lanka (such as our previous company) were focusing on outsourcing rather than creating products.

However, this trend seems to be fading away. More and more startups focusing on products are emerging. I feel Sri Lanka is a great place to start a tech company right now.

We don’t have many investors in Sri Lanka. Even if you do manage to get some investment, it’s often a very small amount of money for high equity. However, since the living cost of Sri Lanka is low, you can start a tech company here without any investment and run it for years before becoming profitable.

What advice can you share with entrepreneurs wanting to start a startup?

One thing I’ve learned is that every startup is uniquely different. So, there isn’t one magic advice that fits all. Any generic advice you give, you’ll always find one or two startups that didn’t follow that yet become successful. I think you need to find the rule you are going to break and be the exception.

Besides medical education, what startup opportunities are you getting excited about?

I’m really excited about startup opportunities related to Augment Reality (Google Glass, etc). At the moment, it’s still in the initial stages but sooner or later there is a going to be a big leap in the technology. When that happens, it’ll explode and create a brand new playground for some exciting startups.

What’s next for Medical Joyworks?

We are currently working on a new Story based app called Clinical Sense and planning to release it within next two months.

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