Secrets of Success: It's marketing that keeps young chief executive awake at night
Suranga Chandratillake is chief executive and founder of Blinkx, a pioneering online video search business.
Aged 29, he is one of the youngest chief executives of a publicly traded UK company - Blinkx conducted an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange in May 2007, valuing the business at Â£125m.
He attained five A-levels (all grade A), then took an MA in computer science from the University of Cambridge during the dotcom boom - making it into the real world just in time for the dotcom crash. He then worked at Morgan Stanley and later for Mike Lynch’s Cambridge-based software firm Autonomy, before launching Blinkx in 2004.
“Studying computer science at the height of the dotcom boom was exciting,” Mr Chandratillake says. “Here were people just like us doing amazing things and making lots of money. I think that gave me inspiration for what I’m doing now.”
Mr Chandratillake says he had a passion for computers and technology from a young age, but it was studying at Cambridge that showed him there is no limit to what you can achieve. “I was up at 5am, running, coxing, studying in the day, socialising in the evenings and found that as long as I was enjoying myself I could do it all. “I think that is true in business. There is so much to do, but it’s a lot easier to handle if you are enjoying it.”
Chandratillake reckons flexibility is vital for any business. “Don’t be afraid to change your plans,” he says.
“If you open a sandwich shop but find the real money is in selling coffee then you have to adapt and change the business accordingly.
“We started out as a video search company and that business is sound. But over the past six months we have realised that real opportunity is in targeted advertising. The potential in this market is much bigger, but it wasn’t something we set out to focus on.”
He says mentors, either people he has worked with or for, have been invaluable to Blinkx.
Mike Lynch is a non-executive director and the experience people such as Lynch bring to Mr Chandratillake’s business has been invaluable.
“The one area of my life that has suffered, though,” he adds, “is my social life. I do a lot of travelling and work very hard. My wife and I sometimes wonder if we’re not older than we really are.”
The one area that keeps Chandratillake awake at night isn’t investors, the state of the stock market, the complex licensing agreements or the technology - it’s the PR and marketing. “I obsess about the marketing,” he says.
“It’s all very well working this hard and having a great product, but if no one has ever heard of you, you are nowhere. I think Bill Gates said if he had one dollar left he’d spend it on PR. I completely agree with that.”