The Pearl Cluster Story

Subodha Charles

Previous Article

The Start

22nd July 2012, I was in the workshop of the Department of Electronic & Telecommunication Engineering, University of Moratuwa, preparing for Robocon 2012. The phone rang, indicating that Sameera (Ramasinghe) was calling, and I picked up. Long story short, Sameera wanted me to join him, Rachitha (Muthukumarana), Lakshitha (Chathuranga) and Kaushala (Priyadarshana) to start a new company focusing on industrial automation. I agreed simply because of the people involved, and I knew something could be done when we put our heads together. A few weeks later, we met at Sameera’s place to decide on a name for the company. After a few failed attempts to find a name where a domain name is also available, we settled with “Alta Vision” -vision de alta (in Latin) → a deep vision (in English).

There were no product ideas when we started. With the five of us having electronic, software, electrical and mechanical backgrounds, we listed all our industry contacts and evaluated who will require automation solutions. After many phone calls and in-person visits, we got a job confirmed at a leading pharmaceutical manufacturer in Sri Lanka. They had purchased a machine to automate their bottle packing process, and there was a glitch that needed a solution. We managed to put together a prototype, and the management liked it. Being undergraduates at the time, little did we know about the difference between a prototype and a commercially-ready product. The company took our concept and did a more robust implementation with their technical team. Either way, it worked. We sold our idea for 47,000 LKR, which was a steal for the company. Nevertheless, we managed to make our first income, and we registered the company using that money. Alta Vision (Pvt) Ltd. was registered on 13th February 2013.

Lesson 1: Be the best at what you do

“Be the best at what you do”. It’s easier said than done. We learnt it the hard way when the second automation project was secured. Having completed some projects at the university in machine vision, when the pharmaceutical manufacturer needed to automate the defect inspection process of a production line, we took it on. After trying for six months, we gave it up and returned the entire amount we got as the advance payment. Here’s what we learnt;

  1. There is a massive difference between getting something working and getting something working reliably for all use cases.
  2. Experience matters, especially when delivering commercial products. Get at least a consultant who has done it time and time again if your team is not experienced.

The purchased equipment was useless, not to mention the time spent. The cameras still sit somewhere idling as a souvenir of that particular episode.

Lesson 2: If the client is not happy, nothing else matters

Having lost a significant amount of our initial working capital from the failed defect inspection project, we wandered into the software domain to generate some income without making an initial investment. Repeating the process that got us the pharmaceutical manufacturer as a client, we managed to get an educational institute as a client to develop a student management system for their classes. A desktop application was delivered with a cloud-based database and some hardware integration. We had several bug reports during the beta testing phase, which were promptly fixed. However, the system would continuously malfunction due to connectivity issues. The internet connection at the institute was to blame, or so we thought. As it was a desktop application, we had to go in person to do all the debugging work. We would drive for an hour only to find the Wi-Fi was down and nothing was wrong with our system. After five/six such visits, we had enough. When the subsequent such request came through, I had had enough, and I expressed our displeasure (to put things lightly) about the staff calling us every time without even doing their due diligence. That was the end of the relationship.

The case we built was logically correct in our minds. It was their fault. But we could have had a better architecture to capture those exceptions and pinpoint the issue. We could have had a service agreement that facilitated such requests. But we didn’t. Here’s what we learnt;

  • Whatever is said and done, at the end of the day, if you have not achieved client satisfaction, whatever reasons you have are just reasons in your head to make you feel better. It won’t lead to a successful business.
  • If you commit to something, deliver it with the highest quality even if halfway through, you realize that we initially made a bad deal. Your social capital is priceless.

Alta Vision Solar

While on the lookout for new opportunities, we heard that the government of Sri Lanka is introducing a framework for rooftop Solar PV installations. Studies showed the potential and the business opportunity, so we decided to go for it. But, there was nowhere to start. Nobody would trust a bunch of guys in their early twenties with such a significant investment, especially when it comes with a 25-year warranty. Even we didn’t know where we would be in 25 years. After realizing the usual client acquisition methods would not work, we approached a person we thought was likely to help us. It was our Advanced Level Applied Mathematics teacher — Mr. Janaka Abeywardena. “Sir, we want you to be our first Solar customer. We will do the installation, and only if it works continuously for a month we will submit all our bills to you, and you can cover our material expenses. No need to pay for labour or technical expertise, that’s on us.” — that was the gist of our offer. Janaka sir accepted!

Everything from system design, equipment purchasing, manufacturing the structure (including welding), mounting on the roof, panel installation and wiring was done by us. We had help from a couple of people for the labour work and a couple of friends in the Solar PV industry for technical consultancy. The 5kW Solar PV installation took two weeks after the equipment was ready. Gladly, it worked, and we got paid. Janaka sir was generous to add a profit on top of the material expenses as well.

Fast forward to 2022, Alta Vision Solar has completed 1000+ Solar PV installations all over Sri Lanka and is one of the top 5 Solar PV installers in the country.

The growth was possible because of the people that joined us, taking the risk of leaving their stable jobs to join a startup. Specially, Wikum Wijesinghe, Uditha Meththananda and Oshade Ranawake who took things to new heights. While our team has had resignations and new inclusions over the years, we managed to build a core team with excellent technical expertise and commitment to deliver nothing but the best.

Visit Alta Vision Web.

Pearl Cluster

Over the last decade or so, we have continuously explored expansion possibilities into other areas. Among several failed attempts to go into the education, travel & tourism and digital media sectors, we were successful in other domains. Alta Vision (Pvt) Ltd. has invested and expanded into other areas and is now operating as a group of companies — “Pearl Cluster”. Today, with more than 250 members combined in our teams, we manage a diverse portfolio in energy, construction, software, digital marketing and healthcare sectors, serving numerous local and international clients.

Visit Pearl Cluster Web.

In our journey forward, we are dedicated to delivering an experience that goes beyond merely a product or a service to make sure we exceed our clients’ expectations, always!

Our Vision: To deliver an experience that goes beyond a product or a service in all the domains we operate.

Our Mission: To be the most customer-centric and innovative conglomerate empowering all our stakeholders while promoting sustainability.

Our Values

Devoted to the customers: we grow only if our customers embrace what we offer. There is a vast difference between delivering a good experience and the best experience. We strive to deliver nothing but the best.
Inclusive: Our people define us. At Pearl Cluster, we see our core workers as team members who pursue the same mission. Empowering them and sharing the positive energy allows us to grow together.
Innovative: If we are not the best at what we do there’s scope for improvement. Combining brilliant minds, efficient execution and lifelong learning put us at the forefront of domains we operate in.

A researcher (University of Moratuwa), entrepreneur (Pearl Cluster) and a volunteer (IEEE).

© 2023 Subodha Charles. All rights reserved.