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Meet tech entrepreneur : Yanika Amarasekera

By Mahika Panditha

As you may know, we at Happinez love to showcase our local talent – all the successful entrepreneurs, businesswomen/businessmen, artistes, and more. This week, we had the pleasure  of speaking with Yanika Amarasekera. Some of you may know of the absolutely stunning and unique brand that is “Silver Aisle”, under which two sub-brands and services are run – namely Silver Aisle Wedding Gift Registry and Silver Aisle Gifting.

Yanika is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Silver Aisle, and she is killing the game! She loves travelling, exploring any and all cuisines (the spicier the better!), and even wanted to become a WWE wrestler when she turned 12; she’s only five feet tall, mind you (how cute!) Definitely check out both brands’ Instagram pages (@silveraisle_weddingregistry and @silveraisle_gifting) and the official website (www.silveraisle.com). I know I already have my eye on Silver Aisle Gifting for some upcoming birthdays and I am beyond excited.

Here’s what Yanika shared with our readers!

Hey Yanika, nice to meet you. Before we get started, tell us a little about yourself.

Hi Mahika! I’m a 25-year-old tech entrepreneur. I love being active, exploring new places, Japanese food, and getting my hands dirty with anything creative!

I pursued my undergrad at UC Berkeley where I double-majored in political economy and mass communication. Berkeley gave me four years I will be eternally grateful for and which leave me nostalgic; the place and its people personify passion, and I met friends who turned into family. Berkeley challenged me, altered my views, and allowed me to grow in ways I can’t count.

While interning in San Francisco during my third year, despite working at a company I adored, I realised quickly that a nine-to-five job wasn’t for me. Rather, it was the thought of creating something of my own that energised me.

Fast-forward a few months – and after a conversation with a close friend – I found myself applying to grad school at Imperial College London to pursue my Master’s in Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Management degree. After my stint at Imperial, I returned to Sri Lanka.

Tell us about Silver Aisle and how it came about.

Upon my return (to Sri Lanka), I worked briefly at Vallibel One under Mr. Dhammika Perera, and it was then that Silver Aisle was conceptualised. Silver Aisle is now an online gifting platform with two primary services: An online wedding gift registry and, the latest addition, a gifting service for all occasions.

Silver Aisle was originally conceived solely as an online wedding gift registry. There was a huge gap in the market for an easy-to-use and accessible platform; in many ways, couples didn’t have a say in the items they received as wedding gifts, oftentimes receiving multiples of the same item (like how my parents received 10 tea sets at their wedding), items they don’t need, or simply items they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves.

Wedding guests too had to undergo the constant inconvenience of having to run to the store every time a wedding was around the corner and then face the dilemma of not knowing what to purchase.

Silver Aisle was created to fix this; simply put, couples create an account on our website which subsequently becomes their very own gift registry. They then scroll through the 2,500-plus products featured on our website from 40 of Colombo’s most sought-after vendors (such as Paradise Road, Smeg, Gandhara, and more!) from the comfort of their living room, and add their favourites to their registry with just one click.

Finally, couples share their registry details with their guests via the wedding invitation, and guests too are able to purchase an item in just a few clicks. Silver Aisle then delivers the beautifully wrapped gifts to the newlyweds’ doorstep on a date determined by them!

I launched Silver Aisle at the end of 2019, and just as the platform was starting to gain traction, Covid-19 hit and all weddings were postponed indefinitely. The lockdown posed a challenge and even though it was difficult not to feel discouraged, it gave me the impetus to implement a plan B, and that’s how Silver Aisle Gifting came to be.

Silver Aisle Gifting is an additional service provided through the website that enables customers – anywhere in the world – to buy gifts for their loved ones. This service was aimed primarily at the expatriate Sri Lankan population, but even in the short time it has been operational, I find more and more locals to be using it.

We feature the most stunning cakes, flowers, and platters along with an exciting collection of experiential gifts ranging from wine tastings, tasting menus, and high tea at Lunuganga to weekend getaways, yoga lessons, and so much more!

What has been the biggest lesson in your journey as an entrepreneur?

Well, my journey has just begun. I’m still learning and undoubtedly making mistakes as we speak!

One thing I learnt very quickly, though, is how difficult it is to change consumer behaviour. For example, consumers are accustomed to hailing a tuk-tuk from the road, but when PickMe and Uber came in, despite it being an incredibly convenient solution, it required consumers adapting to a new way of doing things.

With the online wedding registry, we faced – and are still facing – a similar challenge. While there are many benefits to an online registry, it also requires educating customers on this new concept and changing their behaviour accordingly.

Though this requires patience and persistent marketing, witnessing customers enjoying the ease and efficiency of the site makes it all worthwhile!

With that being said, if you could go back and change one thing, what would it be, if any?

I think it would be working harder towards striking the right balance between remaining an understanding, empathetic, and caring person while at the same time being assertive when the need arises.

I’m inherently a non-confrontational person, and being assertive or tough has never come instinctively to me; in fact, I have a tendency of shying away from hard conversations. However, I learnt very quickly the consequences of not having tough conversations when needed. So, that is something I’m actively trying to better myself at – still a way to go.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Again, my journey in the start-up world is just beginning, but from my limited experience, I would say be agile and realistic. When Covid hit, I considered two things realistically: Can my start-up weather the Covid storm, and if so, how long will it take to bounce back?

The answer to the first question was yes. The answer to the second question had a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity.

It was clear that there were not going to be as many weddings in the foreseeable future, so that’s when I decided to add an additional service through the platform – Silver Aisle Gifting. And this is where being agile comes in.

Within a month during the lockdown, I got the relevant technology developed, vendors on board, and the marketing and operational activities streamlined. It required a lot of quick decisions and frenzied work but, most importantly, not being afraid to change.

Silver Aisle has been an unexpected adventure, but the beauty in start-ups is the ability to make quick decisions, particularly since you’re the sole decision maker and there’s virtually no red tape involved. I would say be honest with yourself about your company’s prospects and don’t be afraid of change.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’m hoping to take the Silver Aisle platform regional – hopefully, you’ll see a few variations in India and a couple of other markets in Southeast Asia in the years to come.

What is your opinion on the wedding industry in Sri Lanka at the moment?

I think it could be at a transitional stage. For instance, due to the mandated limit on the number of guests, couples are being forced to only celebrate with their nearest and dearest, at least for the coming year. And what’s interesting is that most couples tend to prefer more intimate functions like these, but feel societal pressure to do something larger. It could be that a more intimate wedding could become the norm.

I’ve also noticed through the Silver Aisle Wedding Registry that more and more couples are becoming comfortable with the concept of online gift registries because they get to choose the items they need to set up their home rather than receiving items they’ll probably never use. I think they’re realising its value – a way to create your dream home without anyone having to leave the comfort of their home.

Photos Arantha Photography