Dananjaya Wijesekara proprietor of Kahawunu Ceylon Pvt Ltd is one confident young man who takes challenges head on. When he founded his incense stick business in 2018, he was earning a six-figure monthly salary as an area sales manager of Hemas Pharmaceuticals. However, Dananjaya – a man of high ambitions and lofty goals – was not at peace with the security and stability his lucrative job guaranteed.
Against the advice of his loved ones, he quit his job and became a full-time businessman two years ago. Today, he has become a successful entrepreneur, producing and selling incense sticks not only in Sri Lanka but even exporting them. “Both my parents wanted to see me working in an office. They did not like me selling incense sticks. Initially, even my wife was not happy about it”, he recalled the scepticism he encountered from his family when his business was started. An old boy of Panadura Royal College and an associate of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK), Dananjaya has 10 years of extensive experience in sales and marketing, having worked in various private companies. Today, his business – Kahawunu Ceylon Pvt Ltd, Panadura – makes and sells hand-made incense sticks (branded as “Dahamli Incense Sticks –named after his little daughter) and provides 75 indirect jobs by distributing them in Ratmalana, Dehiwala, Ingiriya, Kalutara, and Panadura with intentions to expand the business further. Furthermore, he now earns what he earned in six months through his job within a month.
By his own admission, he has an inherent knack towards sales and marketing. When he speaks, words flow like a river, capturing the minds and hearts of listeners. He seems to be blessed with captivating oratory while brimming with great optimism. Nevertheless, the preliminary stage of his business was no bed of roses. “During the early days, when I was trying to sell incense sticks to shops near Kalutara Bodhiya, they refused my products. Then, I gave my incense sticks to them free-of-charge. I was so disappointed and felt that my business would fail. Thankfully, the prelate monk of the village temple consoled me”, Dananjaya reflected on the early hardships he had to experience. He also mentioned that the prelate monk of the village temple and his neighbours bought his incense sticks when he had no customers at the beginning. In stark contrast, now he said that people come searching for Dahamli Incense Sticks. Dananjaya had been meticulous to reinvest the profits back to his business in the first two years. Only after he had resigned from his job, he began to tap into profits for his personal use. That is a good lesson for any budding entrepreneur to put into practice.
Dananjaya’s big break came when he got enlisted with the 2000 Exporter Development Programme – a flagship initiative of the EDB’s Regional Development division – in 2017, which aims to convert non-exporting enterprises into exporters. After a series of interviews, he was selected by the EDB to participate at the 16th China International Small and Medium Enterprises Fair (CISMEF) in Guangzhou, China. When everything under the sun is imported from China and sold locally, Dananjaya had the audacity to think of exporting his products to China. “Everyone was ridiculing me for trying to sell incense sticks to China. But I left to China with a strong determination to find a buyer somehow. While I was there for 7 days, I slept only 4 hours a day, as I was travelling around to find a buyer. Only on the 7th day I was able to secure a buyer and that too after a lot of convincing and persuasion. Finally, I came into an understanding with the buyer. I am now continuously doing business with China”, he reminisced with satisfaction. Dananjaya had not had any confidence about the country’s public sector before he came into contact with the EDB. But he is now grateful to the EDB for having provided him the opportunity to take his business to the next level. He also pointed out his ability to establish a solid network of human relationships with a number of people served him well, as mere spending on promotions cannot create such a strong bond between a business and customers.
Does he have any message to convey to the youth of this country? “Do not get restricted to the earnings of your job. Always attempt to start something of your own. In China, there is a small business/shop in every home. They always think in new ways and seek out business opportunities. But our youngsters wine and dine during weekends or waste time in unproductive things”, were his concluding remarks.