They say life starts at 40; in Dr. Victor Hettigoda's case, this couldn't be more true. Known popularly as 'Siddhalepa Mudalali', he took a plunge by giving up his job to begin his business venture which today has catapulted into a household name, a journey he says was excruciating.
Having been granted a loan of Rs. 3,000 in 1971, he aspired to sell Siddhalepa balm made according to a secret recipe gifted to him by his father Hendrick de Silva, but little did he know that the idea will be met with categorical resentment. "We will not buy local balm at all' the shop owners told him regardless of which town he chose to sell his balm in. "I was clueless and puzzled but I did not want to give-up although I was hurt by the rejection", said Hettigoda.
Fighting against the odds he introduced a discount system where three 15 gramme bottles of balm were sold at a 20 percent discount with the assurance of accepting any unsold items. "I needed Rs. 10 a day to cover my travel, food and accommodation costs. Although I had an income of Rs. 10 I knew spending it will leave me with nothing to produce balm again. Hence I pleaded with bhikkhus in temples to let me lodge there at night, walked through various towns avoiding public transport and skipped lunch, which became a compulsive habit for six years and I saved as much as I could. Hence my staff pay subsidised rates for food today", said Hettigoda.
Within four months the traders realised the healing ability of Siddhalepa and began demanding at large. He used his savings to purchase an old Hilman car to distribute the balm to meet the demand. After one-and-a- half years the number of vehicles increased to two and he focused on developing his product further. A trilingual (Sinhala, Tamil and English) instructions manual was printed and wrapped around the bottles so that everyone could read what ailments the balm could heal. The demand increased remarkably and vehicles were bought on lease to help in the distribution of the balm which was sold in tiny boxes during this time.
Legislation encouraging local products in 1974 was a very progressive step for Siddhalepa. The business was local in every aspect and it helped the company grow at a rapid pace and today his minute business venture has become a national phenomenon with 200 vehicles, overseas branches, international expansion, diversification into Ayurvedic spas and Ayurvedic holiday resorts with a range of 100 products.
"I do not lie in business and I encourage youngsters to likewise. Honesty is very important for survival, compromising on such standards is the foundation to failure", said Hettigoda.
"Having a village upbringing has made me very patriotic, I love our national dress and have never worn anything else", he said. Good academics are important for one's growth but what is the point in being unable to apply it in life or being complacent about it? "One should never cease to learn. Make learning a daily process, learn how to preserve your authenticity and do not compromise on your identity because that is the only factor that defines you", said Hettigoda.
When asked what was his advice to youngsters, he said "Humility is important to succeed, you must treat everyone around you with respect and also do your ground work before you begin your business ventures. Self-employment is not something you should take up to merely because you do not want to work under someone else, it is a form of employment that helps create products and services of the highest quality to your country.
Many youngsters seem to think that they need to have millions of rupees to begin a business but it is not so. You only need to plan your expenditure well. What goes around comes around, so try to be socially responsible no matter what business you choose to be involved in.
wI even insisted on introducing the herbarium concept to schools. This is the only way we could preserve our environmental cycle which gets affected by mass production.
The Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector has an ever rising demand. You should learn about patent laws too and protect your designs and recipes with such patents to have guaranteed results through avoiding the emergence of duplicate products".
Consumers today cannot be easily misled, they are very well read and informed, so ensure you honour their sensitivities. Although my business is based on manufacturing Ayurvedic products, we wanted to have a Halal certificate so that Muslim customers can be reassured of our ingredients. Little factors like this go a long way.
Consumers create successful businesses and entrepreneurs through their purchasing power and choice. Hence the lives of many potential business lies completely in your hands. Think twice before you purchase a product and do not compromise on product quality at all, said Hettigoda.