Wonder Boy

Wonder Boy

An Interview with Shanka Jayasinha by Hi! Magazine

Shanka Jayasinha is a polymath of sorts. At just 23 years of age his achievements are varied. Born and brought up in Monaco, Shanka represented the Principality in Basketball and such was his sporting prowess that it earned him a place at the University of Miami where he walked-onthe football team. Unfortunately, a back injury put an end to his career. However, Shanka used his experience to set up MC Nutrition which offers healthy calorie controlled and individually customized meals, the first of its kind in Monaco. Not content with that, Shanka has just authored a book and set up two more businesses which further underscores his tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit.

What inspired you to start MC Nutrition?

I had just landed after 12 hours of travel from Miami to Monaco. I was exhausted and craving for food so I decided to order some. As I was going through the menus of different places, I could not find anything healthy and tasty for a decent price. There was pretty much only salads, pizzas or sandwiches if I wanted something under 20 euros so I thought that something could be done here. As time passed, since I had studied nutrition and had personal experience gaining weight for football and losing weight for the track, I thought of integrating the meal customization aspect to it. More people in Monaco were becoming health-conscious and no such service was being proposed. There was zero competition. The other traditional food delivery services had limited menus or overpriced meals so it became a no-brainer. After doing some research, I realized that typically the main losses came from poor inventory management so I made sure we had a tracking algorithm that would help the team get this aspect right and minimize waste. Once the risks were covered, MC Nutrition looked like it would be a hit as it would provide customers with a unique experience similar to having your own private chef combined with a nutritionist. At that moment I drew out the business plan, created the protocols and algorithms and started searching for a kitchen and staff. I found both in a few months and got the ball rolling.

What has the response been to MC Nutrition from the Monegasque community?

The first day, we received so many orders we had to close down 10 minutes after opening since we had finished all our stock. My tracking system on the inventory side minimized waste but was not made to deal with that much success so quickly. Since the orders kept coming, we quickly transitioned to a meal plan only service where the customers had to pre-order in order to receive their custom-made fresh meals daily. Its success enabled me to sell the company pretty fast to a Belgian group which I believe is going to tweak the concept.

You mentioned playing sports, how big of a role did sports play in your life?

I can’t remember my life without it… And it still plays a huge role in my life today actually. I always was active throughout my childhood, I pretty much touched almost every type of sport: taekwondo, tennis, soccer, swimming, and wrestling. It became serious when I started playing basketball at 14 years old. I played for the national team of Monaco and won two European Championships in under 16 and under 18 categories. I loved it so much, I wanted to become a professional athlete so I went to Miami. Once there, the level was extremely high. One of the coaches saw me bumping off a 7-footer in my tape and said that I should try football so I made the switch. It was extremely exciting and impressing, Miami’s stadium was huge and the city really supports its athletes so I was all in! Unfortunately, I got my back injured and that was it, I tried track but that did not last long.

My lifestyle revolved around sports and still does today. I still train, I go to the gym often, it’s part of my routine, it helps me mentally deal with the other challenges I face on a daily basis and who knows maybe I will come back one day (winking)

How did being a sportsman evolve you as an individual?

I definitely would not be where I am today without it. I have learned so much from work ethic, team-work… to dealing with winning and losing amongst so many other things I can’t even think of right now. I believe the main element that impacts to the rest of my life is the work ethic. The people around me have always told me that I was a driven person and asked me how I became so relentless. All I can think of is that in sports, the second you stop improving and working on yourself, you lose… There’s always someone else somewhere who is working harder to beat you so you have to be relentless. There’s no choice. So I bring this same mindset in almost everything I do because sports and business, or life in general for that matter, are extremely similar.

What inspired you to write the book, “Welcome to Tomorrow”?

I am a strong believer in the fact that artificial intelligence can enhance our productivity on numerous levels and that this will be mainly good for us as a society but so many people fear AI because they think we will all be replaced by robots or exterminated like in the Terminator. Lots of people simply do not know what it is and since I’m starting “Edge”,afintech company that develops AI tools to help UHNWIs and funds make better investments to later have my own fund, I wrote “Welcome to Tomorrow”: An Introductory Handbook to AI and its impact on society to help people understand AI and give my take on what could happen.

What do you want your readers to attain from the book?

It’s a short but complete introduction to AI. Readers will have a simple and overall look to what it is, how it works, its history until now and the social, political and economic impact it can have.

They will also gain insights on relevant matters such as the current trade war between the USA and China.

How has the response been for it so far?

I have been mostly busy with “Edge” and “Nonstop” recently, so I haven’t had the time to look. The last time I checked, the book was #1 in Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science on the French Amazon a day after its release.

What are your plans for the near future?

Right now, I am focusing on “Edge”. It will focus mainly on developing AI tools in order to improve investment decision-making and help us find good opportunities in public & private markets throughout the world. We still need to find some investors to fully develop our tools so this will be taking most of my time in the next few months. The rest of it will be taken by “Nonstop”.

What prompted you to form a modeling agency?

Nonstop is not only a modeling agency, it is also a marketing agency that focuses on digital content and strategy for brands. This was a two birds one stone situation because most of the women in my life have been models or were working in content creation and the common thing they said was that they could trust me. I always tried to watch out for them either by helping them understand their contracts and/or finances, by going through their opportunities with them or simply going with them on location if they did not feel comfortable. All I did was display simple common sense and humanity. I have been brought up by a single mother so I guess it is easier for me to understand and relate what women can go through in their careers in male-dominated environments. As you know, the modeling industry can get nasty pretty fast. I had seen a few disturbing things when I worked with a modeling agency in Miami. None of this unprofessional conduct would happen under my watch and the girls knew it. So due to the huge lack of common sense and humanity in this sector and the simplicity of the business model, I started Nonstop.

I believe the creativity and freedom we give to our models will disrupt the sector.

How would you encourage individuals to take initiative when becoming an entrepreneur, like yourself?

Plan ahead, write everything on paper, see if your project is viable and imagine the worst-case scenario. Go over this process with someone you can trust and that has more experience if possible to eliminate any bias you might have. If you can survive the worst-case scenario and the upside is attractive to you, jump in and execute your idea. There is no better place to learn than on the field.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a young entrepreneur?

The whole process is trial and error and so is life. Some moments can sting a little more than the others but the highs are worth it. I can’t really think of anything except for the fact that I can’t be taken seriously at times especially on my latest financial venture, Edge. When I talk over the phone or communicate via email, there is no problem. However, when I walk into a meeting, the investment banks are sometimes shocked as they expected me to be 10 or 20 years older. This closes some doors to the narrow-minded investors but it should get better with time apparently, so
I don’t feel too bothered…(laughing) although, I almost asked my hair dresser to bleach my hair before a meeting with an institutional investor.

How do you want people to perceive you as an entrepreneur?

I do not care too much of the perception people have. I have seen the logical reasoning of certain people being so flawed today that  I do not focus on people’s perception of me, they are entitled to have their opinion. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to be a problem-solver. I listen and try to understand what the people want and need in order to deliver a solution. Also, I am actually not a fan of the word “entrepreneur”, I feel it has completely lost sense as so many people use it after doing very little… For example, everyone on Instagram is an entrepreneur after selling the old trash they found in their attic on Ebay. Technically, they are… but I just don’t like the term. I would stick to problem-solver.

What are the ideals you stand by that are reflected in your daily work?

I have this clothing brand that focuses on financial memes and we produced a bracelet that said “Work Smart Every Damn Day” Therefore, I would say smart and efficient decision-making with the long term in mind and consistency are two things that I try to execute on a daily basis. Honesty is really important to me too. If I say something, I will always keep my word and expect the same from the people around me.

How do you stay in touch with your Sri Lankan roots?

I try to visit Sri Lanka once or twice a year but this can be difficult due to my schedule. Otherwise, I order Kottu from a fellow Sri Lankan in France every week or so. Other than that, it’s pretty tough, I’d like to be more in touch and spend more time in Sri Lanka.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I see myself working as hard and smart as today (laughter)… I hope Edge would have taken off and invested in world-changing companies and that Nonstop would have started to change the modeling industry as we know it today and evolved into a fully-fledged production company as I am currently trying to push my first book “10 Rules to a Happy Relationship” on the big screen. I’m crossing my fingers on this one hoping Hollywood will pick it up.

Interview from Hi! Magazine – Series 17 Volume 4 2019 Shanka Jayasinha: Boy Wonder