Tight job market leads Purdue alumnus to Web development venture
Who he is
As a Purdue student studying business and finance, Ashan Perera had high hopes for his professional life after college. But 2008, the year Perera graduated, found the economy in turmoil and job opportunities scarce. While struggling to find his dream job, Perera decided to put up an online portfolio highlighting his artistic skills, hoping to land some small design contracts until he could find full-time work. As a student, Perera had worked as Web manager for Purdue’s Black Cultural Center and accumulated an assortment of graphic designs to showcase online. He soon realized his last-ditch income effort actually was the opportunity he had been waiting for.
What he did
Perera created Ashanjay Designs, a business that specializes in website development through WordPress, a free and open source blogging tool and dynamic content management system. So far Perera has also developed three vital WordPress plug-ins — pieces of software that add additional capabilities to the WordPress platform — which he sells on the Envato marketplace. One of the plug-ins is an event calendar that allows users to organize and accept payments for events listed on their websites or enables registration for free events. Perera is doing print media design, animation and branding as well. He works from his home office and periodically enlists virtual help from five other developers he discovered by posting on online job boards.
How he did it
Shortly after his online portfolio went live, Perera got an email from the owner of Lafayette Municipal Civil Corporation who had stumbled across his work. The company needed help editing on-site pictures to display how a space would look once construction was complete. This was the first big contract Perera received; the project became the turning point that made him realize he could make a living doing what he loved. Perera also converted fire-station building sketches into three-dimensional realistic models, a shift from website coding and designing. He used the money he received from his first customer to upgrade his computer equipment, and his friends and colleagues at Purdue helped him locate additional clients. Although he was proficient in Photoshop and basic HTML coding before he started his business, Perera boosted his design skills by studying online tutorials on Cinema4D and purchased additional PHP and JQuery tutorials online. Net.Tuts+ was another online resource he used for Web programming tips. Moreover, Perera employed resources such as FreelanceFolder, FreelanceSwitch, and WorkAwesome to help improve and expand his business.
Although he had no prior startup experience, Perera remembered basic business principles he learned from a Purdue career development course — Management 301 — headed by Erik Props, assistant director of undergraduate career services for the Krannert School of Management. The biggest challenge was getting clients, so he began networking with business firms in Indianapolis to get his name out. To find them, he did a Google search for “Web development Indianapolis,” emailed several big-scale companies and followed the organizations on Twitter to keep an eye out for new job opportunities. He also relied on support from his wife and advice from his uncle Jay Rajasekera, a professor of IT strategy at the International University of Japan.
Since his start, Perera has narrowed his focus to WordPress-based Website Development, which he believes makes him more marketable. "Because the barrier to entry in Web design is so low, anyone with a computer can do it,” Perera says, “so the only chance you have to get more business is to specialize in one niche." Developing the plug-ins, for example, helps him stand out, he says, and he plans to take future steps toward narrowing his focus to only a few industries or groups of clients.
"Find your niche," Perera says. "You should always be developing new ideas and products to set your company apart from competitors and help increase your revenue stream. Develop feasible, measurable goals, and stick to the plan. Most importantly, believe in yourself."