In conversation with VizuaMatix Founder and CEO Theekshana Kumara - The Sunday Morning
VizuaMatix is gearing up to take a home-grown network-based parental control solution global, being the very first company to do so in the world. In a world where children find a way to bypass apps with parental control solutions, VizuaMatix introduces a network-based solution which is hard to bypass.
This solution is vxSafenet, a powerful network-level parental control platform that allows telecom operators to effectively deliver child-friendly broadband service to households. Using a highly accurate and up-to-date URL database with over 109 million categorised URLs, vxSafenet has become a must-have platform for telcos to attract ever-growing child users onto their network.
The Sunday Morning Business sat down with the brain behind this solution, VizuaMatix Founder and Chief Executive Officer Theekshana Kumara to understand what this solution does and what the company’s future plans are. [The] following are excerpts from the interview:
Tell us a little about yourself and VizuaMatix.
I have been in the industry for the last 25 years. I have been in the telecom industry from the beginning as I was working for a Nasdaq-listed company and it paved a path for me to start a business of my own somewhere in 2003.
I was representing foreign companies in Sri Lanka, India, and the Maldives and I saw the opportunity for a Sri Lankan company to join this arena, mainly to provide advanced telecom solutions. In 2008, VizuaMatix was born with a couple of engineers at the beginning. We started doing a few basic software applications and then gradually moved into advanced solutions for the telecom space.
It is not easy to develop in the telecom core-network space in Sri Lanka. The journey has been very tough. My motto is, why can’t we build advanced solutions in Sri Lanka? Hutch Sri Lanka has been a breeding ground for us.
The telecom industry has a unique domain called policy controlling, which is a very advanced segment as we are talking about gigabytes (GB) of traffic in this domain. Hence, there cannot be
latency. After delivering solutions, we started improving from 1 Gbps to 20 Gbps with zero capital. We started off as a Pay- As-You-Go model and basically built our expertise well.
There was a need for network-based parental control where you do not have to install anything onto the device. Technically, we saw the possibility of doing this and that is how vxSafenet came to be.
VizuaMatix wanted to come up with something where big players could not throw us out and the parental controlling solution idea came to us. We did not instantly come up with the solution as
we have been doing policy controlling for over a decade now and came up with this completely innovative new solution – vxSafenet.
What is vxSafenet and what does it do?
vxSafenet is a patent-pending solution. We have filed the patent in Singapore at
the Intellectual Property Office. I will explain why we started building this solution. When
my kids were in their curious stage of life where they always wanted to try things out, I was trying to use all possible parental control solutions that were available in the market. Basically, all these solutions that are available are mobile app-based. One needs to install an app on the phone and then do the control – that was the only way.
This method was intrusive. I started to become the enemy of my child. We did a lot of research and study afterwards and realised that installing software into devices is called intrusive controlling and this sort of control affects the trust between the parent and the child.
There was a need for network-based parental control where you do not have to install anything onto the device. Technically, we saw the possibility of doing this and more on the network and that is how vxSafenet came to be. The solution goes beyond parental control and hence, it can be called a digital wellness solution. Our solution is so new, the world does not even know about it yet.
We have partnered with Hutch and they have recently launched their child-friendly internet solution, which is called Hutch Junior Internet Guard. This is the first time in the world a telecommunication operator is providing advanced digital well-being and parental control service as a network feature.
So, we have allowed the telecommunication operators to come into the parental controlling business. Currently, this market worth $ 1 billion is dominated by third-party app builders. Telecom service providers are the instigators of the problem as they open up the internet for children without any limitation or control. Bad guys are out there on the internet and kids can easily fall prey to them. The danger is that by the time the parent gets to know that their child is in trouble, it is too late. For instance, there were recent incidents of suicides after getting addicted to video games.
How has the response been locally for this solution?
It was just unveiled about a week ago, but the official launch is yet to take place. There has not been any commercial or public awareness yet but we have made the platform available to Hutch’s existing customers. Hutch has a self-care app and it has a feature called ‘Junior Internet’. We have integrated our solution into this app. The parent can add the child’s number to the app and use parental control.
We plan to have an official launch soon, but whoever is curious to know about this feature in the app can already explore it. We have already seen over 5,000 people coming on board.
How do you expect the response for this solution to be in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka has around 4.2 million children and our target for the first year was very pessimistic. We anticipated over 100,000 students coming in, but with the current trend, we can easily go past that without any promotion because we have already seen the numbers picking up. Parents still do not know the gravity of the problem. The situation in Sri Lanka is getting really bad and the numbers being recorded are far below the number of incidents taking place.
There is no solution that is foolproof. Even the Pentagon gets attacked. Solutions should evolve with time and that is what we have done. We get updated on new sites daily and we add them to the prohibited list. Also, parents can use the function in the app where they report local websites that carry unnecessary content to us.
Have you tried approaching other telecom operators?
We have been having serious discussions and everyone is very keen, but this solution is very expensive as we have put years of hard work and research into this. We are having serious discussions in Africa and Ethiopia as well. In the Maldives, after seeing our solution, they have already floated a Request For Proposal (RFP) as they cannot procure our solution without
In Cambodia, we are in discussions with another telecom operator. The traction is very high and we did not expect that. We need to build the capacity. There needs to be a serious expansion of the company, therefore we are picking our clients carefully.
Right now, we have an employee count of 71 in Sri Lanka. We have started an office in Singapore, we have made ourselves a Singaporean company. We are planning to relocate to Singapore and approach the East Asian market. We have a fintech subsidiary in Australia. We definitely want
to move into other parts of the world. This is a lucrative revenue stream for telecom operators.
App-based parental control solutions are $ 5-6 per month, whereas vxSafenet is much cheaper as we are targeting $ 1-2 per month. We partner with the operator and will be doing revenue
sharing, therefore the operator does not have to invest. In Sri Lanka, it is offered at Rs. 200 per month to customers.
The interview originally published on November 13, 2022 in The Sunday Morning