Focus and Market Alignment: Mentor Chats Lokesh Kumar and Amu Fowler
Updated: Jun 30
In this Mentor Chat, hosted by Amu Fowler Founder of Startups Ignite a Social Impact Accelerator, Lokesh Kumar an experienced entrepreneur, mentor, and investor shares his wisdom on pivotal startup issues. Lokesh places great emphasis on a startup's need to stay focused, identify the use case that delivers the most value, and hone it, rather than trying to cater to multiple applications simultaneously. He advocates for startups to clearly define their customer profile and deeply understand the problem they're solving, despite the challenges in narrowing down their Total Addressable Market (TAM).
Lokesh advises startups to initially target smaller clients facing similar problems as a strategy to build credibility. He highlights the importance of understanding the risk taken by the individual advocating for the initial sale within the client organization. Lokesh concludes by expressing excitement for startups with significant human impact and those already demonstrating hustle and initiative. Particularly, he admires startups that can solve a problem and satisfy customers without necessarily building a product right away, underscoring the rapid pace of today's technology development.
Amu Fowler: Hi Lokesh and welcome to our Rapid Mentor Fireside series. This is our way of being able to do some scaled knowledge share.
You founded multiple startups and some of them have raised significant rounds. You're an investor, a mentor, and an advisor.
A lot of founders are really passionate about what they do, right?
And they're really good at talking to people and opening doors and getting partnership interest. How do we take that interest and take it all the way, like down the pipeline to a pilot and then ultimately a customer, right?
Lokesh Kumar: Hello Amu, first of all, thanks a lot, it's been a great journey with you guys, and I love it and happy to be here. For a partnership, with the assumption that the partner that startup is talking to is much bigger than them. You have to understand your partner or client's need. They are actually trying to partner with you because they have some need and they think that You could potentially, fill that need. So before starting any partnership or any pilot, it's important to have a very clear understanding of, the needs of your partners and the goals that they have.
You have to spend a good amount of time listening to the client, asking very specific questions, conducting research to, very clearly understand what their specific needs are at this stage, the goal of the partnership for you is to solve their pain and not to push your product
and then you develop a pilot program. You work with them to figure out, what the program will look like, and how will you test the, the viability of the joint offering that you are giving. And then after that, you execute.
And yeah, while you are executing, make sure continue to measure results at all times. In a very open and honest way with your partner. And then finally, maintain a strong relationship with your client. That's my 2 cents.
Amu Fowler: So I heard a lot of really focus on What they're asking you to solve and approach it with a lot of curiosity and try to get as much information to customize the experience with you.
Because really, a lot of it is about learning.
So the next question that we often get is, our idea concept solution or the problem that we're solving has lots of different applications for different types of customers potentially.
And or maybe we have multiple pilots going on that are in completely different segments, what is your advice?
Lokesh Kumar: Be focused.
I love what professor Roger Martin says, there are five things in his world, two top ones, which is called, where to play and how to win.
And where to play is, you have to be absolutely clearly defining what your customer is, and you have to get it down to the point where you can basically say it in a snap. You have to go all the way specific to define that problem. Drill it all the way down . And then your solution basically will become very focused to that.
It's a hard thing to do, , and it's a scary thing to do also, by the way, because as you drill down and your TAM, starts to look smaller and smaller, your brain is telling you, what the heck am I doing? But that is exactly one thing you have to do.
Amu Fowler: It the law of constraints works really well, right? Because then if you know exactly who you're targeting, if you can't target that, then it's probably the wrong segment, right?
Lokesh Kumar: Absolutely. Going after everybody's means. Going after, no.
Amu Fowler: You can't chase multiple people at the same time.
You can't do that unless they're all running in the same direction. Sorry I digress. Alright, building on that, you're talking about strategy when we're working with impact startups, generally they're going after larger accounts, right?
Because they're working with a underserved population, which generally isn't gonna be their end customer
so how can they build up , that credibility of working on solving the problem, in the early stages ?
Lokesh Kumar: So going to a smaller company or smaller client that is trying to solve similar problem, is always advisable in my view. They're more nimble. Your resources are finite, so you need to, try that first. And executing with that client definitely gives you credibility to go for a bigger one, always, right?
In a B2B world, we know that it's always about the person that you are selling into, the person who is in charge of that problem. Figuring out, what would that person get outta it, the person on the other side is, worried about his career, worried about how good he will look, what will happen to him if he went with your solution.
You have to understand, if your solution went south, what happens to the person? How can you mitigate that ? So the I think the basic answer is, Go after the smaller one first, the bigger one will come next.
Amu Fowler: As long as you know you're solving the same problem, it does build up credibility and I think to, to your point, it's not just what company problem are you solving or what user problem that are you solving, but you know the person who you're asking to advocate for that initial sale.
You really gotta understand the risk they're taking,
Lokesh Kumar: you have to start at the ground. Solve the problem for your community your county first. And then I think the doors will open.
Amu Fowler: What do you like to see a startup come to you with that gets you excited to, work with them more?
Lokesh Kumar: I have worked with startups where the impact on a human life is, significant.
But one thing that I look for is, can they solve the problem without building a product?
Can they first solve it? Most times, you can hustle and build something very small and get the customer to use it versus, saying, I'm gonna raise a million dollar just to build a product.
These days building technology is like very quick. I'm not talking about building a turbine or carbon sequestration type stuff, which is expensive, but otherwise it is fairly straightforward.
So my answer is, I get more excited when somebody says, we built something and we already have customers that are actually using it in a real time and paying for it.
Amu Fowler: So I really like that. Thank you so much. I look forward to, again, working with you in the next cohort and we'll see you on the other side.
Lokesh Kumar: Same. Yeah. Thank you. Appreciate it.