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Mentor Insights: Startups Need to Add Value to Technology to Make Money

January 27, 2021

Mentor Insights: Startups Need to Add Value to Technology to Make Money

Kasun, you have been mentoring the startups in our Incubation Program in Singapore. Can you provide examples of how your skills, experience and network support the startups?

I believe my experience in PoCs and MVPs helps the startups in the F10 program to design and implement PoCs and MVPs. I can support the teams in defining KPIs for early versions and provide insights on how to measure results systematically, learn from it and improve the system to transfer it into a product. I was also able to help in architecture design, product as well as feature design and product road mapping.

What should every tech entrepreneur know? Do you have any personal advice for pre-seed startups? 

Technology is just an enabler, and to make money you need to add value. Great technology with little value added to your customer will not cut the cheque.

In the early days you cannot do everything you planned in your product roadmap, so focus on a smaller use case that is easy to implement and adds great value to your customer. Mind that your user and your customer may be different people.

What do you consider to be the three most important characteristics of successful teams? 

Consistency: in the early days it is possible to keep changing your value propositions or your product features based on inputs from different customer conversations. But you need to understand that you cannot satisfy everyone.

Strong belief in your idea: once you decide to work on a feature or product you need to believe in it and dedicate 100 percent of your time to implement it and test it. However, if you realise the customers have different expectations during prototyping or testing, you need to pivot and restart.

Build fast, fail fast: the only way to truly validate a hypothesis is to implement it and test it with real users(even if it is a small number of users). Time is very critical for any early-stage startup, so testing every product feature, getting feedback and dropping features that add little value to the target audience is key. If you spend time building the product without any customer interaction, there is a high chance that your product may not receive user acceptance.  

In your opinion, what are the biggest stumbling stones for tech entrepreneurs in Asia? How do you recommend overcoming them?

Business versus tech: many VCs in Asia focus on the business use cases and sales figures rather than the technology that the startup is building. Unlike in the Western world, it is hard (but not impossible) to raise funds just with great technology. Demonstrate how your startup plans to create revenue with your tech solution.

Skills and manpower: if you are building new technologies, particularly in AI/ML, finding the right talent can be quite hard. But if you make connections with research institutes and universities you can bridge this gap and even work on collaboration projects, making it easy for you to use talent at a subsidised cost.  

You were a one-on-one mentor for Bond180. Why had you selected this startup and how has working with the team been?

Bond180 has a game-changing value proposition and their technology road map aligns with my personal interest and skills. I therefore decided to work with them. I really like the team and each member clearly understands their roles and responsibilities. They work together to deliver a great product. The Bond180 team members are good listeners and always ready to accept suggestions and critics. I like that they also challenge me with their way of thinking. That helps me look at things differently.

What have been the three main take-aways from your time as a startup mentor for F10?

As a mentor, I could help startups with my experience as a data scientist and a founder. But most importantly, I also learned from them to see things differently.

It is important to unlearn and relearn to truly understand the value propositions of any startup. Every team is different, and their progress varies. When we mentor, we need to understand the level of maturity of the team and cater to their needs accordingly.