Set back by COVID, this startup pivoted to build an app to help customers manage their health
Lori is an online platform that helps consumers manage and prevent lifestyle diseases. Hear from co-founders Silky Singh and Alekhya Boora as they share their journey building Lori around customer needs.
Silky Singh is a second-time entrepreneur who has built Lori, a technology platform designed to be a one-stop solution for managing and preventing lifestyle diseases. The platform helps users suffering from or at risk of diabetes, cholesterol issues, blood pressure, PCOD and thyroid diseases, using tools such as fitness tracking, nutrition, diagnostics, and monitoring. “This challenge is very personal – it is an issue that I myself was facing,” Singh explains. Some years ago, she had been diagnosed with PCOD, but found there to be a gap in ways to manage it – particularly using tools such as nutrition and lifestyle changes, as opposed to medicine alone. Co-founder Alekhya Boora also had a personal connection to Lori’s mission, with a family history of diabetes. Lifestyle diseases currently account for over 50% of all diseases in India, with diabetes being the most prevalent, and Lori’s target customers are typically users between 30 – 50 years of age who want to proactively manage their health.
Singh and Boora initially joined Manush Labs with their startup Ripsey, which cooked and delivered meals developed with specific health and nutrition needs in mind. The company owned and operated their own kitchens and delivery networks until March 2020, at which point the COVID-19 pandemic brought about lockdowns across India. Up until that point, the company had been doing “fantastically well,” Boora says, with a customer retention rate of 76%, but thanks to the pandemic quickly went from being a high-growth prospect to a collection of unused inventory. After trying to get by for a few months in “survival mode” while waiting for a full reopening, the team decided to pull the plug on Ripsey for the time being. “The biggest thing was knowing when to step away,” Boora says. However, they quickly realized that existing customers had other health-related needs that they continue to help them manage. Soon thereafter, they came up with the concept of Lori, which was released in mode in February 2021 and launched officially in June.
“We think of the platform as being a holistic approach to health,” Boora explains. “If you think of your body as assembly of different organs – the heart is the engine, and the body is made up of other equally important parts – there could be a larger underlying issue causing immediate symptoms. For example, hypertension could be coming from low blood sugar. Everything is connected.” The app currently addresses two main aspects of health: what customers should be eating and what they should be doing, and the company is developing a mental health aspect as well. As the platform grows, it will draw on data to make personalized recommendations to users by analyzing both demographic and health information. Users are connection to a coach, who can make suggestions and recommendations.
The founders’ passion for solving a particular problem has been a key aspect of building a business, especially for Singh, who sees two common pitfalls for entrepreneurs. The first is coming into entrepreneurship for the wrong reason.
“You will not make money and will not get fame for a very long time and you will want to get away from it. Your attachment should be to the value you want to create and the passion you have for solving the problem you have found. The legacy you leave is not for other people, it is for YOU.”
At the same time, Singh acknowledges that is important to not be too attached to any one particular model, and for entrepreneurs to put their egos behind them. In order to be successful, companies have to be able to pivot and to be responsive to customer feedback. “Lori is not the same model I started with. Consumers actually told me what my business model should look like. I started by solving a problem, and then built it based on the consumer,” she explains. A second, similar pitfall Singh often sees is wanting immediate results. Launching the Lori app was a process Singh made sure not to rush, focusing first on gathering customer feedback. “If you launch an app and people don’t like it, they block and uninstall it and then you don’t get feedback.”
“Patience is one of the underrated skill sets that is think is most important for an entrepreneur to have. Successful companies are not built in a day’s time.”
In addition to patience, keeping a positive attitude has served Singh throughout the many challenges she has faced through Lori. One of the company’s biggest challenges – typical for many startups – was the issue of funding. Although Lori had enough paying customers to sustain itself, it did not have the money to expand marketing and focus on growth. However, Singh’s experience with Manush Labs was extremely positive in regards to funding opportunities and the experience itself. “It opens the way you think,” Singh explained. “As an entrepreneur, you often just put your head down and try to work.” Manush Labs offers courses for entrepreneurs in various aspects of the business (such as legal, technology, and marketing) which helped Singh broaden her perspective and think strategically in terms of long-term goals.
At the same time, Manush Labs helped accelerate other processes, connecting Lori with people it would have taken months to connect with individually in a matter of weeks. This includes subject matter experts, partners, and potential customers, as well as potential investors. “One of our mentors still checks in with us every week. She has been a huge help and we always have interesting conversations. It is a great connection that we would not have gotten were it not for Manush Labs,” Boora says.
“When companies are part of an accelerator, investors take it very seriously because there’s a level of filtration that has happened already, compared to when I have reached out them directly," Singh adds.
The other continuous challenge of growing a company is building a team. “Hiring employees is one of the hardest things in a startup,” Singh says. “I tend to like to hire in the under-35 age group. Not people who just want to go home at the end of the day!” The most important attributes she looks for are passion for the problem to be solved, and a positive attitude. “We look for the four H’s: Hunger, Hustle, Humility, and Honesty,” Singh adds. Employees, including experienced hires, join Lori through an internship first, which is often a better way to gauge whether there is a working style match. Despite high expectations, Singh has focused on creating a positive company culture with a flat organizational structure. “There have been times when I have been wrong and said sorry, and other people have been surprised about it because they think the boss cannot say sorry,” she says. This collaborate culture keeps the company focused on innovation and problem-solving. “A lot of times we sit around and ask – what else can we do? Most people are very interested in sharing new ideas.”
Singh and Boora plan on spending the next few months focusing on Lori’s marketing to grow the its user base, while continuing to think through new ways they can help customers. They have a number of big ideas in the works, from partnering with insurance companies to assigning health scores and giving incentives to users who maintain their healthy habits to expanding in new markets in South Asia and the Middle East. Regardless of which direction the company takes, they know that the best way Lori can keep its focus is by keeping the problem it is trying to solve as the company’s first and foremost priority.