In October, Jeff App won Base Camp 2020 global competition for early stage startups by impressing the jury with a strong capability to mobilise as a team and significantly advance the product in just 72 hours. Now raising a seed round, Superangel had a chat with the founder and CEO Toms Niparts on how Jeff App was born, how they plan to continue conquering South-East Asia and what is the most important lesson they have learned in building a fast growing startup.

In Summer 2019, two friends quit their well-established jobs and relocated back to Latvia to focus on building up Jeff – a loan broker for the unbanked. Started in January 2020 – probably the most unique time to launch the startup considering the global pandemic, they’ve successfully established traction in Vietnam with 150,000+ users and revenue growing at a rate of 70% MoM. Today, the app has been used close to 1M times. 

Jeff’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed in the startup ecosystem. Prior to winning the Startup Day pitching contest, Jeff App won Seedstars Latvia and CEE, and last month they were also a runner-up in Arctic15. They’ve also been recognised by Forbes USA, Sifted, Singapore FinTech Festival and Slush as one of the top FinTechs to keep an eye on.

‘If you don’t have big audacious goals, it’s extremely hard to build a great company with big success.’ – Toms, the Ceo of jeff

Jeff App operates in a market with high growth potential.  With a population of 570 million and a booming GDP expected to reach $4.7 trillion by 2025, the six largest countries in Southeast Asia represent one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing regions. More than 70% of the adult population, however, is either “underbanked” or “unbanked,” with limited access to financial services. At the same time, most banks find it difficult to meet the needs of the underbanked population because of the vast mismatch between traditional bank credit scoring models and the actual data the consumers have at their disposal.

To change that, Jeff has created a loan brokerage app that utilises alternative data to boost financial inclusion in South-East Asia.  For banks, Jeff becomes a lead generator that can bring new business and services a much bigger customer base. They provide a large number of new, valuable insights derived from digital footprint and various alternative and behavioural data sources.

Founding the company in Latvia, operating in Vietnam. How does it work?

The global economy is changing and building a company remotely is easier than ever before. Nevertheless, the founders quickly realised that local knowledge is everything – the culture, behavior and customer needs are different. Thus, whilst the technical team is located in Latvia, the customer and partner facing team operates in Vietnam.

It’s clear that the founding team is not afraid to go big – entering the South-East Asian market is incredibly exciting. Achieving a considerable user base would probably take years in smaller European markets but in Vietnam the market potential is much bigger. At the same time, Toms wonders if Baltic startups are dreaming big enough as building a company only in the Baltics diminishes the market size significantly. He follows, ‘If you don’t have big audacious goals, it’s extremely hard to build a great company with big success.’

The most important lesson: People create the business. Make sure they are in for the right reasons

Today, there’re 8 full time employees behind Jeff App in Latvia and Vietnam covering a range of expertise, including digital marketing, design, business development, data analysis and software development. Toms admits that T-shaped skillset and thinking is a very important aspect when putting an early-stage team together. Additionally, they’re looking for strong A players: people that have very strong domain understanding and deep experience in their area. In that way they’re considerably decreasing onboarding time, adding value sooner and maintaining internal communication and simplifying the know-how exchange.

The hiring process has also been the greatest learning point for Jeff’s team. ‘We learnt this the hard way. At an early stage, if someone wants to join your team only for a salary increase, run for the hills.’ In Toms opinion, it’s very important to understand right away what the person is looking for in his/her next challenge and how it aligns with what you can actually offer. ‘Be brutally honest about this – otherwise you’ll waste your key resource: time.’

Base Camp gave Jeff App the opportunity to advance the product and take a step back from day-to-day hustle

Out of 120 applicants, Jeff was one of the 29 teams who was invited to attend Base Camp Autumn 2020, a biannual 72h product focussed hackathon organised by Superangel and Garage48. Toms thought Base Camp to be an excellent opportunity to isolate from the noise and be laser focused on one idea: ‘An early-stage startup always has a great deal of ideas and hypotheses to test. At the same time, it’s easy to float away and shift focus to some urgent things to fix.’

The team decided to work on an idea that they had discussed internally for a while- lender portal. The lender portal is a free-to-use web application for Jeff’s partner banks and lending partners to conveniently access incoming client flow. Considering that APIs are non-existent and exchanging data in South East Asia is currently inefficient, the system not only puts a new, better infrastructure in place, but also helps increase the number of prospects for lenders by 3-5x. 

Base Camp also gave Jeff the chance to discuss their business with entrepreneurs who’ve been there before. ‘It can get hard to look at the big picture with a clear perspective.’ reflects Toms. ‘Getting clarity and understanding is hugely important to reset the course again. From tips on UX and UI to high level business talks, sessions with Base Camp mentors were valuable.’

But why should any early-stage startup attend Base Camp?

„Number one reason is focus. Then comes competitiveness and contacts, and besides: Why not? What do you have to lose?”

Base Camp Spring 2021 takes place again in March. Are you an early stage startup looking to work with the best experts and investors, and gain deep knowledge to advance your business and product? Follow our social media and be the first one to be notified when the registration happens.

Check out our posts also on Medium.

What is possible for an early-stage startup in 72 hours? Is it possible to get 20 contracts signed for a new B2B product, build and launch a new B2C product with first 50 users in 24h, shorten sales cycle 3-5 times, launch a giveaway game reaching 50k people, and extend virtual reality with music? Base Camp participants showed it is.

Superangel in collaboration with Garage48 has finished the 72 hours Base Camp hackathon, this time bigger than ever. For the 5th time, we brought together early-stage startups from all around the world and supported them to take their products (and businesses) to the next level in 72 hours. With 120 applicants, 35 experts, 68+ hours of mentoring sessions, 22 countries, and 13 finalists, the anniversary Base Camp proved to be a great success. Big congratulations to the winner Jeff App, and runner-ups Edumus, Port 6 and Relancer!

taking part in Base Camp was a truly empowering experience accelerating the development of our product and opening a lot of doors for future growth.‘ – edumus

Base Camp is an exclusive and competitive 72-hour virtual product-focused hackathon for early-stage startups. Startups set their own goals for over the weekend product & customer validation sprint. Supported by valuable insights and shortcuts from top-class mentors, startups can take their product to the next level and prove to investors that they can get the job done in 3 days. During the previous four Base Camps, we’ve boosted over 40 startups all over the world, 21 of which have raised over 16M€ since last year. 

The 29 selected teams for the Base Camp Autumn 2020 showed strong competence, dedication, and quality, making it a tough competition for all startups. It’s not easy to mobilise your team for 3 days in a row but despite that, the startups came to Base Camp with great ambitions and goals, and maintained focus until the end of the hackathon. In addition to improving the product itself (with some teams launching completely new products and features), teams were advised to contact potential users and customers for live feedback and push their business as much as they can using the knowledge from our mentors and expert sessions. The outcome?

In 72 hours early-stage startups were able to accomplish the impossible:

  • Signed 20 contracts for a B2B product
  • Built and launched a new B2C product, getting 50 first users in 24h 
  • Launched and reached 50k people with a Kia Stinger giveaway game 
  • Got 5 potential B2B clients to give feedback according to rules of Mom Test  
  • Signed 5 LOIs in 24 hours
  • Shortened sales cycle by 3-5 times 
  • Extended virtual reality by creating music using your hand movement
  • Revamped the cold email/calling strategy

And much more! The hackathon was also a great opportunity for team building – many startups realised they’ve got skills in the team they never knew of. 

What is the secret sauce of Base Camp hackathon?

The success of Base Camp is strongly tied to our mentors and field experts, ranging from marketing, sales, fundraising, business development, design, product development. All startups were paired with mentors based on their interests and needs – altogether around 90 mentoring sessions were conducted totalling in 68 hours of wisdom shared to startups. This is the secret sauce and a reason why many teams were able to approach potential customers in a better way, adjust their business models, build connections in new markets, and improve their products significantly. 

In addition, we delivered two workshops on customer validation and sales, and interviewed 3 experts on productivity, sales, pitching, and fundraising. Rainer Sternfeld from Nordic Ninjas emphasised the importance of the team, especially when investors look into early-stage startups with not a lot of milestones behind them just yet. He added: ‘During investor meetings, investors are testing the mindset of founders. Pitch and pitch deck are key to unlock the door, but the real test is showing your depth.’ As an extra treat, Base Camp startups got an exclusive interview with April Dunford, the author of Obviously Awesome and expert on tech product positioning. Main point? Good product positioning comes from following a process not spitballing ideas.

TOP13 and Winners

The startups were assessed on 4 main criterias: team, traction, business model, and progress during Base Camp. Although we planned to pick out 12 teams, the competition was really strong and we had to let 13 teams to the finals. Similarly, we couldn’t conclude with only 2 runner-ups. So who are the teams who made the most of the hackathon and fought themselves in front of the jury?

Jeff App – WINNERS

Jeff App is a loan broker that helps over 1 billion unbanked people in South-East Asia to access financial services by utilising alternative data

‘Basecamp was an amazing opportunity for us to focus on something that we had discussed as a great addition, but hadn’t managed to get to it. The turnout was amazing, as we not only managed to really isolate our product and development focus, but also get surprisingly rapid involvement by our clients. We had a game-changer idea in our backlog & thanks to the event we realised its true potential and put really solid foundation in place for shipping the product.’

Runner-ups in alphabetic order:

EdumusEdumus enables schools to engage working professionals in teaching – one grade, one subject at the time, for one school year

We came to Base Camp with a clear plan to develop our platform for our key users – the headmasters – and gain feedback on our strategy to internationalize Edumus. During the event, we were connected with excellent mentors who helped us leap forward in both of these areas. Thus, taking part in Base Camp was a truly empowering experience accelerating the development of our product and opening a lot of doors for future growth.

Edumus also won the AUDIENCE FAVOURITE award!

Port 6 – Port 6 is virtualising natural human movement 

We had a splendid time during the Base Camp weekend! We learned about some struggles augmented reality developers are facing and we can begin considering these current restrictions in our work. We also really liked the Think Tank format of mentoring, as it forced us to reflect on our assumptions with building the company we want to create. 

Relancer – Relancer is a marketplace that helps founders and managers work with professional recruiters who help them grow their teams. Relancer has a special connection with Base Camp. It was their fourth time.

For us, the key has been finding a balance between conviction in our beliefs and mission VS knowing when to let go of something and move on – making small changes all the time. I guess it’s learning by doing and getting punched in the face. As LaMichael James says, “Nobody’s taller than the last man standing.” 

The winners and runner-ups were in a tough competition with 9 startups in the finals. All pitches can be found here.

  • Checkspot – Discount restaurant menus near you and optimise expenses with restaurant AI
  • eTEU – eTEU is a digital platform that enables freight forwarders to save significant time through the automation of document drafting and allows them to securely transfer the trade documents through the blockchain network
  • Taut (Homestudy) – Fastest way for teachers to give feedback
  • IPOHub – IPOHUB is making SME growth markets transparent and bringing together individual investors to enjoy the benefits of institutional investors
  • Lightcode Photonics – Using 3d cameras to change the way how robots see us
  • Sharentic – Marketplace for people to share, lend and rent things seamlessly, safely and without much of a hassle
  • Syncreality – The first game developer tool to create auto adaptive playfields for home XR
  • VideoCV –  a modern video recruitment platform
  • Werk – Werk solves the biggest pain in European construction – finding qualified temporary workforce

Congratulations also to all other teams (Vyorious Poland, Skillcheckers, Pointship, Skyrocket Your Team, Pagerr, CompAct, KoduLine, Partnerbow, Real Home Network, Fizure, CureAssist, BeeSage, Basaar, Greta Carpool, ArkrisAI, KRATT, Fleetsimplify) who showed impressive progress and commitment! We are so happy that you joined us for the anniversary Base Camp.

Superangel and Garage48 would like to thank all startups that applied, participated and made Base Camp so amazing. We’re happy to welcome back any previous teams and always keen to meet new startups. Stay tuned for Base Camp Spring 20201 and keep following our updates on social media!