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.
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