Base Camp Application Guide
Outlier Ventures opens applications for the Base Camp accelerator programs twice a year per city in various locations. And we thought it would be useful to release a guide to filling out the application.
We know it is difficult to explain your super early stage business succinctly. We have received over 300 applications over the past 2 cohorts in London. With some of them we could tell which were obviously good or obviously bad. And then there’s those in the middle. Those tend to be promising but not described properly. Understanding what the author meant is not a great approach to assessing applications. The founders thought they did a great job but we just couldn’t understand them.
This is why we decided to put together a guide to our open questions. But before we get into those in more detail, let’s discuss a few commonly valid points.
1/ Language. Please be as clear as possible. Sales-y and buzzword-y language you may be using with customers wouldn’t quite work here. Accelerator programs are like bodyshop mechanics- we tear everything apart and then get it back together, but with better final result. If there are deal-breaker faults in your company, we will find it.
2/ Don’t rush through the application. We can tell if you rushed through it or if you’re just clear and concise. A lot of people get a massive quality slump in their writing halfway through. Get up. Take a break. Your draft will still be there.
3/ Don’t postpone until the very last second. We start selection about three weeks into applications and assess on a rolling basis. Offers are made after the deadline for applications but best to give you and us some time.
How to use this guide
As we’re running you through about three open questions per section and across four sections, take your time. There is a lot of information. Skim the sections first and then read the “what we are looking for” part when you get to work and start outlining each question. We will skip the questions where you need to provide documents or very clear one line of information (eg name, website).
Section 1: About you
This is a standard section containing the first 8 questions asking for information about company name, website, pitch deck submission, etcetera. We will need you to be present in Berlin for the duration of the program, so make sure you can be there.
Section 2: Business Overview
In Business Overview, we want to gain a better understanding of your product and business model.
What are you developing and why does the world need it?
What we are looking for here: we want to understand the product offering in detail. Here is the time to explain why your solution is a fit for the problem. We don’t need to see your code here (yet), but we do need to be able to understand how it works conceptually.
What is the backstory? What led you to the idea?
What we are looking for here: we want to see if your idea came up from dealing with an issue directly and recognizing weakness of the industry. Best case scenario many others experienced the same problems as yourself and you’ve got a market plus a person to test on in early days – you.
What’s unique about the company ?
What we are looking for here: we want to understand how you are differentiating yourself from the rest. Some markets are incredibly competitive and we want to make sure we understand what you do correctly and why you stand out from the crowd. It is important to find out why your competitors failed. It will save you and us plenty of time in the unknown.
How will you make money?
What we are looking for here: every business needs customers and a business model to earn, we want to see your model or at least the thinking behind it. Think this through, it’s not an easy question. We are particularly interested in how you plan to pull in those first a few hundred thousand in revenue. Brownie points for pointing out how it’ll work at scale.
Please stay realistic and factor in the costs here. We don’t need a cost breakdown but we will know whether you went berserk with it.
Section 3: Team & Experience
This section is a mix of standard and open questions. We want to see who you are, why you are the best team for the job and what’s the plan for hiring.
Why is your team best suited to develop this business?
What we are looking for here: everybody knows ideas are a dime a dozen. We want to know why your team is the best to tackle the challenge, execute and turn a product or a network into a billion dollar business.
How do you know your founders? How would you describe your team relationship? How do you resolve conflict?
What we are looking for here: it gives us some background on the team. We have seen a lot of founders with different relationships and reactions at both good and bad situations. We want to see how you make decisions and how you resolve any internal conflicts at executive level. Feel free to describe who takes care of strategy and who executes, it is fine that it is two separate founders.
Who is going to be your first hire? What core competencies will that person need?
What we are looking for here: we want to see how you plan on building your team. We are looking for people focused on complementary hires at such an early stage. Talk us through your decision and assumptions.
Section 4: Market and Competition
Bad markets can kill even the best founders. This is why we need to get a better perspective on it. We can find the size and the growth rate ourselves. Instead help us understand who else is out there and what they’re doing wrong.
What are people doing now instead of using your product?
What we are looking for here: if your problem is big enough, then plenty of people will be suffering on a daily basis. We want to know how they suffer. Walk us through the user journey, every step of the way so we fully understand how your product fits into the market.
Who are your direct competitors? Why are you better?
What we are looking for here: here we want a direct mention of 3 to 5 (or maybe more) competitors, ideally a mix of incumbents and startups competing directly with you. It is crucial to articulate how different you are and what this means in business terms. Is a single feature enough? Maybe. Maybe not.
What will stop others copying the project and the model?
What we are looking for here: in competitive markets, it is not uncommon to have people developing oddly similar products. What stops your competitors? High barrier to entry? Loyal customer base? Tell us. You know your market the best.
What is the biggest assumption in your business? What happens if it goes wrong?
What we are looking for here: we don’t want you to predict the future. We just want to see what are your weak points, so we can validate if we can help you smooth them out. Do you think you will struggle with momentum? Marketing is a weak point? The macro trends are going against you?
Section 5: Traction
We are an accelerator. So it is important for us to see and understand the level of traction you have already or how you are planning to gain it. We will then help you accelerate the execution during the program. Having 0 users is not a deal-breaker. Having no plan for acquiring that first supporter is.
How are you tracking progress currently? What is the one metric you use?
What we are looking for here: it is important to track your growth from the very beginning. Even if you are pre-venue and have no users we still want to see your relevant KPIs, how you track them and update them. You won’t have an objective view on your business unless you’re tracking the progress on objectives.
Who are your top 3 customers? How are they similar and different? Why do they love the product?
What we are looking for here: it is important that you identify your first market. Once you know who you want to target you’ll need a strategy to capture those people/companies. We are not expecting a fully fledged strategy with full customer segmentation. We’d rather see some structured reasoning behind customer acquisition.
If you are an open source project, how will you attract external contributors? If you’re closed source, how are you building an ecosystem of partners?
What we are looking for here: Some businesses, especially those in infrastructure, middleware and open source, are bootstrapping the early days thanks to a strong community. If your project is such, we want to see what your community looks like and what your plans for building it out are. Again we are not looking for a full strategy, rather to walk us through your thinking around this.