ARM Lab’s $50k Investment Application: A Complete Guide.
The Arm Labs Innovation Program is a pre-accelerator that invests $50k in Nigerian startups within the finTech, data intelligence, digital trade and pensionTech space for an equity share. The program also offers selected startups access to expert mentorship, workspace and network with a pool of investors and ARM Lab’s partner organizations.
As with most funding opportunities like these, it is highly competitive. Out of hundreds of applicants, only 30 get through the initial screening stage. Most founders make the mistake of rushing through the application form without elaborating on the uniqueness of their startup and why they should get selected. Because succeeding at this earliest stage gives you a higher chance of getting funded, here are my tips on how you can ace the application form.
PS: Find link to the form at the bottom of this article.
The form has 8 main questions that test your ability to explain what your startup does:
1. Describe your Company
You may be tempted to pour the heart and soul of your startup into this one question, but I would advise you to keep it brief and answer the WHAT, WHO and HOW of your business.
What do you do: You can use the X of Y analogy; “We’re the chekkit for African credit lenders“ or just write it plainly; “We simplify customer verification for credit lenders.” This gives the reviewer a direct understanding of your business and drives their decision.
Who do you serve: Defining your ideal customer at this stage is super important. Who are they? what do they do? how big is the market? If you serve multiple customer bases, introduce them here.
How does it work: Think of this as your unique value proposition. What benefit is your product to the customers you serve? Does it triple their revenue? make them more efficient? or in our example, helps credit lenders cut down on losses and find eligible people to lend money. I’d like to go one step further here to explain my technology and its uniqueness.
Understand that there are other questions in this form, so you really do not want to keep repeating information throughout the application.
2. What Problem are you Solving
Because you introduced who your customers are in the previous question, it’s much easier to talk about what problems they experience. This question forms the heart of your application. In many cases, your product may be used by different demography of users and that’s fine!
But, I will always advise founders that the first thing you want to do before attempting this question is to write out your different customer segments and the individual challenges they experience. After doing this, pick out the most profitable segment experiencing the most critical problem. This is a problem that is underserved and if not resolved will result in money lost, time wasted or someone getting fired.
This particular customer forms the basis of your problem statement. Craft a story detailing their challenges, and the gravity of the challenge (percentage of money or resources lost, how much time is wasted, how this is hindering their growth or causing an inconvenience in their workflow). Make your story compelling and relatable and go further to talk about the current alternatives that your customers use and its loopholes.
3. What is your Solution
The question you’ve been eager to answer. As founders, this is our sweet spot! The moment to tell everything about our fantastic product. But! many founders still get it wrong here.
First, you want to connect your solution directly to the abovementioned problems. Don’t make the mistake of filling this section with things like “We offer excellent customer service” or “We’ve got an amazing UI.” These are vitamins to the problem. Rather, lead with the core of your product first then buttress with those vitamins. Here’s a quick example:
Our product gives credit lenders the data they need to determine a customer’s creditworthiness in minutes. We’ve built a customizable API that can be integrated into any credit lender’s stack and connects them with insights of millions of customers in Nigeria. This will save creditors 90% of their losses due to poor decisions and speed up the lending process for their customers.
This is a great way to start describing your solution. Go further to share the other services you offer, what this means for your customers and most importantly, in simple terms, describe how your technology works.
PS: A piece of advice from me to you; Use buzzwords here:) Probability is whoever’s reading is visualizing how your startup will ring on the news or newsletter headlines. So is it the revolutionalize? the disrupt? the transformate? Use ’em all! But be moderate.
4. Recorded Traction
This may be a buzz kill for a few founders reading this. But please! Don’t go into this competition without a reasonable amount of traction. An exception may be if your product is novel with a proven and profitable concept. Traction is essentially progress made in your startup. Have you built your MVP, welcomed a few customers or signups, gotten revenue, etc. Include all of these in this section. Watch this very descriptive video to understand what traction matters the most to investors like ARM Labs.
5. Your 3 Months Milestone
This is essentially one of the most important things to do after validating that great idea of yours. Draw up a quarterly roadmap for hiring, product releases/development, marketing and sales. To attempt this question, you want to give the reviewer confidence that you have your workflow figured out and do well to be realistic about it.
If you’re at MVP stage, talk about your plans for completing & piloting the MVP, getting signups/downloads for b2c, partnerships etc. If you’re post MVP, talk about customer acquisition roll-out, launch and revenue generation plans. Present this roadmap on a month-by-month basis and show that ARM Lab’s reviewer the ambitious founder you are!
6. Your Startup’s 5–10 Years Projection
If it isn’t a founder’s good ‘ol nemesis. One of the oldest yet vaguely answered questions in the books. Honestly, many early-stage founders aren’t thinking of 5–10 years into the future. Validating your idea is already mind-boggling, developing the product is indeed stressful and that’s where your mind is at. But you will still need to answer this question:)
This question has branches that the reviewer is looking out for:
- Product growth: How big can your product get? do you have plans to roll out more profitable services to your customers? or have you identified a fresh segment of users who need your current product?
- Market growth: For our customer verification for credit lenders example, our market growth could be estimated from the steady growth of the consumer lending industry in Nigeria. Show the reviewer you’ve done your homework and prove that there is an uptrend in the industry your product is built around.
- Scale: A really important point to consider. How many customers can you potentially reach? Are there people across the continent that need your service?
- Financial projection: Elaborate on how much revenue and profit you could be generating.
- Exit: Is there a buyout or major partnership in the pipeline? For some of you, it may be too early to bring this up, but bonus points if this has crossed your mind.
7. Why Should Your Product Exist Now
Probably my favourite question amongst the lot. You could imagine the reviewer may be super tired whilst reviewing your application but this one question will sure to drive energy back to them.
The question essentially asks what opportunity you’ve identified that proves if your product launches now, it will attract thousands of customers in the shortest time possible. It could be a new trend in the market, or shift in customer habits or local and international investors flowing money into the space. On the flip side, you can express how critical the problem you are solving is. Here’s a hypothetical example:
There’s been an uptrend in the Nigerian credit lending industry with over $100 Million being credited to Nigerians in 2022 alone. However, a significant percentage of this was lost due to poor due diligence on customer’s actual credit and income history. We spoke to 100 active creditors and they are willing to pay for and integrate our product after launch.
Show the reviewer the opportunity in the market, the willingness of customers to pay and the many benefits of investing in you.
8. Reasons for Attending
Finally, ARM Labs provides one of the best industry support for fintech and data SaaS startups. As an early-stage founder, you need funding, support, mentorship, and connections to thrive in our competitive market. ARM Labs provides just that including an accommodating workspace for the tech-savvy founder you are.
In this section, convince the reviewer how their program will be beneficial to you, your startup and your customers. Most especially, show them how investing in your product will yield returns for them.
Remember: Take your time, follow my instructions, put in your best and I’ll see you at the top. If you need a fresh pair of eyes to review your application or you’ve got some questions, I’m only a dm away.