The Startup scene has always been about being bold, having bold Ideas, daring slogans, and cool work environments. It is no wonder that a company like Nintendo used to have a slogan that says, “Work hard, play hard.” It is also very expected to find an expert like Sam Altman, previous president of YC, give startup founders advice saying: “Sound crazy, but be right.”

As a result, we see many activities in the startup scene get affected by this progressive environment. For instance, pitch style & duration have evolved from a proper in-person pitch to an elevator pitch that requires startups to explain their idea in 3 minutes maximum. Some investors went even crazier about it; for example, I remember in my college days when I was attending a big startup competition in MENA, an angel investor asked me to present my idea in 10 seconds, only 10 seconds! 

Create an application form that captures the information necessary to make the right decision about applicants

Finding the right startup to invest in is a tough one. You cannot easily tell who would be the next startup to become an established company thanks to your funds or incubation cycle. So let’s have a look at the four crucial elements you need to cover thoroughly in the application form to enter your competition.

The 4 four pillars of a successful startup and an effective startup competition application form!

1. Idea

According to YC accelerator, more than 60% of their startups pivot their ideas before the program ends each year, a fact that makes us question the approach of those startups towards solving the world’s problems. What were they doing wrong before pivoting their ideas? Were they solving an actual problem? or just creating yet another solution that the world doesn’t need? 

As we all know, entrepreneurs are about solving real challenges innovatively. Therefore, we must validate those problems and their relevant solutions, whether the solution is a painkiller or a vitamin.

Moreover, how innovative is this solution? Some startups just adopt an existing idea, manipulate it then introduce it as something new. Other startups use an idea from a particular sector applying it to another, like those pitches starting with: “It’s just like Uber but for…”. 

Finally, the most underrated aspect in the startup competition application form, the entry barrier. This aspect is a crucial one as it measures three major factors, as follows:

  • How well acquainted is the startup with their market? The product they are offering, and the problem they are solving? 
  • How easily and quickly is it possible for other players to build a competing solution?
  • How strategic is the startup about their future? What are their plans for sustainability?

So, to sum up, here are the takeaways from the idea section: 

  • The solution needs to be addressing a real pain or a persistent challenge. The more real and persistent is the pain, the more successful is the startup.
  • Uniqueness and feasibility of the solution. Being innovative doesn’t mean that the implementation has to be complicated; it means that the answer to the problem is unprecedented and just on point.
  • The startup needs to be aware of the entry barrier. And have a plan to sustain its position in the market if any of the competition develops a similar solution.

“You don’t invest in startups, you invest in people.”

2. Team

2 employees high fiving with in a meeting room
Photo by krakenimages

There is a very popular quote that says, “You don’t invest in startups, you invest in people.” Honestly, we can’t agree more with this quote; the team is definitely the most crucial factor in any startup. As we mentioned before, ideas can pivot, and the same goes for technologies, also market dynamics changes, among many other factors of a successful startup. On the contrary, the team is the only factor that stays.

So to evaluate the team parameter, you have to look at the following factors:

  • Team profiles:
    • Academic backgrounds 
    • Work experience. 
    • Hometowns, gender distribution, and age.
  • Team dynamics:
    • Core Team members’ commitment to the startup, like are they full-timers or part-timers?
    • Team members’ roles and responsibilities distribution, which describe how they manage to share responsibilities, equity, and decision making. 
    • Team relations, are they previous co-workers? And so on. 

3. Tech

“Every company is now a software company.”

Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft

Yes, not all startups have to be tech startups, but no, they cannot skip using technology at all in their operations. According to Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft, “Every company is now a software company.” We have all witnessed and lived a revolution in using technology with the covid-19 outbreak; everyone needed technology to maintain their operations since the start of 2020. Everyone needed to work online, sell online, and sometimes manage the whole business online using different software and platforms.

In this regard, we suggest the below questions:

  • Technology characteristics:
    • How tech-enabled is the startup?
    • How much does it cost to build it? Is it costly like hardware products or less expensive like building simple apps? 
    • How high is the entry barrier from a tech perspective? The more advanced the tech is, the longer it takes to build new features, make new releases, and so on.  Also, it gives a hint about the startup’s future and its entry barrier like what we mentioned before. 
    • Also, are there enough technical talents to work on that technology? This question gives many indications about the idea entry barrier, the team experience, and again, how easily they would be able to scale their solution. 
  • Customer Experience:
    • How quickly can customers get on board with the solution? Does it need complicated setups or simple ones like just downloading an app or adding a few lines of code?
  • Technology cost and design should be suitable for the target customers. If the technology used is expensive, this means high price, hence, high profile target audience. Also, complicated design and usability exclude some profiles, hence re-direct the startup to a different marketplace, which takes us to the last pillar, Marketplace.

4. Marketplace

All three previous pillars can be in place, but if the startup is going after a dying market, it is definitely in a tough position. Let’s have a look at questions to cover the market part:

  • Market characteristics:
    • Market size: How big is the market? Is it a niche or a mass-market? How are they approaching it? The maturity and saturation of the market are also critical factors to predict this market’s future. Is it growing or shrinking? How would it look in 5 to 10 years?
    • Sales model: Depending on the business, whether it is B2B or B2C, sales model and channels are identified. The sales model is no one-size-fits-all; a highly tailored sales model indicates a deep understanding of the market and the strategy to reach out to the target audience and successfully close deals.
    • Institutional support: That’s a tricky one! As it is necessary for some markets to partner with some institutions (social or governmental initiatives, for example) to boost their business and reach early adopters. If institutional support is inevitable, then the feasibility of closing a partnership with those institutions is your next question? We have to bear in mind that institutional support could either be a huge push for the startup or a holdback. 
  • Competition analysis. 
    • How many competitors and their sizes? If they are multinational companies, SME’s or also startups.
    • What’s their competitive advantage over other players? And what do the competitors have that the startup doesn’t? Are those advantages a real threat to the startup position in the market?
    • What are the old ways and existing ways of solving their problem?
    • How different his offerings, business model, and pricing are from competitors? 

How to ask the right questions the right way?

Maybe you would need to ask all of those questions, or some of them. Perhaps you need to expand on specific questions to clarify it further. Sometimes, you need to use conditional logic for different answers. For example, if the startup chooses “Yes” for institutional support, a whole section of questions needs to expand to ask about that institution type, sector…etc.

Another tip is to pick the right question type for each piece of information; if you only count on the textual paragraph, you may find your data full of non-sense that you need a tedious filter process to find the answers you are looking for. Keep in mind your target isn’t asking the questions but finding the answers. Don’t forget that your goal is for the applicant to complete and submit the application; if the application form is not smooth and easy enough, you will be losing qualified applicants.

Finally, use all question formats out there; your submission management software with a smart application form builder should help you do that. Use single line questions (For names and short answer questions) and add character limits to ensure that the answers are direct and to the point. Put most of your questions in the radio button or multi checkbox format; they help in two ways: 1. Make sure the evaluation and filtering of answers are easy. 2. Helps build reports for application data after concluding the program. Your submission platform should enable this feature. Drop-down lists save hours of data cleaning to have answers in the same format. 

If you need to build an outstanding application form that saves you hours of screening, streamlines the evaluation process, and provides reports on different aspects of the application form, learn more about our solutions for running an online hackathon, or book your demo now!