StartupWeekend Ho Chi Minh

Submitted by tomo on December 3, 2011 - 4:13am

UPDATE: Startup Weekend Ho Chi Minh City 2012 is happening this weekend, starting tonight (Friday September 14) and commencing on Sunday the 16th. The "hacking" venue is The START Center For Entrepreneurs on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, and final presentations and judging will be at Intercontinental Hotel. This year again I'll be a coach/mentor for the aspiring young entrepreneurs.

If you missed it, a few weeks ago the global Startup Weekend competition came to Ho Chi Minh City (which we all know is Saigon). There have been a number of such startup idea pitching competitions in both Saigon and Hanoi recently. I was able to take part in StartupWeekend here in the capacity of a mentor. This meant I could walk around to each team while they were working on their ideas and give suggestions. Suggestions were not so much about the core idea, which was already set, or how to legally incorporate, which was too early, but how to strengthen the business case for the idea, improve implementation, create a better presentation (presentation is seriously important), and suggest alternative markets and competitors which they may not have been aware of.

The event takes place over 54 hours (a weekend starting from Friday night) in which first ideas are pitched, then filtered into the most popular ones. In the end there were about a dozen ideas which the initiators could then gather team members from those whose ideas weren't chosen or came just to join a team.

In the end, these teams gave presentations before a live audience (including representatives from the media). I didn't see much coverage of the actual pitches of the event so I'd like to record them here.

1. Young IT Network.

From what I understood, this was to be a university club, perhaps at Bach Khoa University (the weekend was held at the Natural Sciences University), somewhat like a social network with various forums, extracurricular classes for narrower topics not taught in class, and classified ads for finding jobs. Perhaps this fills a need at the university, to help students prepare for real world work, and to connect with employers in a way that stands out. But I couldn't see the business case, or how to spread to other markets (universities).

2. Go Exchange

This would be like a forum for what are otherwise known as air couriers, arising from the high demand and resulting overhead prices for popular electronics which are bought abroad and sold here. For example: an iPhone which costs 15.5 million VND in the US would sell for 19 million here on sites like 5giay, resulting in significant profit, paying for a small chunk of the ticket home. Classic arbitrage. Air courier services do this already, mostly for sending time-sensitive documents overseas. The big question, which has been solved for air couriers, is the whole legality of the situation. One of the team members quoted an uncle or aunt who was a lawyer saying it was legal. Because transactions would happen between strangers, there is an issue of requiring an escrow service which could also be a source of income.

3. De Toi Chi - Vietnamese Instructables/eHow clone

This would be a straight clone of eHow, with user-submitted videos in Vietnamese explaining. Apparently, it's a big industry globally (some $1.8B). There's an opportunity to be the #1 site in Vietnam. But it's a content-based business in an environment where local ad-spending online is still quite low and the markets for it far from efficient, made worse by wanting to show ads (sponsor placement) in videos. On the other hand, like Vietnamese Wikipedia, it could help a lot of Vietnamese people who have trouble understanding English and this country desperately needs more user-generated Vietnamese-language content.

4. ViCube - intellectual toys

This one is interesting because it's non-technical, not a website, and comes from the youngest participant - a 17-year old high school student. The idea is similar to Lego, in the building blocks are connected to create things. Certain puzzles can be posed which must be created using the pieces given. It's hard for me to assess whether a toy will be successful or not, but it's different. According to the student, his younger relatives enjoy playing with earlier prototypes (much of these ideas didn't start completely from scratch at the start of the weekend).


This team had one of my favorite ideas, but also already had a successfully selling product beforehand. It's a keyring flashcard set for learning English (different sets for different standardized tests). The word lists are supposedly in the public domain. They've embellished the words with illustrations and the whole thing is nicely packaged. Several mentors who were foreigners requested Vietnamese language versions. During the weekend, they worked on ideas for the website and possible mobile apps which would integrate with accounts included with the cards. I really enjoyed working with group and had dinner with them afterwards.


This was implemented as an iGoogle clone and I felt it was largely developer driven. The idea seemed to be to extend what iGoogle gadgets could do by making them slightly more customizable in terms of positioning or dimensions. As a developer myself, I've often had thoughts like this, "this product could be improved if only....". But to me, this screams "feature" more than product or business. If Google thought it was a good idea and copied it for itself, I would consider it a good, if not ideal, outcome. As for aggregating chat, there are sites like Meebo. And for aggregating your various social networks, there are web apps like Seesmic, Hootsuite, etc. Again, revenue would come from advertising, which is not a business model I like. Twitter won't like losing their cut either.

7. Chivvi (Quora X Alibaba ~ Fiverr?)

This pitch comes from some entrepreneurs with experience in ecommerce already. The idea is similar to a reverse eBay auction, where instead of sellers posting items for sale and getting multiple bigs, a potential buyer posts a request to buy an item, say an Android phone. Then multiple sellers will pitch products to the buyer. This is a win for businesses if it provides valuable leads in lieu of expensive marketing. Of course, sellers must have resources to monitor the channel. Like eBay, there is also a trust/reputation issue, which could again be solved through an escrow service which could provide some revenue. Also like eBay, there is a two-sided market problem where the site won't be successful without both a sufficiently large pool of buyers as well as sellers.

8. Crochet on hands - Social Enterprise

As the only social enterprise of the bunch, I was gunning for them, even if they didn't promise massive returns on anyone's investment. The idea was to train people in Vietnam's poor and underdeveloped mountainous regions to sew cotton garments for sale domestically and internationally to foreigners. Of course, foreigners in Vietnam are viewed as walking ATM machines and everybody wants a chance to sell to them. But the idea for selling handcrafted goods from poor countries has already taken off with retail networks like 10000 Villages. Producing the goods is a problem I'm sure they can solve. How they can market and sell the products is yet to be seen.

9. Guerilla Startup

I have no idea what this was about. Something about finding product testers, testing marketing, and holding contests at universities. It sounds like something that could complement Lean Startup. I really didn't understand the presentation. Btw, all presentations were in Vietnamese.

10. Keewi - social mobile chat app

This idea was very popular with the judges and was perhaps the most traditional "startupy" big idea, even if not a new one. The idea was to allow you to chat with strangers nearby. I'm a fan of new kind of social networks beyond existing friends networks a la Facebook. But has also shown that Vietnamese (American) entrepreneurs, even with $41 million in the bank, can make these kinds of ad hoc social networks flop. The idea is simple to implement, but it's not at all trivial building sufficient network effects for users to make use of it. I guess that's why the idea needs to find investors.

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