Friday Notes: Shark Tank Vietnam

In this episode (FN.007): The discussion about Shark Tank Vietnam and its contribution to the startup ecosystem of the country.

Shark Tank Vietnam is also known as “Thương vụ bạc tỷ.”

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Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability.

Listen to the full episode at links below.

Granger: Good morning! It’s the 11th of October. Good morning, Cameron! 

Cameron: Good morning! How’s it going?

Granger: It’s going well. Wow, October is flying by. This year has flown by.

Cameron: Yeah, a new city for me. It’s been 10 months now.

Granger: Awesome. Saigon will never be the same…So, we were talking about the startup ecosystem on Monday and today, I want to talk about Shark Tank in Vietnam.

Overview of Shark Tank

Granger: Shark Tank Vietnam is the fourth Shark Tank of the world, is that right?

Cameron: I’m not too sure, but there are only four Shark Tanks.

Granger: It started in the U.S back in 2009. And it was Dragon’s Den first, right?

Cameron: Originally, the whole franchise started in Japan as The Tigers of Money (マネーの虎 manē no tora).

Granger: So, The Tigers of Money became Dragon’s Den and there are probably 20 plus Dragon’s Dens around the world. But the American version is Shark Tank.

Cameron: And then there are the Australian, Mexican and of course, Vietnamese version.

Granger: Yes, the coolest one is the Vietnamese. It’s fun to watch.

Cameron: I’ve actually never watched an episode of any of these. I’ve only watched clips.

Granger: You’ve never seen the U.S version?

Cameron: No, I’ve never seen any. I’ve only watched YouTube clips. I watch either the worst product pitches or the time when an investor insulted one of the judges.

Granger: Yeah, the highlight reels, right?

What does Shark Tank Vietnam do for the ecosystem here?

Granger: Shark Tank is a part of the ecosystem here. It has brought a lot of attention to entrepreneurship. The kids are excited about it, and it is promoted heavily here. Obviously, we know some of the sharks. I personally know Shark (Pham Thanh) Hung and Shark (Thai Van) Linh, who I just recently met and had some time to speak with her. They seem to understand that it’s more about visibility, awareness and generating excitement than it is about the strength of the companies coming on, right?

Cameron: It’s a marketing platform.

Granger: Yes, it’s a marketing platform, which happened in the U.S too, right? If you look at some of the investments that happened or didn’t happen in the U.S, the companies that were on Shark Tank got so much attention that their sales went up hundreds of percent. It was incredible. So, it almost became a thing like: “Let’s get on Shark Tank to get known so people buy our products.”

Cameron: And the free press, too.

Granger: One of the cool products that I’ve seen on Shark Tank was Scrub Daddy. It’s like a circular thing that cleans your dishes. It’s awesome. My neighbor brought me one in Florida, and she was like: “You’ve got to check this out. It was on shark tank. It’s a Scrub Daddy. It’s the best thing ever to clean your pots, pans, and dishes.” And it was. It was the best sponge I’d ever had.

Cameron: Okay. there is some validity there. And then, as soon as he gets big and people start seeing it, the knockoffs come in.

Granger: In Vietnam, we’ve seen this one company that we profiled – WisePass, on Shark Tank and received some investment. And there are some others. There is an electric bike called Dat Bike that was on the show last week. It was the first show of the new season. The bikes look like one of those cafe racers. And then there was the biggest investment ever in Asia or outside of the United States on Shark Tank Vietnam. It happened to be a company called Powercentric or MOPO, mobile power. They make solar panels, mobile battery storage in the form of a battery that has an inverter that you can charge your laptop or your phone off of it. And they have made one for electric scooters and bikes. That 1 million bucks investment was from Cen Group in Hanoi with Shark Hung. That is how I know him. That’s huge. It was in the top 10 in the world. That’s real money if you think about it, right? And Dat Bike got $60,000 for 1%. So, look at the evaluation, right? 60,000 for 1% gives them a $6 million evaluation. Right? That’s pretty good for a startup in Vietnam, in the electric field, which we’re going to have to talk about it later. We haven’t done a profile on it. 

Cameron: Yeah. So, how many companies are actually funded via Shark Tank Vietnam?

Granger: They say in the first two seasons, there’s been about 330 billion VND invested. I don’t know if it is invested or committed because I think probably less than 20% of these deals actually get funded. And that’s a stat from the U.S. I don’t have the Vietnamese stat, but I’m pretty sure, having done the research and the conversations, that most of them don’t get funded after they do the due diligence.

Cameron: So, commitment is the main thing. They’re like: “Okay, we like the idea but let’s look into your financials and see how you go.”

Granger: Right! So, 23 billion VND or a million USD was the largest investment, which was for MOPO. They say that there have been 49 investments. I think one of the big problems you have here is that unlike the U.S or possibly Australia and Mexico, the community here is just not as advanced. They don’t have access to as much technology. Again, the scale that we were talking about on Monday. The scale of what you can do here is not the same as the U.S. It’s 90 million versus 400 million people. The technology advancement is just not there yet. So, there may be a farmer who comes on and he has an idea for a new shrimp farm or they may have a new technology that they want to do for a motorcycle or for heating coffee… The problem is that the education level is not there. The debt of management for these companies is not there. So, even if the Sharks give them the money or open up their connections to them for distribution, the ability for these guys to execute on the back end is lacking. 

The original Sharks of Shark Tank Vietnam

Is Shark Tank different from Kickstarter or Crowdfunding?

Cameron: My interesting question is you have this marketing platform. How could you compare it to something in the U.S like Kickstarter or Crowdfunding as a means of getting investment?

Granger: I love Kickstarter. Kickstarter and the other platforms are phenomenal, right? But those are platforms where people are actually getting money.

Cameron: Yeah. They get a product and et cetera. But I mean do you think they’ve been used together? For example, a Shark Tank guy went on didn’t get funded, so now he goes to Kickstarter.

Granger: There’s a lot of people who don’t get funded, right? One of my old friends, Jamie Siminoff in the U.S went on the show with his Doorbot and Kevin O’Leary offered him money and he turned it down. He went and rebranded it as Ring and his sales went up like $5 million. Jamie sold that company to Jeff (Bezos) at Amazon last spring for a billion USD. I just saw Jamie a couple of months ago when I was in LA and we were talking and laughing about it. There was another guy who walked away and he came back on Shark Tank as a guest host for a year. That’s an example of somebody who walked away. And then a number of these guys also walked away and done the same thing. They’d gone to a Kickstarter, and their products have become very successful. So, yes, you can do that.

What are the other avenues to get invested in Vietnam?

Cameron: There are so many ways to try to get capital to start your business or to continue on your business. So, if going to Shark Tank is just for the marketing platform, then what are other avenues to get invested? Would you just go straight to investors?

Granger: This is a good conversation and I was actually speaking to Sharp Linh a couple of days ago about this very thing. So, to me, Shark Tank is a visibility marketing thing. It’s a part of the ecosystem, but it’s not really. I think where you need to go is the incubators. The incubators are key here. You should try to find incubators, go to some of the universities or private corporations. As we were talking about on Monday, there used to be five or six VCs, now there are probably more than a hundred VCs. Certainly, that’s a place if you’re a startup. Friends and family are always somewhere to go first, right? You can also market a lot on the internet. So, testing your products, getting some friends and family, trying to figure out what your market is, defining it more clearly, getting your pricing right, getting your supply chain right before you go to the VCs. I think that’s what you have to do. It’s an important part of the economy here. The entrepreneurship is the leading and growing market segment in Vietnam, and I think you’ll see some huge wins out of it if they can get the right support.

Cameron: I don’t see it stopping. The entrepreneurial spirit here is huge. Everywhere you go, you see either a family shop or a kid trying to start their own thing in their family shop right on the corner. It’s like your lemonade stands back in the U.S when I was a kid.

So, how do you support innovation and entrepreneurship in Vietnam?

Granger: I was talking to a couple of buddies of mine the other day about this subject. How do you support innovation and entrepreneurship in Vietnam? I know AmCham is looking at it and my point is you’ve got to get the universities to work together. Again, we have talked about collaboration. We have talked about how companies and corporations need to work together, and how the Vietnamese companies need to understand the way to set up VC funds and to bring in some experts to help them put together the investment pools that can help their own businesses. This way, they can attract talents, technology, and help grow the entire ecosystem here. They can work with universities like RMIT, Fulbright… ASU and Thunderbird are expanding here. As these companies come here and establish roots, partnering with them is going to be the best way to build and scale the technology, and support that future innovation. 

Cameron: And there are also these alliances, like the Global Innovation Alliance which you talked about a couple of weeks earlier. I think international experience is one of the best methods to understand where the world is going. You can think about solving local problems, but there are 7 billion people in the world. There’s a lot of problems, for sure. So, I think that going abroad, experiencing different cultures, understanding all these different aspects of how people live and what they need to fulfill, it’s really valid. And you also get the international working experience which is phenomenal.

Granger: You have spoken like the anthropologist that you are. Well, we’ve talked about Shark Tank today and we understand it’s a fun marketing platform. But that’s not something you should take too seriously. There are some real serious things that you can do here and people who are involved in them. So, we’ll talk about that more, I’m sure. I hope you have a great weekend! We’ll talk to you on Monday.

The Lotus Talks is produced by The Vietnam Group. This episode was produced by Granger Whitelaw, Cameron Lynch and Toan Tang.

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