How to pitch at a Vietnamese Startup competition

Tips to make a memorable impression


I had the privilege to be invited by Sieng Van Tran to be a judge at the Egg Tech Pitch competition Season 1 in Ho Chi Minh City. The winning prize was a ticket to Korea to win a $200,000 financing round. Each Startup had 5 minutes on stage.

Sieng asked me to come early and coach some Startups with their pitch. I only met a few Startups so I figured I would write my advice for the others in a post. These tips come from my experience of raising over $1M in Seed and Series A for Linked Senior and my time at a Silicon Valley Startup Incubator.

Game of pitch

Pitch competition are a unique format for presentations. A Startup’s goals should be to:

  1. Be understandable (clear)
  2. Be memorable
  3. Be likeable

Keep the presentation short and simple. Images and numbers. One line of text. This is especially important in pitch type of presentations because:

  1. You have very little time to talk
  2. Your talk will be diluted (mixed) with other talks

We, judges met 12 Startups during 4-5 hours. Remember the last time you went to a 4-5 hour talk? How many things you can remember from that talk? 3, maybe 4, 5?

You should have 7 to 10 slides. You can’t have more. Your 5 minutes will fly by.

The slides

Problem slide

What pain are you seeing in the market?

This must be your first slide. Why? Everything else (your product, team, etc.) is a deduction from the problem. Your audience must connect with it.

One of the Startup to do this brilliantly was Vexere (Kayak for Vietnamese buses). They featured one powerful image: a box office room filled with people, waiting in line to buy their bus ticket. I was shocked because I had no idea that buying bus tickets in Vietnam was so painful. Vexere’s solution to sell bus tickets online just make sense once you see the way people are currently buying them.

Solution slide

What’s your product? How does it solve the problem you talked about?Explain the solution and how it connects with the problem.

Tell us about the benefits of your product to your customers (in numbers): hours saved, amount of money saved, etc. One resume writing Startup improved their customers’ odd of getting hired by 20%. They didn’t tell us until we asked. Show that number proudly!

Problem and solution are like two puzzle pieces that must fit perfectly together. So if your problem is: “People don’t have time to …” or “It takes X hours to …” then your solution should be: “Our solution is to speed up this process by …”.

You must absolutely connect the problem with the solution. One disconnect I heard during the tech pitch was the following:
Problem: “30% of workers in Vietnam do not use their university degree in their current jobs.”
Solution: “Badges displayed in a Pinterest like board for your educational accomplishments.”
There is a disconnect. The problem is too vague:

  1. Is this a problem with the universities not doing a good job at matching students with a degree for their ideal job?
  2. Is this a problem with students changing career paths? Or are students not good at selling their university degree to employers?
  3. Is this a problem with employers not matching proper jobs with young graduates?

The problem/solution connection is an exercise in logic. However, founders are often too deep into their ideas; it’s hard to take a step back to make sure there is a good fit.
Pitch problem/solution to friends and ask for feedback.

Market slide

How big is the market? Who are your main competitors?
Explain the current situation of the market and how your product is different and better.

Team slide

Who is doing what? Why is your team the best team to lead this business?
Explain how your experience in XXX makes you a great fit to build a business in XXX.

DeltaViet (Vietnamese Udemy) founders worked several years of experience doing online training at various companies. It make sense that they would be great to lead an online courses Startup.

Drop names: put up logos of companies known for having great talent (Google, Misfit Wearables, East Agile, Lazada, etc.) or universities (HCMC University of Technology, NUS, etc.)

One Startup wanted to put their team slide as their first slide. While this makes sense for other types of talks, it doesn’t for a pitch presentation. No one cares about who you are until you have shown that you have found a problem, a solution and a market that makes sense.

Note: Don’t forget titles for each team members (CEO, CTO, CFO, CMO, etc.) !

Traction slide

What are the great things you have done so far?

  1. Show great numbers: unique visitors, DAU, MAU, revenues, conversion rate, engagement rate, etc.
  2. Show big name partnerships, press articles (Tech In Asia), prizes won, customer testimonials, etc.

One team at the TechPitch had a screenshot of their Google Analytics page. While their statistics looked nice and showed nice progression, it was a very confusing image: too many charts, small text size, etc. I advised them to summarize their traction slide down to two major accomplishments:

  1. Over 500,000 likes on Facebook
  2. +25% increase in unique visitors (over the past 3 months)

Roadmap slides

What are you doing with the money if you win it?
Explain your plan for the next 1-2 years.

This is great slide for a timeline graphic that shows past, present and future. Use 5-10 dates of major milestones (year founded, launch date, 100th customer acquisition, article in Tech In Asia, partnership with Google, etc.)

Bonus tips

Product demo

One team asked me if they could demo a product or show a video of their product during the pitch.

In a 5 minute pitch, you have to use your time wisely. Use a demo or video only if it can explain something in a much better way that text or images can. If you use this approach, keep it to a few seconds. Prepare a clean transition between your slides and the demo (and have an offline backup!).

Story telling

A great presentation has stories. How can you integrate stories in a business pitch? Each slide is an opportunity to tell a mini story.
The easiest slide to incorporate a story is the “problem” slide: tell the audience how you came up with the idea; tell us about the moment the light bulb turned on in your head. Charles de Vilmorin, CEO of Linked Senior often talks about the moments he shared with his grandmother which lead to the idea of Linked Senior.

Have solid arguments

Judges are not here just to scare you. They are here to ask Why? and How? on every part of your business that is either unclear or unconvincing.

Your slides should therefore only mention things that you have researched extensively and can talk into details about. If you say you are aiming for 30% increase in revenue, you will be asked how. If you are planning to expand to Danang, you will be asked why.

If you are not 100% confident about your answer to a why or how on your slide, just take it off. Don’t mention it.
What if an evil judge catches you off guard anyway? Do not bullshit an answer, it looks terrible. Do not loose your calm, it looks really bad. Simply say “We are aware of XXX and we have been thinking hard on it. However, we do not have a definitive answer yet. I’d love to tell you where we are and get your advice after the talk. By the way, love your hair. Is that hair gel or is that natural?”.

Open strong, close strong

Open with something memorable about your company. Ideally, you would use your tag line. Say something funny, ambitious, ambiguous (but explain yourself right after). Make people curious about what you are going to say next. Example: “We are Vexere and we are here to empty the waiting rooms at ticket box office”. As long as putting durian in those rooms is not part of their solution.

Close by asking how much money you are looking for. Then, finish it off with a real life reminder of where your audience may use your product.
One Startup at the tech pitch delivered a better online shopping experience for women’s beauty product. They closed with: “The next time your wife or girlfriend complains about her beauty products, tell her to check us out at [insert website here] for a better shopping experience”.

Practice, practice, practice

There is no secret to great delivery in a pitch.

Use your friends as an audience. Skype with your advisors and mentors. Record yourself. Pitch to your cat.

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