Young, ambitious, and ready to risk it all — a new generation of Vietnamese entrepreneurs has been making waves globally in recent years, striving to put Vietnam’s startup ecosystem at par with Singapore and Indonesia. These entrepreneurs are equipped with the confidence and unconventional perspectives, willing to disrupt traditional markets and become the Bill Gates or Mike Bloomberg of the future.
This is probably why the local adaptation of the popular investment reality TV show Shark Tank became an instant hit in 2017. As the show’s first-ever commission in Southeast Asia, Shark Tank Vietnam has given budding entrepreneurs in the country a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure life-changing capital and expert advice from some of the most successful names in the business.
Across four seasons, Shark Tank Vietnam has a total committed investment of more than VND976 billion for 112 companies, with the highest investment to date for one company reaching VND138 billion. The show saw the rise of small startups, including online men’s fashion shopping platform Coolmate and organic coconut product Cocolala.
Now that it's airing its fifth season, Shark Tank Vietnam continues to level it up — from bigger investments, a more dynamic lineup of contestants, and the introduction of its first foreign Shark, Erik Jonsson.
Swedish national Erik moved to Vietnam in 2011, three years after visiting the country as a tourist. “I loved it from the very first minute,” he said, and soon he began to enter the still-unripe investment sector. He joined private equity firm VI Group in 2011. A year later, he started his entrepreneurial career, leading to roles as Founder/Co-founder/CEO of five different ventures, including Zalora Vietnam and Adayroi. Erik is currently a partner at venture capital firm Antler.
Watch Erik Jonsson and the other Sharks give Vietnam’s new breed of company founders either “a hefty investment or a wake-up call” at 8 pm on Sundays until September 4th on VTV3.
How does it feel to be part of Shark Tank Vietnam? Was this part of your goals in Vietnam?
It feels really fun to be the first foreign Shark on the show. It was definitely not something I had in my personal plan or roadmap as a specific milestone but rather an opportunity that sounded fun. Vietnam has given me so much, so my goals here now mostly relate to helping Vietnamese entrepreneurs reach their full potential, and my appearance on Shark Tank will hopefully help with that.
Can you explain to us the entire process that led to this?
I think there may have been a couple of things that led to me joining Shark Tank. I've known Shark Linh since 2011, so I started following it when she joined the show in the first season. Linh is actually involved in Antler as an advisor, as is Louis, another famous Shark. I also met a lot of founders from Shark Tank in the programs we run at Antler, and two of the founders I invested in were recently featured in the show a few episodes ago. As such, I think it came from a combination of knowing a few people involved in the show, perhaps coupled with my involvement in the Vietnamese start-up ecosystem in the last decade.
Any specific episode of Shark Tank Vietnam that made you want to be part of it?
There wasn't a specific episode that lured me to the show per se, but the earliest episode I watched, that I still remember vividly, was in the first season. One of my mentees, Trang, pitched her start-up Tipsy Art on the show and not only handled herself well during the presentation part and the Q&A, but she also successfully raised funds from one of the Sharks. I remember I felt so proud and happy.
Who’s Erik Jonsson as a Shark?
It's not easy to be the first western Shark on the show. You're new to the set, processes, and shooting schedule. Although very nice, supportive, and polite, the existing Sharks have their own way of grilling the founders and sharing their experiences.
I think I am very straight to the point, which may be slightly different from other sharks. If the company doesn't make sense to me, fit in my portfolio or align with my investment philosophy, I say it straight and succinctly. There’s no point in beating around the bush, I believe. The same thing applies to companies I am interested in. In a program like this, you don't have time to boil the ocean, so I choose a few key issues that are pivotal to my decision and dive into them immediately.
What kind of investment opportunities do you hope to find at the show?
I hope to find founders with who I can add value, helping them grow and develop — hopefully beyond the borders of Vietnam. I am quite an industry agnostic but generally prefer bits over atoms, i.e., tech solutions that can be scaled rapidly rather than capex-heavy models relying mostly on an offline, physical footprint.
What qualities are you looking for in a company founder for you to invest in them?
I like founders who have a growth mindset, people who say “...yet” as in, “I don't know that... yet” or “I can't do that... yet.” I believe all successful entrepreneurs have a child-like mentality to some extent. They are open-minded, experimental, and naturally curious.
I also naturally gravitate toward passionate founders who are on a mission to change the world and will move mountains to do so. I believe they are the ones who, when given the right support and environment, will do incredible things.
Will you be speaking the local language at the show?
Yes, I speak Vietnamese and will do so on the show too. I will speak English to some founders, especially those who present EdTech/English learning solutions, to see if they really pray what they preach.
Can you give some tips for entrepreneurs coming into the show?
Prepare well but also know that when you are trying to solve an existing problem in a new way or create a new market for something that didn’t exist before, you won't have all the answers yet. Any investor who has been an entrepreneur themselves will know that. Try to answer the questions the best you can, but don’t panic if a question comes up that you might not have the answer to... yet. Just address it the way it is, instead of trying to come up with something on the spot that you think the Sharks want to hear.
Also, work on your story. Engage us and make us feel as excited as you are. The first 30 seconds are so important. There is something called speaker-listener neural coupling, which explains how great storytellers can make their listeners get to the same level of brain activity as them - meaning the audience really engages with what you are saying. As I wrote in a previous Vietcetera article, people don't care about your story, they only care about themselves in your story. Remember that and use it to engage the audience in the best possible way.
How would you describe Vietnam’s young entrepreneurs?
Young, optimistic, can-do problem solvers who are amazing to work with but sometimes need guidance to operate on a global scale. That’s hopefully where I can help.