Thoughts Become Things: The First AngelHack Hackathon in Vietnam

The winning team and their friends at AngelHack Vietnam 2015.
The winning team and their friends at AngelHack Vietnam 2015.

Every so often life gives you an opportunity to be part of something amazing. I got this chance when I was one of the organizers of a hackathon. AngelHack has organized more than 300 hackathons all over the world but they have never been to Vietnam. I felt a mixture of excitement and fear as I became the first AngelHack Ambassador to Vietnam. There was one problem…

I wasn’t in Vietnam. I was helping my family in America.

Questions like these kept me up at night:

How would I plan an event halfway around the world?
Where would the hackathon be?
How would I find the hackers?

I had never organized any events. I thought to myself…should I do this? The saying… “step out of your comfort zone” came to mind. I didn’t know how I was going to do this. But I pushed myself off the edge of the cliff and just started. I spoke with people I knew in Vietnam from when I was there. I emailed Jon Myers. He’s a designer based in Saigon who wrote the article Bootstrapping in Saigon. I met him in a hookah bar when it was the bellydancers night off. I Skyped with Anh-Minh Do. He’s an authority on the Vietnamese tech/startup ecosystem. I always asked everyone I talked with, “Do you know anyone who’d be interested in participating in a hackathon in Vietnam?”. People were kind enough to introduce me to their connections. One connection led to another. After a lot of blood, sweat, and clicks I found a venue, teammates, and most importantly…hackers who wanted to hack.

I decided to have it at Silicon Straits in Saigon. Minh-Tuan Nguyen convinced me. He’s organized many events. Later we found Angelia Le. She helped with AngelHack Sydney 2014. Their combined experience was invaluable throughout the planning process. Our goal was simple…

Organize a KICK ASS AngelHackathon!

What happens at an AngelHack hackathon? After the opening announcements you form a team. You get 24 hours to finish your project (prewritten code isn’t allowed). Everyone hacks through the night. After the code freeze the next day, each team has 2 minutes to demo and 1 minute for Q&A from the judges. They must show a prototype (no slides). The winning team is invited to the AngelHack HACKcelerator and a chance for an expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley. They get to meet the other teams from around the world and pitch their idea at Global Demo Day.

I’d like to give some advice to event organizers. Reach out to potential sponsors as early as possible. It can take 3 to 6 months to get the approval and the budget for sponsorship. If they don’t want to sponsor, ask if they can support the hackathon in another way. They could send a company wide email, share a link on social media, or donate some schwag. Don’t forget to ask if they can refer another company who might be interested in sponsoring.

Finding sponsors in Vietnam was extremely difficult. While hackathons are commonplace in America, the concept hasn’t arrived in Vietnam. It was difficult to get companies to understand the benefit of being in a room full of hackers. Luckily, the night before the hackathon, Zalora agreed to be our catering sponsor.

A company I asked to sponsor was Kano. They make a computer kit that’s as easy to assemble as legos. I bought one and it’s awesome. They didn’t buy a sponsorship package, but they did offer their support. The co-founder Yonatan Raz-Fridman agreed to donate 10 Kano kits through Kano Academy (their not-for-profit division). My plan was to have a Kano workshop at the hackathon. Then organize more Kano workshops in Central Vietnam. I wrote about my first workshop here.

After months of planning, countless emails and Skype chats, there was a moment which made it special for me. It happened Saturday morning before the hackathon started. The whole first floor was packed full of people. There was a very high level of excitement. With help from the organizing team (and many others) I made something amazing. Then I got to see 27 amazing teams create some amazing things.

The winners of AngelHack Vietnam 2015 are:

  • Grand prize winner – Gjob (Uber for call center employees)
  • Runner up – DDelay (find out if your flight will be delayed)
  • Winner of the IBM sponsor prize – IoT for Agriculture (Internet of Things for precision irrigation)

You can see everything that was built in Saigon here.

The hacker community in Saigon is strong and getting stronger every day. Before, during, and after the hackathon I met so many incredible people. Everybody contributed to making AngelHack Vietnam 2015 a success. I’d like to thank the following people:

Organizing Team

Minh-Tuan Nguyen (Ken), Angelia Le, and all the volunteers: Le Nguyen Hoang Anh, Dinh Hoang Bao Thinh, Nguyen Van San, Nguyen Thi Trang, Pham Nguyet Minh

AngelHack Team

Matt Wright, Ian Chong, Stela Xhiku, Christ Ann Tabuñar, and everyone at AngelHack

Silicon Straits Saigon

Bùi Hải An (Andy), Minh-Tuan Nguyen (Ken), Jonas Eichhorst and everyone at Silicon Straits Saigon

Mentors and Judges

Influential People

Special Contributors

And especially all of the hackers who came to the event. Thank you everyone!

The AngelHack Vietnam 2015 Organizing Team.
The AngelHack Vietnam 2015 Organizing Team.

Extra links –

Winners from other cities in Southeast Asia that were part of AngelHack 2015:

My Facebook album from the hackathon: Pho & Pitches: AngelHack Vietnam 2015

The event page on

Interview with some of the organizers by

In Vietnamese –

Tổng kết cuộc thi AngelHack Vietnam 2015 (post about the hackathon from Silicon Straits)

Biến suy nghĩ trở thành sự thực (event page translated)