#12 | If not technology, what defines ELSA’s success?


#12 | If not technology, what defines ELSA’s success?

About ELSA

Co-founder and CEO of ELSA Van Dinh Hong Vu is gradually easing the concerns of many people around the world about English by reaching the milestone of more than 40 million downloads of ELSA Speak in 100 nations.
Being a startup in the EdTech (Education & Technology) industry, Ms. Van believes that technology is a factor determining the success of the company and notes that raising capital of tens of millions of dollars will not be sufficient to be a certain success if the mind is not unlocked.


“It’s people, not technology,” says CEO Van Dinh Hong Vu.

CEO and Co-founder Van Dinh Hong Vu is the second female guest on episode 12 of The Next Power talk show. In addition to contributing to ELSA’s success, the CEO is an inspiration to technology startups, cementing Vietnamese technology’s position in the global market.
Ms. Van became the assistant General Director of Maersk – one of the world’s leading transport groups – at a young age after graduating in Vietnam. On the other hand, she chose to leave her job in Vietnam and began her MBA studies at Stanford University in the United States. With the desire to assist users in improving their English pronunciation more accurately and easily, she created the ELSA Speak app, which was a huge success during the development process.
Although technology is not Ms. Van’s strong field, she believes that listening to the experiences of others can help her overcome the application’s shortcomings. Furthermore, assembling a talented team with the same vision to collaborate on product development is critical to assisting Ms. Van in perfecting ELSA.


As a result of solving the problem of correcting English pronunciation in detail at an affordable cost, Ms. Van built ELSA into a business that was valued at 16 million dollars in a capital round. The edtech startup has demonstrated its potential with numerous titles and awards, including being the first Vietnamese startup to reach the final round and win first prize at SXSWEdu Launch (USA, 2016), the top 5 Artificial Intelligence (AI) application by Research Snipers, etc.

ELSA’s step towards overcoming the storm

In March 2021, the brand had successfully raised $27 million from investors and had opened offices in a variety of countries worldwide. Along with this stepping stone, the fluctuations are also a push to generate momentum for this rapid development. As a result of the pandemic, online learning and working online has expanded. Companies are also keeping an open mind as to how they can adapt to these changes regarding remote recruitment.. As a result, foreign languages, particularly English, serve as an important bridge for people in this context. This is also an excellent opportunity for ELSA to accelerate its growth and become one of the world’s most promising private AI companies (according to CB Insight 2021).

“One step back, two steps forward.”

Unlike many fast-growing companies, ELSA applies a “one step back, two steps forward” strategy. There are two steps in the acceleration process: learning from customer feedback and solving problems.
ELSA was founded with the vision of using the global market as a foundation and then adapting it to the Vietnamese market. In order to accomplish this, the operators focuses on lessons learned in each country in order to help each other and take appropriate strategic steps.

People are the center of innovation.

As the CEO of the edtech startup, Ms. Van, however, stated that technology is only a tool, and definitely not a determining factor in ELSA’s success or failure. Innovation is the result of many different factors and and is centered on solving user problems.
Understanding the concerns of users who are still unsure about communicating or finding it difficult to maintain their consistence when learning English, ELSA will launch a social learning feature, which divides learners into small groups, or the feature of providing suggestions and corrections after each lesson in the near future.

ELSA is also always concerned with human resources. Candidates with a global perspective will easily adapt to many different cultures and ELSA’s flexible working time zones as the model expands in many countries.

Furthermore, people who share the same mission will form a strong team bond. From there, every employee at ELSA, whether a manager or an intern, will be motivated to contribute to the company.
People, not technology, are what ELSA is always striving for. This is also the core value that will propel this startup forward in the Vietnamese and international markets.

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