Pham Minh Tuan, from Topica, an online learning platform that also hosts Founder’s Institute, has been friendly enough lately to give us data on Vietnam’s latest investments and exits as well as sharing with us his insights on Vietnam’s startup scene from his perspective up in Hanoi.
In Tuan’s latest presentation at DEMO ASEAN, he shared with the audience “5 things to do differently than Mark Zuckerberg to be a successful startup founder in Vietnam”, which I’ve adapted here. You can check out his slides below, but I’ll break them down right here for you in context.
The key in this list is that many of Tuan’s case studies are very specific to Vietnam. They underline the peculiarities of Vietnam’s startup scene, and lead up to why we’re seeing a rather hot Vietnam nowadays.
1. Get older, more experienced
Tuan notes that the average age of what he defines as a successful startup (set by criterias of revenue, exit, and growth) is 28.5 years old. In other words, it’s the more experienced folks that end up winning out. This makes sense in a world where rockstart developers and entrepreneurs take time to grow. As the CEO of KMS, Viet Hung, noted to me, it’s difficult to find excellent developers with a lot of experience. Thus, it makes it hard to build huge successful multi-million dollar companies. It’s the folks who have stuck it out in the long haul who are able to take on projects that can grow into successful companies. The younger folks still need time to get their feet wet in Vietnam’s corporate and startup culture.
2. Build their skills from different places
As is quite normal in startup communities across the globe, people who start out in one corporate or startup setting end up quitting and starting their own companies. 59 percent of Vietnamese founders had experience prior to another company.
3. Got international exposure
As I noted in a previous article, there’s a growing generation of Vietnamese founders who were educated abroad and came back to start up their own companies. In fact, 65 percent of Tuan’s sample studied or worked abroad. All of the exits this past year were from people who studied abroad. It’s these people who can bring the managerial, execution, and idea quality to build appropriate startups in Vietnam.
4. Customized proven business models from overseas
Naturally, since so many founders are coming back from experiences abroad, of course they are being exposed to models that worked in their host countries. Vietnamworks adapts the online recruitment model, Tiki adapts Amazon’s model, Keewi adapts the Eventbrite mode, etc. The key has been how well are these founders able to localize the project to the market demands. When we look at Mimo.vn or all of Vietnam’s Pinterest clones, they’re cases of localizing business models gone wrong. The founders, for whatever reason, didn’t do the due diligence of adapting to market concerns.
The key is customization. Vietnam’s big guy, VNG, got to its height of prominence by selling scratchcards to local internet coffeeshops. Such solutions would not come out of business models found in the Valley or the West, but are very specific to the local scene. Take what works abroad and then adapt it ferociously to the local market.
5. Be relentless. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
If you look at the biggest exits of 2013, including Vietnamworks, VON’s Kiemviec, and NganLuong, you’ll find that all of the founders have been in the startup game for over 10 years, building up their companies step by step. You’re just not going to see Instagram-like success where founders start a company and then exit for millions of dollars just a few years later. Vietnamese founders have to be in it for the long haul. Vietnam’s successful founders, according to Tuan, have spent an average of 6.6 years on their current startups.
You can check out Tuan’s slides below: