While Vietnam is still reeling from the global success of Flappy Bird, many might have overlooked the fact that there are plenty more, promising (and unsung) apps coming out of Vietnam. Two such apps come from a team of developers, designers, and entrepreneurs based in Ho Chi Minh city. If you asked around the nation’s tech scene, most people have no idea who they are. If you download their apps in the iOS App Store, you’d have no idea that these guys are actually from Vietnam. They apps are Notes Plus and INKredible.
Both of the team’s apps allow users to write and take notes with swooshes of their fingers rather than typing things out. Notes Plus, the flagship app of the Prime Circa team, has accumulated over six million downloads since it was released over two years ago. That’s for an app that costs $9.99. The team’s latest app, INKredible, which is an app that showcases the latest inking technology, topped the US App Store in the productivity section and racked up over one million downloads in one month. Aside from the popularity of these apps, what originally peaked my interest was the spiffy design shown in the INKredible app.
The awesome team behind Notes Plus
Most of the Prime Circa crew is based here in Vietnam, mainly in Ho Chi Minh city. The startup is headed by Viet Tran, whose handle is used to post the apps on the App Store. Viet is based in California, from where he periodically checks in with the team. When I first emailed the app developers, I was eager to see the office of what I assumed to be a large team, but it turns out there’s less than a dozen of them. On top of this, even though they have an office, they all prefer to work from home or at their leisure.
Duy Nguyen, the head of quality assurance, invited me out to weekly beers with them. Weekly beers are a tradition in the company. They only meet once a week over beers to chat about their lives and product. The rest of the time, they work from home or while traveling. In fact, Xuyen Tran, their inking specialist, enjoys spending as much time as he can on the boat he made with his own hands. In talking to Xuyen, it is also clear that he brings an almost Taoist-like artists’ touch to his job. You can get a taste of his work by downloading the extra pens that are in the INKredible app.
Each of the Prime Circa guys are strong in their own right, which plays a strong part in why they’ve been able to produce such well designed and useful apps.
The startup is keen to expand. Quang Bui, the team lead, explains to us that they have a lot of great ideas that they would like to try out, such as more features in the current apps, or other speciality apps. But there’s a tight limit to how many people they can take on.
Of 600 applications that they got through online recruitment sites in Vietnam, only two were picked to join the crew. That’s because there’s just not enough A-layers out there to join startups. This gives a clear picture of why we are not seeing a huge, vibrant technology scene in Vietnam: lack of people.
Thus the Notes Plus team gives us a clear picture of why we are not seeing a huge, vibrant technology scene in Vietnam: people. The amount of teams in Vietnam that can compete on the world stage and produce products of this calibre are few. But those that can are among the strongest in the world.
(Editing by Steven Millward)