Category Archives: STARTUP

Vietnam Startup from Perspectives of Overseas Investor – Jeffrey Paine

Jeffrey Paine is one of my friends who helped me a lots during my 6-month adventure in Singapore last year. He is straight forward, friendly and a true spirit of investor. Currently, he is found partner of Golden Gate Venture. Well, a special thing to remember about him is he is called as Dave McClure of SE Asia which is so true. I have this conversation with Jeff to explore what he thinks and feels about Vietnam startup after his trip as judge of Satellite Echelon from 16 – 21 April 2013. He spent 6 days in both Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi to meet up with more than 25 local startups. He also shared that Appota, Tapmee and GHN really impressed him.

Common points of Vietnam startup

According to Jeff, there are four common points among those startups he met

Solve local problems. Have highly technical team. Many bootstrapping startups. E-commerce seems to be popular

In Vietnam, ICT education is highly focused during high school education so students have chance to play and hack things since the early stage. Five successfully (in some ways) case that I am so proud of technical side of Vietnamese startup are Socbay, CocCoc, Kleii, Appota and MisFit Without any support from government – no scheme or grant, bootstrapping is the only way and option for startups when they are not ready for fund raising. Many lucky startups successfully got seed round from angels based on their network. As a matter of fact, network, introduction and relationship is always important in all industry and circumstance. It is even stressed more in startup industry in Vietnam when you start as a small team, no one knows who you are.

Up to now, there are no platform for startups to promote themselves except for overseas online media that are covering SE Asia including SGEntrepreneurs, TechInAsia and E27. Looking on the bright side, Vietnamese startups know very well about local knowledge so that they can localize successful model then got acquired by overseas companies later. Two recent examples are Vietnamworks – En-Japan and VON (HRVietnam, – CareerBuilder.

What are strengths or advantages of startup in Vietnam?

Jeff also shares another key strength of starting up in Vietnam

The cost of operations is low as such it is easy to pivot or to test several ideas/ products

I totally agree with him at this point and another 2 expats in local startup community holds the same opinion. This is the reason why MisFit Wearables team including Sonny Vu and John Sculley (former Apple CEO) set up development in Vietnam after raising $7.6M and are recruiting talents massively. Low cost of operations also leads to another advantage for investors when funding through stages is lower which is $5k – $25k for seeding and $100k – $500k for series A, $1 – $10M for series B…

What about challenge for local startups?

On the challenging side, Jeff’s concern is

Knowledge or experience going regional or global is limited, needs more help and capital.

Although there are annual entrepreneurship activities from government, it still cannot create huge impact to tech community. Most of reason is because they do not update from latest trends like government scheme/ grant, lean startup, design thinking,… and not focus much on tech startups. This leads to issue that entrepreneurs lack of structure and important skill set to be able to scale the platform and product. They execute with their own ways which can be good but will waste time, capital and resource on making the same mistake from others whereas they should have learned  and not to make it. In the case when startups localize from successfully model, dominating the market, there are only two things left maintaining the marketing leader and finding buyer/ acquirer.

There are actually support from the community itself , however, it is not strong enough and lack of bond and structure between groups. One real example is the Facebook Group “Launch“. Although it has 5k + members, it’s very messy and looks like an ads marketplace than discussion group for entrepreneurs to collaborate. Admins have discuss over and over for year to improve it but nothing happens. We need a real leader with a heart, a mind for growth of startup ecosystem with sufficient capital support. Although there are many problems in Vietnam, it is also opportunity to fix them and we still have a lot of room for growth and improvement.

What can help to boost the startup ecosystem in Vietnam?

Jeffrey does believe the local startup community is growing very fast, hence it needs

More investors should be groomed to do more deals.

SaVVi is the first angel investor group/ forum in Vietnam. There are not many activities from the group that can create a huge impact for the community and crowdfunding concept is still new. Meanwhile, there will be more overseas investors approaching and set up locally. In the past year, StartupLabs co-invested in seed round for 3 startups, GREE Ventures, Silicon Straits and Golden Gate Ventures have kept an eye on all local activities and Silicon Straits will set up office in Ho Chi Minh soon this year.

What is your prediction about Vietnam startups and your future plan with Vietnam?

Jeffrey does confirm that

I am very bullish about Vietnamese startup companies and we at Golden Gate Ventures will be looking to invest in early stage companies in Vietnam.

And the final point that Jeff is impressed by Vietnamese startups is:

Very hardworking founders.

This is so true because most of all Vietnamese entrepreneurs are more risk taking. Without many supports, they even work harder to achieve success. They work through day & night and over the weekend when they are already in the game. This will also become another key advantage of local startups.

Thank you Jeffrey for the conversation and the sharing. I will summarize key words about Vietnamese startup and ecosystem as follow:

  • Full of problem -> Opportunities to solve and monetize
  • In developing -> Room for growth
  • High technical skills -> Strong product
  • Low cost -> Easy to bootstrap, validate, pivot and test +  Opportunities for overseas investors to enter and overseas companies/ startups to expand
  • Highly risk taking -> Get things done
  • Unstructured -> Need leaders & opportunities for educational startups (like General Assembly)
Jeffrey Paine and Albert Mai's thought on Vietnam startup

Albert Mai and Jeffrey Paine at Failcon Singapore 2012

Here is the Vietnamese version of my blog.

Vietnam Startup Overview

A brief about Vietnam Startup Scene

Vietnam – a country of 100M citizen but if you search “list of startups in Vietnam” or similar key words/ phrase in Google or even Quora. You hardly find any accurate or sufficient resource for Vietnam startup scene. If there is, it is normally from overseas media. Why?

The start of Vietnam Startup Ecosystem

Startup in Vietnam has gone over 3 generations since 2000 (meaning I am in the 3rd gen). Actually, even I was surprised to learn this as I used to assume to exist only 2 gens. During the first 2 gens when people in the world kept an eye on America, what happened in Vietnam did not catch much attention from the world. This resulted in most contents were in paper media (of course there were online contents but not much) and we could not track it. Now when people change focus on Asia including Vietnam, which also caused the tremendous appearance of 7 startups in media focusing on tech & startup to cover the scene here within 1 year (Yes, in 2012!). Unfortunately, all of them are in Vietnamese and most of them serve local community’s needs. Hence, they race to catch up with latest news and trends in the world, not looking up in the past making a big gap in the view of foreigners about funding landscape. As Gwendolyn from SGEntrepreneurs said in a conversation with me in late Jan 2013: “Vietnam is still a Black Hole to many”.

Back from 6 months adventure in Singapore startup community last year, I came to realize that the community here needs a lot of exposure and appearance to outsiders. As I experience the same problem, I made a decision to start the mission of clearing the “Black Hole” and help overseas interested parties who are in the same situation

Another reason is that I want to give back to the community, the entrepreneurs who gave me opportunity to learn and to experience entrepreneurship. I hope the below slide can give you an overview of current startup scene in Vietnam.


How is the current Vietnam startup scence?

Up to this points, there are up to 500 startups including all 3 gens (Surprise!!) in Vietnam and I expect it to continue to increase. The startup community has started to boom since 2011 from the first StartupWeekend. From 1 event per 6 months in 2000 (kind of) to more than 2 events every week! One of important elements of startup ecosystem is co-working space and fortunately, there are the first 5 coworking space which are based in Ho Chi Minh and Ha Noi. Well, two is not enough, there must be more. Does anyone plan to invest in opening more co-working space here? I must say the current incubators are not effective enough to create meaningful impact.

What’s more? In 2012, there were a lot of visits from overseas media, incubator, investment funds, startups and university regarding E27, TechInAsia, JFDI, StartupLabs, Expara, Chartio, RackSpace, SoftLayer , Golden Gate Venture and Stanford University. Stay tune to learn more about Vietnam.

As a matter of fact, beta version is not perfect, therefore, I welcome all feedback and correction.

Thank you for your time and interest !

Have a successful and happy Chinese New Year !