Helping Vietnam to become a world-class startup destination is a dream that Minh-Tuan VU, co-founder of VietGest, is pursuing. Starting a software company in Hanoi has been a fulfilling experience for him. After finishing his post-graduate studies at the University of Geneva, Minh-Tuan made a big career change in founding VietGest. Software outsourcing provides rapid cash flows and Vietnam has a cost advantage. It is probably the easiest way for entrepreneurs like Minh-Tuan to make their marks before starting to build world-class products at home.
Hanoi, Vietnam, is unique. The city, teeming with French cafés and restaurants, has a francophone heritage that is hard to dismiss. It is the capital of Vietnam and the 2nd largest Vietnamese city.
VietGest now has 100 customers around the world, such as Scibasics and Infra-System, and can realize complex multi-platform web software projects. Forbes magazine even wrote an article on the company.
In this post, Minh-Tuan tells us about the opportunities and challenges he faced starting up an outsourcing company in his homeland Vietnam.
1) Tell me more on how you got started with your partners?
It is difficult to start up a company in Vietnam after college. At school, you are advised to work for a company first to gain experience and, when you have money to finance the initial operation, you can start a company. In Switzerland, people are more open.
While I was doing my graduate studies in Switzerland, I wanted to come back to Vietnam and do something with francophone countries. When I finished my studies, I started working at Barclays Wealth, in Switzerland, and, then I returned to Vietnam to work at Viettel telecom in order to gain experience in the country.
After a few years, a former Vietnamese classmate, Viet-Tung, and I wanted to start up a company. He had studied economics while I had studied computer science: We complemented each other very well. Later on, we found other partners: Huan PHAM, a French-Vietnamese, Anh-Dao LE, Swiss-Vietnamese, and Thu-Trang DAO, all of whom have been friends from the University of Geneva.
2) What makes your founding team successful?
My partners bring in a great set of expertise in IT infrastructures, IT hardware, sales and marketing, and human resources and we have a good synergy. Our common goals are to develop ourselves and bring Vietnam and the francophone countries, Switzerland, Belgium and France, closer together. In fact, VietGest’s slogan “Advance Together” means “if our business moves forward, then the clients move forward, our developer team moves forward and, at the end, Vietnam also moves forward!” Vietnam has a French heritage, but it is still not a primary outsourcing destination for French countries. Instead, companies will outsource to Morocco, Madagascar and Tunisia (before Vietnam).
Our start-up culture also makes us different from other Vietnamese companies. We have a “free” working environment focused on results and quality of work. And very importantly, all of the co-workers feel like they’re in a big family where people help each other.
3) Tell me more about the challenges you’re facing
A major challenge is the language difference. I play the role of interpreter, both culturally and linguistically. Translating from French to Vietnamese can create misunderstandings. For example, I will never forget the misunderstanding that occurred when we met our first client. While he ordered a legal publication website, we thought he wanted an advertising website. We corrected this mistake within a week and were still able to present a successful demo on time.
Also, because we work in a vast array of industries, we have to adapt and learn rapidly. We recently worked on a project, www.myartinvest.com, that required us to read books about market exchanges for art galleries. It was challenging but worth it in the end.
The hardest part is that I have to be creative at financing my business. VC money is not common in Vietnam. At the beginning, we invested our own money and, now, we finance our projects with sales. As we’re developing a scalable product (which I don’t want to unveil yet), we would like to get external financing. Developing a world-class product requires lots of resources and money, but, for now, we’re the ones financing it entirely.
At a time when Venture Capital firms are trying to understand the fragmented South-East Asian market, where income levels and consumer sophistication are growing at an unprecedented pace, the story of Minh Tuan reminds us that finding the right investor, who will create value at a reasonable price, is no simple task. This article gives a good background on the untapped VC market in South-East asia.
If you’re interested in knowing more feel free to write to Minh-Tuan at firstname.lastname@example.org.