Vietnam: Resisting and Reinventing
New Beginnings found through Tech Scene
With constant whispers as a potential tech hub for emerging markets, Vietnam has all of the ingredients an entrepreneur could hope for: growing investment capital, booming engineering talent, coworking spaces with 24/7 access, and unbelievable coffee that will keep you focused on work for 48+ hours straight. Yet this perfect storm did not happen overnight. The historical silhouette surrounding Vietnam helps in understanding today’s startup potential and opportunity.
Vietnam has a knack for taking foreign concepts, adopting them, and then reinventing them to better address local needs and preferences. This holds no difference when it comes to tech and startups. For every commonly used application, there is a counterpart in Vietnam that uses a similar business model. If you are looking for a Seamless or Grubhub outlet for a late night meal in Hanoi, checkout vietnammm.com. If you are trying to get around in a hurry and Uber isn’t quite cutting it, checkout GrabCar and hop on a motorbike to save money. If Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp starts slacking, try Zalo, the largest messaging app in the country. No matter the service, no matter the industry, Vietnam has most likely created a version of its own.
Foreign Influence, Local Potential
But despite local resilience in duplicating and repurposing foreign business models, international businesses strive as well and are expanding into the Vietnamese market. From startup companies like Seattle-based Tinypulse to larger legacy corporations like IBM, Vietnam attracts international businesses for a number of reasons. At the forefront of this list is the ever growing talent of engineers and IT graduates transitioning into the workforce year-to-year. It is estimated that Vietnam’s universities, acclaimed for their STEM programs, produce over one hundred thousand engineering graduates a year. Coupled with the fact that an entry level engineer in Vietnam costs a few hundred dollars a month, this makes for an extremely attractive workforce.
The talent pool in Vietnam is evident and the economic advantage ripe, hence justifying the rising number of foreign businesses. However, there is a kindred spirit within and amongst professionals working and living in Vietnam that seeks to see local companies blossom. The openness to learn and adopt from foreign concepts and businesses paired with the strong interest in developing Vietnam’s potential as well, creates a unique diasporic narrative. On a magnitude of 4 to 5 million people at any given time, there are Vietnamese business people, techies, and investors living in different parts of the world, many of which planning to take their lessons learned back home. Although you will find similar trends in diasporas across Africa and Latin America, one can literally feel the unified front in Vietnam.
Perhaps this entrepreneurial spirit stems from Vietnam’s socio-economic history. After years of war and the selfreliance to rebuild from scratch, it is not too surprising that the talent rising out of Vietnam wishes to focus on the home country. Especially within the emerging market context, local entrepreneurs with global perspectives are more intimately aware of the needs of people and arguably better suited to address the issues and challenges through a startup solution. Yet, when discussing exponential companies, the challenge applying some of these solutions on a global scale becomes tricky.
Because there is such a strong emphasis on creating companies that tailor specifically to the Vietnamese context, it could be difficult to grow those businesses beyond the local or regional market. Exponential organizations inherently are built to outperform their peers by a significant margin by doing more with less and having a global impact. They deal in addressing issues or creating opportunities sans geographic or cultural boundaries. For a country so rooted in reinvention, it will be interested to see how some of Vietnam’s original innovations can be introduced, adopted, and adapted around the world.
The Old Economy and the New: Vietnam as a Capital for Innovation
Given its growing potential, there is promise for Vietnam to bubble up as the next tech hub in it’s own distinct fashion. Many of the investors and entrepreneurs see this as an evolutionary process and are taking it one step at a time. As mentioned before, there is a sense of entrepreneurship that floods Vietnam. There are open markets everywhere flowing with individual business owners and street vendors. It is not uncommon to see people living where they work. It’s a way of life. It seems as if before becoming a global hub for innovation, there is a focus on solidifying Vietnam as a place to be when addressing issues plaguing emerging markets. This includes fintech, healthtech, edtech, and many other industries as well.
Big name accelerators like 500 Startups have caught on and have started making investments into the tech ecosystem in Vietnam. But transitioning from the traditional street market way of doing business to a focus on tech and startups takes time and the right resources. Many of these vehicles are already in place and the poetry is in motion. Access to finance. Access to transparency and collaboration. Access to talent. It is a matter of connecting the dots.
Rokk3r Labs’ Jide Adebayo is on a journey across the world digging deeper into entrepreneurs’ stories, understanding the universal investor mindset, and connecting the global collective genius. His latest stop is Vietnam. We are excited for you to follow his journey, engage with the stories and share your comments/anecdotes. You can also read Jide’s personal posts from this journey and connect with him over at jideadebayo.com.
Rokk3r Labs is a venture builder and the world’s first ‘cobuilding’ platform for entrepreneurs, corporations and investors to create exponential startups. As a partner, Rokk3r Labs increases value, mitigates risk and helps to remain at the edge of innovation. With a focus on leveraging exponential technologies (e.g., the blockchain, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things) and implementing new-age methods of raising capital, Rokk3r Labs is harnessing the global collective genius to cobuild companies that change the world. Currently, Rokk3r Labs’ portfolio includes over 40 companies. Visit www.rokk3rlabs.com.