10 Ways Saigon Seeded My Startup

In November 2014 I packed my gear into boxes, sold my car and moved to Saigon. An episode of The Tropical MBA convinced me that with good cafes, fast internet and a bustling community of digital nomads, this city is fertile ground for my early stage startup.

Although the internet hasn’t quite lived up to the promise, the rest has exceeded expectations.

Here’s the roundup of the ten ways this city has helped seed my startup and how you can enjoy it’s bounty as well.

1. Lack of regulation and paperwork

The minute I arrived life got a whole lot simpler than in my native Melbourne. I joke that my only paperwork is to renew my visa every three months.

It’s not much of a stretch from the truth. I’ve signed a couple of lease agreements which were uncomplicated and never ended in dispute. Purchasing my motorbike also involved some white paper and a pen but the whole experience took less that 30 minutes.

This lack of bureaucracy has cleared a lot of head space for me to get on with making my business work.

2. Cafes and coworking spaces

There’s a lot of cafes were you can set-up to work for the price of a coffee and lunch. Work Saigon was one of the early spots I visited and managed to meet my developer and designer through their noticeboard.

The recently opened Dreamplex has set a whole new level of co-working space, with three floors of desks and regular events where you get to meet others working in the space.

Seeing other founders and web creatives on a regular basis helps to grow relationships that count and the water cooler chatter helps fuel the exchange of ideas and support.

3. Startup and tech events

Startup Grind Ho Chi Minh was one of the first tech events I attended and since that time I’ve gone to pitch nights, and tech talks where I regularly meet with leading entrepreneurs such as Jonah Levey (founder of VietnamWorks) and Eddie Thai (500 Startups).

I was invited as a guest to meet Prince Andrew for a luncheon to discuss the state of the startup scene in Vietnam, as part of his Pitch@Palace initiatives.

The relatively uncrowded space of startups means there’s a great chance to connect with successful people and benefit from their advice and connections.

4. Chambers and Embassies

All the international Chambers and Embassies based here host regular breakfast talks, monthly drinks, annual balls and informative talks. I met a customer at one AmCham networking events, presented at a Canadian Chamber event and, of course, I’m a regular at the AusCham events, where I’m continually helped by the inimitable Phil Johns.

The Australian Embassy has also been an excellent resource, with regular meetings with Erin Leggat, who always makes great connections and suggestions. A recent highlight was the invitation to the new Consulate General, Karen Lanyon’s private residence for a International Women's Day luncheon event.

The mission of these business and government organizations is to help you, so make sure you help them help you!

5. Digital nomad network

Although I’d heard about all the digital nomads in the city, I was having trouble meeting them until I went along to the #nomads event. It was there I met folks like Chris Dietrich and Jon Myers, who connected me to the Dynamite Circle community who meet regularly for Sunday brunch and the monthly Junto on a Thursday night.

This random group of about 100+ people have set-up in Saigon permanently, are passing through or are returning on a regular basis.

I’ve found this a wonderful network of people who generously offer their time for guidance or are readily available for freelance work as you need them.

6. Lowering your costs

From getting your house-cleaned, to having clothes mended, this place lends itself to outsourcing because the cost is so low.

Before landing here I had been house-sitting to keep my rental costs low, so it was a great relief to set up in a place and not need to move.

Plenty of rooms are available at reasonable prices — fully furnished and with utilities included.

Fuel, parking, food and telephone are all cheaper than at home.

7. Expat Community

There’s a strong expat community here and although there are 8 million people living in the city, it’s seems like a village among the expats.

It doesn’t take long to meet the movers and shakers and enjoy the door being opened to some great opportunities I would find less accessible in my home town.

Expats tends to occupy positions of power and this helps to get introductions and insights that will get your startup noticed.

8. Position in South East Asia

Our former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, used to talk about taking our place in Asia but the opportunity only became obvious to me once I lived here. Saigon is just an hour flight to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok and a few hours more to places like Hong Kong, India and Japan.

It matters to them that you’re in the region, even if you’re only making a sales phone call. Australia seems a world away to people who may never been there, but Vietnam is a near neighbour.

The timezone is also a lot more convenient than that of Melbourne. From here I can easily connect with New Zealand, right the way through to Europe. The eastern states of the USA are the only time zone challenge (being 11 hours difference).

9. Recreation and Lifestyle

Where do I start with describing the comfort and ease of living in Saigon. With perfect warm weather year round, it seems like an endless string of swimming pools, lying in hammocks, beach trips and cruising around on motorbikes with friends hopping between venues in the city.

Dinners and cocktails are reasonably priced and the salons provide a delightful array of treats, from massages to nails and hair treatments.

Doing less of the mundane tasks of life (cooking, cleaning, washing), you have more time for relaxing and enjoying the “lifestyle”.

All these luxuries give you a fast lane track to renewing your energy over the weekend to get back into the hard work Monday morning.

10. Time and Safety

Of course I miss my wonderful friends from home who fill my life with so much joy, however, the upside of being remote from them is that I’ve got a lot more time on my hands.

I been able to do a vipassana in Sri Lanka and continue with my practice on a daily basis. The warm mornings are easy to get up just past six to see the sunrise, meditate, do yoga and swim.

The safety here is another consideration.

While my friends from France and Belgium are heavy-hearted from the violence in their native countries, there’s nothing similar here.

Street violence is almost non-existent, excluding petty theft which is common.

These factors contribute to a sense of ease and peacefulness that balance out the roller-coaster ride of a start-up and helps kindle the fire of hope inside that my product will somehow survive these early years and become a success.