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News  20, Jun 2013

Pham Le Nguyen and her 5Desire for Vietnam’s tech startup ecosystem

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Pham Le Nguyen 5DesirePham Le Nguyen is looking to drive tech entrepreneurship in Hanoi through her 5Desire dream.

5Desire is an incubator and consulting firm based out of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. Helmed by Pham Le Nguyen, who comes from an entrepreneurial and product manager background, 5Desire hopes to accelerate the development of successful startups in various sectors in the country. 5Desire also runs a co-working space and a seed fund program.

Nguyen has previously worked at Skunkworks as their first product manager. Skunkworks is founded by Bryan Pelz, who is also the cofounder of VNG. Nguyen has also helped build several leading Vietnamese websites such as kenh14.vn which now draws in over 400 million pageviews monthly. During her role as Head of Incubator at VC Corp, Nguyen played a role in the firm’s investment into Ohaychuyen and GoodVietnam.

I caught up with Nguyen to find out more about the story behind the 5Desire incubator and co-working space.

Tell us more about the 5Desire story

I started seriously thinking about 5Desire in April 2010 when I wrote the thesis about a technology incubation center for the IPL program (Institute of Potential Leaders). I worked for Skunkworks at that time and Bryan Pelz, who was not just my boss, but also the supervisor of my thesis. After five months working with me on the thesis, Bryan realised that this business was actually my dream and what I must do in life. He encouraged me to start my own business with his support and advisory.

In October 2010, I started talking with some of my close friends to search for cofounders. It was a dream team with Hue Giang, Ninh Nguyen and Hoai Nam, all of whom are my close friends and have very good names in the ICT community. We came up with the name “V-incubator” first as “V” is Vietnam and also a symbol of victory. However, the domain name and Twitter name were taken. Many Skype conferences were held to discuss about the firm’s strategy and also to find a good name (at that time I was in Saigon and the three other co-founders were in Hanoi). My friend Hue Giang, cofounder of kenh14.vn, had an idea to play around with the number, the same strategy when we choose 14 as “for teens” in our previous startup. It turned out that the number “5” related to may good words: Fine, Find, Fire, Fight. We need to find the following word. We thought of 5Dream, but dream seem to be untrue. I suggested 5Desire as I really really like the chapter “Desire” in the book “Think of grow rich” of Napoleon Hills. We were all happy with the name with the slogan “FIND and FIRE your FIVE DESIRE”. It’s a sexy name and easy to remember too.

Prior to 5Desire, you were Head of Incubator at VC Corp. What were the challenges that you see Vietnamese startups facing? 

Lack of knowledge and market understanding is the biggest problem. This makes some startups become dreamers who create the market in their own mind. Some are too technically oriented and lack the management skills or business mindset to grow their startups. With some startups, the maturing and development of the market is a challenge as internet users’ behaviours in Vietnam is totally different from that in developed countries. Many startups recognise their weakness, but it’s not easy to find suitable cofounders as not many people can commit to follow a startup’s dream in the long run.

With your entrepreneurial and product management experience, how do you see yourself helping startups in Vietnam?

Market understanding and product understanding help me to evaluate a startup’s idea and to be able to consult with startups for suitable product and market strategies. Likewise, understanding both startup’s need and investor’s need help me to guide startups in the right way if they wish to get funding. 5Desire’s good relationship with both startups and investors is also an added value.

The Vietnamese tech startup landscape has seen a lot of changes, what do you view as the key changes that has helped local startups?

  • Community: appearance of community groups such as Launch and startup-related events. Easier access to world-class mentor through events, Quora and incubators. Entrepreneurship is being fostered in student community through competitions such as Kawai and VYE.
  • Funding: Many foreign investors are interested in Vietnamese market, so far. The stock, gold and real estate markets are becoming less attractive, changing the focus of many angel investors into technology.
  • Exit options: Big corporations are expanding to new areas and actively seeking M&A opportunities like Eat.vn, Baomoi.com, Hungry.vn
  • Startup blogs: Westart.vn, Action.vn help startups know more about the market and have an official tool to introduce their new product
  • Incubator: 5Desire, TIC, Vcamp, Skynet

Tell us more about 5Desires’s co-working space

It’s a 200 square meter office space with a meeting room and a coffee place, serving a maximum of 40 people. Facilities that are offered are:

  • Opportunities to share your knowledge in 5DESIRE Co-working space and opportunities to meet great Vietnamese startups there;
  • Valuable connections from other world-class members of 5Desire’s co-working space;
  • Office place including internet connection, electricity, water, etc.;
  • A meeting room for a maximum of 20 people;
  • A self-serving cafeteria with free coffee, tea and candy; and,
  • In-office parties occasionally.

How do you see the idea of co-working spreading in Vietnam? 

Co-working is still new in Vietnam. Startups can easily find their living place or a cafe as their office. However, for a better and more professional working environment, co-working spaces are becoming a trend. The trend started in the two biggest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, first and will mostly develop there. The startups will mostly be technical ones, as they just need a place and a laptop to work.

What are some of the interesting startups/people using the co-working space?

We target global startups, world-class developers and technology entrepreneurs:

  • www.wysija.com – a global sartup offering plug-in on wordpress.
  • www.westart.vn – a Vietnamese tech blog
  • Arky – Community Manager of Mozilla. He travels around a lot.
Joash Wee

Joash Wee

Joash is passionate about tech startups and building the technopreneur community. While completing his undergraduate business degree, he decided to take a programming class just for kicks. Fortunately for him, he managed to scrap a pass and it now helps him get by with the geek talk. When he is not discussing about startups or the latest technologies, you can find him reading off his Kindle or taking photos with silver halide salts, old school.

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