The author Dan Fries is an author and founder of several companies, including Corpina Nootropics and The Jodhpurs Company. In the past, he was a research scientist at Medtronic and later Harvard Medical School, where he developed oncology diagnostic technology that helped improve patient outcomes. Originally from the Midwest in the US, Fries is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, where he manages his businesses from within Saigon’s startup hub. Learn more about his work at danfries.net.
There’s something brewing in Saigon, and I’m not talking about the Pho. On the streets, in the cafes, and behind the screens, this city is quickly becoming a hub of tech entrepreneurship in Asia.
Like many tech hubs in Asia — Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Manila — entrepreneurs from around the globe are coming in Saigon to take advantage of the incredible talent pool and cheap cost of living.
A powerful scene is emerging in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, or as locals refer to it by its old name, Saigon. Entrepreneurs from America to India, from Japan to Spain are calling this city home while they’re grinding out their minimum viable products (MVPs) — Jon Myers, UI/UX Designer based in Saigon
Many Vietnam-born entrepreneurs are going back to their homeland to reap the benefits of a now market-driven nation. Among them are Henry Nguyen, the first franchisor of McDonald’s in Vietnam, and David Thai, Founder of Highlands Coffee. They’re not alone. A report by the Wall Street Journal explains how these and other investments from expatriate Vietnamese have made Vietnam a frontier economy, with up to US$20 billion external investments. Foreign direct investment has increased five times from 2005 to 2013 and with the uprising of the startup community, this economy’s direction will be no other way than upward.
Vietnamese, and particularly Saigonese, culture is entrepreneurial to the core. Indeed, the idea of “being an entrepreneur” is somewhat foreign to some of my Vietnamese friends, many of whom have been hustling various businesses since they were young. The country has opened up to foreign investments and as Henry Nguyen has put it, Vietnam is now in it’s golden hour.
Indeed, this mentality is so pervasive it’s become a common aphorism. About the Vietnamese culture of entrepreneurship, former tech columnist Anh-Minh Do wrote:
“Vietnamese people are inherently entrepreneurial: At least that’s the saying that you hear all the time in Vietnam. People open up mom-and-pop stores left and right. If a new shoe store opens up on a local street, within months you’re bound to see a new competitor. People are always thinking about how to make money. Although this has manifested in scams and greedy business people, it’s also instilled an underlying entrepreneurial spirit.”
But why would a top finance graduate want to join or be a founder of a startup, instead of joining Goldman Sachs or any top-tier Vietnamese investment right after college? Because they are more entrepreneurial than the previous generations. Around 47 per cent of Gen Y are studying entrepreneurship, based on this study by Pay Scale.
It’s because of the dynamic and agile culture that has been apparent in startup communities wherever in the world they might be. Which industry will let you work remotely in casual clothes but excite you with the fast innovations made because of breakage of the traditional bureaucracy existent in traditional corporations?
By working remotely, I mean working in a location where they are able to meet like-minded people from different companies. Networking after work? It can be done within work hours for the young tech startup community. This cultivates collaboration which enables faster results.
As much as there is a hype of Silicon Valley startups glorifying how they have started their businesses inside their home or garage, the real story is often less glamorous. A fully-coded website won’t get done in 10 hours of hogging a spot in the coffee shop near the power sockets, and thinking about a great marketing strategy won’t be a breeze if you see several customers coming in the coffee shop only to see you hogging the same spot for so long.
With this spirit of commerce, Vietnam is ready for co-working spaces that welcome entrepreneurs with open arms, providing them with a comfortable and encouraging environment to work. Dreamplex Coworking space in central Chi Minh Minh is one one of those places.
Dreamplex fills three floors of the Miss Ao Dai office building in the heart of District 1. Set in a former Spa, the space was gutted and completely redesigned with startups in mind. Despite the corporate exterior, when the elevator doors open to Dreamplex, you enter a completely different world.
Monotony is non-existent here. The walls of the space are decorated with inspirational quotes and various pieces of art, some street style and others simply adding to the character. There are a variety of rooms, for small groups to take calls, for larger meetings, and for individuals to crank out some work. The collective vibe of the design and layout is that any and every time of working environment is accommodated. It’s impossible not to get pumped up while working.
It strikes a comfortable balance of being open to interaction with other companies since there are various remote office in Dreamplex. This also shows that one can opt to work in private while working on the next break-out app.
How it got started
“We didn’t plan on building such a big thing,” says Nguyen Trung Tin, Founder of Dreamplex and CEO of the Trung Thuy Group which manages the space. Tin (as he calls himself) was recently nominated Forbes 30 Under 30 Vietnam, has big ambitions for the space.
“I’ve been there in terms of trying our business ventures and failing in some. What I had a privilege of was having mentors who gave me guidance along the way for my successful ventures. I want to foster the same support system in the startup culture in Saigon where they will get to meet and interact with other entrepreneurs,” shared Tin on what how he envisions Dreamplex as more than just a co-working space, but a cultivator of startup collaborations.
I sat down with Tin to talk about Dreamplex and his visions for the future of tech in Saigon.
Spared from rigorous market research, Tin had people in his social circle approach him because they wanted a co-working space that would be the first home of their startup. “Four years ago, no one believed in this model. We were in the assumption that freelancers and business men who are starting out just wanted to work at coffee shops or at home. Saigon has been entrepreneurial from the start and for it to reach its full potential, we need to help each other.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Dreamplex was designed with this concept in mind: bringing companies, freelancers, and business owners together under one roof. All recognising the need for a place that allows for entrepreneurial serendipity: the value of random encounters with other entrepreneurs, which leads to ideas and collaboration.
Dreamplex is only two months old, but the energy and buzz when you walk in makes it feel well established, like it’s been around for years. Well-established companies looking for something more private will find plenty of options, with a variety of mixed-used office space and meeting areas on the 9th and 11th floors. For the solo-preneur, there is wide open space, as well as small rooms for taking calls. Whatever the need, Dreamplex meets it. And in doing so, it’s easy to quickly feel at home.
The co-working facilities in Dreamplex is not a “one size fits all.” It caters to established businesses who just want to add a flavour of fun to their usual day to day operations as well as to introverts who want to have all the equipment they need for efficiency while renting out a small for room themselves.
More than just co-working
At first glance, visitors may only look at Dreamplex and see a trendy, energetic co-working space where people work, eat, and collaborate. But after spending a few days there, you will quickly learn about the different projects the co-working space is involved in.
Dreamplex offers more than just comfortable working space and wifi. As part of the project, Tin regularly brings in tech industry leaders for meet-ups, breakfast networking events, or weekly woodworking classes. It is free for members and just a few Euros for non-members.
In addition to its educational aspects, it also offers the weekly industry talks and workshops, where everyone can join to learn about a certain topic/business and connect with other like-minded people.
The best thing about being here is that you never feel any pressure to leave or that you are lingering and taking up space because that is what the whole place is set up for.
People walk past with busy minds as they clearly think about tackling the world’s startup problems. No matter what happens though, come 7 o’clock there are always a bunch of people sharing their ideas outside over a beer and that’s the best thing about the place. The camaraderie is superb and it gives the place some serious energy.
Vision for the future
Dreamplex not only attracts freelancers and startups but also has angel investors from top tech companies such as Google, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and IBM which just goes to show that these innovators believe in the vision that Dreamplex has set for itself.
Quite a number of the startups that have their offices at Dreamplex are HotelQuickly, ELSA (English Language Speech Assistant), Umbala, Rabbat Creative, Domdom Studio, Offpeak.my, Ambition, and Radius Online.
Not limiting itself to just Ho Chi Minh, Tin plans to expand the project to Hanoi and Da Nang, virtually connecting cities that are otherwise separated by distance.
Undebatably one of the larger co-working spaces in town, if not the largest, with its offering of over 1,500 square meters Dreamplex which can house about 200 co-workers in the space. More than that, there is plenty of space for small or big workshops and meetings.
Complete with a kitchen, complimentary tea and coffee, Dreamplex immediately caters to the hustlers looking to grind without having to leave for lunch. If you want to check out the space first and see if the vibe fits you, you can try the space for a day. No long-term commitments are needed, and the wifi is fast and of course, free. Memberships are flexible and start at 150,000 VND (roughly US$6.50) per day and 2,000,000 VND per month.
But ultimately, what does all of these aim to do? This is to connect multinational startups in Vietnam for collaboration and borderless possibilities. Tin together with his team at Dreamplex envisions expanding their reach and getting into other cities of Vietnam. This will encourage more interaction with entrepreneurs and will develop a nature of collaboration over competition.
The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, please send us an email at writers[at]e27[dot]co