Jonah Levy Vietnam

Mekong Capital Non-executive Director Jonah Levey

Jonah Levey can explain the reason he jumped into angel investing in two words.

“It’s fun.”

The CEO and Founder of Navigos Group has been in Vietnam for 13 years and was the leader in charge of one of Vietnam’s most successful exits.

Navigos Group built the country’s top online recruiting site VietnamWorks.com and the executive search portal Navigos Search. In late 2014, it was bought by en-Japan. That meant it was time for Levey to figure out the next move.

He could have gone in any direction but decided to stay invested in the Vietnamese startup scene. Diving into angel investing and taking a Board position as Non-executive Director at Vietnam’s Mekong Capital, he has re-invested into startups.

“The inspiration for [angel investing] was 13 years of struggling and dealing with the day in, day out challenge of creating, building and exiting my own startup. So I would love to help other entrepreneurs earlier on in that journey to be successful,” he tells e27.

Plus, angel investing is an inherently risky business, which is why Levey has budgeted a small portion of his personal wealth for the venture. According to him, because of the risk factors, grabbing a return should not be the primary motivation for investing.

“I do the angel investing for three reasons. It is fun, to support the local ecosystem and hopefully to make a return,” Levey says.

Also Read: Your cheat sheet on Vietnam’s startup scene

He has invested in two companies in Myanmar, two in Vietnam and in Mekong Capital too. He says he plans on making further investments. Eventually, Levey says, he wants to start another company.

“I’m focussing, in terms of the angel investing, on web and mobile. I’m really excited about one of my Myanmar investments called JobNet.com.mm. It is a job website, obviously very close to my own heart, being [that I am] the Founder of VietnamWorks. It’s an exceptionally strong team, they have just launched but are on to a very strong and exciting start,” he shares.

And while Levey might have magnanimous motivations as an investor, he also is a businessman who is excited by an ecosystem that has become Southeast Asia’s ‘up and coming’ startup scene.

“There are some very exciting startups to invest in here. I want to find them, advise them, invest in them and hopefully generate some exciting returns from those investments,” he says.

Which begs the question. Why is Vietnam an exciting place today?

“If we look at Vietnam compared to not that long ago, even five years ago, there is so much more activity. We are not only seeing more startups, but the quality and caliber of the teams is improving. So, yeah, I think the hype is justified,” said Levey.

Levey breaks down what he thinks is contributing to the buzz.

First, there are more and more Vietnamese studying overseas in high-calibre programmes who return to their home country to start a business.

The Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training stated that 125,000 people studied abroad in 2013. In September, international education market research firm ICEF Monitor attributed the trend to a complex university system with systematic challenges. The report said Vietnamese are often pushed abroad, where they are then trained before heading home.

Also Read: Singapore’s Expara, Microsoft team up for Vietnam accelerator

“The other thing that is driving forward progress here is we are seeing more experienced founders. We still have a lot of first-time founders in this market but now more than before there are founders that are starting their second or third startup,” says Levey.

Which is important because the experience of past startups, even failed ventures, is extremely valuable. Investors seem to be noticing this trend as the country continues to attract VC talent.

The third contributor Levey mentions is an increase in founders working for multinational corporations leaving those companies and trying their hand at entrepreneurship. Others are inspired by the decision and follow the lead — boosting the numbers and experience of founders.

But no place is perfect, what can entrepreneurs do to improve the ecosystem?

While Vietnam is an up-and-coming hub, it cannot be called developed. Even mature ecosystems have problems, so naturally, a place like Vietnam would face challenges as the industry grows.

Levey mentions two hurdles that can be improved.

“First, the sophistication and depth of experience in founding teams in Vietnam is relatively light. So that makes for big challenges. Not only for finding attractive companies to invest in, but also in teams being able to execute and take their vision across the finish line,” he says.

Also Read: How to thrive in Vietnam and Thailand’s emerging startup world

The other challenge is that because the startup scene is not overly large the support system lacks infrastructure — making it a challenge to find co-working spaces, training organisations or educational events.

“There is some of that, but it is just light at the moment,” he says.

The result is that it is tough to actively learn new ideas or strategies for business. Founders can go online and read, but in terms of seminars or cool education opportunities, Levey says those are not quite there.

But, despite this, Levey is still bullish on the country’s startup future.

“Yeah, this is an exciting time in Vietnam,” he concludes.

Want to hear more from Jonah Levey and learn strategies to get your company from founding to exit? He will be on the panel called ‘Startup Compass: Exit Strategy 101’ at Echelon Thailand, which will be held on November 26 and 27. The event will be hosted at Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre (BITEC). Tickets are available for purchase online. Exclusive to e27 readers, use promo code e27Subscriber to enjoy awesome savings.