Hian is a successful entrepreneur and is the brain behind Asian Food Channel, which was acquired for a whopping US$66 million in 2013.
Today, he is a venture capitalist and Partner at NSI Ventures.
NSI Ventures is an early-stage VC fund based out of Singapore, with a focus on technology companies in Southeast Asia. It believes in playing the role of an active investor, committed to assisting companies in propelling their capabilities and management to the next level of growth.
NSI holds an impressive portfolio of investments that include notable names such as Love Bonito, Zimplistic, Redmart and Go Jek, among others.
In an exclusive interview with e27, Hian provides us with his personal insights and take on Vietnam’s tech scene.
What do you think of Vietnam as a marketplace for tech entrepreneurs and NSI Ventures?
Vietnam is very exciting. If you think about it from the fundamental macro strategy, Vietnam has 90 million people and a GDP per capita of above US$2,000. It’s very exciting when you see a company and country grow at tremendous rates – and it’s just a phenomenal opportunity that cannot be missed.
With the kind of secular growth Vietnam is experiencing, management teams simply have to be on the ground executing and the growth will come.
NSI’s responsibility in this case would be to find these management teams and support them with not capabilities in tech, but overall business capabilities. I think that the opportunity for Vietnamese teams is very strong and is something we believe very much in.
What are some of the challenges investors must embrace when looking to Vietnam, and what advice could you offer to these investors?
Simply put, growth does not come without understanding the specific cultural nuances of Vietnam – the way Vietnamese people and the country operates. We’re very conscious of the fact that we’re not Vietnamese. In fact, we’ve team members who are Vietnamese to help us understand and decipher business practices in Vietnam.
It’s a huge, emerging market challenge, and it’s something that I have been very conscious of as I rolled out a regional business for Asian Food Channel.
Secondly, you have the usual regulatory and governmental challenges of any emerging market. We think that this is becoming less and less of a risk factor, and that’s why we think now is the time for us to actively look for investments and enter the Vietnamese market.
What are your personal predictions for Vietnam’s tech startup scene for the next five years?
There are definitely going to be successful teams that build businesses more than a market capitalisation of a US$100,000,000 in the next two-three years. That, to me, is an absolute given.
If we are lucky and diligent, we’ll see at least half a billion-dollar market cap tech companies come out of Vietnam. A lot of that could be both consumer play targeting the 90 million Vietnamese as well as enterprise play because Vietnamese are very hardworking folks. There’s a lot of excellent coding capabilities. The opportunity is both carried and deep because you can see both B2C as well as B2B companies coming out of Vietnam.
Why should regional startups, businesses and investors come to Echelon?
It’s a great opportunity to short cut a lot of the learning curve. A lot of folks are going to be there. I’m certainly excited to hopefully meet not just startups, but governmental and industry folks, both in the tech and more traditional places like property and transport. Things that tech have been focused on disrupting as well.
I’ll be very interested in meeting a lot of startups and actively finding investments. I also hope to help people understand the perspective of Series A investors – what we expect to be present in the company before we invest, and how we intend to grow it rapidly.
We’ve been very fortunate to make investments into companies such as Go Jek and Zimplistic. When we first invested in them, they had a great team and product, but they weren’t at scale. If you look at the growth both companies have achieved, that doesn’t come as an accident. That comes from a concerted effort by the NSI team to really be the advocate for the company and push their capabilities forward.
Hian is one of the high-profile speakers presenting at Echelon Vietnam 2016 on the 18th – 19th November. Don’t miss your chance to meet Hian and other key personalities in the tech ecosystem. Grab your early bird tickets here!