Though armed with a degree in law, Esther Nguyen never lost that entrepreneurial itch which ultimately led her to establish Vietnam’s leading digital entertainment and game development company POPS Worldwide.
Her mantra for success and advice to all aspiring entrepreneurs is a simple word – perseverance.
In a chat with e27, Nguyen talks about her journey and struggle to establish POPS Worldwide, at a time when the digital entertainment industry in Vietnam was almost non-existent.
“Educating investors was one big challenge, explaining to them why [pick] Vietnam, what’s the potential in Vietnam was one of the most difficult things as opposed to now with smaller funds like 500 Startups and Golden Gate Ventures,” she says.
When asked what was the hardest part of her experience in setting up POPS Worldwide, she says, “Finding revenue streams for an industry that didn’t exist. To keep the company afloat, I couldn’t depend solely on investors so finding the right revenue streams, the right models, proving ourselves.”
Of Vietnamese origin, Nguyen grew up in the US, where she started her first entrepreneurial venture in 1998 — an e-commerce startup selling beauty and cosmetics. She sold the company and set her eyes on green technology, but that was not enough for Nguyen.
During a break from entrepreneurship, she pursued her education in law and is still a member of the California State Bar.
Nguyen then moved home to Vietnam to establish POPS Worldwide in 2007. It is now the most successful digital entertainment company in the country.
“I don’t think you become an entrepreneur. [Being] an entrepreneur for me is in your DNA,” she says.
Did she ever feel like giving up and packing her bags? “All the time, when I stepped foot off the plane I said, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing.’ Though I never packed my bags, I hid under the blankets several times,” she laughs.
Now sitting comfortably in the dominant position in Vietnam, Nguyen feels that though POPS Worldwide is the big fish in the pond, it is small.
“I still feel like we’re the underdog. So we will constantly act like the underdog. It definitely keeps us going, keeps us sharp, keeps us hungry.”
On the cusp of expanding to other countries including Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, she says the underdog feeling will help in expanding to new regions.
“I hope the feeling never goes away because we’re expanding across the region, so we will still be the underdog, we will be the new kid on the block,” she says.
With her eyes set on making POPS Worldwide the largest digital entertainment company in South Asia and Southeast Asia, Nguyen admits modestly that the company has been able to bring Vietnam to the forefront of the field.
And this experience and knowledge will only help the company’s expansion into other regions that will have their own unique set of issues.
Entrepreneurship in Vietnam: Then vs now
“What’s changed is that entrepreneurship is more talked about, known about, there’s more of a support group, a community for entrepreneurs,” says Nguyen.
In her initial days as a budding entrepreneur in Vietnam, Nguyen says she had many hurdles in explaining to investors the potential of the country. That part is no longer an issue for newer entrepreneurs.
“Now there are more working spaces, a support system. There’s a group of entrepreneurs, a group of mentors. When I came in, there was nobody, no group. It’s definitely evolved for the better,” she says.
“There is also this understanding towards entrepreneurship, there is a community, there is a lot more discussion about it, as opposed to when I needed something like finding a lawyer to help me get started, there was no group to go and talk to. So I was just swimming on my own,” she adds.
However, the one stark difference she finds is the lack of mentorship in the country. While there is a need for more entrepreneurs than investors to act as mentors, Nguyen feels the new lot of entrepreneurs are less than forthcoming in seeking advice.
“I think entrepreneurs are more hesitant to ask for advice or mentorship, I don’t know if its a pride thing or a cultural thing,” she says.
The one advice she would like to give aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Don’t give up, keep going.”
Want to hear more from Esther Nguyen? She will be speaking at Echelon Thailand this November 26 – 27. Join us as we connect the Mekong region through Bangkok, Thailand in two action-packed days. Learn more about Echelon Thailand here.