The Southeast Asian startup scene, while not a head-to-head comparison to the heavyweights in Silicon Valley, London and Beijing is a dynamic, interesting environment in which to start a company.
Recently, as entrepreneurs and VCs cast around for new frontiers ready to embrace, Vietnam has risen to prominence as a young ‘frontier ecosystem’ that is more accessible than some of its neighbors.
But what is the on-the-ground reality of working in Vietnam?
At Echelon Vietnam 2016, we asked five representatives from startups that are either based in the country or do significant business in Vietnam about their experiences of working in the startup ecosystem.
Here are their voices:
To Phoi Van — Ticketbox.vn – Ticketing platform
In Vietnam we are a premiere ticketing platform, so [when we started] there were not many platforms like this.
We had to actively find the event organiser to use our platform. [In the beginning] we targetted EDM and concerts. At the start, in Vietnam, people did not have the habit of going to some events. So we grew with the growth of EDM in Vietnam.
Now we have expanded to conferences, tours and career fairs.
The hard part is the technology because we have to build from from the ground up; websites, apps that we have to improve day by day.
Because we target young people, who may not have a lot of money, the ticket price is another challenge. So expensive things like the courses are hard for the students to afford.
Barbara Ximinez — Shutta —Turn video into photo without losing resolution
We started-up in Vietnam in January. The easiest part was deciding to stay here. We had two years of software development experience and saw the [high] level of IT skills; and the population is really young.
It is very easy to find highly level mid-career engineers who are passionate, motivated and wanted to build a bright new future; more so than other places.
The most difficult problem in Vietnam is without a doubt raising investment.
We are starting to generate revenue but if we want to go on the growth curve like our Western competitors then we need investment.
Everyone is really curious, we have been courted like the bell of the ball but there is still tentativeness on the parts of the VCs.
We have figured out there are no major acquisitions or exits in Vietnam. We are kind of seeing that until there is a major exit or acquisition the investors are just nervous.
At this stage we are looking for a US$1.5 million so banks are not an option. Private equity is an option and capital firms that deal with family funds are interested. But then for most of those kind of firms they tend to have very strict mandates and approval process tends to be less straight forwad than with an institutional VCs.
Jay Lee – Sentbe – Money transfer service for South Koreans to send remittances home
Sentbe is a Korean company with deep partnerships in Vietnam.
When positive and negative are yin and yang
We use two methods for doing remittances. One is through bank pooling and the other is using the blockchain. We have a blockchain partner in Vietnam. The good part is we are able to collaborate with them and the speed is very fast, but the capacity is really low.
Whereas with working with banks, the capacity is much higher for us to handle traffic but obviously that is a more conservative and slower process. So we are meeting and trying to partner with banks and that’s our next step in Vietnam right.
We have an algorithm that decides which method is more cost efficient for us and that algorithm automatically selects which is the more affordable channel.
Right now we do not have markets that have both methods yet, but soon, within three months, we will have both channels for all our markets available.
Jujin Sato – Talent Wasabi – HR Chatbot for students and fresh grad
The hardest part is to find good Co-founders who have power. One of my Co-founders is still working for the government, that is why he joined, because I could not have started a startup without him. Especially as a foreign Co-founder.
Living cost is relatively cheaper than my country (Japan) and you can spot good talents at a lower rate, which is the best part.
In the next year we would like to receive funding, because I like to put things forward. Imagine, there are many startups in the HR market so we need to move as quickly as possible. To do that, we need funding.
Renzo Linares – Spratch – Recruitment Platform
We just launched today and have been working on the product for six months.
The best part is there are a lot of good intentions. Good intentions, people taking risk. Everyone wants to disrupt traditional industries in Vietnam. That creates a good brainstorming environment.
On the bit of the negative side, it is getting a bit slow to really kick off. Good incubation, initiatives, a lot of building but [we need] a lot of consistency to build forward and keep moving.