Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! My name is Bryan, and my name is Maggie, and we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Maggie: (00:00:23) Everyone, welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. Today, we have a very special guest with us. His name is Hao Tran, and Hao is actually our first episode of season two of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast. So we’re very excited to have Hao on our podcast today. Hao currently serves as the CEO of Vietcetera, a digital multimedia company that he co-founded in 2016. He has shared on trends that are emerging in Vietnam and greater Southeast Asia, including, and not limited to venture capital, e-commerce, technology startups, food, and beverage, tourism, retail, and trade. His insights and those from Vietcetera, and his projects have been featured on media outlets, such as Monocle, CNBC, CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The LA Times, and Bloomberg News. A native of the San Francisco Bay, work has also taken Hao to both coasts of the US, Europe, India, and now Ho Chi Minh City. In addition to his native English, Hao speaks fluent Spanish and Vietnamese. Hao, welcome to the show.
Hao: (00:01:26) Thank you so much for that intro, Maggie. And it’s a real pleasure to be the first guest of your second season of the podcast. I’ve been listening to it for some time. I think I remember discovering it during the beginning of the pandemic and I’ve been following it ever since. So again, grateful, for you and for Bryan’s time this afternoon, and happy to share a little bit more with the audience today.
Bryan: (00:01:49) Yeah. We’re super excited to have you on the podcast. Just heard your intro. Wow. You’ve done a lot of things?
Hao: (00:01:56) That’s a lesson I can share about today. A little too much. You can’t spin all the plates at once. but yes. Thank you.
Bryan: (00:02:04) Yeah. You’re quite the hustler. I’m so happy to have you here today. We’re going to dive deep into your upbringing. What made you the hustler we are today? What kind of family structure lessons that your mom and dad teach you growing out to make you more competent in taking initiative as you have done so far?
Hao: (00:02:23) Yeah, I think I grew up in a family that has always had some entrepreneurial spirit. On paper, we’re an upper-middle-class Asian family living the American dream, nothing too fancy. Not too fancy, not too well off, but not you know, not doing too bad either. But our family always had the kind of wanting to do more basically. So, I remember when I was a kid, my father who’s a hardware engineer works in Silicon Valley. My mother’s a nurse. They put in a lot of hours to get where they are, but around when I was 10, maybe 12 years, My family started a Hawaiian barbecue chain. They opened, I think at its height two or three locations. I forget how many, but my dad was working a nine to five during the week and on weekends was working at the restaurant. And yeah, that was an example of just pure hustling, just kind of getting things off the ground. And, and to this day he says it paid for our college education, my brother and my own. I think looking at their backgrounds and having been kind of raised in California as well, you’re kind of exposed to exceptional people, exceptional talent when you’re studying, but also right after university. And yeah, the family kind of wanted to immerse us in that. So very grateful for being raised where I was and for going to the schools I went to and eventually getting my first job in San Francisco as well. It was my dad’s own experience in Silicon Valley that encouraged me to think in that direction as well. I’m not in Silicon Valley anymore, as you can probably imagine. I’m in Vietnam, but there’s a story there too.
Maggie: (00:04:02) That is amazing. And we can tell where that entrepreneurial and hustle culture inside of you came from. Your parents worked extremely hard and growing up in San Francisco Bay, I also grew up in San Francisco as well. And as you know, it’s predominantly Asian in certain districts. I want to know how your Asian identity has kind of come together while you were growing up in San Francisco Bay area.
Hao: (00:04:26) Growing up. I didn’t like my Asian identity. I think I didn’t become more, much more proud, but also just proud in general until after university. After a couple of years working in the bay area. I always actually looked down upon it. I thought it was in some way hindering my development or my career prospects. Or relationships with greater American society. And it all started with my name ‘Hao’ so in Vietnamese it’s pronounced how but to just anglicize it, it’s how which I completely fine with me. I don’t care how to pronounce it as long as it’s just pronounced one of the ways would accept it. But I remember when I was growing up and all the way through my first job out of university, people would make fun of my name, and in bad ways, like very negative attacking ways. But also through all the way through professional career, people would just kind of say it as like a side joke oh, how are you? Ha and then just go into conversation kind of thing. I always kind of brushed it off and I’m glad I did. I had that mindset, but it didn’t become apparent to me that this was actually a very negative recurring issue that affected me up until I moved. In Vietnam, no one’s ever really made fun of my name. Actually, only two Caucasian white people did. and there were other Americans that had just moved to Vietnam. So they somehow thought it was appropriate to make fun of my name in Vietnam. Imagine that they made fun of a Vietnamese person’s name. A Vietnamese national, but they somehow thought it was okay to make fun of a Vietnamese American person’s name. In Vietnam, I feel very American, but in America, I feel like not even Vietnamese, I just feel foreign somehow. And then in a lot of ways, but also not. So anyway, I’m calling you guys here right now from the US. Actually, I’m here for the whole summer. I’ve been here for a couple of months, and I’ve been taking notes about my observations about that and larger kinds of trends affecting Asian people. I’d have to say it’s a relief to be living in Vietnam. I think just those little things about thinking about your Asian identity don’t become kind of like a small side kind of thing that you have to think about as much. I was, I was watching a short documentary on vice this morning. They had one of the reporters go to a summer camp that had a pretty diverse set of people. African-Americans, Caucasians, Asians, Latinos, just like a kids camp. And the host of this group, so let’s say there’s like 30 of them. They did kind of like a racial identity kind of not test, I want to say, but just like life questions. Oh so the, one of the first questions. Oh, do you have to think about racism every day in your life? And the answer is yes. You take a step back and the answer is no, you take a step forward. And at the end of this whole exercise where there were like 10 different questions, you can see how split the group was. Like all the, all the Caucasian people were walking up almost constantly. And all the minorities were walking back and white men were like at the very beginning. And then African-American women were at the very end. And I thought that was such a stark example of where American society is. And luckily, as Asians, we face our own discrimination, but it’s not, as bad as some groups I would have to say honestly. But with that said, living in Vietnam, it’s, you don’t really think about those things. Everyone else is Vietnamese. And obviously, by how we look, we kind of blend in, I made the changes when you start speaking, but it’s not that negative. If anything, it could be a positive too, but yeah, it’s, it’s been interesting. It’s quite a journey and I think I’ve discovered it in the last few.
Maggie: (00:08:14) That’s super powerful. I was just going to say that I kind of resonate with the things that you said about how you felt more at home in Vietnam. Because personally for me in America, I’m actually really petite, and Hao knows this, because Hao, Bryan, and I went out for lunch the other day when we were in Los Angeles and you know Hao probably thought I would be someone a lot taller, but you know, I get judged a lot by my height here, especially growing up. In elementary school, middle school. But when I go back to my motherland in Hong Kong, everyone is around the same height. So I was never judged by my height. No one ever said anything about it when I go back to Hong Kong. So it’s well, I feel, I don’t feel judged here. I feel at home, even if I feel that I don’t fully grasp onto my identity there because everyone knows in Hong Kong, they know if you’re not actually from there, they know you’re not a native, but at the same time, I still feel at home. So I resonate with that story about you going back to Vietnam and feeling like you’re at home.
Hao: (00:09:20) I do miss America too with that said, having been back for two months now, and we’ll be here for a little bit longer. There are just things of the American life that are just exceptional and that’s what makes America so great. And so, I do miss it. But I tell myself, I have to get to a certain point career-wise where not just stability or where I am in my career, that I want to go back to America or you can spend more than a certain amount of time in America every year. But part of it also has to do with age. I think when you’re older, you just don’t have to deal with these identity questions as much. And you know, they do affect you as a young person. I mean, I’m not too young anymore, but I still think about it more than an older person would I think. But also when you’re older, you have your own circles. Maybe you have a family. Maybe you have a home now, or, in some cases professionally, you might not need to be working nine to five, going to the office every day. And in some ways, I’ve told myself, oh, to the point where I don’t really have to work, not one where I retire or when I don’t have to work, like nine to five going in an office every day and just be around so many people every day I can choose to be who I’m around very deliberately and everyone should at every point of their life. But you know, when you’re older, you can make even more of those choices, more you know, thoughtfully. That’s why I wouldn’t go back to the US. Just the idea of working in a modern American workplace as an Asian American, it’s quite daunting. Actually. I don’t, I don’t find that appealing. Unfortunately.
Bryan: (00:10:50) Yeah. That’s me. What do you guys both said is pretty relatable to me as well, but more in a sense that you know, where I grew up, it’s actually like 98% Asian people. So we saw ourselves as Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. So it’s slightly different. But we understand the point of view that you’re coming from. It’s why do I stick out? When you’re younger, you want to have a sense of belonging, And you always want to feel like you belong to a community that you can assimilate to the culture. And we all went through that in different phases and different feelings, but I’m glad that we learned from that and created our separate community to just sort of promote our cultural excellence. And that takes us to the Vietcetera. I mean, before we get there how’d you end up choosing Vietnam, like I know you graduated college at Brown University. But soon after that, you found yourself in Asia, can you kind of walk us through that part of your life and what the decision was like to move abroad, to a new culture, and learn the business sense of everything to start where you’re starting right now?
Hao: (00:11:53) It’s a combination of the words Vietnam and et cetera.We want to bring Vietnam to the world and the world to Vietnam. The story of how I got to where I’m running the Vietcetera now starts with my first job in the U S. So I worked at a company called Hotel Tonight based in San Francisco. I was there for a little under two years and one day I just got laid off. Cut the company cut like 30, 35% of the team in one swing. Unfortunately, I was part of that. I got laid off when I was working abroad at the time I was sent on a business trip to Paris. It was also the same week when there was a terrorist attack in Paris. It was like the worst 48 hours of my life. I remember being so horrified but in two consecutive days. And just like any, 20 something-year-old where you have to pay high rent in San Francisco. I was thinking, oh, I gotta get a new job right away. And I did, it was at a time when if you could walk and talk and chew gum, you could like get a six-figure job in California. That’s just how it was in the bay area.The job market was just on fire. So a couple of weeks later I got a couple of pretty interesting job offers. but I remember looking at them, thinking these companies are cool and you know, these opportunities look great, but it is kind of the same thing. I’m I’m still doing some form of business development. I’m still doing, I’m still living in San Francisco, like more or less. Working on just like a slightly different street in Soma. And I was craving for something new. So I remember I accepted one of the offers but told them I would come back in two months because there was like the Christmas period and a whole bunch of holidays and they were okay with that. So I took that time and went to Asia. I went to Australia as well. Part of that trip was a short visit to Vietnam. I had only been once previously and despite being Vietnamese American, I actually have no affinity to Vietnam whatsoever. I was not interested. I was not interested in Vietnam. I was not interested in living or working there. I purely just stopped to visit because it’s on this whole itinerary as one of five countries. And I did believe though that I wanted to just understand it better. So when I went, I stayed with this Airbnb host. I found randomly this Australian guy who introduced me to Hutchman city, AKA Saigon and had a fantastic time. He took me to the shellfish place, in Vietnamese it’s called Okta And then I remember going out to bars meeting a lot of young people, Vietnamese, mostly who were just quite enthusiastic about whatever they were doing. And I had a great time. I was there for a few days and at the end, he was telling me Hey, you should, maybe consider working here. And I remember I looked online about jobs and salaries in Vietnam and, it’s nowhere near, at least in absolute terms what you can make in San Francisco, but, the cost of living is much lower. So, but I remember looking at it and I was well, at my stage of career, it’s a little too much of a hustle to be doing that. I wanted to be not just hustling, but like in an environment where I can learn from mentors and have a little bit more structure. I was 23 at the time. And went back to the US and started my new job. Didn’t like it. And within 30 days I was okay, I got to find a job in Vietnam just to keep myself motivated during the day at work. I couldn’t keep my eyes open anyway. So that’s exactly what I did. And I remember stumbling upon just after a few days, that 500 Startups. So it’s a venture capital firm based in San Francisco, that was opening a branch office in Richmond city. And I remember reading it on the wall street journal or whatever. It was just honestly being very surprised. I didn’t think that venture would be a thing, let alone a growing technology industry in Vietnam. So I looked into it. Found out the partner lived in San Francisco, one of the partners. And so I remember trying to find his email. So like any cold email, if you’re doing sales or just trying to contact people how it works and you find their domain, you try every variation of their email. So his name in this case has been VI. I was trying different variations, all in one go. I found one of them and it went through, and he replied within like six hours. He didn’t want to meet on the first email. He was like, oh, you can, I’ll introduce you to portfolio companies. And that is like a super short email, I still have it probably. And after a few emails, I was yeah, I don’t think these companies are that interesting. I want to meet you. So then he finally agreed to meet for 30 minutes at a coffee shop across the street from our offices market street in San Francisco. And within that short window, I was just very curious and asked a lot of questions. And at the end, I asked if I could work for him. And he said, yeah, but probably not a good idea. And I asked him why, and he’s you know, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re working at a great future unicorn startup. And I was like no, I want to work for 500. So then he tells me that the pay is $300 a month, and it’s technically an internship. I replied, yo dude, you know, the pay, that’s one thing, but I can’t take an internship. Could you give me a full-time job? Like on paper, it could be an internship, but you know, publicly and make it a full-time thing. So, paperwork-wise, it was easy for them. I can understand their pay too. The fund hadn’t materialized yet, it was like operational, but they didn’t have any capital to deploy, let alone, hire people. Later my salary would go up and all that, but I was only there for a year. Anyways, I accepted, went to Vietnam. And within a couple of months, I wanted to do more. I discovered Vietnam had a lot to offer and Vietcetera started as a blog to kind of connect selfishly myself to people that were doing interesting things. And I would just use it as a blog to meet people. And then, a couple of years later started growing, a few years later we’re now a hundred percent company.
Bryan: (00:18:19) Wow. That’s a crazy story. The first thing that comes to mind, what’s in your mind when you took a 95% pay cut?
Hao: (00:18:27) As Americans we’re so geared to optimize for salaries. Americans and Western people actually were very geared for individualism. We really like to build our lives around optimizing for pleasures and like vices and, and money. And you should be. When you’re young and trying to make as much money as you can. Why not. But one thing that we always seem to forget too, is that it’s important to learn and find the right mentors and position yourself for success later. And luckily I had savings, the money I was making wasn’t enough to cover even my expenses. I had certain standards of living. I just wanted a slightly nicer place, which ate up almost my entire salary and then, getting around and food. But to answer your question, I think it was, Hey, it’s one year. No, it’s okay. On paper, at least I have a fairly respectable job and, I got to learn from some people. New place. New industry. And I saw it as a learning opportunity. So I did the math and I’m spending about $10,000 of my savings to live in Vietnam for one year because I’m not making enough income to displace the cost. Is it worth it? And I said, yeah. So just go ahead. And I found ways to make money here and there. I remember during the meal that we shared a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles, you guys are kind of in the same boat, you’re trying to figure out, oh you know, you don’t have a regular consistent revenue source, which is fine for a startup. Maybe you’re getting there now. But when these opportunities come, it’s okay, great that will feed you for the next three months. So that’s exactly what happened.
Maggie: (00:20:02) Wow. I love the fact that you’re, you’re so honest saying that, you kind of started this blog for a little bit of a selfish piece on to, because you wanted to meet these people, and this was a great gateway for you to actually meet these entrepreneurs, these startup founders which kind of reminds me of Asian Hustle Network. We do want to amplify Asian entrepreneurs, but at the same time with this podcast, we learned so much. And there’s just so much benefit for us too, because we learn so much from just like smart entrepreneurs all around the world. We also know that for Vietcetera, it’s a Vietnamese first and English second strategy. Why did you pursue a Vietnamese first and English second strategy for all of your content? And why do you think localization is so crucial in your offices?
Hao: (00:20:50) Yeah. You know, about your point of meeting people that that remains to be one of the biggest reasons I continue to grow this company and, it’s a huge motivating factor. So we started off as an English-only blogger and media site for like a year and a half. And we introduced Vietnamese soon after in response to the demand. But for another year or two, we had it such that if you went to dotcom, it would be the English site. Then you have to switch to Vietnamese. That’s a very different user experience. We wanted to have a Vietnamese first with an option of English which reflects like the business now in terms of readership and experience and all that audience, everything. And the reason why we wanted to do that was we want us to respond to what people wanted. And at the end of the day, we’re a business primarily based in Vietnam. Most of our revenue is sourced from clients that are operating and growing their own businesses and Vietnam as well. We do have a lot of people from overseas and we continue to use the English version international edition of the site to grow our audience there because they are very influential for a lot of reasons. Maybe they’re kind of directors of companies that are foreigners who don’t read Vietnamese, and we use our site as a way to connect. We work with a lot of embassies actually. We did a rap video with the US ambassador to Vietnam for the Lunar Year. But at that holiday, that’s another story. See the comments below in YouTube or whatever you guys are using, probably drop a link there. If it’s a really funny video, you should watch it. Anyways. Those are examples of how we can connect with people because we have the English version. But yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, we want as large of an audience as possible with the content we have, just helps benefit more of society for what we’re doing. We’d like to think that we’re a positive kind of media company, not just talking about negative news and then monetization is also quite important and that’s what people want. They want to reach Vietnamese audience.
Bryan: (00:22:50) Wow. That’s awesome. I mean, out of curiosity but we sort of asked other publishers on the podcast as well, who are running media companies. How do you source the news that you want to post? How do you, how do you dictate to your team, “This is a theme that we want, we move forward without being biased”, because I think a common problem with media nowadays is oh, I like that stuff. I don’t like that stuff. And you sort of become the gatekeeper for information. Right. So, I’m quite curious to see, how do you guys determine what to share, what to post, and what kind of theme you guys want to put onto your website, Vietcetera?
Hao: (00:23:28) We also don’t want to be just known as a newspaper or like a website, cause that implies, a traditional legacy media company. We want to be known as a multimedia network media channel, whatever you want to call it because we don’t only have a website, but we have podcasts and shows that are run, in some cases independently. They don’t even have Vietcetera staff on those shows. They may be ran by influencers that we have exclusive licensing deals with, that’ll be the future of the Vietcetera channel. But to answer your question about bias and choosing stuff, we try to have as many standards as possible and guidelines as to what kind of content we want to prioritize, but we, in a way can never escape it. I actually never worked in journalism before this or any sort of media just like you two. And I’m okay with using my own kind of judgment, and the team’s judgment to decide, what is worth featuring and what’s not. At some point, somebody kind of has to decide. So, sometimes I tell people what I think the audience likes, and I’m like the final gatekeeper. So the media world is, is controversial for that reason, but it’s something we just have to not just admit, but somehow improve upon. And at the Vietcetera we have guidelines and we try to also have a team that’s less like personality-driven. It’s like a restaurant. You can either be chef-driven or concept-driven. If you’re chef-driven that you’re really dependent on one person to define the restaurant. But if you’re concept-driven, then you’re really just dependent on the concept. So if the chef steps out, another guy can come in. And so Vietcetera is very designed that way. We have some very influential people in the company too. Don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, if they did step out and somebody came in. Totally fine. And in some cases, some of our editors, we tell them higher profiles are great, keep doing what you’re doing if you like that. But if you don’t like that and you just like to be writing and editing and building your own community, that’s fine too.
Bryan: (00:25:37) I like that a lot. Just a follow-up question on that as well. Has there been a lot of challenges with the Vietnamese government, especially running a media company? And it’s a foreign country that you trying to experience, what kind of like cultural barriers that you had to overcome in terms of like having the American mindset of living in America and now adopting, that your news outlet to Vietnam, what was the challenge behind that?
Hao: (00:26:00) So in regards to like regulations and all that, Vietcetera specifically is fully licensed. We have a license for the activities that we do I can’t speak for others in the industry in Vietnam, but with that said, we purposely don’t really want to cover breaking news, we’ll cover progress related to COVID and things that are really important for society and useful for people. But we try to stay away from news. It’s just territory that we don’t really want to cover. Because as an identity, as a voice, we also want to be positive. We always want to be useful, not negative. There was a study done recently. I forget where maybe it may have been on Twitter. I don’t even know. Anyways, somebody was saying how on any given day, the front page of publications, like the New York Times, nine out of 10 of their headlines on the front page, are negative. It’s intentional that way. It’s very data-driven they know that these negative headlines will generate clicks. I respect the New York Times. I read it every day. I’m trying to reduce my news consumption though, with that said, it’s intentional. It’s very, data-driven they’re doing it to generate more money. It’s not because they think it’s good for people to read negative news all the time. I think the news is very important. I think we should all be informed. Yes. Source like the New York times is as reputable as it gets. But at the same time, to have such an inundation of negative content is also quite bad for an individual health perspective. So I try to avoid it and, I thought, if I stay away for a week, it’s not really going to change my life. Right now, the only thing I really need to know is if COVID is immediately impacting my health or wellbeing. I’m fully vaccinated. I wear a mask. Okay, great. I don’t really need to know more than that. So unless the Delta variant takes over the world.
Maggie: (00:27:56) I think I saw a tweet on that study as well, then just saying like any positive headlines and like no one ever clicks on it, it’s just human nature. We’re typically drawn to bad news because we want to find out, oh, like what’s going on here? Why is this, bad thing happening? It’s just human nature. So I also read that all the stories published, you also mentioned that a lot of your videos and actors are by independent companies. but I also read on the Hustle Fund website that all the stories published on Vietcetera, are written and edited by Vietcetera reporters and the editorial team. And even the photos and videos used in the articles are often shot by some Vietcetera photographers. What is your process of selecting and hiring reporters, editors, and photographers? And how is hiring in Vietnam different compared to the US?
Hao: (00:28:51) Most of our content is original and we have a system of freelancers and whatnot, but they’re quite regular. We don’t do, one-off kinds of projects as much. But when it comes to how we hire, we actually don’t look for people with traditional media backgrounds. Like I’m not trying to hire a reporter that worked at this newspaper or that media company. Actually, of the hundred people that we have at the company. I think only five people, more or less have ever had any sort of media experience. And that those a hundred, by the way, are not just like all content, they are at the accounting, business team, etc. So, I mean, the people that do are like very experienced in the industry, like our chief content officer has been working in the industry for her entire life. Our chief kind of our VP of business, she’s been more or less an advertiser and it really kind of industries for quite some time. We kind of just look for people that really are inspired by our vision, our mission, and strategy. More importantly, the vision which is to bring Vietnam to the world and the world’s Vietnam. I think that helps us attract more progressives. Forward-looking Vietnamese and just staff in general. I think we only have four ex-pats out of a hundred people at the company. All of them have been living in Vietnam for a long time. So I think it’s very important to have a vision and have people aligned with that rather than just for skills. Cause we can hire for skills any time. And we found that when we do it, actually sometimes doesn’t even work. You could say the same for people that are just purely vision-focused. So yeah, that’s, that’s kind of how we see hiring compared to the US, I mean for young people. So I would say for more experienced people, the US is like a much better place to hire older people. For young people, they’re more ambitious and also less individualistic. I was talking about that earlier as Americans specifically, we’re very individualistic. But Asians, I would find, Vietnamese more precisely. They’re also very communal, they’re very community-driven collective for the greater kind of team. That’s why like COVID, for instance, everyone talks about individual freedoms to not wear a mask in America. Like that’s just unheard of in Vietnam. The collective mentality is to protect and to prevent rather than to treat. The west is all about treatment. Like let it happen, then treat people. That’s why vaccines exist. And Vietnam and Asia it’s oh, prevent, like don’t even let it happen in the first place.
Bryan: (00:31:20) Yeah, that’s a good observation. We have noticed that as well. Yeah, it’s just, yeah, didn’t see a lot of ridiculous things in the news regarding that as anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers the other day. Out of curiosity, what are the five takeaways you had so far from the very beginning to now, and how much we’ve grown throughout the entire process?
Hao: (00:31:50) I’ll try to get to five takeaways. I’ll start with the first, I think it’s very important to stick to your original vision. It doesn’t need to be for a big company. It could be even for a side hustle or small business, what is the vision for this? Why are we doing what we do? And you can be very honest about it. Maybe your side hustle is just a joiner of your side income. And as long as you align on that, long-term, that’s totally fine. If your business has greater ambitions than just to have a side income, maybe because the vision is to, in our case, it’s to bring Vietnam to the world and the world Vietnam, that’s a very big mission. it’s not like tied to any metrics or money or like how many people you have in the team or anything. It’s very much just a very broad mission or vision. So I think it’s important to stick to it and be honest about it. And that relates to your mission and strategy too. Like it’s okay. Strategies change. But if all of those elements change too often, then maybe you need to review what you’re doing, because maybe you’re not honest with yourself about why you’re doing what you’re doing, or maybe it’s too late. Like maybe you’re so sticking to something like how you do it. And turns out to be the wrong thing. You need to be evaluating constantly. That’s the first takeaway. I’m thinking top of my head right now. So I’m kind of just free-flowing it a little bit. The second thing I think would be to vet who you’re working with and, and take your time. Don’t run into things. I do have a habit of being quite enthusiastic and running into things and sometimes it works beautifully. Sometimes it works horribly. I think it’s, it’s okay to start quickly. But really when you get to the important milestones, maybe it’s signing a document, maybe it’s committing to a large investment or any of these things. just think about it, and ask around not superficially, but try to get as much information as you can, especially if you’re not too familiar with either this person or the company that you’re working with. And again, it’s a total hit or a total miss sometimes too. You can never do too much another takeaway I would say here is to manage your health. And that’s both mental and physical. I was, I can’t say I’m the best at it’s still. And I can see the effects on myself when it’s not managed carefully, but if you are hustling and by the Asian Hustle Network definition, I guess that’s a side business or going a big thing. Just know that there are limitations to your mental and physical capacity. I have way overblown it many times and I’ve had to then recover. Especially physically, sometimes I just eat uncontrollably and it just like makes me slower or just not as healthy, whatever. So do keep that in mind. Another takeaway could be just really know what you’re strong at and try to stick to it. Don’t try to do too many things at the beginning. You kind of have to do everything and hopefully, your business partner, if you have one, can kind of balance you out. But you can only spin so many plates at once. So that could be either your company or yourself. I just had this conversation with my co-founder the other day, who still loves to be in every single meeting on every single team, But dude, it’s not possible. That’s like eight meetings a day already. Just focus on two. And his skill set happens to be on product and technology and mine is having steady on business and finance. So, let’s split it up and we have other people on the team coming in that could handle marketing and can handle the content. We have to divide and conquer, so don’t spin too many plates at once. And the last takeaway I would maybe say is not everyone’s your friend. My co-founder told me this too because when I first arrived in Vietnam, I just called everyone’s my friend. And you know, some people kind of misinterpret the word friend because like the word Facebook friend is so ubiquitous now. Not everyone’s your friend.Friends, that is a very strong word. It’s like a relationship, right? When say saying certain words can be very strong, but anyways, in a casual context, not everyone’s your friend. They could just be your colleague. That could be your contact. They can be, but not from day one. You can get along well, but you have to understand and trust those people before you can call them friends. I think that’s, that’s an important thing too, because when you kind of throw that word around liberally, some people might misinterpret it. You might be even misleading yourself. It’s also important to check.
Maggie: (00:36:04) Those were really good takeaways. And you thought of those on the spot too. So thank you for sharing those.
Hao: (00:36:11) Well I thought about it a lot.
Maggie: (00:36:12) I bet. So we know that in 2020, the company successfully raised venture funding. With hustle fund being one of the investors, you went from a popular blog for a niche audience to venture back to a media company. Was that your vision and intention from the beginning when you started fee, Vietcetera, in 2016, or did this opportunity kind of fall into your lap after so many years?
Hao: (00:36:41) Like I mentioned, five years ago when we started, Vietcetera, is very much a blog, and we took it to step by step. And it tells you a lot about Vietnam. I think it’s a, it’s a country and a place in society that responds very quickly to. Things that are new, but also probably better than what the currently existing options are. And that’s kind of what happened to us. We invested a lot of time, mostly at the beginning to making sure that we had good quality content and that was really well-recognized, and the snowball effect kind of just went on afterward. And regards to did we imagine ourselves being a venture business and what not? Not really. I think the first two years I was even deciding whether I would stay in Vietnam long-term and I made that decision more or less after the two-year mark, the business started growing, we had a team, we had an office and all that good stuff, and where we are now. So yes, we raised a venture round in early 2020, I believe. And we are now actually in the midst of closing a series, pre-series, a whatever you want to call it, the second round of financing, actually right now we’ll announce it more publicly in the weeks to come, but yeah, I think, you can never plan a business plan that much. Honestly, I think people might be sitting on a business plan for like five years before they ever do it. Yes, I have an initial plan, but you can’t really day one to year five. It’s very difficult to do that. And I think it’s almost too formulaic. It’s not organic enough as a business or an entrepreneurial venture to be, really be, seriously considered. I think things have just begun organically and sometimes it could take a month. Sometimes it could take two years in my case.
Bryan: (00:38:25) Congratulations on all the success. Shout out to you and shoutout to the team! Can’t wait to see what you guys are gonna do next. So we have one final question and that question is, what kind of tip and advice would you have for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start a business in a foreign country?
Hao: (00:38:47) A lot of people have questions even moving to a foreign country, let alone starting a venture in a foreign country. I think before you either get there or while you’re there depending on, how far you’re kind of planning this out. I think it’s really wise to connect with hopefully trusted people or fairly, high-profile people. Well-connected people to get their opinions on things like for Vietnam, through the years and through Vietcetera, of course, a lot of people come to us and not just me, but the company just emailing us or whatever, asking for some questions or advice on things. And I think that exercise is very important. Not everyone can give you their time. Yeah. For free, especially of course. So just be honest about why you’re reaching out to these people is also very important. And when I specifically kind of see genuine you know, people that are genuinely interested in wanting to, hear from us, they love what we’re doing most of the time. These are great kinds of connections to be had on my side.
Maggie: (00:39:50) Thank you for sharing that Hao. So, Hao, how can our listeners find out more about you and Vietcetera online?
Hao: (00:39:58) Yeah. Thanks for the opportunity for that shout-out. I think you know, the main channel is the website,vietcetera.com. If you want to connect with us on other platforms, there’s Spotify, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, all that good stuff. And then on for myself, there’s I have Twitter, LinkedIn, my email, of course, it’s just email@example.com. I’m very happy to hear, especially from anyone interested in media or Vietnam.
Maggie: (00:40:31) It was amazing having you on our podcast today and being our episode one of season two. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Hao: (00:40:39) Yeah, it’s my pleasure. Thank you, Bryan. Thank you, Maggie. And yeah, looking forward to all the hopefully Asian Hustle Network readers and listeners reaching out.
Bryan: (00:40:48) Awesome. Thank you guys for watching the podcast. Appreciate it.
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