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January 27, 2023

Chris Shihadeh on Encouraging Serial Entrepreneurship in Vietnam

The Time is Right for Collaborative Investments in the Vietnamese Economy

Vietnam may be poised to become a surprising tech startup powerhouse, says venture capitalist and SaaS startup specialist Chris Shihadeh. Vietnam is primed for success because of five cultural characteristics far from universal across Asia.

Vietnamese tech entrepreneurs are enthusiastic capitalists

Even though the government of Vietnam is officially Communist, a Pew Poll found that 95 percent of respondents favored capitalism as a way of organizing their economy. No other country in the poll supported capitalism exceeding 90 percent (the US support rate was 70 percent). And even though Vietnam has a history of war with the United States, the same poll found that 89 percent of Vietnamese working in the professions had a favorable impression of the United States.

Vietnamese tech entrepreneurs know how to deal with adversity

Whether it's due to history, necessity, or pride, many Vietnamese tech entrepreneurs have learned to embrace volatility. They are far less subject to the fear of failure that pervades business investors in other East Asian countries.

Vietnamese tech entrepreneurs tend to create a suite of products that complement each other. They distribute risk across multiple products while harvesting synergies in reputation management.

Vietnamese tech entrepreneurs are academically prepared 

Despite low GDP, Vietnamese students score near the top of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams, especially in math. Vietnamese students are supported by their families in acquiring the skills that will help them get good jobs in the future. And as LG, Microsoft (News - Alert), and Samsung have been scaling up their presence in the country, more and more young Vietnamese people are attaining English-language proficiency,

Vietnamese tech entrepreneurs recognize exploitable market niches

Chris Shihadeh notes that 40 percent of Vietnamese are under 25. They are well-informed about the latest technical innovations on the market and are using them to serve the local market. Fresh Deli, for instance, gives stay-at-home moms an opportunity to increase their income by selling hot lunches online. Maker Hanoi markets robotics kits to supplement STEM education for elementary schools.

Vietnam's tech industry promotes an informal culture

In Vietnamese, there are different pronouns for addressing an older person, a younger person, or a person of the same age. Around the office at Vietnamese tech firms, workers of all ages dispense with formalities to promote clear, warm, supportive communication—in contrast to the norms of communication in tech firms in Europe and the United States. Polished PowerPoint decks are less common than informal meetings with unscheduled networking opportunities.

For all of the plusses of Vietnamese entrepreneurial culture, there are still challenges to doing business in Vietnam. The rule of law is tenuous. Tech entrepreneurs pursue multiple ideas even before marketing is in place. Tech companies whose business model is based on the sale of data have difficulty finding local customers because trust takes time to establish.

Despite these real challenges, Christ Shihadeh believes the time has come to stop thinking of Vietnam as just a destination for charitable activity and an untapped source of tech talent. Cultivating long-term commitments will create fertile ground for long-term success.

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