Vietnam “Pho” You


Photo credit: Wikipedia


Did you know that the Vietnamese noodle dish “pho” was created during the French occupation and so it is a relatively “new” dish? For those who have no idea what pho is – Phở or pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles called bánh phở, a few herbs, and meat, primarily served with either beef or chicken, according to Wikipeda (yup, Wikipedia is a good friend).

No this post is not about the noodle. Well, at least for me, I always start understanding a new environment by having a taste of its local food. Understand the necessity and basics. Having been to Vietnam for a couple of times this year, I did learn a thing or two that is worth sharing with my fellow friends who are probably cursing at me for making them salivating at the picture of this hot steamy bowl of noodles. Anyway, (not sure if this is accurate) there have been some Vietnamese friends who explained to me that pho was created because food was scarce during the French occupation and Vietnam War. Hence, it became part of the tradition within the Vietnamese community to keep pho as a reminder of the harsh times during instability.

Vietnam has been through an interesting journey as a nation and as an ecosystem for startups. You probably have heard of the big boys such as Topica, Appota, Vatgia, VNG etc. There are more and more startups from Vietnam that are marching their onto the ASEAN battlefield, taking on the giants from within and outside of the region. It becomes so interesting that VCs can’t overlook Vietnam anymore. It becomes so exciting that entrepreneurs who are not Vietnamese are looking for opportunities in Vietnam.

So what are some of the interesting statistics I have been looking at

Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet vs GDP Per Capita (PPP)(2013)

Figure 1: Internet Penetration vs GDP Per Capita (2013)

My interpretation: On the top right corner you have the three countries which are deemed to be much more mature than the rest of ASEAN, essentially it is quite natural to see a much higher internet penetration rate. Towards the lower left corner, we have the emerging markets of ASEAN. What is interesting here is that even though GDP per Capita, which indicates the level of average disposable income, of Vietnam is comparatively lower than the likes of Thailand (a super social market), Indonesia (the mini China) and Philippines (a vibrant professional market), its internet penetration rate stands out. Vietnamese are curious about what is there on the net, always learning and willing to learn.

Broadband Price Plans

Figure 2: Comparison of Broadband Plans


My interpretation: There are 6 main Telco players in the 2G arena (the top 3 owns more than 80% of the market in terms of number of subscribers), and 4 main Telco players in the 3G arena (with the Top 3 providers, namely Viettel, Vinaphone, MobiFone owning over 95% of the market). *I didn’t make up the numbers! Check out the source.* What I am seeing (I believe anyone can read the table above) is that you can buy more mobile data in Vietnam with the same amount of money else where! If you only need mobile data and not food to live, you could probably live longer in Vietnam than in most other countries. As such, it is getting much easier for startups to reach out to their target audiences through mobile and why more startups are going for the mobile first strategy in Vietnam.


Having been able to participate in the mentoring sessions for Topica Founder Institute and being apart of the Viet Youth Entrepreneurs December Pitch, here are some key observations of the Vietnamese startup ecosystem:

  • The ecosystem is young and has visually limitless growth potential.
  • There is a shift in mentality in that startup founders are looking more towards expanding across the region rather than focusing on only home market.
  • There needs to be further guidance for local startups as there is still room of improvement for them to be able to draw out a more accurate competitive landscape for the sectors they are in.
  • Founders need to continue and increase the effort of talking to founders from other ecosystem.

So that is Vietnam “pho” you. (Pardon my bad pun)

Til next time.


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