Of Vietnam, Iced Coffee and the New Future

Ca Phe Sua Nong.JPG

Photo credit: Wikipedia

I talked about Vietnam “Pho” in one of my older post (click HERE if you want to feel hungry). So I am going to do it again and this time and talk about Vietnamese Iced Coffee. I was never a great fan of coffee or any form of coffee products, I am still not a fan of coffee and I don’t think I will ever be. But there is something different about Vietnamese coffee that I don’t mind having more than any sane person should whenever I am in Vietnam.

Vietnamese iced coffee, also known as Cà phê đá or cafe da, is made using medium to coarse ground dark roast Vietnamese-grown coffee with a small metal Vietnamese drip filter. After the hot water is added, the drip filter releases drops of hot coffee slowly into a cup. This finished cup of hot coffee is then quickly poured into a glass full of ice making the finished Vietnamese iced coffee (Thanks Wikipedia!). The very first coffee tree was brought into Vietnam, according to online sources, in 1857 by the French. The beverage quickly became a major contributor to the economy when Vietnam rose to be a strong exporter of coffee.

This is not a post about coffee but the history of coffee in Vietnam shows how the beautiful country is benefiting from the government and the people’s openness to collaborate with external parties. A very valid example – Vietnam’s third largest lender, BIDV together with FPT Corporation, one of the country’s leading conglomerates and Dragon Capital are working with South Korean conglomerate, Hanwha Group in running the country’s accelerator program known as Vietnam Innovation Startup Accelerator (“VIISA”) (For more coverage: Dealstreet Asia). This was officiated during the a recent conference held in Hanoi which was hosted by the Vietnamese government and other foreign and local partners.

with-big-boss

With the DPM of Vietnam and Chairman of FPT

My interpretation: Vietnam is progressively opening up the local ecosystem by welcoming more foreign participation and more importantly this is done in a collaborative manner i.e. foreign friends work with local friends on big big things. What I expect to happen is that there will be more and more of such foreign-local collaboration as the government has set the precedence which in turn will encourage similar arrangements to happen at different or all levels within the country. An official welcome from the government is like a VIP or a rock zone ticket to a Celine Dion (this doesn’t reflect my age) concert and you get to sing with her on stage. Not only you get to watch the show, but you get to be a part of the show with a key role. How did I come to this conclusion? The Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam stayed from the start til the end of the event as well as a closed door VIP lunch, and even moderated a session during the event. (I know this is rocket sciene!)

Main takeaways from the session:

  1. The government – To continue working on gaining recognition and acknowledgement of Vietnam as a great hub for startups. As the environment continues to improve, there are now about 12,000 new SMEs being registered per month; this is much more than the previous number of 5,000-7000 per month.
  2. Technology as catalyst – To develop innovative startup ecosystem through IT and technology. This is not just about the technicality, but also about how to be innovative and creative in business and commerce. Especially for SMEs/startups that are going through commercialisation.
  3. Awareness and startup culture – The government recognises the need to encourage more Vietnamese to get onto entrepreneurship bandwagon and that startup culture is no longer just a jargon. Startups as a community is no longer just a tool for pushing the unemployment figure down, but also as means to push the boundary for the progression of the country. The country needs to learn to accept failure and risks. What is more exciting is that the government is starting to learn that social objectives and economic benefits can be reaped indirectly from an active and vibrant startup ecosystem.
  4. Role of central government and local authority – To build an information hub and supporting centres as well as to allow access to finance and credits. Regulators and authorities are to build frameworks, policies and mechanism for angel investors, venture capitalists to play a structured role in supporting startups. Banks and credit lenders should also have a clear role on how to get into the game. However, the most important element of all these is to allow the market to adjust itself and follow the market principles. This is a very important point because it is a sign that the government realizes that interfering the economy might not be a good thing after all.
  5. Risky community – Ministries hope for startups to take more risks, cooperate and form a community on its own. The ministries acknowledge that sharing and cooperation is key to overcome and address risks. Investors and startups  are also encouraged to proactively propose ideas to government as the government now has an “open-ear” policy for the industry and willing to take in good input from market players.

So, now tell me – why aren’t you looking at Vietnam yet? Not only because of the food (and coffee), but also the overwhelming energy level when you talk to any Vietnamese friends.

If you are looking for more “evidence” for the vibrance in Vietnam, check out the latest co-working space that has been setup by a group of high energy level young entrepreneurs – CirCO.

Now, that was a long. Til next time.

 

 

Advertisements

US – ASEAN and why I am bullish about ASEAN

IMG_5029

Let me start off with some key stats (statistics and statements) around the long distance relationship between the United States and ASEAN:

  1. ASEAN is the United States 4th largest export market. At $75.5 billion in 2012, exports to ASEAN created or supported over 472,000 jobs in the US (source: US ASEAN Business Council).
  2. California ($11.4B), Texas ($11.2B), Washington ($5B) Oregon ($3.75B), Illinois ($2.65B), and New York ($2B) had over $2 billion in exports to ASEAN in 2010. (source: US ASEAN Business Council)
  3. The average ASEAN consumer purchases nearly 1.75 times as many U.S. goods per capita as the average Chinese consumer, and nearly nine times as many as the average Indian consumer. (Beat that!)
  4. FDI net inflows in ASEAN from the U.S. is about 8.8% (for the period 2012 – 2014), higher than money coming from China and only second to Japan. (source: ASEAN)

Why am I throwing so much numbers about the US-ASEAN romance? Simply because we felt that love is in the air and I want to share the love to all fellow ASEAN comrades (sounded cheesy, I know).

We (see the lucky ones in the picture) were fortunate enough to have attended the US ASEAN Conference in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. Triip was invited to speak about their experience as founders in the growing ASEAN region. What amazed us was that the audience in the U.S. understood the opportunity and challenges to be running a startup in ASEAN. There were lots of interests, but what was not there was the official linkage to a better collaborative route.

(Repeating myself again) ASEAN is an economic group of 10 countries with over US$2.4 billion of production capacity. The scene has just gotten more interesting with the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). As much as people from the outside view ASEAN as a fragmented market, the formation of AEC helps foreign investors from the U.S. to get a good feel of the region throw one single counter of interaction. Hence, out of the sudden, ASEAN becomes much bigger that how it used to be prior to 2015.

What other stats should you be aware of:

  1. ASEAN is the 3rd largest economy in Asia and the world’s 7th largest
  2. ASEAN is the number one destination for US investment in Asia ASEAN investment in the US has grown over 1,400% and US investment in ASEAN has increased 169% since 2001.
  3. 36% of Asian Americans trace their ethnicity to an ASEAN country.
  4. The number of individuals from ASEAN countries choosing to become US citizens has increased 33% in a decade and about 12% of all US naturalizations each year are by individuals from ASEAN countries (these includes our fellow comrades from Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia etc who are working with Google, Quora, Facebook and other tech giants).
  5. Students from ASEAN countries contribute over $1.4 billion to the US economy each year and 4,600 US students study in ASEAN countries (we Asians love to study)
  6. 7% of US jobs from exports are supported by exports to ASEAN

US Jobs supported by ASEAN

So what do these stats means for all of us who are still in ASEAN? You are sitting in a hot spot! So hot that you need to go cool down in a bucket of ice every five minutes (perform at your own risk)!

Why am I bullish about ASEAN?

  1. Increasing interests from the U.S. as well as other giants like China
  2. An increasing number of good talent as a result of knowledge transfers from those who were trained by the likes of Facebook, Misfit etc
  3. Language is no longer on top of the “challenger” list as companies are learning how to accommodate to local market demands. It is a self selection process, whoever who can’t adapt will simply get kicked off the market.
  4. We are young! Average age of an ASEAN country go as low as 21 and the highest is about 37. We are still productive and spending.

This is probably one of the most poorly written piece that I have done, but then you get my point.

More spamming of pics!

IMG_5020

Triip’s Ha (the only female – go girl power!)

 

Til next time.

Vietnam “Pho” You

Pho_in_Saigon

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.

When random is predictable

Computers utilizes algorithm and functions that generates output that are mathematically logical. Random number generator is one of the many basic functions that you might have come across. Now, my question to you is – how predictable machines like computers can generate randomness? In reality, most random numbers used in computer programs are pseudo-random, which means they are generated in a predictable manner using a mathematical formula. So how random is predictability?

A larger question that can be imposed on us – what if all of us are governed by a mathematical formula that makes our encounters seem random yet it is all just part of the “plan”? And the next question we would ask is who “created” this mathematical formula and what is the purpose of this?

Questions lead to more questions. Nothing seems to have any answer. Just a random thought..wait a minute, random?

San Francisco

San Francisco

The bridge

Building your castle requires pieces from every part of the world. Essentially, being physically in San Francisco to take in some of the “startup oxygen” becomes a process that most people in the venture industry or someone who wants to be a founder would love to do.

A couple of observations that you would be able to see (depending on how much special oxygen you are breathing in, you know I am just kidding):

1. San Francisco is what it is today because of the startup community as well as the venture capital activities
2. People are talking about entrepreneurship everywhere – be it an advertisement by the lamp post, or on the television where I do feel the programs are less interesting as compared to what we get on the blockbusters.

Anyway, the key message for my first post is that venture capital unlocks entrepreneurship, and with that entrepreneurship can unlock wealth and progress.

Til next time.