Business

Vietnam's start-up queen

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Media captionHow serial entrepreneur Thuy Truong created the first Vietnamese start-up to be bought by Silicon Valley

"When I work on something that I'm passionate about I really enjoy it, for me not working is actually a punishment."

Thuy Truong, a young Vietnamese entrepreneur, is in a cafe in central Ho Chi Minh City pondering work-life-balance.

"I only sleep four to five hours a day," says the 29-year-old. "I don't even have time to cope with jet lag. I don't believe in work-life balance."

This outlook may explain why Ms Truong has set up three businesses in different industries - including creating what she claims is the first Vietnamese company to be bought by Silicon Valley - all before her 30th birthday.

Frozen beginnings

Image copyright Thuy Truong
Image caption Despite being educated in the US Thuy Truong moved back to Vietnam after she graduated

While born in Vietnam, Ms Truong was educated in the US after her family moved there in 2003.

"Like many other parents in Vietnam, my parents believe that America offers better education, and my parents wanted me to study in the US," she says.

Her parents wanted her stay in the US after she graduated from the University of Southern California, but she went against their wishes to move back to Vietnam.

Ms Truong returned to her home town of Bien Hoa, which lies about an hour from Ho Chi Minh City, where in 2008 she set up a frozen yoghurt business with some friends.

"We raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and were very successful in marketing, and built a good brand. But at that time we did not know how to build a sustainable business.

"So in the end, after three years we shut them down."

She adds: "Statistically 99% of start-up businesses fail. So you have only a 1% chance of being successful.

"When you are young and you want to do start-up business, it's worth doing something you are passionate about. [But] there is no guarantee that it will work.

"But even if you fail, there is still a great lesson learnt from working on something that you love."

Tech start

While the frozen yoghurt business was developing Ms Truong was also building her first technology business.

Along with a former classmate from the University of Southern California she launched a start-up called GreenGar.

The company was known for an application called Whiteboard, a collaborative drawing app. Like the yoghurt business it also grew quickly.

"The Whiteboard app got over nine million downloads in the first four years, and was used by pupils in schools in more than 100 countries," Ms Truong says.

"We made over a million US dollars, the business was successful, but we failed to scale it."

Image copyright Thuy Truong
Image caption Thuy Truong started her three businesses from her home

Third time lucky

It was Ms Truong's third business, a social messaging application called Tappy that is her biggest success.

"The number of smartphone users in Vietnam has been increasing by over 10% a year for the past five years," she says.

"When you come to an event or a business venue... you can use Tappy [on your phone] to find and interact with people around you. Basically it turns the venue into a virtual community to allow people talk in groups or talk privately."

Some 10 months after it was launched, Tappy was acquired by Weeby, a mobile gaming technology company based in Silicon Valley, California, for "an undisclosed seven-figure sum".

Ms Truong now works as Weeby's director for business development for Asia.

Image copyright Thuy Truong
Image caption The team behind Thuy Truong's third business, Tappy are mostly in their 20s

Vietnamese ventures

Starting up a business is always a challenge, but Ms Truong believes this is especially true in countries like Vietnam.

"Although Vietnam has been seen as one of the most potential countries in the region for business start-up, technology and legal infrastructure are still the biggest obstacles," she says.

"Wi-fi is everywhere, but the internet speed is still slow, and if I find an investor who wants to put money in my company it usually takes about six months to complete the paperwork.

"These factors actually hinder the economic growth of the country in general and the technology sector in particular,"

Now that she is based in Mountain View, San Francisco, Ms Truong splits her time 50-50 between the US and Asia.

"Usually when I land in Singapore or Vietnam, I have about seven to 10 meetings that fill the day from dusk to dawn," she says.

"My parents now live in Los Angeles and each time I come back to Vietnam for business I try to visit my uncle and cousin who still live here in my hometown in Bien Hoa.

"Both my grandparents and my parents were business people when they were very young. They support my hard work because they believe that you should work hard while you are young."

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