So, what is Wise Pass you’re wondering?
Wise Pass is an app that provides real market facts and analyses communication campaigns. It offers a platform for brands to be able to get closer to their consumers’ needs and analyses the ways in which the brand’s produce is consumed. The feedback provided allows brands using Wise Pass to communicate better without being aggressive.
Pic : wisepasscover.jpg
Wise Pass gathers data in real time by organising attractive evening venues for ladies, to then communicate them to the brands.
Hello Lam! So, what’s your story? How long have you been in Saigon for?
What motivated you to settle here?
Hi! So, I’m Lam, co-founder and CEO of Wise Pass. After graduating from business school, I chose to specialise in digital marketing and from there I started creating companies. My Vietnamese parents arrived in France in 1983, and I was born not so long after that so I’ve spent most of my childhood and teenage years in France. My father’s side of the family settled in France, and my mother’s side of the family are still in Vietnam. This helped my decision when I considered Vietnam as a place to develop Wise Pass.
Relocating to Vietnam occurred in two stages, 6 years ago I was woking on developing a shea butter business that was based in Ghana. My business partner at the time suggested that I relocate to Asia in order to get closer to our Asian-based clients, including those in China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Shortly after arriving in Vietnam, I started to analyse my life, it was also around this time that I got into my first serious relationship with a Vietnamese girl. Then, it became kind of a spiritual revelation.
However, around this time I also got a job opportunity at Google, based in Dublin, Ireland. I had been working for over 10 years in the digital business, and the offer was seriously tempting and so after much deliberation I accepted the job and moved back to Europe. I only managed a year in Ireland and during this time I realised that I wanted to move back to Vietnam permanently. Now that I am back, I really don’t see myself leaving!
Was Vietnam you’re first experience outside of France, or have you lived elsewhere before settling here?
Vietnam is definitely not my first experience of living abroad. I was born in France, and grew up in Versailles, a city near Paris. At 16 I moved to Benin, a French-speaking country in West Africa since my father who was was working for the French embassy was positioned there. In Benin that I completed my final two years of high school and then moved back to Paris to prepare for business school. I got a place at I got a place at CERAM Sophia Antopolis in the South of France and so moved there the following year.
During my first year I got a 3-month intern placement in New York, this developed into a long term internship and I ended up spending 2 years in New York working in the digital marketing field. This experience made me realise that I wanted to focus my career in the digital marketing field and I started my first company in 2008. Before this I enrolled on a student exchange program and spent my final year studying in South Korea.
After graduating from College, I launched my first export shea butter company with a business partner on the basis of ethical and social partnership. This gave me the opportunity to temporarily change sectors and discover something new. I spent 3 years living in Ghana developing the company, then as I mentioned earlier I was asked to relocate to Asia by that business partner!
In 2011 I started working for “NhomMua.com” in Vietnam, teaming up with my former roommate and I fell right back into digital marketing. I remained there for a year and a half, and that’s when Google’s job offer happened, so I moved to Dublin. At Google human and professional experiences are quite particular. We worked in a very defined work frame, and only in this one. As it’s a structure handling over 30,000 employees, it makes sense, yet the freedom of innovation and proposition are quite restrained. I realised that it wasn’t for me, and that the financial rewards weren’t motivating enough for me, I wanted to create. Creating is my passion and is what was drives me, so I moved back to Vietnam…
What difficulties have you met that you weren’t expecting? Anything easy?
People usually think that starting a company in Vietnam is difficult, especially on the administrative side of things. It actually looks difficult because one doesn’t master the procedure. But it’s like this anywhere in the world, the administrative procedures are always long and complicated! The real difficulty for me isn’t this, it’s more on building the company’s project. Having an idea isn’t complicated, anyone can have great ideas. It’s the time you need to take to think about it and develop it. Of course, having the finances for it helps a lot too! One needs to take time – weeks and months, to build the idea, talk about it, to then be able to sell the project. The magic path doesn’t exist!
The second challenging aspect I’ve faced from the start in Vietnam is the Internet speed, especially while working in the digital field where everything is handled online. When developing an app, we need to keep in mind the time it takes to download it, and how many people are using the Wi-Fi connection and we need to bear in mind that 4G isn’t available in Vietnam yet either!
In terms of what was easy, I’d say that the whole ‘tech’ part is easier in Vietnam. If you’re into web development, the labor is not at all costly, and quite competent.
You also have turnover issues and I believe this is a question of management and leadership. I don’t suffer from it for now but I am well aware that when my company grows it will be tougher to preserve the authentic ethics that I am currently able to apply to my work.
I try to have a very flat hierarchy, and I always try to listen to my employees. I work with results and performance, not with attendance within the office. I also really value trust, which makes people stand out and helps them to be independent. I have a team of 15 people today, and my technical staff have been with me from the start, they are all exclusively Vietnamese! I want our workspace to be as ‘friendly’ as possible.
In the future I’ll need to hire more people, and I’m looking at very different profiles with different strengths and personalities in order to preserve our way of working. I want to build teams that will be able to manage themselves and evolve independently while, at the same time, preserving the company’s work ethic.
A startup is constantly evolving, and I always have to question myself and be reactive. The further things develop, the more interesting the startup becomes and the more problems are encountered, dealt with and solved.
One must learn to prioritise, in order not to get lost. Each morning I spend 5 minutes with each of my staff in order to take stock of their situations and look at how they are getting on with their individual projects. My team are all accustomed to this and are aware that it is part of our planning and setting objectives. It’s very important for me to maintain a transparency through progress, it is also good to know what everyone is up to and it creates cohesion within the team. We will have to find and hire the right people here in Vietnam to continue this evolution.
Do you think Vietnam is a good country for this type of business? And for startups in general? What advice would you give someone wishing to start up a company in a country like Vietnam?
One needs time, and needs to take the time in order to build something solid. Having personal finances allows one to launch their startup with more peace of mind as well.
It’s also important to surround yourself with ‘good’ people, whom you trust and whom you fit in with on work basis. The magic of entrepreneurship is that you can create your own reality! But one shouldn’t forget that nothing is either easy or obvious; forget about this way of thinking! Problems will continually occur and one must constantly innovate while making solid what’s already there. One should also always underestimate the objectives, in terms of delivery, updates. Even if everything is very well organised, one must take into consideration that planning is only on paper, and even well executed plans do not prevent unexpected things to happen.
It is also a true asset to already have an experience in the field in which we choose to launch our company, this knowledge helps us in competitive markets. Knowing yourself also really help! Best of luck!
Pics by Nathalie Mulot