For the first time ever, e27 brought our grassroots meetup Founders Drinks to Vietnam with talks from HotelQuickly’s Christian Mischler and 500 Startups’ Binh Tran
Armed with the mission to connect Asian ecosystems in an online and offline way, e27 editorial teamed up with Bobby Liu of Hub.IT to bring Founders Drinks to Vietnam for the very first time last week.
Out of all of our events, Founders Drinks is meant to be the most casual and grassroots. Besides giving attendees a chance to rub shoulders with their local tech community, they also get to pick the brains of successful entrepreneurs to avoid making the same mistakes.
Hanoi, Oct 27th
In Hanoi, we had HotelQuickly‘s Co-founder, CMO and COO (that’s a mouthful of titles) Christian Mischler join us for a chat at Hub.IT on building great company culture.
Mischler comes from an eclectic background. Although he studied banking and finance and was in the Swiss Military Intelligence, he’s also a serial entrepreneur and Partner at Swiss Founders Fund which invests in Southeast Asian startups.
It seems like there are two things that has shaped the way Mischler runs his company: His time at Rocket Internet as the global COO of foodpanda which embedded his execution skills and his digital nomad lifestyle.
Spending 250 days working remotely, living out of hotels without a permanent address, Mischler lives and breathes the HotelQuickly use case by booking accommodations last minute and via the mobile app.
Although the three-year-old startup has nine offices around the region, employees are encouraged to work wherever and whenever they feel the most productive — a very progressive approach to company culture adopted by tech companies in the Bay Area such as Buffer.
With 100+ employees logging on at all times of the day, how does Mischler keep his teams in sync?
Most notable is HotelQuickly’s management structure, which is made up of five Co-founders and a broader team of local Founders in each market. He stressed that the recruitment process, especially for their country managers, is the most essential. It is all about hiring the right person in the beginning and making sure they are aligned with the company vision.
The most important thing, after hiring the right person, is to trust them completely and Mischler stressed this in his talk over and over again. As long as they hit their targets, there is no reason not to give them full autonomy. Lastly, the HotelQuickly team runs a “all hands on deck” video call every Friday morning to keep the team connected.
In true tech startup form, HotelQuickly makes use of productivity and communication software, such as Slack and Asana, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Mischler revealed that he is planning on scaling the team up to 200 people, which may present problems when trying to maintain a tight-knit company culture. Until then, the HotelQuickly culture seems rock solid.
Ho Chi Minh City, Oct 30th
We then headed south to Ho Chi Minh City to run the second Founders Drinks at new co-working space Dreamplex. Since the space was still under renovation, we ran the event in the basement nightclub which was decked out in full Halloween splendor.
Joining us was Binh Tran, new Venture Partner at 500 Startups Vietnam, who is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor-turned-VC. Tran is also the Co-founder and former CTO of Klout, which was sold to Lithium Technologies for US$200 million last year.
Having started four startups in the US within a number of spaces, Tran is a seasoned entrepreneur that has learned many lessons the hard way, so we dove into his life’s work in a fireside chat done narrative style.
A video game enthusiast, Tran’s first startup TradeJunkies was a marketplace for people to trade their unused games. The business plan called for US$2 million in capital which he wasn’t able to raise, so he moved onto his next startup which was ScoreandReport — education software for special needs children. Although the product was well-received and was used in 600 school districts, the business would not be as scalable as Tran initially thought so he moved onto the next.
His third startup, Fizmo, was a Craigslist and eBay mashup that ultimately crashed and burned after spending a million dollars on it. After his latest startup episode, Tran went back to the corporate world but found himself bored and itching to dive back into entrepreneurship.
That’s when his long-time friend and ScoreandReport Co-founder Joe Fernandez came along with the idea for Klout. Recognising the opportunity, Tran sold his car, rented out his house in Los Angeles and hightailed to San Francisco.
His time at Klout brought forth a bevy of lessons. From stalking the owner of the Klout.com domain via Foursquare with ten grand in cash, to securing an essential data partnership with Twitter which led to his startup’s massive growth, Tran’s time with Klout was nothing short of an adventure.
It also hasn’t been an easy ride. The startup had to bootstrap for a year-and-a-half before landing their first angel round, endured a SXSW pitch competition that didn’t bear any fruit, and also became the target for relentless negative press.
Although Klout had an offer to sell the business back in 2010, they held out until 2014 and was able to exit the company for US$200 million. The waiting game had definitely paid off.
Now, Tran looks to reconnect with his roots and spend more time investing in his home country Vietnam through 500 Startups.
The market to watch
There’s something distinctive that we found about the startups we met in these two cities — they’re a batch of hungry, scrappy hustlers that, in my opinion, embody the spirit of a true entrepreneur. Despite limitations in local funding options and the palpable missing mentorship layer of repeat entrepreneurs, Vietnam is a challenging but exciting market that feels extremely underrated and we’re keeping an eye on it.
We hope to bring Founders Drinks back to Vietnam soon. Stay tuned!
Interested in meeting great Vietnamese companies? Startups from all around the Mekong region including Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand will be converging in Bangkok for Echelon Thailand 2015 on November 26 – 27, a two-day action packed tech conference with dynamic content, pitches and networking. Get your tickets here!
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