Viet Nam News
Brian Spence *
As regular readers will know, I am serial entrepreneur who took the plunge to leave the UK and launch S&P Investments in Hanoi after decades in financial services back in the UK. Although I’ve been in Việt Nam for over a year now, the entrepreneurial spirit I see here never ceases to amaze me – and neither does the supportive environment for start-up businesses.
Our business is based in Hà Nội, but of course I’ve also got to know HCM City very well too, and I can honestly say that you would be hard pressed to find better places to set up a new business.
The first thing to strike me was how cost-effectively – and efficiently – entrepreneurs can live in these two thriving cities. For instance, colleagues tell me that someone young, dynamic and without ties could make HCM City their home for only around US$1,500 a month, and in comfort too. Not only that, but finding somewhere to live and work is virtually frictionless: high-tech serviced apartments can be secured the very same day (and almost instantly, often), while short-term office lets are available in a way that cities in London are only just really waking up to.
A New York mindset
Low overheads are of course a godsend for any new business. Added to this is the fact that wages are ultra-competitive and there is a young, highly skilled workforce whose work ethic would put many in the West to shame. With 70 per cent of the Vietnamese population being under thirty and graduate unemployment unfortunately high, competition for work is fierce.
Many people say the atmosphere is akin to New York, where, as the song goes, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere”. While this may be a concern to parents, being in an employers’ market is a real boon for any businessperson as their enterprise grows. Here in Hanoi, I can hire a skilled coder to build my websites for $1,500 a month; in the UK, attaining the very same skillset would cost that amount perhaps each day – with sky-high rents also to contend with.
It’s no secret that being an entrepreneur can be very challenging, and quite lonely, in the beginning, so another great thing is the spirit of camaraderie start-up businesspeople can access. Hundreds of start-ups are clustered in both cities (not to mention other hubs like Medellin and Chiang Mai) and this means that inspiration is everywhere. Networking opportunities naturally abound, but it’s the sharing of experiences and hopefully making of friends in the same situation that will really sustain entrepreneurs. That has certainly been the case with me as I have launched businesses throughout my life and is a facet to life here I particularly enjoy.
Culturally, foreigners might not be in for such as shock as they might fear (except perhaps for the thousands of motorbikes and scooters zooming around!). All the mod cons are within easy reach in the “start-up cities” and I’ve been delighted to find Western style leisure opportunities are plentiful. I haven’t even got an excuse not to go the gym as there are so many in the style that I’m used to! In fact, the WeFit app (another great start-up) offers access to hundreds of gyms and classes via one monthly pass and it’s never been cheaper for me to work up a sweat.
Entrepreneurs really are spoilt for location choices when building and testing their businesses in Việt Nam. There are some slight differences between the north and south, however, I find. The former seems slightly more conservative and careful in business matters, while the latter feels to be more about a willingness to take risks and just making that great business idea happen. Entrepreneurs will have to see which location suits them and their business best, but I can envisage entrepreneurs having a great start in either Hà Nội or HCM City (I’d be delighted to hear from readers about other cities as start-up venues).
A final benefit that can’t be valued too much by an Anglophone like me is just how many Vietnamese have been educated internationally, and so speak English as well (if not better) than my compatriots. These lucky people have both the insights into local culture needed to succeed here, but also a great knowledge of Western business practices that I’m sure will help many take their businesses global.
The Vietnamese Government has set some very ambitious targets for start-ups, but they could hardly have created an environment more conducive to entrepreneurial success. The fact that I’ve come from the other side of the world and am having such a great time developing my business says it all. — VNS
* Brian Spence is managing partner of S&P Investments. He has over 35 years of experience in the UK financial services industry as an investment manager, financial planner and M&A specialist. He is a regular contributor to the UK financial press and has a deep understanding of the financial services community. Brian’s column will reflect on all the challenges and opportunities within the Vietnamese market, bringing a fresh perspective to today’s hottest issues. The columnist’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.