Startup, Up and Away

Blogs - Vietnam: June 18, 2018

T. Nguyen, the founder of, moved to Ho Chi Minh City from San Francisco with one goal in mind: to take advantage of the city’s unique e-commerce boom.

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Compared to overly saturated markets in San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C., where Nguyen originally developed and designed apps with startup companies, the entrepreneur recalled that Ho Chi Minh City presented a fresh opportunity to create something new.

“I looked back into [Vietnam’s] market and I saw this opportunity to build Chopp,” he recalled.

A Booming Market

He hasn’t been the first to recognise this burgeoning opportunity. Peter Christou, Shopper Expert at Kantar Worldpanel Vietnam, told us that conditions are ripe for an explosion of internet sales: “Knowing that the internet connectivity is quite high in Vietnam, knowing that Vietnam has quite a young population, I think that has to do with the rise of e-commerce. Or maybe m-commerce. It’s all about mobile.”

Perhaps one of the reasons that e-commerce has risen so dramatically in Vietnam’s larger cities is due to the manifold options and conveniences e-commerce services can offer. In HCMC, a city with sporadic and intense traffic congestion, the allure of a meal delivered directly to your doorstep, or a t-shirt ordered online and brought to your office at work, can seem tantalisingly great.

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Besides convenience, e-commerce also allows careful consumers to be more diligent about products. As Christou noted, within the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) market, two areas in particular have seen tremendous growth in the e-commerce market: personal care items and baby products such as milk powder and diapers.

While the personal care items, which include products like lipstick, makeup and facial care, can be attributed to the abundance of choice offered through online portals, the allure of baby products points to the growing demand for safer and healthier products for a population wary of safety scandals.

“Food safety is a big issue,” Christou confirms. For new mothers still reeling from the 2013 milk powder scandals, the ability to research products and order international brands from other companies outweighs the extra delivery costs.

The Startup Spirit

T. Nguyen’s concept for fits directly into this need for increased food vigilance.

“It’s not like [Vietnam] lacks healthy food resources,” Nguyen reasons. “It’s that they lack a credible food resource.”

Nguyen founded his company as a go-to resource that vets local items and stores for safety and quality. For a small shopping and transfer fee (around US$1),’s “Choppers” retrieve the items delivered to a customer’s doorstep.

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It might sound easy, but Nguyen contends it’s anything but.

The biggest problem Nguyen faces? Human resources. He chalks this up, above all, to the misrepresentation of the startup culture in Vietnamese society. “It’s a big challenge to find the folks who can take initiative, can think on their feet and can make decisions,” he tells us. “Most folks here are more familiar with the outsourced model, which is like, ‘wait for someone to give you a task and then execute that task.’ ”

What Nguyen has been searching for since starting in 2016 has been what he calls “the startup spirit”, which requires continuous learning and experimenting.

T. Nguyen laments that the mixture of an educational system that does not prepare students for real-world vocational challenges, mixed with the unrealistic and glamorous expectations many potential hires have of startup culture, often produces workers wholly unprepared for startup communities.

Nguyen’s solution? “I tend to hire people who have potential more than skill.” While this has helped become a growing presence in Ho Chi Minh City’s go-to app scene, it seems that the city’s workforce must grow with demand for e-commerce to take a lasting foothold.

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