8bis/14 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Đa Kao, Quận 1,
Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
The more entrepreneurs I meet in Vietnam, the more I realize that the people I’m meeting are the real pioneers of Vietnam’s future startup scene. Every chat is filled with passion and excitement, but also with a somber realization that it’s going to be difficult work to build up, as we’re just at the beginning. I believe in five years, we’ll look back on Vietnam and realize we arrived at a time when it was still “cowboy territory” and notice the many great improvements that have been made.
This is what I thought of while meeting and chatting with Martial Ganiere, the owner of Start Saigon. Start Saigon was a bit difficult to find at first; it was within an alleyway and the exterior was undergoing some renovations and a rebrand. I eventually found the spot, and Martin – the founder of Start Saigon – and I had a great chat over some lunch and coffee.
While many startup tech entrepreneurs are happy to tell you about their big ambitions and ideas, Martial was definitely more grounded in conversation, looking to test all assumptions and gave me a realist view of the startup environment in Ho Chi Minh City. He gave me an example of the rundown of the Web Development and design environment in Vietnam. Vietnam is definitely a tough market for that racket, because most Vietnamese companies wont pay over $100 USD bucks for a website – and web development companies are ubiquitous and most are happy to sacrifice quality for a few bucks to stay in the game.
Martial and I also delved into what was one of the biggest issues in Asia’s startup scene – finding local talent with the right mindset and abstract, non-linear creative thinking. I’ve never fully realized how changes in our education system really affect a country years, perhaps decades later, until now. This is clearly the problem in Vietnam, and to a larger extent Hong Kong as well – only recently has the Hong Kong government stepped in to officially make tech funding and education a priority. While “startups and tech” just roll off the tongue in North America, computer science programs in Vietnam appear to be quite archaic, and without much support outside the educational walls. There is a lack of overall community to help further educate, develop and nurture any budding talents that make it through. The result is a lag in thinking and lack of structure for innovative talent. Many of the startup hubs host Vietnamese students from abroad who have seen technology through a developed school system, who come back with fresh ideas for the country, but it’s still not coming from the inside.
Communities are incredibly important places to share, learn and ideate. We can’t just focus on our own products. Martial mentioned that a couple years ago, the startup community was growing very healthily in numbers, however due to an issue with the main community founders (drama?!), progress has backtracked a bit and left the community slightly fragmented. His hope is to build something to bring everyone together and provide more opportunities and educational sharing opportunites for aspiring developers, whether that’s in the form of seminars, internships, apprenticeships and opportunities to work on valuable projects as a way to really test skills. We can already see how these ideas are helping in Hong Kong, with places like General Assembly.
Start Saigon is a beautiful space that is currently under renovation. The great thing about Vietnam, is that Vietnam is becoming a manufacturing country, and for a jack-of-all trades designer like Martial, he’s even designing all the furniture for his space to specification! It’s also one of the few places in Vietnam that have a swimming pool. I can’t wait to see what this place looks like in a few more months. They’ve even got a full kitchen and scooter garage in the basement!
A big thanks to Martial for showing me around.