Vietnam Startup Spaces: Saigon Coworking

Saigon Coworking
101 Cù Lao, phường 2, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Vietnamese culture feels like it embodies the spirit of startups and entrepreneurialism.  The mindset here is like Shia LaBoeuf – JUST. DO IT. There’s a feeling in Vietnam that you can start immediately and figure it all out later (sometimes for better or for worse). It’s not uncommon to see a family with multiple things on the go. They might rent out an apartment complex, sell goods on the ground floor of said apartment AND have another full-time job on top of that. Even when crossing the streets, the scooters, cars and people are always in perpetual motion. The spirit and energy here is inspiring.

While in Vietnam, I tried to meet the most prominent startup hubs in HCMC and the first one to reply back was Saigon Coworking.

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Upon entering, I was greeted by Ni Le, one person in a small team that runs the space. The first thing I noticed about Vietnam’s coworking spaces is that there’s no fascination with the “one floor, swaths of desks” layout, a trend for most spaces elsewhere. It’s especially apparent in Hong Kong, where even though it’s expensive as hell to find that much space on one floor, it’s still the thing to do. The spaces here are converted from old houses that resemble houses in Amsterdam – they’re built quite narrow, and shoulder-to-shoulder. Because startups have great communication tools like Slack, these days I don’t really think it’s a problem to have teams on different floors – certainly places like Hong Kong may benefit from this layout. The makeup of Vietnamese startup teams also differed from those in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, you meet many expat Western Europeans and Americans looking to sell an idea internationally. In Vietnam, I saw many more teams with “hyphenated,” young, Vietnamese coming back from studies abroad: Vietnamese-Americans, Vietnamese-Australians, etc to improve the local market.

The pricing for hot desks is quite reasonable at Saigon Coworking – so much so I may consider moving someday…

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After the quick tour, Ni and I went to chat at a nearby coffeeshop. [I’m guessing Vietnam rivals Italy’s love for coffee. Every second store seems to be a coffee shop in Vietnam. The coffee culture is fantastic, adopted by the young and the old.] It was interesting to hear her thoughts on Vietnam’s startup scene.

Ni mentioned that one of the biggest challenges Vietnamese entrepreneurs and industries face here in general is doing business online. Credit cards still do not have a high use rate in Vietnam and are not the preferred method of payment for the majority of Vietnamese. Online businesses immediately have big a barrier to adoption if any online sales are involved. The plus side is business regulations are relatively lax and lightly enforced in Vietnam, allowing entrepreneurs to create products that they can sell almost immediately. Many startups develop for the local market and work to create ideas and products that focus on service. Because the service level in Vietnam is usually developed in a laissez-faire manner, it’s easy for a startup to stand out immediately if they can simplify, innovate or improve the quality of an existing service. This usually happens with some inspiration from an idea that has worked in the Western world. Vietnamese companies like Tiki (a Vietnamese Amazon), Ticketbox (Vietnam’s Ticketmaster) and Foody (A Groupon for food) are all good examples of this.

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Vietnam’s best claim to startup fame is probably Flappy Bird, a game that you most likely played at some point in 2013. It was reportedly netting $50,000 USD in ad revenue A DAY, and inspired and spurred on a plethora of game designers, Flappy Bird clones and gaming companies in Vietnam. Vietnam is also quickly becoming the new mecca for tech and mechanical manufacturing, given China’s increase in production costs and movement away from manufacturing.

Vietnam is poised for some incredible growth in its tech sector. One large issue is the lack of local developer talent in Vietnam (a problem Hong Kong faces as well, to a degree), which I will discuss in a future post.

Shoutouts to Ni, Simone and the Saigon Coworking team for showing me around!

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