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Hao currently serves as the CEO of Vietcetera, a digital multimedia company that he co-founded in 2016.
He has shared on trends that are emerging in Vietnam and greater Southeast Asia including and not limited to venture capital, e-commerce, technology startups, food and beverage, tourism, retail and trade. His insights and those from Vietcetera and his projects have been featured on media outlets such as Monocle, CNBC, CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the LA Times, and Bloomberg News.
A native of the San Francisco Bay, work has also taken Hao to both coasts of the US, Europe, India and now Ho Chi Minh City. In addition to his native English, Hao speaks fluent Spanish and Vietnamese.
Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, My name is Bryan.
And my name is Maggie
And we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asiansto pursue their dreams and goals.
We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Maggie: (00:00:23) Everyone welcome to the Asian hustle network podcast. Today, we have a very special guest with us. His name is how Tran and how is actually our first episode of season two of the Asian hustle network podcast. So we’re very excited to have her on our podcast today. How currently serves as the CEO of Viet cetera, a digital multimedia company that he co-founded in 2016. He has shared on trends that are emerging in Vietnam and greater Southeast Asia, including, and not limited to venture capital e-commerce technology, startups, food, and beverage, tourism, retail, and trade his insights. And those from Viet cetera, and his projects have been featured on media outlets, such as monocle, CNBC, CNN, the Washington post, the New York times, the LA times and Bloomberg news, a native of the San Francisco bay work has also taken how to both. Of the U S and Europe, India, and now hoochie Minh city. In addition to his native English house speaks fluent, Spanish and Vietnamese. How welcome to the show.
Hao: (00:01:26) Thank you so much for that intro Maggie. And it’s a real pleasure to be the first guest of your second season of the podcast. I’ve been listening to it for some time. I think I remember discovering it during, um, the beginning of the pandemic and I’ve been following it ever since. So again, grateful for. For you and for Brian’s time this, uh, this afternoon and happy to share a little bit more to the audience today.
Bryan: (00:01:49) Yeah. We’re super excited to have you on the podcast. Is here your intro. Wow. Like you’ve done a lot of things, you know? So before we kind of,
Hao: (00:01:56) that’s a lesson I can share about today. A little too much. You can’t spin all the plates at once. Uh, but yes. Thank you.
Bryan: (00:02:04) Yeah. I mean, you’re quite the hustler. I’m so happy to have you hear it. We’re going to take you back to stuff, right? We’re going to dive deep to your upbringing. What made you the hustler we are today? What kind of family structure lessons that your mom and dad teach you growing out to make you more competent in take initiative like you have done so far?
Hao: (00:02:23) Yeah, I think I grew up in a family that has always had some entrepreneurial spirit on paper where a pretty like. I guess upper middle-class Asian family living the American dream, nothing too fancy, not too fancy, not too well off, but not like, you know, not doing too bad either, but our family always had the kind of wanting to do more basically. So I remember when I was a kid, my father who’s an engineer, hardware engineer works in Silicon valley. My mother’s a nurse. They put in a lot of hours to get where they are, but around when I was 10, maybe 12 years, My family started a Hawaiian barbecue chain. They opened, I think at its height two or three locations. I forget how many, but my dad was, uh, working a nine to five during the week and on weekends was working at the restaurant. And yeah, that was, uh, an example of just pure hustling, just like, kind of get things off the ground. And, and to this day he says it paid for our college education, my brother and my, uh, my own, but that’s just one little bit too. I think I, I look at their, their backgrounds and having been kind of raised in California. Uh, as well, you’re kind of exposed to, uh, exceptional people, exceptional talent when you’re, when you’re studying, but also right after university. And yeah, the family kind of wanted to immerse us in that. So, uh, very grateful for being raised where I was and for going to the schools I went to and eventually, uh, getting my first job in San Francisco as well. It was because of my dad’s own expense. In Silicon valley that encouraged me to think in that direction as well. I’m not in Silicon valley anymore, as you can probably imagine I’m a in Vietnam, but there’s a story there
Maggie: (00:04:02) that is amazing. And we can definitely tell where that entrepreneurial and hustle culture inside of new came from. You know, your parents worked extremely hard and growing up in the San Francisco bay, you know, I also grew up in San Francisco as well. And as you know, Predominantly Asian in certain districts. Um, I want to know like how your Asian identity has kind of changed together while you were growing up in the, in the San Francisco bay area.
Hao: (00:04:26) Growing up. Actually, I had a very, I didn’t like my Asian identity. I think I didn’t become more, much more proud, but also just proud in general. Uh, after university, after a couple of years working in the bay area, I always actually looked down upon it. I thought it was in some way hindering my development or my career prospects. Or, or relationships with greater American society. And it actually all started with my name, uh, how so in Vietnamese it’s pronounced how, uh, but to, to just anglicize it, it’s how, which is completely fine with me. I don’t really care how to pronounce it as long as it’s just pronounced one of the ways I, I would accept it, but I remember when I was growing up and all the way through my first job out of university, people would make fun of my name and. Bad ways, like very negative, uh, attacking ways, but also through all the way through professional career, people would just kind of say it as like a side joke, like, oh, how are you? Ha and then just go into conversation kind of thing. Right. I always kind of brushed it off and, and I’m glad I did. I had that mindset, but it didn’t become apparent to me that this was actually a very negative recurring issue that affected me up until I moved to yet. In Vietnam? No one’s ever really made fun of my name actually only two Caucasian white people did. Um, and there were other Americans that had just moved to Vietnam. So they somehow thought it was appropriate to make fun of my name in Vietnam. Like imagine that they made fun of like a Vietnamese person’s name. Like, uh, Vietnamese national, but they somehow thought it was okay to make fun of a Vietnamese American person’s name. It’s like in Vietnam, I feel very American, but in, in, uh, in America, I feel like not even Vietnamese, I just feel like foreign somehow. And then in a lot of ways, but also. So anyways, I’m calling you guys here right now from the U S actually I’m here for the whole summer. I’ve been here for a couple of months, and I’ve been taking notes about my observations about that, uh, and larger kind of trends, uh, effecting Asian. And I’d have to say it’s a relief to be living in Vietnam. I think just those little things about thinking about your Asian identity, uh, they don’t become kind of like a small side kind of thing that you have to think about as much. I was, I was just watching a, watching a short documentary on vice this morning. They had like, one of the reporters went to a summer camp that had a pretty diverse set of people. Uh, African-Americans Caucasians, Asians, Latinos, just like a kids camp, basically. And the host of this group. So let’s say there’s like 30 of them. I think it was in the group. They did kind of like a racial identity kind of like, not test, I want to say, but just like life questions, like, oh, uh, so the, one of the first questions. Oh, do you have to think about racism every day in your life? And the answer is yes. You take a step back and the answer is no, you take a step forward. And, uh, at the end of this whole exercise where there was like 10 different questions, you can see how simple. The group was like all the, all the Caucasian people were walking up almost constantly. And all the minorities were walking back and white men were like at the very beginning. And then, uh, African-American women were at the very end. And I thought that was such a stark example of where American society is. And luckily, you know, as Asians, we, we face our own discrimination, but it’s not. Bad as some groups I would have to say honestly, but with that said, you know, living in Vietnam, it’s, you don’t really think about those things. Everyone else is Vietnamese. Um, and obviously that’s by the, by how we look, we, we kind of blend in, I made the changes when you start speaking, but it’s not that negative. If anything, it could be a positive too, but, uh, yeah, it’s, it’s been interesting. It’s quite a journey and I think I’ve really discovered it in the last few.
Maggie: (00:08:14) That’s super powerful. I was just going to say that, um, I kind of resonate with the things that you said about how you felt more at home in Vietnam. Because personally for me in America, I’m actually really petite and how knows this because how Brian and I went out for lunch the other day when we were in Los Angeles and you know how he probably thought I would be someone a lot taller, but. You know, judge a lot by my height here, especially growing up in like elementary school, middle school. But when I go back to my motherland in Hong Kong, everyone is around the same height. So I never, I was never judged by my height. No one ever said anything about it when I go back to Hong Kong. So it’s like, well, I actually feel, you know, I don’t feel judged here. I actually feel at home, even if I feel. I don’t have, I don’t fully grasp onto my identity there because everyone knows in Hong Kong. They know if not actually from there, they’re not, they know you’re not a native, but at the same time I feel, I still feel like I’m at home. I still feel like no one ever really does it judges, you know, whenever. It says anything about, well, you’re, you’re so short for someone your age, you know? So I really resonate with that story about you going back to Vietnam and feeling like you’re at home.
Hao: (00:09:20) I, I do miss a America too with that said, um, having been back for two months now, and we’ll, uh, we’ll be here for a little bit longer. There’s just things of American life that are just exceptional and that’s what makes America so great. And so I do miss it, but I, I tell myself, I have to get to a certain point career wise where not just stability or where I am in my career, that I. You know, want to go back to America or you can spend like more than a certain amount of time in America every year. But part of it also has to do with, with age. I think when you’re older, you just don’t have to deal with these identity questions as much. And you know, they do affect you as a young person. I mean, I’m not too young anymore, but, um, I still think about it, uh, more than, uh, an older person would I think. But also when you’re older, you know, you, you have your own circles. Maybe you have a family. Maybe you have a home now, or, you know, in some cases professionally, um, you might need, might not need to be working nine to five, going to the office every day. And in some ways I I’ve told myself, oh, to the point where like, I don’t really have to work, not one of my retired or when I don’t have to work. Nine to five going in an office every day and just be around so many people every day I can choose to be who I’m around very deliberately and everyone should at every point of their life. But you know, when you’re older, you can make even more of those choices, more, um, you know, thoughtfully. That’s what I would go back to the U S I just the idea of working in a modern American workplace as an Asian American, it’s quite, it’s quite daunting. Actually. I don’t, I don’t find that appealing.
Bryan: (00:10:50) Yeah. I mean, that’s me. What do you guys both said is pretty relatable to myself as well, but more in a sense that you know, where I grew up this actually like 98% Asian people. So it’s like, we saw herself as me means Chinese, Korean or Japanese. So it’s slightly different. But do you understand the point of view that you’re coming from? It’s like, what are I stick out as at least when you’re younger, you want to have a sense of belonging, you know, And you always want to feel like you belong to a community that you can assimilate to culture. And we all went through that in different phases and different feelings, but I’m glad that we learned from that and created our own separate community to just sort of promote our cultural excellence. And that takes us to the cetera. I mean, before we get there, like, how’d you end up choosing Vietnam, like I know you graduated college at brown university. But soon after that you found yourself in Asia, can you kind of walk us through that and through that part of your life and what the decision was like to move abroad to a new culture and learn the business sense of everything to start where you’re starting right now, if you etc.
Hao: (00:11:53) It’s a combination of the names of Vietnam and et cetera, the words rather than okay. Vietnam and so on. We want to bring Vietnam to the world and the world to Vietnam. The story of how I got to where, um, I’ve, I’m running the et cetera now starts with my first job in the U S so I worked at a company called hotel tonight based in San Francisco. Um, I was there for a little under two years and one day I actually just got laid off. Cut the company cut like 30, 35% of the team in, in one swings. Uh, unfortunately, I was part of that. Um, I actually got laid off when I was working abroad at the time I was sent on a business trip to Paris. It was also the same week of the bot to clon attacks. When, you know, there was a terrorist attack in Paris, uh, with, at the music club. Yeah, I was there at the same exact time. Uh, it was like the worst 48 hours of my life. Like I got laid off in the batch of kind of Zach’s. I was out in Paris on a Friday night. I remember very clearly anyways. Um, I remember being so horrified, but in two consecutive days, And just like any, you know, 20 something year old where you have to pay high rent in San Francisco. I was like, thinking, oh, I gotta get a new job right away. And I did, it was at a time when, uh, if you could walk and talk and chew gum, you could like get a six figure job in California. That’s just how it was in the bay area. Like if you had skills and, and, uh, um, you know, that, to that, that helps. Uh, but anyways, Just the job market was just on fire. So a couple of weeks later I got a couple of job offers that were pretty interesting. Uh, but I remember looking at them and I was like, yeah, you know, these companies are cool and you know, these opportunities look great, but it really is kind of the same thing. I’m like, I’m still doing some form of business development. I’m still doing, I’m still living in San Francisco, like more or less. Working on just like slightly different street in Soma. And I was craving for something new. So I remember I accepted one of the offers, but told them I would come back in two months because there was like the Christmas period and a whole bunch of holidays and they were totally okay with that. So I took that time and went to Asia. I went to Australia as well. Part of that trip was a short visit to Vietnam. I had only been once previously and despite being Vietnamese American, I actually had no affinity to Vietnam whatsoever. I was not interested. I was not interested in Vietnam. I was not interested in living or working there. I purely just stopped to visit because on this whole itinerary as one. Five countries. And I did believe though that I wanted to just understand it better. So when I went, I stayed with this Airbnb host. I found randomly this Australian guy who introduced me to Hutchman city, AKA Saigon, and had a fantastic time. He took me to like, uh, the shellfish place in Vietnamese is called Okta, Alex, basically a massive like outdoor restaurant where you can have shellfish. And then I remember. Going out to bars and the evening meeting a lot of young people, Vietnamese, mostly that were just quite enthusiastic about whatever they were doing. Um, and I had a great time. It was there for a few days. And at the end, he, this host of mine, uh, on Airbnb was telling me like, Hey, you should. Maybe consider working here. And I remember I looked on line about jobs and salaries in Vietnam and, you know, it’s nowhere near, at least in absolute terms, uh, what you can make in San Francisco, but, you know, cost of living is much lower. So, but I remember looking at it and I was like, well, you know, at my stage of career, it’s a little too much of a hustle to be doing that. Um, I wanted to be like, not just hustling, but like in an environment where I can learn from mentors and have a little bit more structure. I was 23 at the time. And, uh, went back to the U S and started my new job. Didn’t like it. And within 30 days I was like, okay, I got to find a job in Vietnam just to keep myself motivated during the day at work. I couldn’t keep my eyes open anyways. So that’s exactly what I did. And I remember stumbling upon just after a few days. That 500 startups. So it’s a venture capital firm based in, uh, San Francisco, actually that was opening a branch office in Richmond city. And I remember reading it on the wall street journal or whatever. It was just honestly being very surprised. I didn’t think that venture would be a thing, let alone a growing technology industry in Vietnam. So I looked into it. Found out the partner lived in San Francisco, one of the partners. And so I remember trying to find his email. So like any cold email, if you’re doing sales or just trying to contact people, you know how it works and you find the, their domain. So it at, you know, in this case 500 startups.com, you try every variation of their email. So his name in this case has been VI. Sorry, I’m already bailing, like BT been at everything by 10 different variations, all in one go And I found one of them and went through and he replied within like six hours and knew he actually didn’t want to meet on the first email. He was like, oh, you can, I’ll introduce you to portfolio companies. And that like super short email, I still have it probably. And after a few emails, I was like, yeah, I don’t think these companies are that interesting. I want to meet you. So then he finally agreed to meet for 30 minutes at a coffee shop across the street from our offices market street in San Francisco. And within that short window, I was just very curious and asked a lot of questions. And at the end I asked if I could work for him. And he said, yeah, but probably not a good day. And I asked him why, and he’s like, you know, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re working at a great future unicorn startup, which turned out to be a unicorn startup and, uh, that I was working at. And, um, uh, you do that. And I was like, no, I want to work for 500. So then he tells me that the. Is $300 a month and it’s technically an internship. And I was like, yo dude, uh, you know, the pay, that’s one thing, but like, I can’t take an internship. Could you like give me a full-time job? Like on paper, it could be an internship, but like, you know, publicly and make it a full-time thing. It’s like, sure. So, you know, paperwork-wise, it was easy for them. I can understand their pay too, like market rate at the time, apparently for a junior analyst and the fund hadn’t materialized yet, it was. Operationally, it was still fundraising. So they had to, they didn’t have any capital to, to deploy, let alone, like hire people later. My salary would go up and all that, but I was only there for a year. Anyways. I accepted, went to Vietnam. And within a couple of months, I wanted to do more. I discovered Vietnam had a lot to offer and B et cetera, started as a blog to kind of connect selfishly myself to people that were doing interesting things. And I would just use it as a blog to meet people. And then, you know, a couple of years later started growing few years later. Um, we’re now a hundred percent company.
Bryan: (00:18:19) Wow. That’s a crazy story. For instance. Well, it’s doing your mind when you tip at 95% data,
Hao: (00:18:27) you know, as Americans we’re so geared to like optimize for salaries were Americans and Western people actually were very geared for individualism. We really like build our lives around optimizing for pleasures and like vices and, and money, like as young. And you should be, you know, when you’re young and trying to make as much money as. Why not. But one thing that we always seem to forget too, is that it’s important to learn and find the right mentors and position yourself for success later. And luckily I had savings, so I wasn’t like, you know, the, the money I was making wasn’t enough to cover even my expenses. I mean, I had certain standards of living. I just wanted a slightly nicer place, which ate up almost my entire salary and then, you know, getting around and food. But to answer your question, I think it was more like, well, Hey, it’s one year. No, it’s okay. On paper. At least I have a job that’s, you know, fairly respectable and, you know, I got to learn from some people, new place, new industry. And, um, I saw it as a learning opportunity. So I did the math and I was like, well, I’m basically spending about $10,000 of my savings to live in Vietnam for one year, because I’m not making enough income to displace the cost. Is it worth it? And I said, yeah. So just go ahead. And I progressively, I found ways to make money here and there. You know, I remember during the meal that we shared a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles, you guys are kind of in the same boat, you know, you’re trying to figure out, oh, like, you know, you don’t have a regular consistent revenue source, which is fine for a startup. Um, maybe you’re getting there now, but when these opportunities come, you know, it’s like, okay, great. You know, that, all that, all. For the next three bucks. So that’s exactly what happened.
Maggie: (00:20:02) Wow. I love the fact that you’re, you’re so honest saying that, you know, you kind of started this blog for a little bit of a selfish piece on to, because we know it showcases for Intel is, and Vietnam building their startups, but you actually wanted to meet these people, you know, and this was a great segue for you to. Actually that’s a good gateway for you to actually meet these entrepreneurs, these startup founders, um, which kind of reminds me of Asian health network. Right. We do want to amplify Asian entrepreneurs, but at the same time with this podcast, we learned so much. Right. And there’s just so much benefit for us too, because we learn so much from just like smart entrepreneurs all around the world. We also know that for Viet cetera, it’s a Vietnamese first and English second strategy. Uh, why did you pursue even enemies first and English second strategy for all of your content? And why do you think localization is so crucial in your offices?
Hao: (00:20:50) Yeah. Um, you know, about your point of meeting people that that remains to be one of the biggest reasons I continue to grow this company and it’s a, it’s a huge motivating factor. So we started off as an English, only blogger and media site. A year and a half. And we introduced Vietnamese soon after, uh, in response to the demand. But for another year or two, we had it such that if you went to.com, it would be the English site. Then you have to switch to Vietnamese. That’s a very different user expense. We wanted to have a Vietnamese first with an option of English, uh, which reflects like the business now in terms of readership and experience and all that, uh, audience, everything. And the reason why we wanted to do that was we want us to respond to what people wanted. And at the end of the day, we’re a business primarily based in Vietnam. Um, most of our. Revenue is sourced from clients that are operating and growing their own businesses and Vietnam as well. Uh, we do have a lot of people from overseas and we continue to use the English version, uh, international edition of the site to grow our audience there because they are very influential for a lot of reasons. Maybe they’re kind of directors of companies that are foreigners who don’t read Vietnamese, and we use our site as a way to connect. Uh, we work with a lot of embassies actually. Uh, we did a rap video. With the U S ambassador to Vietnam for the lunar knee. But at that holiday, that’s another probably story. So the comments below in the YouTube or whatever you guys are using, probably drop a link there. If it’s a really funny video, you should watch it. Anyways. Those are examples of how we can connect with people because we have the English version. But yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, it’s, it’s, uh, we want as large of an audience as possible with the content we have just helps benefit more of society, uh, for what we’re doing. We’d like to think that. Positive kind of media company, not, uh, just talking about negative news and then monetization is also quite important and that’s what people want. They want to reach Vietnamese audience.
Bryan: (00:22:50) Wow. That’s awesome. I mean, out of curiosity, um, but we sort of asked other publishers on the podcast as well, who are running media companies. How do you source the news that you want to post? How do you. But you dictate to your team. This is a theme that we want, we move forward without being biased, because I think a common problem with media nowadays is like, oh, I like that stuff. I don’t like that stuff. And you sort of become the gatekeeper for information. Right. So, and how I’m quite curious to see, how do you guys determine what to share, what to post and what kind of theme. Um, you guys want to put onto your lesson, especially.
Hao: (00:23:28) Yeah. I mean, it’s cetera. We also don’t want to be just known as a newspaper or like a website. Cause that implies like a traditional legacy media company. We want to be known as a multimedia, like network media channel, whatever you want to call it because we don’t only have a website, but we have podcasts and shows that are run. In some cases independently, they don’t even have via etc. Um, staff on those shows. There may be. Uh, influencers that we have like exclusive licensing deals with, that’ll be the future of, of the channel as well, et cetera, channel. But to answer your question about bias and choosing stuff, I mean, we, we, we try to have as many standards as possible and guidelines as to what kind of content we want to prioritize, but we, in a way can never escape it. Right. I actually never worked in journalism before this or any sort of media just like U2 and I I’m, I’m okay with using my own kind of judgment and, and the team’s judgment to decide, you know, what is worth featuring. What’s not, at some point somebody kind of has to decide. So I, sometimes I tell people it’s like, yeah, it’s just like, Because what I like is hopefully, uh, it’s not even just what I like, but what I think the audience likes and I’m like the final gatekeeper. So the media world is, is controversial for that reason, but it’s something we just have to, uh, not just admit, but somehow improve upon. And at the Viet cetera, uh, business, at least, and, and publication, we, we have guidelines and we try to also have a team that’s less like personality driven. It’s like a restaurant. You can either be chef driven or concept driven. If you’re chef driven that you’re really dependent on one person to define the restaurant. But if you’re concept driven, then you’re really just dependent on the concept. So if the chef steps out, another guy can come in. And so, uh, via etcetera is very designed that way. We have some very influential people in the company too. Don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, if they did step out and somebody came in. Totally fine. And in some cases, some of our editors, we tell them higher profiles are great, you know, keep doing what you’re doing if you like that. But if you don’t like that and you just like to be writing and editing and building your own community, that’s fine too.
Bryan: (00:25:37) A lot. Does a follow-up question on that as well. Like, has there been a lot of challenges with the Vietnamese government, especially running and media to. And it’s a foreign country that you tiny experience, what kind of like cultural barriers that you had to overcome in terms of like having the American mindset of living in America and now adopting, you know, that your news outlet to, to the non, you know, what was the challenge behind that?
Hao: (00:26:00) So, um, in regards to like regulations and all that we via cetra specifically is fully licensed. We have a. For the, for the activities that we do, um, I can’t speak for others in the industry in Vietnam, but with that said, the kind of content we focus on is very much focused on kind of, we, we, we purposely don’t really want to cover, uh, like breaking news, like we’ll cover. Like progress related to COVID and things that are really important for society and useful for people. But we try to stay away from news that it’s just territory that we don’t really want to cover. Because as a, as an identity, as a voice, we also want to be positive. Uh, we always want to be useful, uh, not negative or. You know, and I, there was a study done recently. I forget where maybe it may have been on Twitter. I don’t even know. Anyways, there was somebody saying how on any given day, the front page of publications, like the New York times nine out of 10 of their headlines on the front page. Are negative. It’s intentional that way. It’s very data-driven they know that these negative headlines will generate clicks. I really respect the New York times. I read it every day. I’m trying to reduce my news consumption though, with that said it’s intentional. It’s very, data-driven they’re doing it to generate more money. It’s not because they think it’s good for people to read negative news all the time. I think news is very important. I think we should all be informed. Yes. Uh, source like the New York times is as reputable as it gets. Uh, but at the same time to have such an inundation of negative content is also quite bad for an individual health perspective. So I try to avoid it and, you know, I thought like, oh, if I stay away for a week, it’s not really going to change my life. Like, you know, right now, the only thing I really need to know is if COVID is like immediately impacting my health or wellbeing is, um, stuff related to. I’m fully vaccinated. I wear a mask. Okay, great. Um, I don’t really need to know more than that. So unless the Delta variant takes over the world, so, but, uh, it’s not going to really change your day-to-day life.
Maggie: (00:27:56) I think I saw a tweet on that study as well, then just saying like any positive headlines and like no one ever clicks on it, you know, because people were, it’s just human nature. We’re typically drawn to bad news because we want to find out, oh, like what’s going on here? Why is this, you know, bad thing happening? Um, it’s just unity. So I also read that all the stories published, you also mentioned that, you know, a lot of, um, your videos and actors that are by independent companies. Um, but I also read in the hustle fund, um, website that all the stories published on the et cetera, are written and edited by the et cetera, the porters and the editorial team. And even the photos and videos used in the articles are often shot by some B, et cetera, as photographers. What is your process of. Selecting and hiring reporters, editors and photographers. And how is that different, um, hiring in Vietnam compared to the U S
Hao: (00:28:51) when it comes to, so most of our content is like original made in house and we have a system of freelancers and whatnot, but they’re quite regular. Um, we don’t do, one-off kind of, uh, Projects as much, but when it comes to how we hire, we actually don’t look for people with traditional media backgrounds. Like I’m not trying to hire a reporter at that worked at this newspaper or that media company, actually, of the a hundred people that we have at the company. I think only five people, more or less have ever had any sort of media experience. And that those a hundred, by the way, are not just like all content that’s like accounting business team. So, I mean, the people that do are like very experienced in the industry, like our chief content officer has been working in industry for her entire life, our chief kind of our VP of business. Uh, she’s been more or less an advertiser and it really kind of industries were quite some time. So we kind of just look for people that really are inspired by our vision, our mission and strategy, and importantly, the vision, which is to bring Vietnam to the world and the world’s Vietnam. I think that helps us attract more progressive. Uh, for looking Vietnamese, um, and just staff in general, I think we only have four ex-pats out of a hundred people at the company. Um, all of them have been living in Vietnam for a long time. So I think it’s very important to have a vision and, and, uh, have people aligned with that rather than just for skills. Cause we can hire for skills any, any time. And we found that when we do it, actually sometimes doesn’t even work. Um, you could say the same for people that are just purely vision focused. So yeah, that’s, that’s kind of how we see hiring compared to the U S I mean for young people. So I would say for more experienced people, the U S is like a much better place to have. Older like people, our teams, teammates and all that young people it’s so like a lot of young people in Vietnam, but also they’re more ambitious and also less individualistic. I was talking about that earlier as American specifically, we’re very individualistic, but Asians, I would find in Vietnamese more precisely. They’re also very communal they’re very community driven collective for the greater kind of team I find. That’s why like COVID for instance, Everyone talks about individual freedoms to not wear a mask in America. Like that’s just unheard of in Vietnam. The collective mentality is to protect and to prevent rather than to treat like the west is all about treatment. Like let it happen, then treat people. That’s why vaccines exists and Vietnam and Asia it’s like, oh, prevent, like don’t even let it happen in the first place.
Bryan: (00:31:20) And we have known this as well. Yeah, it’s just, yeah, didn’t see a lot of ridiculous things in the news regarding that as I answered masters instead of vaccinators and then underneath it’s bleeding science, and we want to make sure that we print better society. One of the people around us and I do you appreciate that out of curiosity, as a running like this extra and your other many houses in this. What is the five takeaways you had so far from the very beginning to now and how much we’ve grown throughout the entire.
Hao: (00:31:50) I’ll try to get to five takeaways. Uh, I’ll start with the first, I think it’s very important to stick to your original vision. It doesn’t need to be for a big company. It could be even for side hustle or small business, like, what is the vision for this? Like, why are we doing what we do? And you can be very honest about it. Maybe your side hustle is just a joiner of your side. And as long as you align on that, long-term, that’s totally fine. If your business has greater ambitions than just to have a side income, maybe because the vision is to, in our case, it’s to bring Vietnam to the world and the world’s Vietnam, that’s a very big mission. Um, it’s not like tied to any metrics or money or like how many people you have in the team or. It’s very much just a very broad mission, our vision. So I think it’s important to stick to it and be honest about it. And, and that relates to your mission and strategy too. Like it’s okay. Strategies change. But if it, if all of those elements change too often, then, then maybe you need to review what you’re doing, because maybe you’re not honest with yourself about why you’re doing what you’re doing, or maybe it’s too late. Like maybe you’re so sticking to something like how you do it. And turns out to be the wrong thing you need to be evaluating constantly. So I think that’s the first takeaway. Second, I’m thinking top of my head right now. So I I’m kind of just free flowing it a little bit. Uh, the second thing I think would be to really vet who you’re working with and, and take your time. Don’t run into things. I, um, I do have a habit of being quite enthusiastic and running into things and sometimes it works beautifully. Sometimes it works horribly. I think, you know, it’s, it’s okay to start quickly. But really when you get to the important milestones, maybe it’s signing a document, maybe it’s committing to a large investment or any of these things. Uh, just think about it and, and really ask around not superficially, but, um, try to get as much information as you can, especially if you’re not too familiar with, uh, either this person or the company that you’re working with. And again, it’s a total hit or a total miss sometimes too. You can never do too much another takeaway. Say here is to really manage your, um, I guess your, your health. And that’s both mental and physical. I was, I can’t say I’m the best at it’s still. And I can see the effects on myself when it’s not managed carefully, but if you are hustling and by the Asian hustle network definition, I guess that’s a side business or. Doing a big thing. Just know that there are limitations to your mental and physical capacity. I have a way overblown it many times and I’ve had to then recover. Especially physically, sometimes I just eat uncontrollably and it just like makes me slower or just like, not as healthy, whatever. Um, so do keep that in mind. Uh, another takeaway could be just really know what you’re strong at and try to stick to it. Don’t try to do too many things at the beginning. You kind of have to do everything and hopefully your business partner, if you have one can kind of balance you out, but you can only spend so many plates at once. So that could be either your company or yourself. So, uh, I just had this conversation with my co-founder the other day, who, who still loves to be in every single meeting on every single team, but it’s like, dude, it’s like not possible. That’s like eight meetings a day already. Just focus on two. And his skillset of happens to be on product and technology and mines having Stevie on business and finance. So, you know, let’s split it up and we have other people on the team coming in that could handle marketing and can handle content. Uh, we have to divide and conquer, so don’t spend too many plates at once. And the last takeaway I would maybe say. Is not everyone’s your friend. I, uh, my co-founder actually told me this too, because when I first arrived Vietnam, I just called everyone’s my friend. And you know, some people kind of misinterpret the word friend because like the word Facebook friend is so ubiquitous now not everyone’s your friend. Like you become friends, friends. That is a very strong word. And you can say the same. It’s like a relationship, right? When say saying certain words can be very strong, but anyways, in a, in a, in a casual context, not everyone’s your friend, they could just be your colleague. That could be your contact. They can be not from day one. I mean, you can get along really well, but you really have to really understand and trust those people before you can call them friends. Um, I think that’s, that’s an important thing too, because when you kind of throw that word around liberally, some people might misinterpret it. Uh, you might be even misleading yourself.
Maggie: (00:36:04) Um, it’s also important to check. Those were really good takeaways. And you thought of those on the spot too. So thank you for sharing those. What about it a lot? I bet. So we know that in 2020, the company successfully raised venture funding. With hostile, fun being one of the investors, you know, you went from a popular blog for a niche audience to venture back to media company. Was that your vision and intention from the beginning when you started fee, et cetera, in 2016 or, um, did. Opportunity to kind of fall into your lap after so many years.
Hao: (00:36:41) Yeah. Um, like I mentioned, five years ago when we started, we et cetera, is very much a blog and we took it step by step and it tells you a lot about Vietnam. I think it’s a, it’s a country and a place in society that responds very quickly to. Things that are new, but also probably better than what the current existing options are. And that’s kind of what happened to us. We invested a lot of time, mostly at the beginning and to making sure that we had good quality content and that was really well-recognized and the snowball effect kind of just went on afterwards and re and re in regards to like, do we imagine ourselves being a venture business and whatnot? Um, not really. I think the first two years I was even deciding whether. I would stay in Vietnam long-term and I made that decision more or less. Like after the two year mark, the business started growing, we had a team, we had an office and all that good stuff and where we are now. So yes, we raised a venture round in early 20, 20, I believe. And we are now actually in the midst of closing a series pre series, a whatever you want to call it, the second round of financing, actually right now, um, we’ll announce it more publicly in the weeks to come, but, uh, yeah, I think. You can never plan a business plan that much. Honestly, I think people might be sitting on a business plan for like five years before they ever do it. I think, yes, I have an initial plan, but you can’t really be like, okay. From day one. Uh, here’s how it’s going to be in year five. It’s very difficult to do that. And I think it’s almost too formal. It’s not organic enough as a, as a business or an entrepreneurial venture to be really be seriously considered. I think things have just began organically and sometimes it could take, you know, a month. Sometimes it could take, uh, two years in my case.
Bryan: (00:38:25) Congratulations. So, you know, getting venture back, it’s not easy tasks. Raising money is not an easy or funding to do constantly Chelsea and Chelsea team can see what you guys are gonna do next. Uh, somebody have one final question and that question. What kind of tip and advice would you have for aspiring entrepreneur looking to start the fourth century,
Hao: (00:38:47) a lot of people have questions even moving to a foreign country, let alone starting a, a venture in a foreign country. I think, you know, before you either get there or while you’re there, uh, depending on, you know, how far you’re kind of planning this out. I think it’s really wise to connect with hopefully trusted people or fairly, you know, high profile. Not just, high-profile just well-connected people to get their opinions on things like for Vietnam, you know, through the years and through fi et cetera, of course, a lot of people come to us and not just me, but the company just emailing us or whatever, asking for some questions or advice on things. And I think that that exercise is very important. Not everyone can, can give you their time. Yeah. For free, especially of course. Uh, it just, so just be honest about why you’re reaching out to these people is also very important. And when I specifically kind of see genuine, uh, you know, people that are genuinely interested in wanting to, you know, hear from us, they, they love what we’re doing most of the time. These are great kind of connections to be had on my side.
Maggie: (00:39:50) Thank you for sharing. How so? How, how can our listeners find out more about you and B, et cetera?
Hao: (00:39:58) Yeah. Thanks for the opportunity for that shout out. I think, um, you know, we, uh, all the main channels, the website of course get cetra.com. If you don’t know how to spell that, it’s et cetera with VI in front of it, Viet, et cetera. That’s that, uh, if you want to connect with us on other platforms, there’s Spotify, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, all that good stuff. And then on, uh, for myself, there’s, uh, I have Twitter, LinkedIn, my email, of course, it’s just firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m very happy to hear, especially from, uh, anyone interested in media or, or Vietnam,
Maggie: (00:40:31) it was amazing having you on our podcast today and being our episode one of season two. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Hao: (00:40:39) Yeah, it’s my pleasure. Thank you, Brian. Thank you, Maggie. And yeah, looking forward to all the hopefully Asian hustle network readers and listeners reaching out. So
Bryan: (00:40:48) awesome. Thank you. Have me so much watching podcast. Appreciate it.
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