When was the last time you wanted to buy a product online from a brand overseas? But you stopped when you lost trust with the product description and cost?
Local, artisanal products are playing a significant part in the steady modernization of brands globally. Especially in Vietnam.
Though after reading about the scandal that has plagued a popular artisanal chocolate brand in America, “How the Mast Brothers fooled the world into paying $10 a bar for crappy hipster chocolate”, the team at Vietcetera decided to interview local experts to get their opinions.
We spoke with highly regarded Vietnamese brands like Marou Chocolate and Nosbyn to understand how consumers build trust with local, artisanal brands. We noticed one key difference with them and the beleaguered Mast Brothers: consistency and transparency from day one.
Taking a product online is even more challenging. Many consumers prefer buying higher priced products in person, not online. Building trust in an online marketplace is an uphill battle.
So who in Vietnam is trying to fix both problems?
We sit down with the founders of marketplace connector Efaisto, Bernard Seys and Lou-adrien Fabre, to learn about how their business model aims to solve both problems. We learn a little about their personal background on the way.
How did you get started?
Bernard: We both arrived in Vietnam four years ago, working for two different multinational companies. I was in finance and Lou was in software development.
After two years experience in Vietnam and discovering the country we discovered the artisan community as customers. We were buying fabrics and designing clothes by ourselves as hobbies.
There’s lot of value in artisanal goods. Travelers are seeing it and they are amazed by the level of interaction with the maker to customize products. Artisanal products in our home countries of France and Belgium would easily cost twice or three times more for the same quality.
We knew that Vietnamese are capable of making great products. Initially, we didn’t know how exactly to work with the artisanal maker community. Our first idea was to develop a TripAdvisor for artisans. Then we started an ecommerce marketplace concept like freelancer.com. We built this and didn’t sell anything. It required too much consumer trust, so we shifted a bit to something more visual.
We took a simpler approach by starting with something that already exists. We wanted to showcase what local makers have already created and are able to customize.
Is it difficult to sell the “Vietnamese” brand overseas?
In Europe, many consumers have initial doubts about anything “Made in Vietnam.” There is a trust issue. It’s a result of the remnants of stereotypes of Asian production.
The cliché in Europe is that Asian products are made by underpaid workers.
We want to change this perception by working with individual people to help tell their stories. By enabling the transaction, we also establish trust.
Tell us about the social impact side of Efaisto.
We don’t associate the craftsman we work with as people in need. They are legitimate businesses that serve many of their own clients. What we do, is enable them to access more customers. In return, this will enable more people to consider craftsmanship as a means to make a meaningful living.
One of our makers was able to generate $1000 in revenue during his first week on Efaisto. In return, he was able to reinvest into the business and hire more people.
The maker is in control of the price. He or she will set $30 and receive $30. This won’t change and we don’t put pressure on them to change the price. We are also transparent on the price structure so that consumers know exactly how much the maker receives and how much we take as a commission for facilitating the connection and handling the logistics and payment.
What’s one big positive and negative of working in Vietnam?
One big positive that we’re see from Vietnam is an impressive younger generation in recent years. Even if they didn’t study abroad, many new graduates demonstrate the same if not more work ethic, professionalism, and ambition than our peers back in France and Belgium. We are happy to be working with a talent pool that is continuing to produce impressive graduates.
Communication is probably the most challenging aspect of working in Vietnam. We have expectations about communication that are not the same with our peers, which does not only extend to locals. Vietnam has a vibrant expat community, but it spans from everywhere in Europe to America to all over Asia like China, Korea, and Japan. Knowing work culture habits for all of these communities keeps our heads spinning sometimes!
What does it mean to be a foreign entrepreneur in Vietnam?
We had to think a lot about this question.
Bernard: When I was a kid, I read Samaris, a comic book by French writer Benoît Peeters. Samaris is a fictional city that keeps changing. Walls are moving all the time and the environment is always shifting. The characters get lost and don’t understand how to navigate the city. The city won’t adapt to you, you have to adapt. You need to understand how the walls change in order to keep up.
During my four years in Vietnam, I’ve felt like I’m in Samaris. Overtime, I’ve been able to build more relationships here in Vietnam. Now that I’ve been here for a while, I feel like I can move around the city much faster.
For the next few months, we’re focusing on quality and the curation of the makers. There will be an overhaul to maintain the quality as we scale. We’re also requiring users to register, it’ll no longer be available to the public. By doing this, we’re also helping to pair up makers with customers so that there’s a consistency overtime in products that are purchased. We’re envisioning that this product change will be like having your personal tailor.
Let’s move on to some fun questions. Where can someone spot you in Ho Chi Minh City?
Bernard: On the back of a GrabBike between Binh Thanh and D4 probably. We don’t have much extra time to hang out so we tend to organise our lives around the home and office. I practice boxing in the morning next to the office, while Lou likes to work out close to the Tran Son riverside at night. A while back you could have met us at Kujuz Bar (3A Ton Duc Thang, D1) or Work Saigon (267/2 Dien Bien Phu, D3) which incubated our teams when we were working on prototypes.
What are your favorite travel destinations? Where do you want to go next?
Bernard: I had the chance to go to Nepal at the beginning of the year. That was an epic adventure and lots of cultural discovery. I’ll remember forever the trekking in the Himalayas and the scenery of the Ancient and many sacred cities they have there. In the future I’ll always pick such destinations that provide a drastic contrast and disconnection with the routine. I’d like to trek in Kazakhstan, ride a horse in the immense plains of Mongolia or build an actual igloo in Greenland.
Five nice-to-knows about Lou and Bernard ?
- One is French, the other one is Belgian. Although we speak (almost) the same language, our cultures are different. In general the French are concept-oriented and perfectionists, while Belgians are more result-oriented and practical. It makes up for an interesting mix and sometimes intense discussions
- We both love strategy and MMORPG games. Age of Empires, Total War, Civilization, among others
- Two years ago, you can find us both in the club. No more
- Lou is a hip hop beat artist
- We met with French President Francois Hollande in September 2016 when he made a state visit to Vietnam. We prepared a few gifts for him from one of our most popular makers (Da Handmade). We gave him four wallets for each of his four children.
Who I should I talk to next?
One of our makers; Da Handmade, Tran Quoc Lan, pick any of them. These guys have amazing stories. They make great crafts that are being sold everywhere in the world now and they deserve more recognition.
In the expat community there is Linda Mai Phung, a famous fashion designer and creative person. As well as Yoko Youssouf, a manager of an NGO that is working on a very exciting project right now, involving ethnic minority children. Disclaimer: they are our girlfriends on top of having very interesting stories to tell.
You should also meet Rob, a digital nomad in Saigon. He’s been living off of his online dress shirts business, pickashirt.com for the last nine years. He did not wait for Tim Ferriss to get it going.
For more about Efaisto, check out their latest video below:
Directed and edited by Adrien Plate.