A Working Woman: Xuan Nguyen, Co-Founder Of Fonos And Banh Mi 362 | Vietcetera
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A Working Woman: Xuan Nguyen, Co-Founder Of Fonos And Banh Mi 362

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Bài viết này có ngôn ngữ: Tiếng Việt

Glossy white subway tiles, minimalist decor and a clutter-free interior — you could almost mistake a Banh Mi 362 shop for a trendy Melbourne bakery. But one look at the menu (a roll-call of traditional Vietnamese sandwiches alongside lemongrass tea and egg coffee) and the view outside the window (motorbikes, lots of them) and you are quickly reminded that you are, in fact, in Saigon. 

Founded by a pair of dynamic Saigonese siblings 5 years ago, Banh Mi 362 is now a chain of 11 shops in Saigon’s central and up-and-coming districts (they also have two locations in South Korea). 

Vietcetera sat down with Xuan Nguyen, one of the co-founders, to talk about her startup journey. As a serial entrepreneur, Xuan has been running her own businesses for over ten years, with her recent startup Fonos taking Vietnam's fledgling audiobook market by storm. We ask about Xuan’s values, mentors, inspirational figures and the reality of being a business woman in Vietnam.

Three personal core values that you never compromise on.

The first is integrity, people standing behind what they say and proving it daily with their actions. For quite some time now I’ve been paying more attention to what people do instead of what they say. I know that it can be hard and take lots of courage and sacrifice to live with integrity, which is why I truly appreciate those who do have it.

The second is communication. I don’t consider communication to be just a skill. I believe the commitment to honest and respectful communication comes from the inside. I’ve realized that I can only be around and work closely with people who I can open up to and who also feel comfortable opening up to me. It doesn’t work otherwise.

The third is authenticity, being true to yourself in how you think, feel and present yourself. Not compromising your identity for the sake of somebody else’s opinion.

Tell us about your startup journeys with Banh Mi 362 and Fonos. 

The two stories couldn’t have been more different!

Like all Vietnamese, I ate a lot of banh mi growing up. But it wasn’t just eating, though. My family was running several banh mi stores and it was part of my life.

It’s very common to see Vietnamese women run small shops out of the ground floor of their houses. My grandma used to sell banh mi out of her house and so did my aunties and cousins. I grew up smelling, eating, breathing, and talking about banh mi with the people around me. So for me, starting my own banh mi business was the most natural thing to do; I simply knew that I wanted to have my own store with my own DNA, just like others in my family. It was in my blood.

I was young when I started. At the time, I wanted my store to be clean and nicely decorated with many different types of banh mi on offer. But when together with my younger brother we opened our first little store, it was nowhere near the image I had for it in my head. Still, we were so proud and happy after opening it. The idea evolved from there and we kept improving on it. We let our personalities show through by adding little touches here and there; making it more appealing to our generation. Now we have 11 locations in Saigon and two in South Korea.

We named the store Banh Mi 362 in honor of our grandma who used to sell banh mi from her house. The store didn't have a name, there was only the house number — 362. So we would simply say “let’s go to 362”, meaning let’s go visit grandma. We named some of our best-selling products after grandma’s house too, and now every time we hear someone say “let’s go to 362” it makes us really happy. We feel like they know our secret code and our grandma.

Recently, my brother took over the management of Banh Mi 362 so that I could focus on a new project. I co-founded a company called Fonos, which is an audiobook app in Vietnamese with copyrights. This time the process was very different, because unlike the banh mi business it wasn’t in my blood. I had to learn everything from scratch. I love learning and I’ve been meaning to do something related to technology for a while but I didn’t see the right opportunity until Fonos. 

I had been running my own businesses for 10 years at that point and during that time I learned a lot through books. Each good book I read inspired me and clarified things for me. Many times I had to stop reading in order to get back to my daily responsibilities. It was hard to find the time to read, so I started listening to audiobooks in English because I was able to do it while in the gym, in a Grab car, or even while cooking at home. I tried to find a good audiobook app in Vietnamese but there wasn’t anything that was good enough for me.

Vietnamese people, myself included, care a lot about sound quality and voice. When listening to an audiobook I pay a lot of attention to the voice talent, the audio quality, and it makes a huge difference in how much I enjoy listening to the audiobook. After some research into the market, my co-founder and I decided to build an audiobook app that we wished existed in Vietnam. 

A year has passed since then, and we’ve partnered with the biggest book publishers in Vietnam and the Fonos app is now available on both the Apple App store and on Google Play. We’ve been really fortunate to receive so much support from others over the past year, who all believe in our vision of bringing high quality audio content to busy people who wish to keep on learning and improving their lives.

What is it like to be a working woman in this field?

It’s fun! I deal with a diverse set of problems and there are lots of opportunities out there. When it comes to being a working woman, there are both benefits and drawbacks. One of the benefits is that it’s easier for me to reach out and connect to a lot of people because I’m a woman. At the same time, sometimes people don’t take me as seriously because I’m female and I look young. Luckily, women nowadays have much more support and opportunities than in the past. Overall, I feel like the benefits outweigh the downsides.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt as a working woman?

I’m a stubborn person with strong opinions, but after years of being an entrepreneur, I’ve come to understand the phrase “Cung kinh khong bang tuan menh” (obedience is better than sacrifice) better, especially with regards to the people I love and respect.

Apart from that, I ve learned to know and understand my numbers if I want to make good decisions for my company. Learn how to read financial statements, period. It will haunt you forever if you don’t get it right in the beginning.

Tell us about your Make-or-Break moment, or a moment when you had to hold yourself back.

I don’t really believe in make-or-break moments. As an entrepreneur I believe that regardless of what happens, you need to keep on going in your personal life and career. If one opportunity doesn’t work out then keep going and find the next one. There were many important moments and events that took my career to the next level. But even if they didn’t happen, I would have carried on and found another way to succeed. It may have taken longer but I believe that eventually a different event would have taken their place.

For example, if I’m unable to get the location I want for one of Banh Mi 362 stores, I’ll simply keep looking. If I can’t sell one product then I’ll find a different one to sell instead. Maybe next month or maybe next year, but I will continue regardless.

Do you have a network of mentors? How did you find them?

Of course! And without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. I actively look for and learn from people who are experienced in business or in the fields that I'm interested in. 

That said, there’s usually an element of fate that leads to me finding a mentor. Just like with meeting my husband, it usually happens when I least expect it. I’ve met one of my mentors more than 10 years ago but we never really spoke to each other. One day, I went to an event that I initially didn’t plan to join, saw him there but couldn’t recall who he was. I sat there for 10 minutes looking at him, trying as hard as I could to figure out why he looked familiar. Finally I gave up, walked over and introduced myself. Eventually we both remembered meeting many years ago and now he has become a mentor of mine who I’m incredibly lucky to have. Right timing is also very important. 

Other than individual mentors, I have also joined groups and communities of like-minded entrepreneurs and business people. For example, I’ve been a member of EO Vietnam, a global entrepreneurs organization, for two years now. We have regular meetings and learn from each other. You benefit from hearing how other people approach the issues you’re facing. To me, it’s a kind of mentorship. The great thing about EO is that I’m not just connecting with successful entrepreneurs in Vietnam but also with others across Asia and the world.

I also see authors of books I read and listen to as mentors. They’ve taught me so much, even though I’ve never met them in person.

One message you’d like to share with young professionals.

I still see myself as a young professional. That said, I’m happy to share some advice based on the lessons I learned through my failures and the challenges I’ve encountered in the past. 

First, make sure that you learn about finance. Cash is oxygen for a business and you need to understand the financials deeply in order to plan ahead. 

Second, you need to constantly work on your discipline. As a leader, you set the tone for the organization and if you’re not disciplined, neither will be your staff. Finally, work on your communication skills. Communicating effectively is incredibly important and will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

If you’re running into issues in your organization, it can probably be traced back to one of these three things. Working on these three has resolved the majority of problems I was facing in my own businesses.

What are you proudest of? Do you feel accomplished?

I'm proud of myself every time I put in the effort to make the right decision, instead of going for the option that’s most convenient. As a business owner, my job description is to solve problems and make decisions, even when I don’t have all the necessary information. This is something I face every day and I feel proud every time I invest the energy to make the right decision, instead of simply going for the easy one.

It’s not uncommon for me to feel a sense of accomplishment several times a day. I set daily tasks for myself every morning and focus on finishing them. Each time I complete a task and cross out an item on the to-do list, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

Who is a woman that you admire? How does she inspire you?

My grandma, I think. She passed away when I was 6. I was too young to fully understand what happened but I was aware of it when she passed away. I only have a few memories of spending time with her but I remember them very strongly. They’re all happy memories and I liked her a lot. She grew up during the war and raised 11 kids and many grandchildren without a husband by her side. With a full house, she managed to run a banh mi store -- and she did so with style.

I bet many women were going through the same at that time. That’s why I always have sympathy and admiration for women like her for carrying on the best they could. The older I get, the more questions I have that I would love to ask her. Whenever I’m trying to figure something out, I always wonder what she would have done in my situation. She somehow still manages to inspire me throughout my journey. Whenever I feel weak, I reach out and ask for her strength. She is the one that has inspired me the most and for the longest time.

Bài viết này có ngôn ngữ: Tiếng Việt

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