In our ongoing series covering emerging startup stories in Vietnam, we meet with Peter Petracca from Chameleon, a personal concierge app that helps travelers and locals answer seemingly simple questions that are actually quite challenging in countries like Vietnam.
We chat with Peter about his inspiration for Chameleon, why he’s in Vietnam, and what his experiences have been both professionally and personally here.
What led you to Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam in general?
Ho Chi Minh City is the #2 most dynamic city in the world, according to a 2017 World Economic Forum report. It has an energy–a hustle–which put it on that list, and can’t be found anywhere else in Vietnam, possibly even Southeast Asia. Chameleon can help newcomers and travelers master Vietnam like a local.
What inspired Chameleon and what’s next for it?
When I first arrived in Vietnam, what should be small tasks became major, half-day endeavors: Lamp burnt out? Find “electric street” (try searching that on on Google Maps). There’s no Big Box Hardware; Drinking water delivery? Find a water service that you can communicate “5 Ngõ 31 Ngách 46 Xuân Diệu, Tay Ho,” and also ensure the water is properly produced. Sure, I had a landlord and local friends, but didn’t want to cry wolf to my landlord, and wanted to be self-sufficient. I also didn’t want to jeopardize new friendships with pesky questions.
Chameleon quickly answers the hard questions: Where can I find a specific brand of Bourbon? Where’s a nearby waxing studio that’s both sanitary and uses natural products? Serving the expat and traveler communities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Chameleon can handle these questions almost instantly. And that time-saving is golden, allowing more time to deeply discover the city instead of, well, searching for light bulbs. In short, my personal pain on arrival was the inspiration for Chameleon. Next is an expansion outside Vietnam, to support more cities around Asia and the world.
Can you share with us a few interesting partnerships that Chameleon offers?
It’s not only individuals who want to have a positive experience abroad – companies want the same for their employees, clients, and members. We developed a package for Remote Year (the company that invented the live-and-work-abroad-as-a-service business model) for their time in Hanoi. Chameleon delivered curated local knowledge to each and every one of 75 digital nomads who travel together for a year, spending each month in a new international city. The self-described “Remotes” are incredibly driven people, who try hard to rapidly localize themselves in each city. Chameleon was able to help them get exactly the experience they wanted in a short amount of time, and we were happy to hear that many of them considered Hanoi their favorite city as a result.
Compared to other types of guides, the differentiating point was the one-on-one 24/7 service, speed, follow-up and follow-through, and most importantly the diversity of our network of local experts’ knowledge. Guides take you on their journey, while Chameleon helps you on your own.
What are some differences that you’ve noticed working between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as a frequent commuter between the two cities?
Ho Chi Minh City is more akin to my New York City experience: a city with lots of energy and a diverse bunch of highly social people. From a business perspective, things happen quicker in Ho Chi Minh City: ‘Want to meet? Sure, how about this afternoon? Done.’ Hanoi–which I’d compare to Washington DC–is a quieter, tighter-knit community, which makes buckling down and building a product easier. But in general, external relations and business development moves a little slower.
Can you share with our readers one story about doing business in Vietnam that you’ll never forget?
I was putting on my tie at home, preparing to go to a formal reception at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Ted Osius. At that moment, I realized I was completely out of business cards. I needed a place that could receive digital artwork, print, cut, and deliver a box of business cards all within the hour. The business cards beat me to the reception. In my experience, this kind of thing can only be done in Vietnam…if you know the right people.
What are your favorite cafes in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi?
Inside NEST by AIA is a coffee concessionaire, where I go for the mass amounts of natural light, standing desks, and the cold brew. Though I must admit, Vietcetera Cafe has one best cappuccinos in the city. 😉
In Hanoi, Maison de Têt Décor. They roast their beans in-house, and have an impressive coffee menu. There’s always good music playing, lakeview seating is ample, and you’ll want to hang around long enough for a healthy snack (followed by cake). They cater to vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, etc., so I tend to find myself here after my frequent carnivorous bouts.
Where do you go out on your Friday night in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi?
In Ho Chi Minh City, I like a good Saigon Heat basketball game, while checking out the emerging microbrewery scene.
In Hanoi, I enjoy the local Bia Hois, especially on a hot summer night. You can’t beat the fresh, light (and cheap!) beer, and massive food menus. My go-to order is sườn nướng (grilled ribs), đậu hũ sốt chua (fried tofu in tomato sauce), rau muống xào tỏi (water spinach with garlic), all over a heaping bowl of steamed rice.
What are some random nice to know facts about Chameleon City and Peter?
I teach spin classes when I have time, motivating a room full of people to burn 1000 calories an hour to dance music and disco lights. This influences my management style at Chameleon. Both startups and spinning are a team effort: everybody needs to be in sync, encouraged to exceed their goals, and most importantly, have an occasional dance party.
Who should we speak with next?
Aaron Everhart. Given the progress I’ve seen in this country over the last two years, I can’t even imagine what he’s experienced having been here for over 11 years. Formerly of GREY and Landor, he has helped to build brands large and small, including some of his own: Alpine Creative and HATCH!