A good event planner knows that the real business happens on the sidelines of the main show, once ties have been loosened. Ask a friend who frequents executive pow-wows and you’ll be treated to stories of after-hours martinis that launched a new business venture (or a bromance, at the very least).
So, in theory, if you can create the right conditions for these serendipitous moments to happen, while still delivering a program packed with industry-leading insights, you’ve got yourself a successful event. Or, to quote Vietcetera CEO Hao Tran, aim for “more casual fireside chats and fewer PowerPoint slides.”
Friends and clients of Vietcetera have been speaking in favor of a new meeting format for years. There was a need, the consensus went, for a more intimate and better-curated forum built around a community of like-minded people looking to contribute fresh ideas towards building Vietnam’s future. A quarterly offsite with an offbeat theme and engaging personalities.
So when Vietcetera’s Summit Series launched this past January, hands went up all across the city: from the offices of Vietnam’s 'new age' innovators at the start of their businesses to those in C-level roles at their companies. As soon as New Year’s eve celebrations were out of the way, the group set off for Azerai Ke Ga Bay resort nestled amid the sand dunes and dragon fruit farms of Phan Thiet.
Davos goes digital, Vietcetera – to the lighthouse
Two universal ice-breakers – doing challenging stuff together and organized drinking – were invoked, although not at the same time. First came a cocktail reception at Azerai’s spectacular sunken garden catered by Sông Cái Distillery.
The morning after, there was a rocky hill topped with a colonial-era lighthouse for the entrepreneurs and Vietcetera execs to scale. In the afternoon, having by then gelled fast and good, the team settled down for a panel session fueled by copious amounts of Lacàph's cold brew.
"Vietnam is an exciting destination for the next generation of entrepreneurs and I can't wait to work with some of the bright minds and talents I met here”, started Huy Hoang, Chief Growth Officer with DatVietVAC, one of Vietnam’s largest media companies. As the group’s elder statesman, Huy also had some hard truths for the Viet Kieus in the room: “If you think that your experience in the West makes you special in Vietnam, think again.”
Compared to the locals, he continued, “you are in fact at a severe disadvantage due to your underdeveloped business and social networks.” Main take-aways: before going into a partnership, do background checks (a few phone calls before inking the contract is a good starting point); invest in building solid networks; and be humble.
Helping others build professional networks is what the NGO that Mai Vo helped co-found does. The co-founder of Overseas Vietnamese and Googler from London spoke of the challenges of exploring new business opportunities in Vietnam in sustainability and fashion. Mai’s hope is that events similar to Vietcetera’s Summit Series and Google’s leadership offsites, both designed to stimulate discussions and collaborations, can make finding like-minded people in Vietnam easier.
Thuy Minh, Content Director with Vietcetera, remarked that Vietnam’s young have a huge potential and that entrepreneurs are uniquely placed to help realize it to the fullest. From her position as content creator, she spoke of various ways companies who find themselves at the confluence of media, entertainment and technology are shaping young minds. From podcasts to apps, these amplifiers of trends should be used for common good. She called for more forums where Vietnam’s creatives and business leaders can meet on a regular basis and do meaningful work together.
Xuan Nguyen and Oscar Jesionek, the founders of Fonos, are on board. With a mission to make quality audio content available in Vietnamese, they are already working with the country’s biggest publishing houses but so far have had limited success when it comes to tie-ups with independent content creators in Vietnam. Largely because there are so few opportunities for them to meet.
Vietcetera’s COO Ruby Nguyen, whose LinkedIn page features photographs of her with the likes of Barack Obama and Richard Branson, spoke about Vietnam’s bright young things and the importance of teaching them the value of power networking. In a country where who you know often defines career progression, starting them young is important, she argued. Ruby gave an example of her own career path. A girl from the countryside, she was lucky to get a chance to study in Singapore. That opened doors and made it possible for Ruby to meet people who would help her find her way.
In a room full of business founders, it was only a matter of time before the subject of self-PR came up. Trang Thuy Dang, CEO of Ru9, WeChoice 2020 Awards winner in the Power of Will category, considers generating publicity for oneself an essential part of business development, alongside efforts to improve customer experience, of course. Especially in Vietnam, she added, where personal branding and revenue often go hand-in-hand. Perhaps, came Huy’s response. But personally, he wants to see more founders focus on product development and improving user experience instead of prioritizing their own KOL ambitions. (They later settled their differences over a match of Spot It!).
Closing the panel was Henry Bao, a long-time product marketing veteran from the likes of Nextdoor, the world's largest social network for neighborhoods, and Tesla where he led ambassador marketing efforts. Henry’s new venture in Vietnam, 10 NEXUS Labs, helps organizations to architect online and offline communities to foster more meaningful connections. So after Tesla, why Vietnam? Opportunities, says the professional networker. Far too good to pass up.
To express interest in joining Vietcetera’s Summit Series, a quarterly out-of-town conference for Vietnam-based entrepreneurs, please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.