The first Vietnamese watches with Curnon’s signature style officially launched in December 2017. Curnon quickly became popular for its international aesthetic and quality standards, as well as its reasonable price ranges and its compatibility with young Vietnamese.
After two years of operating, Curnon has become a familiar name in the Vietnamese watch and accessories market. Curnon is now available nationwide with five stores in two major cities as well as an online distribution system.
Behind these promising signs is the dedication and passion of the young team at Curnon. In this How I Manage column, join Vietcetera as we speak to Quang Thai, Curnon’s co-founder and CEO, to understand more about his youthful leadership style.
What are three core values of your leadership style?
Be funny, be bold, and be honest. In fact, these are just three of the six core values at Curnon.
One of my biggest worries is unintentionally making Curnon grow in a boring way, as the advantage of a startup model usually comes from a dynamic working environment with young human resources. I want to preserve and develop this element to encourage creativity as well as bring comfort to each of our team members. To ‘be funny’ is the key to creating a space full of positivity that delivers higher productivity.
I believe that “the way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” To ‘be bold’ is how I choose to approach every problem. At the same time, it’s also a factor I use to balance out the working environment of the company. The unity of an organization is based on trust between individuals. And ‘honesty’ is the main ingredient that makes up trust.
What skills have you cultivated since founding Curnon?
At the beginning, I tend to overemphasize the results and overlook the process of managing the company. That led to some disappointing results. Therefore, leading is a practical skill I have to draw and cultivate on my own based on my experiences. It sounds paradoxical, but to keep the comfort and freedom of our employees, sometimes we need certain rules. ‘Having principles’ is also one of the core values that Curnon aims to create.
What are your criteria for recruiting employees? And how do you create a bold team?
Culture fit within Curnon is one of our key criteria. For me, skills can be honed over time, but attitude is another matter. In my opinion, we can’t assess the compatibility of a candidate through just a few interviews. That’s why the probationary stage always plays an important role. Not only does it help businesses, it also helps candidates identify which company is their ‘home.’
Did you have any mentors influence your career and leadership style?
Until now, I’ve only had one mentor. He was a former manager and a brother whom I deeply respect. His unconditional kindness is his virtue and attitude, which I always remember to this day. Moreover, he’s an exemplary role model. I’ve grown to respect him due to his ability to balance work, family, and social relationships.
I’ve learned two big lessons from him. The first is that when working with anyone, I have to give them the maximum amount of trust. Then over time and experience, I can gradually adjust later. The second lesson is that we should always be kind to every member of the team, even when we are in worst case scenarios.
What made you start Curnon?
There are two reasons why I wanted to establish Curnon. The first is that I see opportunities in the retail market. Vietnam’s retail industry has a rapid growth rate each year and is expected to continue to mark many milestones in the next few years. However, in this industry, I realize that there are still many areas that are fragmented as well as lacking frontrunners.
On the other hand, I also realized that the purchasing trend of Vietnamese millennials is changing significantly. We are gradually becoming more open to local brands. Local brands earn points for their understanding and representation in the community of young people.
The second reason I decided to start Curnon was that I wanted to accompany Vietnamese young people on the journey of conquering their dreams. That’s why I chose Curnon (Latin for “Why not?”) as the brand name. I hope Curnon’s products and message can inspire young Vietnamese to ‘dare to think, dare to do’ more.
What have been some of Curnon’s opportunities and challenges so far?
Once a business understands its market well enough and is able to adapt to changing conditions, it will realize that the opportunities for capital are still aplenty. As a brand that is developing a direct-to-consumer retail model, Curnon understands that understanding the customer and shopping trends are key factors. The higher the level of personal interaction with customers, the more advantages the brand will receive. We are currently trying to optimize this model as well as unit economics to help Curnon grow quickly in the future.
Along with opportunities, we face many challenges. As a ‘pioneering’ and ‘designed in Vietnam’ brand, Curnon inevitably suffers from comparisons and apprehension from the public, especially in our early stages. Therefore, in the first two years, we focused on listening to feedback. From there, we can promptly improve, while delivering products and experiences to customers that give them the highest levels of satisfaction.
Looking back, one of the things I am most proud of is the enthusiasm of each member of the R&D (Research and Development) department and the Curnon Consulting – Customer Care department. It’s this enthusiasm that has helped Curnon succeed in creating a lasting impression in the hearts of our customers.
With Curnon, do you think you will make any difference or contribution to the Vietnamese market?
Curnon is a purely retail brand, so of course, the transparency of some of our values always exists behind some barriers. In order to achieve the goal of becoming a domestic brand that brings inspiration to young Vietnamese, I decided to establish Long&Short.
Long&Short is a non-profit sub-brand of Curnon. Long&Short focuses on building and spreading inspirational yet unprecedented stories. Beyond writing articles, soon we plan to organize events and create a space for young people to have the opportunity to interact and listen directly from some of our featured personalities.
Can you share some of Curnon’s memorable milestones?
In the past two years, the most memorable milestone, and the event that brought the company to a new turning point, was when I joined the Shark Tank program.
Shortly after the show aired, Curnon’s online platform received a peak in traffic. Besides interest from new customers, Curnon was fortunate to receive the attention of prospective investors as well. To be able to triple the number of orders up in just a few weeks, the entire company had to quickly restructure everything from internal departments to personnel in order to operate at peak efficiency. In addition, Curnon also had to move to a larger office.
You once shared that you always set a career milestone for each year. So what is this year for you and Curnon? What percentage of your goals have been set?
2019 is the year of building Curnon’s level of experience and knowledge, from business strategy to internal operations. In order to ensure that we understood the business model well, Curnon and our team went through countless tests.
Until now, we have completed the testing phase and can officially formulate a unified strategy for Curnon’s business model. For me, this is the low hanging fruit that the Curnon collective has picked up in 2019.
What is Curnon’s upcoming plan in 2020 and beyond?
The next step in Curnon’s development roadmap is to focus on automation and digitization for several processes. The goal is to prepare Curnon for a position ready enough to meet expansion and demand in the future.
All of Curnon’s data and management platforms will be developed simultaneously. With info and data always updated in real time, cross-functional departments can operate in the most flexible way. The application of this technology will help the marketing team to accurately measure the effectiveness of each advertising campaign. Simultaneously, it helps two sales groups [online and in store] to capture customer information. Thereby, all needs as well as inquiries from customers will be responded and consulted quickly.
On the warehouse side, people can devise more accurate inventory management options to optimize cash flow. Naturally, that is only one part and there will be many other improvements overall.
Do you have any advice for Vietcetera’s readers who are or are about to start a business?
With a bit of experience gained from startups, my advice to new or prospective startup entrepreneurs is to focus on the two most enduring elements of your business: people and culture.
Every company has their own variables and intrinsic values. Variables include strategies, methods and models. These must constantly vary to keep up with the changing pace of the market. In contrast, the intrinsic value of a business is the belief and vision. Once the core ideology is defined and built, founders should focus on cultivating their intrinsic values from the very first days.
To avoid risky ‘rebuilding’ in the future, here are some basic questions that I think as a founder can help you lay the first foundations for building your business:
What is the vision of the startup you’re building?
In order to reach that vision, what kind of people do you want to accompany you?
What kind of working environment and with what culture would you and your team be working daily with?