Tri Lecao is your archetypal technology startup founder. His first company started as an afterwork project, quickly becoming a tale of false starts and expectations. The other, he built in two months and quickly sold for a tidy $5,000 profit. As a new grad, it was a nice sum. From there, he took some time off to travel in 2016. Everywhere from Chiang Mai to Tokyo, he lived for extended periods with the locals. The concept of Vibeji was born. He learned things from people around him, just about how to do anything.
“We aim at empowering everyday people with an ability to monetize their very humanly resources, be it shareable professional values, hobbies or knowledge of something, and enjoy their time with other like-minded awesome humans.”
Returning in Vietnam is 2018, Tri began to take the lessons he learned from his time abroad and started hosting casual activities for others that he could lead. From there, the Vibeji concept was born. We meet with Tri to learn how his return to Vietnam inspired the Vibeji project and what challenges his team faces now as a newcomer to the startup travel industry.
What are three words that would describe your management style?
What I call the “peace time” management style: honest, approachable, inspiring.
Describe your ideal hire.
My ideal hire is someone who is capable, comes from a different background, travels often, has a taste on things and easy to work with. There’s certainly some bias in thinking if the whole team is from the same background, culture and region.
What are some ways to build a scalable team culture?
Start with a small group of like-minded individuals and constantly communicate team culture. Never compromise cultural fit for talents early on. Create a culture guide at the beginning.
What vision do you have for Vibeji?
There is a reason why the sharing economy is one of the hottest trends in the startup world. Not only because of its efficiency in maximizing resources, but also because of its ability to connect people together. For hosts on Vibeji, we allow them to monetize their hobbies, professional values and knowledge in the most human way possible through offline activities.
For customers, we allow them to access a pool of diversified activities to learn, to meet people, or to simply just kill time the fun way. The vision is to make the world more connected through on-demand peer-to-peer offline activities on an open sharing-economy platform where hosts can be customers and customers can become hosts. People can travel anywhere and still host activities or find themselves learning from other people in a destination city.
What do you find most difficult about your job?
We are creating a new category in the travel and leisure industry. This poses a few issues. Inception can be tough because the average consumer can’t easily grasp the idea on their first impression. Investors automatically group Vibeji into the traditional travel industry which is tremendously saturated.
Also, we’ve set a mission on building the startup a product-centric way, which is against the usual trend in Vietnam’s startup scene where value is primarily perceived as the optimization of sale cycles. A product-centric startup is difficult to execute. And it’s not just about polishing the design. It’s the semantics in your approach to different aspects of the startup, from the UX/UI to how to communicate with the users. It also includes the effort of cutting of that one extra step somewhere to presenting and expressing yourself as a group of builders. And it can be very exhausting. But it’s fun and fresh.
Can you share some of your long-term goals?
We aim to create a world where people can network-and-have-fun via shared personal resources. We aim to make it super easy for anyone to monetize their talents, hobbies and knowledge in a location-independent way while enjoying the activities offered by others anywhere they go. We want to make Vibeji a safe and useful place for people to upgrade or renew themselves. We want to evolve to take part in other primary markets in the travel and leisure industry.
Share with us 6 things to know about building a startup in a fast-changing market like Vietnam.
- Read a diversity of books. Business books are great but don’t limit yourself to the superficial. Books on philosophy and spirituality can be a great helper when things go either too good or bad.
- Make sure the team knows enough about finance.
- Communication: be precise and get straight to the point. This applies to all kinds of hierarchy within the ecosystem, not just between founding members.
- Honor good work ethic and be honest with everyone, including partners and investors.
- If you can’t find a good person for a specific role locally, be confident in finding that someone outside your immediate day to day network. Preferably with people you’ve known, so dig through your network first, from elementary school to university. Always aim to start with a great team.
- Founders should travel overseas alone to get perspective and think through ideas, preferably to a remote place for a few weeks.