L’Usine and its partner District Eight Design are well known for starting the trend of modern, French bistro furniture that is now commonly found in new cafes around Vietnam. In 2010 when it first opened, copycat competitors would come in with their cameras and tape measurers to replicate the design.
Today, there’s a much easier way to bring the furniture you find in your popular cafe to your home.
Mitssy.com, an e-commerce furniture startup in Vietnam, hopes to give local designers and manufacturers a platform to showcase their products all over Vietnam and globally.
As Vietnam’s design scene takes off and gains international recognition, we decided to learn from Son Ha, co-founder of Mitssy.com, to see what his vision for Vietnamese e-commerce and design.
How did you end up starting a career as an internet entrepreneur?
I started my career as an investment banking analyst at HSBC Vietnam where I was doing industry research. It took me more 5 years in banking industry to realize that I was not fit with corporate life. The longer I stayed, the more expensive the opportunity cost would become. So I quit.
As an analyst by training, I saw the huge potential of furniture and ecommerce in Vietnam. The urbanization, young population, and rising disposable income. Along with my co-founder, we launched our website on 12 Dec 2012 (which was rumored by the ancient Mayans as Doomsday). There wasn’t any disaster to the earth that day but our website went down after just 10 hours online.
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What are some tips that you can share on branding an online company?
On branding, you don’t need to pay too much attention to it if you are an ecommerce website. You can buy cost-effective traffic via digital marketing campaigns. But when it comes to retailing (though we still focus on online), especially to stand out from a highly fragmented, untransparent industry like furniture, you need to build a really strong brand.
You need invest a lot of resources to build and stick with it in the long run. That brand must be trendy, catchy and have a strong message within the name.
The more we serve our customers, the more we understand them. An online website is good for product discovery, but many consumers like to interact with products in person. Mitssy combines the online and offline showroom experience, with the ultimate aim to bring the joy and convenience for our customers along their journey of furniture shopping.
What keeps furniture commerce in Vietnam interesting to you as an entrepreneur?
Aside from the rising urbanization and increasing disposal incomes, I saw that the internet was becoming one of the most important ways for consumers to engage more with purchasing products, especially those that are not accessible by your neighborhood retailer. Tools like Pinterest and Instagram help customers discover the most trendy furniture products. But in Vietnam, buying those products is cost-prohibitive or they aren’t sold locally.
We try to spot new trends in furniture happening around the world and bring it to the local market here. Some of best selling items you find at Mitssy are very popular in the American or European market. We saw the opportunity and as design-centric people, we wanted to bring both global and local brands to Vietnam.
Vietnam is also well known for being a manufacturing hub for furniture. A select few suppliers have been producing for corporations for years. We want to help bridge the gap by providing smaller Vietnamese furniture designers a platform to create and sell without having to compete head-on against the big guys.
What advice do you have for first-time entrepreneurs? What does it take to start a small but fast growing company?
Learn to survive first. By focusing on this, you can build a product relevant to customers. In other words, you’re building something that people want to pay for. You’ll also hit break-even as soon as possible.
Once you reach the profitable threshold, you have a infinite runway. That’s when the magic happens. Keep your whole-hearted supporters close. Maybe your family, your team, and if you are blessed enough, your wife. Like Winston Churchill put it and requoted by renowned entrepreneurs like Elon Musk: “When you are going through hell, keep going!”.
What’s next for Mitssy?
We’re opening our flagship showroom in Ho Chi Minh City, Tan Binh District by the end of September. With the showroom, beyond trying our products in person, Mitssy customers will have free consultancy with our professional home stylists to help the navigate through the painful journey of decorating a new home.
Meanwhile, we continue to develop and introduce new website features to engage more with our customers, which help them easily find and decide what products fit them most. For example, we are about to release Mix-and-Match feature on our website, in which the customers can easily create a moodboard and visualize how their selected products go together.
What are some nice to knows about Mitssy?
- Most of our products are from local exporters, who sell their products to Western markets or Japan
- We have free consultancy services for new apartment owners, where we match you with a personal home stylist to have a full package of furniture
- We have nearly 8,000 SKUs on our website
- We ship our products nationwide. 60% our customers are in Ho Chi Minh City, 30% in Hanoi, and the rest from second-tier cities like Nha Trang, Da Nang, and Can Tho. Our products have also been shipped to Singapore and Europe.
What are your favorite cafes in Ho Chi Minh City?
Work Saigon is a perfect atmosphere to reflect and brainstorm. I often come here to escape from my routine at the office. Republic Coffee House at Thai Van Lung: excellent coffee and quiet place for working in the weekend. Runam: a good place to meet your business partners. Very well-designed interior and comfortable setup.
Who I should I talk to next?
Le Viet Hong from Cloudjet Solution, he’s developing a software solution to help track people performance management.