Learning Vietnamese as a foreigner who has never been to Vietnam is a rare choice.
Yet, someone on the Vietcetera team always somehow manages to find people who are the exception.
Meet Adrian Latortue.
Adrian arrived in Vietnam for the first time 9 years ago in 2007 for a summer abroad. In 2012, he moved to Vietnam to work for Rocket Internet. Later, Adrian would go on to launch Uber’s operations in Vietnam and Bali, Indonesia.
So how did Adrian become fluent in Vietnamese and end up working at some of the most exciting internet startups in Vietnam?
Why did you learn Vietnamese?
My first exposure to anything Vietnam was through my Vietnamese-American best friend. I remember spending elementary school afternoons playing video games over at his family’s house, overhearing his parents speak Vietnamese.
When I started my first year at Yale, I wanted to study a foreign language. I wanted to start from scratch, which is when I remembered those elementary school afternoons hearing Vietnamese.
I decided to try it out. I ended up staying for the entire semester and all four years. The course had the most engaging professor that I learned from during my time at Yale.
When I finished my first year at Yale, I ended up participating in an English language teaching program in Hue. It was only eight hours a week. I spent the rest of the time hanging out in Hue and learning about the new, modernization of Vietnamese brands. There’s a trend of more overseas people coming to Vietnam that I met during my summer in Hue, I met a lot of Vietnamese-Americans who are part of the “reverse migration.”
How did you end up getting the role to launch the Vietnam market for Uber?
I graduated in 2010 and spent a year in Vietnam on a Fulbright Scholarship studying urban planning.
Afterwards, I returned to America with the plan to get a bit of work experience, then eventually go to graduate school. A few months later, I got a call from Don Phan, an old colleague from Yale.
Don wanted me to join him and help launch Rocket Internet in Vietnam. The launch team for Rocket Internet in Vietnam included Don, Phuong Anh Nguyen, and a few others. I eventually joined in February 2012, before the companies launched. ZALORA had some team members and Lazada was still called Anaconda with a staff of eight people. Since I was coming in from overseas I didn’t know which team I would join. I eventually got placed with ZALORA. After ZALORA, I ran Easy Taxi as a country manager which is where I got recruited to join Uber.
What is it like working at Uber?
I launched Ho Chi Minh City with my buddy Alan Jiang. I went on to launch Hanoi, then Bali where I spent nine months.
After working in Indonesia, I have a much greater appreciation for working in Vietnam. The speed is so much faster in Vietnam. If I wanted to chat with somebody about a new proposal, Vietnamese people will sit down and chat the next day. In Bali, they will want to chat with you in three months.
I’ll never complain about the WiFi and 3G in Vietnam after my time in Bali.
Uber was a challenging experience professional and personally. It put me to the test. The company moves at a pace that is incomparable to most work environments. You have to really work hard to be leading that kind of growth.
What are your future plans?
I left Uber at the end of July to take a break and recharge.
Professionally, I’d like to take a look at getting involved in career development work. Communication, CV skills, soft skills. After helping to hire teams at ZALORA and Uber, I think the local professional market in Vietnam needs help with soft skills.
What tips can you offer to new startup job seekers?
A lot of students don’t want to necessarily work for big companies like Unilever or banks, because everyone wants to work at startups or companies like Uber or homegrown ones like A Day Roi and Appota. But are they prepared? Do they know what it means to work at these companies?
There isn’t enough preparation for those kinds of environments or information about how it works. We share a bunch of success stories but not the painful stories.
Working at a startup can be dangerous for young people. Some people can’t focus their energy. They get bored and leave.
If an eager new graduate gets in early enough at a future successful startup, it works out. But once things begin to specialize, some people can’t keep up.
So, Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City?
In Hanoi there are less distractions, but also fewer things to do. In general, I recommend going to Ho Chi Minh City first, then evaluating any options in Hanoi. Let’s also not forget about Da Nang. I’d spend some time there if I had the chance.
Where can someone spot you on an afternoon in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City?
Ru Nam Bistro on Pasteur, Vesper Lounge on Ton Duc Thang (not a coffee shop haha). Coffee Republic in Thai van Lung area (coffee is bomb).In Hanoi, I like to hang out at Cosmo Tang Tret, Republic, and Cafe at Metropole.
How about on a Friday night date?
For something low key, I’d go on a drive through the city on a motorbike for an ice cream tour and late night snacks and treats.
5 nice to knows about Adrian
- I was **raised a vegetarian** because my parents wanted my brother and I to be healthy. Now it’s like comfort food to me
- I used to **collect rare Nike shoes** and have a small collection at home. I’m a sneakerhead
- I love honey and eat too much of it. The best Vietnamese honey comes from the mountains. The test for real honey is that ants won’t eat it. If you add sugar to it, they’ll go straight into it
- My **favorite city in Vietnam is Hue**
- My Vietnamese nickname is Atiso
Who should I talk to next?
Linh Phan, she’s done so much with music and film in Vietnam. She’s been here for 10 years or so. Melissa Merryweather, she specializes in sustainable architecture and urban planning in Vietnam. Don Phan, entrepreneur and hustler. He’s now doing his own thing at Taembe, the diapers.com of Vietnam.
Editor’s note: Uber no longer exists in Vietnam, but Grab is available and provides similar services.