Launched in Vietnam in January 2020, Manabie is a rapidly growing EdTech company that offers a hybrid learning infrastructure with engaging content and experienced coaches, providing total education to each learner, structured in the way that suits them best.
Vietcetera recently spoke to Quan Doan, Corporate Strategy Director, for the company, where he is responsible for implementing the company’s growth strategies as well as leading sales and marketing efforts to further cement Manabie’s standing in the competitive world of EdTech.
Doan previously worked for Boston Consulting Group and Nielsen, where he provided insights and solutions for clients from a wide range of industries, including aviation, automotive, banking, energy, insurance, FMCG, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and electronics.
Today at Manabie, Doan supports the company’s unique model of merged online-offline learning meant to maximize the efficiency of online-based education. In addition to a mobile app that allows high-school students across Vietnam to study online, Manabie also has five learning centers in Ho Chi Minh City, where students can receive the dedicated in-person guidance from individual counselors.
Manabie finds that building a “learning organization” culture has helped them survive and develop in this industry. From a small startup that was financially vulnerable to macro factors, Manabie has become a success story — all thanks to investors who trust its vision and to the people that make up the organization, like Doan.
1. What three words best describe your management style?
Data-driven, training, and Kaizen.
2. Is there a mentor, an author, or a book that has shaped your approach to work?
My approach to work involves both internal and external factors.
Internal means my personal ways to improve. I always polish my skills across different areas of business operation, such as business strategy, analysis, sales, marketing, operations, human resources, and finance. Years of working at Boston Consulting Group and studying an MBA program in Melbourne have enriched my knowledge and experience today. I also self-study at night and improve myself alongside Manabie.
If I have to choose one book, "High Output Management" by Andy Grove is probably the one that has the biggest influence on my working style. Many of my daily practices are from this legendary book on management.
Talking about external factors, my approach to work has changed due to the modern business environment. The field of edtech is driven by two huge factors — technological progress and COVID-19. Over the course of a few months, or even just a few weeks, these two factors can significantly impact the direction of a business, since they present both threats and opportunities to Manabie's business.
In this context, we need to adapt wisely and quickly. The book "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries is the best representation of what we are trying to achieve.
3. To you, what is the most difficult thing at work?
I invest most of my time in building a strong team, which is also the hardest part of my job. At the core of building a strong team lies the need to hire the best people, develop and retain talents. These three tasks should be carried out equally well, especially in a highly competitive labor market.
As an EdTech startup, we don't have a bottomless pocket. Therefore, it’s essential to provide our team members with a great working environment where they can have the best chance to grow and become part of a larger mission.
Also, we need to assure the growth of Manabie so that we can treat and reward our employees fairly.
4. Do you have an ideal type of employee when hiring?
For me, an ideal employee is one with good problem-solving skills, a growth mindset, good teamwork skills, and a can-do attitude.
An ideal employee may not have the most relevant experience but must have an impressive track record. Whether you are an experienced candidate or a fresh graduate, you need to stand out from all the others.
During the interview, I give candidates some in-depth questions about the journey leading them to those accomplishments. Then I would know more about their thoughts, personalities, how they solve problems as well as some of their strengths and weaknesses. I also try to cite some tough scenarios at work to gauge how they react to and solve problems.
5. In the corporate environment, do you feel that power should be distributed fairly or decentralized from low to high?
I think decision-making power should lie where the best decisions are made, regardless of hierarchy. Given that we have talented employees, we still have to acknowledge the information gaps and the need for a prompt response.
For example, when an unhappy customer needs to be satisfied immediately, the decision should be made by employees at the lowest level who have all the necessary information and can quickly respond. There will be guidelines on how to make decisions, and everyone should be encouraged to initiate the decision-making process.
However, when it comes to devising a business strategy within the next three years, the decision-making process would take place at a cross-departmental meeting or a board meeting after all the essential information is collected and analyzed thoroughly.
6. How do you coordinate those meetings? What information about the company's business would you share with your employees?
During a team meeting, we follow a 3-step process:
- Step 1: Evaluate performance report. The report is done either daily or weekly, and everyone is involved in this.
- Step 2: Review and re-evaluate the plan for the next period.
- Step 3: Discuss obstacles.
In steps 2 and 3, it’s my job to equip my team members with work-related information about other departments, competitors, customers, market trends, and all other factors that impact Manabie.
7. How do you establish a healthy company culture?
I focus on four core things.
The first is that everyone strives towards the same goals. In addition to an inspirational mission, the leaders should set clear OKRs and KPIs to help translate that vision into action. This way, everyone in the company can strive for them together.
As a technology company, we digitize most of our processes and make data available for everyone to easily track their progress. If there are any obstacles, the management team will adjust and resolve them at once.
The second is transparency. At Manabie, data is transparent to all members from different departments. A salesperson can access marketing data and vice versa. Operators can read the sales scripts to know what we have promised the customers. A software engineer can see how customers use the product as well as their feedback on user experience.
We also compare and measure employees’ communication rates between public Slack channels versus private messages, and encourage people to discuss on public channels. In fact, many of our team members only communicate through public Slack channels. This would help avoid false rumors and allow everyone to discuss and solve any problem openly and constructively.
The third is to create a safe environment for innovation. As I mentioned earlier, we need to be agile to thrive in the EdTech industry. This means trying new things, and making a lot of mistakes to find the best solutions. Our managers discourage blaming behavior, and every conversation is always followed with the questions: What have we learned from this? How can we improve?
And last but not least, it's about taking care of the team and making sure everyone loves their job. We have a Slack channel called #manabie_proud where anyone can share their achievements, big or small. Every month at our company wide meeting, we celebrate and appreciate everyone's achievements.
During the social distancing period in 2021, we sent a Mana Care box to every employee. The boxes were filled with food, fresh vegetables, mooncakes, and vaccinations supported by the company.
8. What is the first thing to do if conflicts arise?
The first thing I always do is to stop any bad behavior such as blaming, disrespecting others, or hindering work progress because this is how most people would naturally react when they are getting emotional.
It is best for both parties to provide facts and information about what happened so that everyone can analyze the root of the conflict before drawing any conclusions.
9. How do you set a timeline for long-term goals?
We always try to devise a very clear plan of what needs to be done as much as possible. Manabie's long-term goal is to become a large edtech company on a global scale — a unicorn startup in this field — within the next 3-5 years.
We have a clear go-to-market strategy and goals for each year and each quarter. We have monthly projections, OKRs and KPIs so everyone knows what to do. We understand that these goals and plans may not be perfect, but having a clear understanding of the direction ahead is extremely helpful to all employees. Moreover, we can always adjust our plans to accommodate new situations that may arise.
In addition to setting clear long-term goals, we always keep in mind that our long-term vision will generate positive changes for our learners as well as for society and humanity. Everything we do is centered around our learners. For us, implementing technology in education is not just a job, but a passion that drives us to help students, teachers, and schools do better in their jobs.
Whenever a student shares their learning results with us or a teacher gives positive feedback on product experience, it gives us validation that we are doing the right thing.
10. Do you have any advice for a new manager?
When I first took over my position, I made a mistake by trying to carry the workload of the whole team. This is a common mistake made by many low-level managers.
Usually, people get promoted to a management position because they have been hard-working and made great contributions to the company. Up to this point, lower-level managers tend to keep the same approach as they used to do as an executor. They work even harder to cover more of their team’s workload, believing that this way of working will lead to high productivity.
However, this would restrict the development of other team members, and the overall performance would fall on the manager. As a result, no one — neither team members nor the company — is benefited.
So my advice for young managers is to invest time to train and share best working practices with their team members. This way, you'll be more satisfied at work, and have a more sustainable approach to achieving your long-term goals.
Translated by Bich Tram