What are your end-of-the-year traditions? At Vietcetera, we like to close the year by catching up with our long-time friend Dao Chi Anh. A fountain of ideas, even in the midst of all the uncertainty, Dao Chi Anh is ready to announce the launch of GATHER, an integrated retreat for urban residents in the heart of Hanoi catering specifically for women.
Four years after the launch (and subsequent closure) of her F&B venture The KAfe, she is here to talk about failure and limping back to the starting point.
People are still talking about you and the story of The KAfe, your first start-up. So we wanted to ask, how did you feel when you had to cut the ties with it and how do you feel today?
The KAfe wasn’t actually my first startup; it was my first well-known startup and one I really put my heart into. I wanted to create a place where us modern Vietnamese could come together to enjoy food from both East and West, something I felt was lacking in Vietnam back then when dining was so polarized: you had to choose between local and international.
So losing The KAfe was more than losing a business, it felt like losing my home, my community and my dream. To me, assets and money come and go, but it’s always the people that make the experience special. Thinking back to those days, The KAfe was a beautiful journey filled with ups and downs and wonderful new friendships. Those friends are still by my side today and have joined me on my new journey with GATHER.
How do you deal with criticism?
Criticism has been coming in waves – often tidal waves – ever since my experience with The KAfe. For some reason, the space elicited very strong reactions. There were raving fans but also raging haters and as the founder, I was on the receiving end of that vitriol.
When you start something new, it’s normal to be scared. But knowing that there are people out there wanting you to“fail" is actually a blessing because it shrinks your ego. All entrepreneurs start out with huge egos, thinking that they are special, different, innovative or forward-thinking, with a product so good that the world wouldn't be able to resist. That was certainly me when I started The KAfe.
And then the reality slapped me across the face. Just by virtue of having a public business, I subjected myself to a great deal of daily criticism. And though we are preconditioned to dislike criticism, today I consider it a great learning tool and a reminder to stay humble.
Now, thanks to years of practice, when I’m mentioned on social media, I just tell myself, “Is that so?”, then go back to focusing on what really matters (my customers, my products, my service) and not on what feeds my ego (my image, my reputation, my likeability).
What is your definition of failure?
The KAfe can be considered my first grand and public failure. I wrote at length about it in my memoir “Tro Ve Nha”, partly because it was such a formative experience. It was indeed losses, failures, and suffering that awakened me to life’s true meaning, not achievements and success. So I take each failure as a step towards finding my true path, rather than a sign to stop.
After losing almost everything and starting from zero again after The KAfe, I realized that holding on to materialistic things (including my “name” or “image”) was only going to put me under more stress. My failure allowed me to start fresh, to be whoever I wanted to be without any fear, because… what was there left to lose?
To be honest, when you are already a failure in the public eye, it is such a liberation! So if you want to be truly free – free from the fear of failing or criticism – I suggest you fail really early, and fail really hard, and even better fail publicly as I did, because you won’t learn (and truly grow) from your failure if you hide it in your closet.
What about your definition of success? Has it changed over time?
It has definitely evolved. It is much less tied to personal recognition and validation, because that is ego-driven. What I work towards everyday now is what I call “true wins”. It does not need to be a huge milestone. As long as at the end of each day I feel like I have contributed and provided some sort of value to my team and my customers, that we are growing collectively, then that is success. Success can only happen when everybody wins: my team, my customers, and our community as a whole.
The time after The KAfe and before GATHER wasn’t really a time to hit pause, was it?
That’s definitely true. Actually, before The KAfe, there was Kitchen Art, a home and kitchen retail and distribution platform, which was my first business and is still going strong. After The KAfe, I started an F&B consultancy. We helped conceptualize and set up the Yu Tang Teahouse chain for Golden Gate, offering Taiwanese-style bubble tea and street food.
Then I went all-in on wellness for about two years and got myself internationally certified in Nutrition Coaching, Personal Fitness and Pilates, which allowed me to build my own wellness app called TGL - The Good Life. So although many think I have gone “quiet” in the past four years, I have never stopped creating, learning and building the foundation for Gather, my new project.
Tell us about GATHER and the message “By women, for women”.
GATHER was born out of necessity, when amidst the pandemic health and wellness became the number one priority. Limited travel options have left us with even fewer opportunities to recharge. With GATHER, we strive to bring a one-of-a-kind experience to help the modern urban citizen to feel good, new and whole.
At GATHER, it’s all about self-care, which I find is still a luxury for the modern Vietnamese women who work so hard, but never prioritize themselves!
Our qualified team of trainers, nutritionists, psychologists, chefs, beauticians, and massage therapists work under one roof to build a mini urban retreat that will satisfy and support you no matter where you are on your wellness journey.
GATHER’s flagship wellness complex comes to life in a historic French villa which covers a space of over 600sqm and includes a cafe-restaurant with a healthy and tasty food menu; a unique “healthy shots” bar; a yoga and fitness studio with more than 10 different group class concepts; and a full-service wellness spa with a relaxing and private rooftop bathtub.
I love to say that GATHER is “by women, for women” because our team is primarily women-led and we are focused on building valuable products and services to serve women and make their lives better.
Being a woman myself, I understand the needs of my fellow women in the community, who are busy working professionals, young mothers, or anywhere in between on their life journey.
I’ve noticed that most sports and recreational establishments in Vietnam are aimed at men (gyms, beer gardens, karaoke parlors, bars) but not enough places exist for women to gather, socialize, have fun, recharge, and feel more confident! Filling that gap is what drives us at GATHER.
What advice would you give to those beginning their journeys in the start-up world and to those who are afraid of failure?
For anyone starting out, my advice is to not take it too seriously or too personally, even if your business may feel like your actual baby or like it embodies everything that has ever mattered to you. The more you identify with your business, the more you will suffer if it turns out not the way you planned (which happens most of the time), not to mention if you lose it.
A healthier approach towards entrepreneurship would be to focus on being of service to your customers, your team, and your community. Because if you serve selflessly, even if you fail, it will not feel like a personal tragedy.
You will pick yourself up and find a new way to serve, again – through a different product, with a different business partner or a different team. There is more than one road to Rome and if your goal is not ego-driven, you will get there eventually, even if it takes hundreds of false starts.