Vietnam Exclusive - Coffee with Founders: Hao Tran, CEO of Vietcetera
I remember in high school, my Literature teacher gave us a prompt on the topic of “Brain drain of Vietnamese talents.” Just 15 or 20 years ago, it was hard to imagine the modern Vietnam that is today, developing its own local talents, enticing foreign investments, and even attracting young foreign talents.
I had an opportunity to sit down in August to chat with Hao Tran, CEO and Co-founder of media startup Vietcetera, a portfolio company of Hustle Fund and a showcase of foreign talents in Vietnam building their startups. Hao, a Vietnamese American, shared with me the journey of building Vietcetera from a lifestyle blog in the early days to the venture-backed media company that connects the modern Vietnam to a global audience today.
Guy Truong (left) & Hao Tran (right), co-founders of Vietcetera
A lifestyle blog born out of founders' passion to bring the modern Vietnam to the world
Hao Tran, Guy Truong, and 2 other young Vietnamese foreigners started Vietcetera as a blog in 2016. Through the lense of Vietnamese born and/or raised abroad, they quickly saw the drastic changes in Vietnamese society and economy.
With the founders' writing ability, they quickly built a reputation among young Millenials abroad who have some ties and interests to Vietnam and want to learn more about the country.
Not long after launch, 2 of the co-founders left to pursue their own startup ideas, leaving Hao and Guy determined to transition Vietcetera from a popular blog for a niche audience to a venture-backed media company that attracts close to 1 million readers per month.
Important milestones that helped Vietcetera transition from a lifestyle blog to a venture-backed media company
Hao shared that the most important milestone for Vietcetera is mid 2019 when the company decided to pursue a Vietnamese-first, English-second strategy for all of their content. The founding team realized that localization was crucial not only in increasing their readership but also in becoming the media hub connecting Vietnam with the world.
Since the pivot, Vietcetera has seen their readership increase by 11 times (1,000%) year-over-year. The company is also on track to achieve 1 million monthly readers by the end of 2020/beginning of 2021.
The pivot and its impact have demonstrated Vietcetera's ability to grow from a lifestyle blog to a venture-backable media company. In fact, the company successfully raised venture funding in 2020, with Hustle Fund being one of the investors. Hao is proud that Vietcetera has always been a viable business even before the capital infusion, achieving profitability and positive cash flows from the inception days.
Whereas many companies have been struggling during the covid-19 crisis, people’s demand to consume news and information has increased across the board. Vietcetera has seen a steady increase in their readership during 2020; as a result, the company continues to attract advertising dollars from large corporations and brands who want to reach the end-consumers in Vietnam.
Become the most trusted and important voice for the modern reader
For Vietcetera, reporting and delivering original and high quality content is first and foremost. All the stories published on Vietcetera are written and edited by Vietcetera' reporters and editorial team. Even the photos and videos used in articles are often shot by Vietcetera's photographers.
In addition, to truly become a scalable tech company, Vietcetera also directs efforts and resources towards understanding the end-users' media consumption behavior and designing product features that best serve the readers. Ultimately, Vietcetera wants to become the trusted voice for Gen Z and Millennials.
Specifically, 95% of Vietcetera’s readership is Vietnamese people reading Vietnamese content. When digging into the data, Hao realized that Vietnamese young readers do not convert well on email newsletters like international readers. In fact, Hao observed that Vietcetera’s Vietnamese readers spend less time on average reading content, yet spend more time engaging on social media platforms. Based on these findings, Hao and the founding team are directing their focus towards releasing product features that tailor towards Gen Z’s and Millennials' way of social media interaction and news consumption.
To turn the company's vision into reality, Hao and Vietcetera understand the importance of recruiting and retaining talents that share the same collective mindset. “No one is bigger than the team,” Hao emphasized. In return, the company also works to provide career development opportunities for its young workforce.
Last but not least, Hao shared his thoughts on the role of media in general and Vietcetera in specific when it comes to covering and reporting startup stories unbiasedly and independently. As startup founders themselves, Vietcetera founding team understands the challenges of building and growing a company that outside critics might not grasp fully. Therefore, Vietcetera takes it very seriously when it comes to reporting startups news and delivering diverse, unbiased stories to their readership, both locally and internationally.
Vietcetera is media company, connecting the modern Vietnam with a global audience.
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Mai Ho is a venture partner at Hustle Fund, covering the Vietnam and Southeast Asia markets. Mai was born and raised in Vietnam, and later graduated college in the U.S. with a double major in Accounting and Finance. Mai has 10 years of experience working in London, Singapore, and San Francisco, from equity research at Goldman Sachs to Growth/User Acquisition in Silicon Valley. Previously, Mai co-founded and exited e-commerce marketplace BigBalo.