It was definitely trial by fire because my colleagues would look at me and say, "You're the American, figure it out." You're supposed to know better even though the reality is nine times out of 10 people here will always know how to get things done. The reality is that some of the best operators in Vietnam are Vietnamese. - Ryan Galloway
Ryan Galloway has been building companies in Southeast Asia for more than 10 years, with a focus on corporate development and enterprise sales. As of March 2021, his teams have raised more than 250 million USD, and have created more than 1x year-on-year revenue jumps on several occasions.
In the technology space specifically, his most notable venture was iCare Benefits, Vietnam's first BNPL where he was business model co-founder. In charge of corporate development and enterprise sales, Ryan's teams between 2014 and 2016 raised more than 150 million USD across equity and debt, and acquired more than 1,400 corporate clients across 7 different countries. He also saw revenue increase from 0 to 65 million USD annual in 2016.
After iCare Benefits, Ryan served concurrently as EIR to 500 Startups Vietnam Saola Batch 2 and Batch 3 accelerators, and as Chief Growth Officer for Nafoods Group (HoSE: NAF). For Saola, Ryan oversaw 13 different companies of which 75% either went on for subsequent funding or broke-even. For Nafoods Group, he raised 15 million USD from IFC and Finnfund, and his enterprise sales teams saw an increase of revenue from 24 million USD in 2018 to 64 million USD in 2020. NAF's share price increased 2.5x during the same time period.
Ryan currently serves as corporate development director at Homebase Vietnam, a Y-Combinator company, and is advising some of the region's larger Fintech players. He earned his MBA in Global Finance from Thunderbird School of Global Management, and Juris Doctor from Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He is fluent in Vietnamese, and speaks conversational Japanese. He also started distance running during the first wave of Covid, recently clocking a 1:42 for the 2021 Salonpas Half-Marathon in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ryan Galloway (00:41): What's going on?
Jeremy Au (00:42): How was your flight?
Ryan Galloway (00:44):
Relatively uneventful. It's my son's first time flying in his own seat. He's two and a half and we just flew back to my wife's home town. I'm married to a absolutely lovely Vietnamese woman. Been now three years, and this was his first time that he had to sit in his own seat. And I was really freaking out about that only 45 minute flight, but it was actually quite good. And we were able to get off the plane, get back to the house literally within 15 minutes, so this is one of the reasons why I love Vietnam. You put your mind to something, you can get it done.
Jeremy Au (01:19):
How did you and your wife meet?
Ryan Galloway (01:21):
So this is a random story. When I first started my first technology startup back at iCare Benefits in 2014, I knew that I was going to need to recruit students, and so I started to teach MBA. And the very last semester that I taught MBA, I gave a talk on entrepreneurship and she was a student in that talk who apparently saw me and then added me on Facebook. Then I had left the school and then just randomly we ran into each other about six months later. And then ended up going on a couple of dates, and that's where it was.
Jeremy Au (02:01):
That's pretty much exactly how Steve Jobs and Laura met each other teaching MBA class. So I guess that works. I got to keep that in mind next time.
Ryan Galloway (02:13):
Hopefully there's not a next time.
Jeremy Au (02:15):
Oh yeah. Well, I didn't mean next time that way. So Ryan, obviously for those who don't know you yet, why don't you just very briefly give us your career trajectory.
Ryan Galloway (02:33):
Sure. So 40,000 foot view; I came into Southeast Asia and tech by way of Japan, believe it or not. I'm a JD-MBA out of the United States and I had aspirations of being a corporate lawyer, believe it or not; securities lawyer, taking companies on IPO, things like that. In the United States, it's a little known fact that after your first year of law school, you could be able to practice law, just as long as you have a lawyer that is willing to supervise you. So I was actually engaged in the practice of law for three years because law school is two years plus one year at MBA. Of which during that cycle, I worked about two years on and off in Japan because I thought I was going to be a Japan guy before I became the Vietnam guy.
When I was in Japan, I knew that I was going to have a really, really comfortable life. I love Tokyo, I love Osaka. It was my second home before Vietnam became my second home. But the thing that I quickly realized when I was working there, when I was just doing contract work at Morrison & Foerster and stuff like that, was that I was always going to be consulted, but I was never going to be driving. I was going to be a cog and not necessarily the driving force. And that was something that... it irked me. I wanted to be able to have a little bit more say in my own destiny and to be able to build things.
And right about the time before I took the bar exam, I had one of my colleagues from B-school, who was from Vietnam. We had started a boutique investment bank when we were still in school, when she had graduated, but I still had a trimester at Thunderbird left and a year of law school left. My last year of law school was done in Tokyo. And she said, "Why don't you help me to start off this business?" And we did, we started, and within seven months of launch, we had placed about $70 million with a private capital. The business model was really simple; we were helping Vietnamese companies, predominantly in private equity and traditional businesses attract funding either from the local private equity shops like Mekong Capital or offshore funds. And this was right about the time that the world was just coming alive again, after the Lehman shock, so we had to place $70 million in seven months was a pretty hot hand. Relative to the United States or to Japan, or even to Singapore nowadays, $70 million is nothing. But back then, 2009, 2008, that was a fair chunk of change, especially for a couple of fresh grads that didn't know really what the hell they were doing.
My second client at that boutique investment bank which was called Auxesia Holdings was Nafoods Group, which if you guys look me up on LinkedIn, you could see that I was formerly the chief growth officer and on the board of that company. And the third company was a company called MobiVi which was Vietnam's first ví điện tử which is e-wallet in Vietnamese. We just ended up happening that these are two companies that ended up having a pretty long relationship with. MobiVi was light years ahead of what it was trying to do, which was basically think about the payments version of Grab, where even before we were using an app interface, we were trying to pay for taxis out of an e-wallet using text messages.
Sounds like a really good idea in theory, but then this is one of those business cases where theory runs right into pragmatics. So imagine the telecom operating system in Vietnam, Circa 2011, 2012. It's rush hour traffic, you send a message and sometimes back then... I mean, the telecoms have improved quite a bit. But even back then, sometimes text messages would go missing or you would be sitting there in the back of a taxi trying to assure this taxi driver that he was going to get paid, just that the text message hadn't arrived yet. So you can imagine that that business model didn't work really, really well. And when my partner, Hao, who is my B-school friend, got into the business, we pivoted hard out of e-wallet business into a buy now, pay later business model, which was unique.
Our company, which changed from MobiVi and then did a new doing, this called iCare Benefits, was B2B2C. We marketed an employee benefits platform for the factory workers of the textile garments, consumer electronics supply chains in Vietnam. Where the people that assemble
your phone, make your shoes, stitch together your shirts, they would buy things on installment payments, but with no interest. We would make our interest actually out of the menu, out of the suppliers. That business model launched 2014 and over the next 24 months, we expanded to seven countries, signed up about 1,400 corporate clients and had a run rate revenue of... not run rate revenue, sorry, annual revenue in 2016 was about 65 million.
When I was there, I did corporate development which was basically a nice way of saying fundraising in that company and starting up all these subsidiaries outside of Vietnam and fundraising and enterprise sales. And when I was there, I did about $48 million in equity, about $100 million in debt, and then again, the 1,400 accompanies across seven different countries. That was a business model that was doing beautifully and it went great until it didn't. We suffered a pretty significant shareholder change in a recap. I mean, for anyone who's interested, when I'm in Singapore, you're in Vietnam, I'm happy to take you out for a shisha and we could talk a little bit more about that privately. But it was really new shareholders coming in who were really exclusively financial focused and not on the social aspect of the business, which was something that was pretty important to me.
So I started to leave iCare in 2018, I think is when I did my final separation, where I had earned the right to be on the maps. From there, I went to both to Nafoods Group and to 500 Startups to be EIR, of which I still do some work for 500 today and I'm still on the board of Nafoods Group. Most recently I just took up a corporate development job at Homebase Vietnam, which is a co-buying real estate platform in Vietnam. It's a YC company. It's the first Vietnam YC company, I believe. And then I do some consulting for FinTechs that are usually either founded in Indonesia or Singapore, and they're wanting to come into Vietnam. Normally I'll get a knock on the door when people are looking for a lay of the land because I've been in Vietnam for about 10 years now. So lots of scars to be able to share with people. Is that good for 40,000 feet?
Jeremy Au (09:32):
Definitely awesome for 40,000 foot conversation. So let's talk about the beginning. Why did you come to Southeast Asia? Well, you shared a little bit about Japan, you made a choice on Vietnam, so why Vietnam?
Ryan Galloway (09:47):
It was completely opportunistic. It was really a colleague of mine that I had a deep respect for at Thunderbird School of Global Management. Her name was Hao Thi Diep. She was... I think even to this day, she's probably one of the smartest people that I know. I think she was salutavictorian at Thunderbird. She was a Fulbright Scholar. This is the type of woman that I was her financial engineering tutor. She took the course a trimester after me, and within literally two sessions, she was telling me how I was tutoring her wrong. She had completely jumped ahead of me in terms of understanding. She's absolutely brilliant.
It was a very unique situation because Hao and I, we're two sides of the same coin. She was very back office focused. Wasn't really comfortable in front of people, but really got to be operationally focused. While I was really focused on sales. Didn't mind carrying myself in front of a crowd and didn't necessarily shy away from conflict. And so we just made this really, really good team that was together for... I think we still work together a bit today, but that was really the core growth engine and we both became co-founders at iCare Benefits.
Jeremy Au (11:05):
Wow. How did the idea come about?
Ryan Galloway (11:09):
We were sitting in the office in Dang Trung. And Dang Trung is this storied entrepreneur as well. So Dang Trung is a guy, his name is Dang Trung Dung. You can look him up, he's got his own Wikipedia page. So he left Vietnam, I think in '84. He was a refugee in Indonesia for a year. He only had one pair of pants. Landed in Boston. Went from not speaking any English to taking his PhD course, and he stopped just short of getting his PhD because he started a company called OnDisplay. His PhD was in computer science. OnDisplay went on to be the second highest subscribed IPO behind Apple Computer in 1997 and was later acquired by Vignette for $1.8 billion. He left the United States to come back to Vietnam, I think around 2008 and that's when he started MobiVi. MobiVi was the first company with an e-wallet in Vietnam.
And we were sitting in the office and he knew that he wanted to do credit but he didn't necessarily know how. Because the really big thing about whether it's consumer credit or lending in Vietnam, it's getting paid. Vietnam's legal structure doesn't have the same type of small claims court, which is really an efficient way like we have in the United States, I think we even have it in Singapore, where creditors can go after individuals in a very efficient manner to be able to claim back money out of salary and things like that. In Vietnam, because it's based more in Soviet code law, they don't really have that type of mechanism. And so we were looking for a way to be able to do collection. And this is one of the reasons why iCare was really a personal story for me.
Growing up, my family didn't have a hell of a lot of money. So my mom was a single mother raising four kids. I'm the youngest of four by seven years, so kind of a second only child. Actually she had two full-time jobs. She worked from the time that I was born up until I think probably she was 65 years old, she was putting in 60 hours a week. She's just a beast. And at the factory that she worked at, they had this program that you could buy Gateway 2000 computers. I'm dating myself because probably half the people in this room don't even know what a Gateway 2000 is. Came in this big cow box.
And the factory actually fronted the money for the worker and then took the payment out of the worker's salary over a period of 18 to 24 months. And so when we were thinking about getting payment, and we'd already started to talk to a couple of factories about trying to sell mobile top-up, or I think it was insurance. And the factory came back and said, "Well, hey, why don't you sell my workers a smartphone instead?" So we knew what product we wanted to be able to sell, but we didn't know how to collect payment. And so I was talking to Dang Trung and I'm like, "Dang Trung, why don't we just have the factory do the deduction for us? The worker can authorize the company to be able to do it. It's just called the wage assignment." And we got that moving and then I think about two months later, we had met with Nike through one of our investors. Was the first investor that I brought into iCare Benefits, which is now known Patamar. Back then, it was known by... I can't even remember what the group was. They were known as a different firm.
We were their first investment Vietnam. One of their former employees went to go work at Nike as a part of their sustainable business innovation lab. For those of you that know about sustainable manufacturing in Vietnam, Nike's got a storied history. You guys can do the Google searching yourself to see that they had, I think, some reputation to rebuild in the market for something that not Nike themselves did, but some factories that Nike bought products from did. And so they were really looking for entrepreneurs to come in and serve these workers and to be able to provide them with things. And so we said, "Look, we have the ability to be able to give your factory workers a better quality of life by letting them pay for white goods or smartphones, or even education or healthcare on installment payment." We would limit the amount that they would pay through salary.
They could only spend, I think it was 20 to 30% depending upon the factory. And they had sufficient enough salary to be able to buy the things that they wanted. But not too much because if workers got over-indebted, then they were likely to just pack up camp and run away. So it was a very, very fun experience.
Jeremy Au (15:38):
That's a really interesting set of insights because I too, myself was working with this segment either as a social entrepreneur or later on in my startup. And there's a lot of basic needs where liquidity is a big problem for them, which I think frankly growing up middle class, liquidity was never an issue for me. It was something that you could go to the bank and make a decision. So just kind of curious, did you feel like that was a big difference between how people are experiencing liquidity issues in Vietnam versus those of the poor in the US?
Ryan Galloway (16:17):
So my family was definitely not the middle class in the US. There were times when things were pretty tight. We got pretty used to leftovers and hand me downs where I grew up. I think that the thing that's very similar to lower middle-class or even below in the US and the emerging middle class in Vietnam is that if a person who does not have access to credit is given access to credit by virtue of getting that opportunity, the probability that they're going to default is actually quite low. There's this really weird dichotomy or this really weird tension in finance that the people that need credit don't get it and the people that don't need it get a lot of it. They feel almost entitled to be able to have it. And that's why you see defaults going out that they are like, "Look, I don't need to pay this back." While people that are maybe a little bit lesser means, actually, because somebody's reaching out and giving them support, they show gratitude and they show gratitude by being able to pay.
I can honestly say that the factory program that my mom was in, because of that I was one of the first three kids to have internet. It literally changed the course of my life. In my experience, the way that I think about it, you can work for money, you can work with people, or you can work for a cause. And that goes from weakest motivating factor to strongest motivating factor. If you work for the money, there's always going to be someone who's going to pay you more. If you work for the people, people come and go. But if you're working for a cause, if you're working for something that you're tapping into something greater than yourself, that you're changing people's lives, it makes it very easy to just get completely enamored and immersed in that cause. And for me, I was helping people like me growing up. Really that's what it was.
And I had the opportunity to actually go and visit a lot with factory workers, parents. And I speak Vietnamese so I get to meet their kids, I get to meet with their parents, I get to meet with workers themselves. You just confirm that a lot of what my experience was growing up was what they were having too.
Jeremy Au (18:32):
Wow, thanks for sharing. It's interesting to see that dotted line between your personal childhood and the credit that your mother's firm provided to what you started out as a founder in Vietnam. I'm so curious, do you remember what was it like to receive that Gateway computer as a kid? Do you have any memories of it?
Ryan Galloway (18:56):
I didn't sleep for 48 hours straight. This was back in the day of 56K and I was... what was I addicted to? To Yahoo Chat and to Yahoo Poker and ICQ. I was on that all of the time, literally all of the time downloading Napster, everything like that. It really, really changed my mind about just the way that... I think it's very difficult for Gen Z to understand it because they were born into it. This is something that everyone's always had access to. But I think my generation is the last generation where we grew up without it and then all of a sudden we had it. So we understood life before and life after. And it changes your perception of things.
The thing that was the most amazing to me is that I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin which is the flyover part of the United States. A town of 1,200 people. There were literally 37 people in my graduating class. There are more people, I think in most apartment buildings in Ho Chi Minh City than were in my hometown. I think there was maybe one or two people of color in my entire community, and so this gave me the opportunity to be able to connect with... The internet really gave me the opportunity to able to connect with other people in other countries and everywhere. And it was definitely an escape maybe is the best way to say it. An escape from the doldrums of growing up in the heart of the Midwest, the United States.
Jeremy Au (20:41):
You mentioned in that vein that this computer or the company basically lended or secured financing for your mom and your family changed the trajectory of your life. So would it be fair that if that company did not finance the computer, you would still be in your hometown today?
Ryan Galloway (21:06):
I probably would not. I don't know if I would still be in my hometown, but I don't know if I would be abroad. And the very interesting thing about this is that, remember I told you that I have two sisters, one brother. All of them live within an hour and a half radius of where we grew up. And then there's me who just blasted off to literally the other side of the planet. And it was a really kind of controversial thing. Because my mother's generation, this was Vietnam War generation.
I had an aunt on my mom's side who wouldn't talk to me, didn't talk to me when she found out that I was moving to Vietnam up until my going away party, a graduation party for law school that I'd had back in my hometown. And she didn't talk to me for a year and a half because she knew that I was going back and forth from Vietnam. And she's like, "Where are you going to live?" And I said, "Well, I'm going to be living in Ho Chi Minh City." And she's like, "You mean Saigon?" I said, "Yes." And then she said, "Okay. Those people are good." It's just really telling that when people think about Vietnam and actually Binh Tran the founder of 500 Vietnam, he says, "When people think about Vietnam, they think about the war and they think about it being poor when we're outside of Southeast Asia." People inside of Southeast Asia, I think have a much better perspective on the potential that Vietnam right now is really starting to hit stride.
They recognize it for being its own little mafia in Silicon Valley. That a lot of the early tech teams for Google, for Facebook, for Uber, for even in the chip making companies, they were built using engineering talent coming from Vietnam. But when you have to compare that with getting asked when you go back home, I would get comments... When I went back home, they had this guest book that you would sign in if you were a visitor to the town in the local greetings book. And so I wrote my name, Ryan Galloway, and I wrote from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The woman who knew me, and I knew this woman from when I was growing up, I went to school with her son and she looked at me and she's like "Oh, you work for the army?" And I just went, "No, I don't work for the army. There hasn't been a conflict in this... Nevermind. I'm not going to deal with this." It really just shows depending upon where you're at in the world, the level of ignorance that people have such an amazing place.
Jeremy Au (23:47):
Wow. So what I'm getting from this is without the internet, you wouldn't have discovered this region of the world. You made it possible and locked, but you sort of dealt with the... even though we had internet, we still had human attitudes and beliefs 1.0 or maybe 0.1 around that. What was it like? I mean, so you grew up these cultural beliefs in America, they saw Vietnam through that prisms of the war, a loss through the eyes of communism and fear and all these things. So you are dealing with this in your decision to move and doubled down. Did you feel like you had to grapple with that personality? How did it feel like moving physically to Vietnam? Because you're one of the few people I know who have integrated and really made the intentional effort to really integrate and be conscious about it, so I'm kind of curious.
Ryan Galloway (24:48):
So I think a lot of this started when I was growing up in Monticello, Wisconsin. I think this was in third or fourth grade. We read this book called Sadako Sasaki and the Thousand Paper Cranes. And it's about one of the hibakusha, the victims of the nuclear bomb. And the story was that his mother was pregnant with Sadako when the bomb went off and that affected Sadako Sasaki. She up with tuberculosis. And it's this beautiful story that if you fold... the Japanese say that if you fold a thousand paper cranes that you get a wish granted. I can't remember how the story ended. I think she dies before she completes the thousand paper cranes. There's actually a monument to her, I think in Seattle, Washington. And I remember being very young and my school teacher saying that this girl, it's tragic what happened, but she deserved it because she was Japanese and the Japanese had started a war with the US.
And from a very young age, I had a really hard time controlling my temper or controlling the filter between the brain and the mouth. And I just remembered standing up and screaming, "How can you say that? She's a kid. No kid deserves that. She's a kid." So much so that they had to take me out in the hallway, bring me up to the principal's office where I sat up there for 30 minutes and then I went down to recess. And because of all of this, the kids that were in my class, the other 36 kids, they were 10 minutes late for a 15 minute recess. And so when I got out to the playground, they just beat the shit out of me. I mean, third graders and fourth graders just pounded on me a bit.
And I remember thinking, I don't even know this girl. As I'm getting there punched and kicked a little bit before the teachers came to save me. I'm like, "I want to meet this girl someday." If I'm going to get beat up for her, even though there was this disconnect, she's not a real person, but I just remember thinking that I'm like, "I better get to meet her." And I think that's for me where it started. There is that component of it. And then on my mom's side, she's first-generation born in the US, so my grandmother and my grandfather came over on the boat. They're both from Switzerland. And so we grew up with multiple languages. When we moved in, after my parents got divorced, we moved in back into my grandmother's house. We grew up hearing Swiss, we grew up hearing multiple languages. And I think that was just something that I'd always keyed into.
I always had a talent for languages and the only way that you could really learn to speak a language is by engaging with people that are from that country. So when I hopped into Vietnam, it was just, knew that I was going to be coming here to work. I didn't want to be the ex-pat that completely relied on interpreters. Because I knew that translators really... the reality is that not a lot of them had the required vocabulary to be able to do stuff in tech. They were just really, really bad. And to me it was just showing a modicum of respect. You're going to go to a foreign country and you're going to earn money in that country, then show the respect of at least make the effort to try to speak language. Because you're already taking so much from the community that you should at least try to show that modicum of respect. And I think that's the way that it always went across through my head.
Jeremy Au (28:31):
So here you are fighting the casual racism as a kid, and then you get bullied and pounded for voicing it. And that's there with you. And then you take that and you overcome that, and you still move to Vietnam as an adult with that memory. And I got to ask, what was it like when you arrive in Vietnam? Because you had this view, you had internet, you knew what Vietnam was like from the outside in, you had gone to Japan, so it's not too far away in some ways. But when you moved into Vietnam, was it different from what you expected?
Ryan Galloway (29:17):
Completely and totally. Living in Vietnam was my first experience outside of the US. By the time I'd hit Vietnam, I'd already been around to 20 countries. And when you think about Americans, they are two different buckets. They're the people that never leave the bubble and then there are the people that spend a lot of time outside the bubble. And by the time that I had gone to Vietnam, because I'd lived in a couple of different countries, I already knew how to acclimate. But the thing that most... was just how hard people worked. It reminded me of growing up in the US in the late eighties, early nineties, where people were just working hard, they wanted to make sure that their kids had a better life than they did. And they were willing to just sacrifice everything, to make sure that that happened.
And that sentiment of everyone coming together and sacrificing for one another, and just trying to make sure that the next generation gets set on a better footing than what your own generation did, that's something that I feel like we lost in the US probably in the nineties. I don't know if it was lawyers or what the hell it was. But just that sense of community and wanting to just work really hard with the understanding that if you work hard, that opportunities will come. I think that just the amount of... The media does this blast about communism, socialism, dah dah dah. The reality is that 90% of Americans that take that garbage into their head everyday really have no idea what real communism or what socialism actually is. The reality is that I think that Ho Chi Minh City is definitely more entrepreneurial than a lot of places that I lived in the US in just the level of competitiveness that you will see when you go on the streets of Ho Chi Minh. They're really, really spectacular.
Jeremy Au (31:24):
So there you are, you're going through this transition, feel free to share what you want to share, but I'm just curious. So you experience racism around this topic, around Vietnam growing up in the states, and then you move to Vietnam as an American, and obviously the war happened for both sides. So I'm curious, did you feel any challenges or did you feel different? I'm just curious.
Ryan Galloway (31:47):
Nothing. So the thing that I liked about Vietnam and the thing that was different about Vietnam versus Japan for me is that in Vietnam, they don't care about your age, they don't care about your race, they don't care about really anything. It's can you do the work and can we make money together? And if you fill those two things, then this amount of opportunity will come your way, as long as you're really willing to be open to. I used to joke that back when I first came to Vietnam in 2011, that by virtue of me being an American, that I would wear a suit, that I could walk my way almost into any office and go and talk to the boss. Because 2011, there still weren't a lot of ex-pats. I mean, there's still aren't a lot of ex-pats in Ho Chi Minh City now. You're probably looking at maybe 200,000, 300,000. Back then it was less than a 100,000.
So I found it to be quite the exact opposite. It was definitely trial by fire because my colleagues would look at me and say, "You're the American, figure it out." You're supposed to know better even though the reality is nine times out of 10 people here will always know how to get things done. They might not always want to share because sometimes they're shy or they're hoping to learn something new when the reality is that some of the best operators in Vietnam are Vietnamese. There should be no absolute surprise with that.
The only time that I experienced anything was coming back from a soccer game. I'm absolutely lousy at soccer. We went to go eat goat stew. And I noticed that there was a guy who was walking around on a crutch, who definitely lost his leg. And he was wearing American GI clothing. You've ever been sitting in a meeting room and you can feel someone staring at you. I felt eyes burning into me when we were sitting down and having goat stew for quite some time. And I remember as we were leaving, he came up to me, he hopped up onto his crutch and came up to me and he gave me a hug, just completely unsolicited, gave me a hug. Then he pushed me back and said, "Why did you leave?" And I just remember, I was completely flabbergasted. I had no idea really what to say. And the first things that came out of my mouth was, "Look, I'm here now." And then he gave me another hug and I left.
And that literally is the only time that I've ever experienced any comments on the war or anything about being American and really that was it, one time in 10 years.
Jeremy Au (34:44):
How did you feel about that encounter?
Ryan Galloway (34:46):
I felt very sad, I think. I mean, there were tears in his eyes, and even though I had absolutely nothing to do with it, my father was in the Vietnam War in the army. But really, that's my only connection to it. But just to see how it could evoke this kind of emotion still, it was very touching. It was tough. I remember shaking on the way out. Not in a scared way, but just very overcomed with different mixed emotions about what had just happened. But it was very powerful.
Jeremy Au (35:33):
What was that encounter for him? Because I know you've been thinking it, what was that encounter for
Ryan Galloway (35:39):
It could've been anything. It could have been maybe I looked like he knew 20 or 30 years ago. Maybe I looked familiar. Or maybe I was just the descendant of some that he had had. I don't know. It's difficult for me to put myself in his shoes. It's really, really vivid. If I close my eyes I can see the guys face. Just the absolute joy. He went from super excited to really, really solemn and sad and then really, really excited again, right before we left. And all of that within a span of 30 minutes. It was an emotional roller coaster.
Jeremy Au (36:22):
Wow. What a real experience, because in some ways you weren't representing Ryan, you were representing a people in the eyes of someone else.
Ryan Galloway (36:36):
It's very crazy and I think that when we ask for it, we carry around a lot of stereotypes. I remember being in Amsterdam on my way back from... This is 2006, right after I graduated from college and I had just finished up my French language component, because I took French, Spanish and Japanese in college. Graduated with a minor in each one. We were headed back from Amsterdam, going back to Paris. So that way, then we could fly back home. And I was with one of my friends, one of my dear, dear friends from college.
And I remember we got to a fight in station because there were these two German dude that came up to me and he's like... It was just myself. My friend had gone to the bathroom. I haven't had a drink in 13 years. I'm recovering back then I was still using. And we went to Amsterdam to do exactly what you go to Amsterdam to do if you're an American. So we were pretty hung over and pretty tired of life at that point. And these two German kids came up to us and they're like, "Hey, you're an American." I look around and I make sure they were talking to me. And I'm like, "Yeah." And he pokes me in the chest and he's like, "We don't like George Bush." And I'm like, "Okay, me neither. I don't care."
And then dude spits in my face and right at the moment that he spits in my face, I feel a haymaker coming over my right shoulder. And my friend just running around Schiphol train station until our from Amsterdam back to just... I didn't know because they didn't know me, but because they knew that I was American and because George I got spit on. So just random experiences when you're going to take the passport and travel around.
Jeremy Au (38:50):
And I think we're talking about something that's very real, which is America has a long history in Southeast Asia, as a government, as a diplomatic player, as a military power. And there's that thing of the United States like you said George Bush in that scenario. And then there is you, just Ryan. Do you find yourself being a bridge, always having to explain stuff often? I'm just curious how do you... because it sounds like it's a common thing.
Ryan Galloway (39:28):
Oh, Christ. I find myself, I think throwing back a lot of stereotypes. Because I think a lot of people... Number one, I'm not tall or handsome like most American because I'm pretty short. So people think that normally I'm from Ireland, which is funny because I'm actually Scotch-Irish. But self people are taken back as an American that spoke multiple languages and things like that. But a lot of what I found myself doing over the past four years are... I make it a point to talk with taxi drivers when I'm in Vietnam just because it's a way for me to be able to keep my Vietnamese. Because my wife and I don't speak Vietnamese unless we're outside of Vietnam. We normally stay in English and around my son we speak mostly English.
And just having to explain Trump elected? Why did you elect him? And then all of the things that he would say, and it's very weird because I'm far from a huge Trump fan. I'll be completely open I didn't vote for Trump in either election. And the overseas Vietnamese population actually quite supports Trump because of the way that he kind of his stance on China. And so you'd find yourself in this position when you're in Vietnam that you'd be talking to Vietnamese people and they'd say, "Oh, do you like Trump?" And you'd say "No." And they say, "Well, why? Why don't you like Trump? He's tough on China." And you'd say, "Yeah, but he does a lot of other stuff too that isn't necessarily good for either the United States or the world."
Even the election, giving a play by play. I remember I was sitting in the company that I was working at that time, and I saw that the red wave came in and everyone was giving me a hard time, they're like... because I had made some bets, and they were trying to collect early on the money. And I remember having to explain to them that I knew that my home state, Wisconsin, was going to flip for Biden because when you go on to CNN, you can actually click on a by county basis. And I saw that the entire state was red at about 10:00 in the morning, which would have been 10:00 their time, two hours before the polls closed. But the two largest population centers in my state had only counted about 50% to which I said, "Blue is going to come back. And the reason why is because all the votes that have been counted so far, have been the counts that when they voted in person, they haven't gotten to the absentee ballots yet. And once that happens, it's going to swing back in the other way."
And so everyone was giving me shit election day. And the day after Wisconsin had already flipped, Michigan was about to flip, Arizona was also about to flip, and then Georgia came out of nowhere. And I just walked into the office smiling and greeting and said, "Look, you guys can put your money on my desk. That's completely okay. And don't take it personally." But just the level of interest that I think that's happened because of Trump and because of just having to explain things about how the system works and things like that. Corruption is another one of my favorite topics. The reality is that the United States, the way that they do corruption is a bit different. That it's okay for you to pay an official as long as you write it down in a book and they don't know that you're doing it, even though we all know that they know that you're doing it right. I mean, that's Super PACs are.
And the billions upon billions of dollars that are spent in elections nowadays. And Americans take issue with that versus buying some official a bottle of wine to make an application go through faster. It's just kind of the irony of it and... I think less dealing in Asia, I've had to do more explaining and maybe for political stuff, but kind of calling out my own countrymen and saying like, "Do you really have any idea of the way the world works outside of the United States, because this is kind of a joke."
Jeremy Au (44:10):
I'm kind of curious because you not only made a transition in terms of country, but you also made a change in terms of industry, because you changed from law to doing business and then into technology. And it's kind of a double jump one into Vietnam and one into tech as well. So what was like that transition into Vietnamese tech, was there anything that stood out for you as you entered?
Ryan Galloway (44:39):
It was actually a very easy transition and the reason why it was easy, I've always been on the business side, on the front of the house for technology companies. I'm a lawyer by background and a lot I did and a lot of what I still do in today's startups that I work with is I help them to raise money and I do enterprise sales. So it's funny, you have to do a lot of work for contracts. Lawyers are pretty good with contracts. And enterprise sales is really just about negotiation and lawyers are also pretty good at negotiation. So it was actually a really good opportunity to be able to use a lot of the skills that I had already started to hone, but be able to use them in a much broader sense. So if you're going to be a corporate lawyer in or in Japan, you're probably only... and even if you're in the capital markets division, lawyer until you make part, which is going to be 7 to 10 years after you join the law firm, you're probably only ever going to write maybe one or two different types of contract. You're going to be the person that does debt covenants, or you're going to be the person that does reps and warranties, or you're going to be the person that does schedules, things like that.
I started to do that and it was just mind numbing. A lot of people enjoy that life, and it's something that is intellectually stimulating for them, but for me it's just not. I think that going in to help companies to be able to raise funds and to do enterprise sales, I got to be at least in those two areas very much so a generalist. And in order to be able to communicate things to our clients, or making sure that the company had enough freedom inside of share subscription agreements and shareholder agreements to be able to move, I had to understand every part of the business. So I understand how to be able to integrate tech KPIs into a shared subscription agreement. I had to make sure that our financial covenants, when we were bringing on debt, I had to know what NPL was going to be. I had to know how it was calculated. I had to know what the risks that we were going to have shocks to the system that would temporarily put us in breach of financial covenants. I had to figure out how to negotiate my way out of a breach, things like that.
I think actually going into tech made my a better lawyer, maybe not from a technical perspective, from a writing perspective, but definitely a deal making and a closer perspective for sure. What's a common misconception about Vietnam?
Jeremy Au (47:16):
Oh, what's a common misconception that people have of the Vietnamese tech scene?
Ryan Galloway (47:20):
That it's hard to invest. There are things in Vietnam that you can't do that you would be able to do in the United States or in Singapore or Japan. The reality is that, any type of the investment structures that you want to be able to have in Vietnam, you can have in... it just might not be in the same form. You have to appreciate the substance instead of the form.
I think one of the things that not a lot of people know about the Vietnam tech scene is that... and I think maybe I have bias on this, but because of the way the education system works, any tech which is very mathematically driven, so you're talking about logistics, you're talking about FinTech, you're talking about AI, ML, the engineers here are really God damn good. And the number of companies and which are outsourcing their MVP, I can name four or five people that I know that were born in Vietnam, went to the United States, then came back, or overseas Vietnamese that came to Vietnam for the first time that they used to work in Silicon Valley, or didn't maybe even work in the Valley, just had an engineering job, came to Vietnam, and now they're managing three or four companies MVPs for Silicon Funded Valley startups, just because the cost of engineering talent in the US is ridiculously expensive. And so people are looking to be able to get these...
And it's usually enterprise startups. People are looking to build teams in Vietnam to get their program, to get things moving, to get an MVP out. And then they might start to hire additional panel back in the United States.
Jeremy Au (49:18):
How did you learn all this stuff? I mean, it wasn't like you just did it. I mean, you know so much about Vietnam. I mean, you know all this stuff, you understand the American point of view, you understand the Vietnamese point of view, you're being a bridge, you know law. How did you learn all this stuff? I mean, some of it seems to be trial by fire, especially the part of the iCare Benefits story, you became a EIR at 500 Startups. I don't know. How did you understand it all?
Ryan Galloway (49:47):
I think the first thing is that I would be the first person to tell you that I don't understand at all. A lot of what I share is just the experiences that I have. And I think that, for me, it was very early on... There's the Richard Branson kind of idea, which was, if somebody gives you a good opportunity and you don't know how to do it, say yes, and then work your ass off and figure out how to get it done. That was me in Vietnam for the first two years of my career, at least. And that cycle in terms of getting different opportunities, going from lawyer to investment banker, to tech, and then from tech into agriculture, and now back into FinTech, there's a lot of that where you just have to be willing to say, "Yep. I think I got an idea how to be able to figure this out," and then just to do it, not just not to turn opportunities down.
A lot of it's just dumb luck. My 500 connection was, I sat on the board and I'm actually still on the board of UNICEF Vietnam with one of the other co-founder of 500 Startups, Eddie Thai, in that. But we had that relationship, I think, seven years before 500 Startups was even an idea. So I think being open to things, when opportunities come, take it, do the best that you possibly can and just be good to people. As much as you're getting, try to give back as much as you possibly can as well. People are going to come to you with questions. When they have questions, try to answer them.
Being in Vietnam, I think... I don't want to say I was really early, because I think there were people that were here that... I mean, Vietnam opened up back in '94, and I didn't come until 2011. But if you work in Vietnam, you end up being kind of an ambassador to Vietnam because you end up... When I was at iCare, I think I ran equity processes with 73 different investors. So 73 different equity processes across round A plus through D. And so you end up explaining a lot of this stuff, over and over and over and over again. And so the more questions that you end up having to explain how the economy works or different perspectives or different conversations, you have with different investors when they're looking to connect with you on more of an emotional level just like why you're here and understand your motivations. I guess, that was just part of my job.
Jeremy Au (52:30):
Yeah. Makes sense. So wrapping things up here, I'm going to ask a two-part question and see where you
come up from there. So the first part of the question is where were you 10 years ago?
Ryan Galloway (52:42):
Ooh. 10 years ago right now I would have been my last year of law school at Case Western Reserve
University in Cleveland.
Jeremy Au (52:55):
And what advice would you have given yourself if you had a time travel machine?
Ryan Galloway (53:02):
Great question. Gosh, that's a really, really good question. I think I probably would have taken a gap year in Tokyo and worked before I took the bar exam. Even though I worked my entire way through school, from bachelor to JD/MBA. I did all those degrees back-to-back-to-back. And so even though I was working and all that, I think it would have helped my presence of mind. I made a lot of stupid mistakes when I was young and a lot of just emotional young... I still make a lot of stupid young emotional mistakes and I'm 38 this year. I think that I would have two things. I would have taken computer engineering courses when I was in college. Just learn how to do relational databases. I'm still trying to learn that today.
That's a solid one, go back and do some more computer engineering and don't laugh at the people that do computer engineering because they're going to be smarter than you in 10 years, probably smarter than you right now. Number two, is that I would have gotten some additional, I think, 9:00 to 5:00 work experience before I left law school. Because going to law school makes you a great student of the law, but doesn't make you really... you don't learn how to do business. You don't learn how to work with people. So I think those are probably the two things; take on some computer engineering courses and the other thing I said.
Jeremy Au (54:41):
Awesome. Thank you so much. So Ryan, for those who want to reach out to you, how should they reach out to you?
Ryan Galloway (54:47):
So I've got my LinkedIn and anyone that has any questions about Vietnam or you're thinking about coming here, and that can be tech-related, that can be just, look I'm coming into town, I want to have a coffee, or if you're looking for vacation places or food places to eat, all inquiries are welcome. Just go ahead and hit my LinkedIn, send a message. Let me know where we got introduced. And then if it's on LinkedIn, I usually will respond within 24 to 48 hours depending on workflow.
Jeremy Au (55:22):
Awesome. Ryan, I don't know if you'll give a few minutes if people have questions for you.
Ryan Galloway (55:27):
Yeah, sure. If anyone has any questions, that's fine. If anyone's still awake. Looks like we got a question here.
Jeremy Au (55:33): Yeah.
Ryan Galloway (55:48):
So I think the question was, what I think I'm going to do over the next 10 years. I think that my overarching goal would be to take an exit from one of the companies that I'm working with right now. And the big opportunity that I see, and probably even Jeremy can have a quote on this, I see a lot... Basically, I want to help Vietnamese companies go outside of Vietnam. I want to invest in the best Vietnamese companies probably in FinTech, probably at a B or C stage. And then help them to be able to expand throughout Southeast Asia. Because I think that pound for pound, they're some of the most competitive...
I've had the opportunity to be able to work in Indonesia, I've worked in Philippines, I've worked in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand. And the level of competitiveness that I've seen here, now, granted, I haven't been to Indo in a few years or a couple of years, but at least the level of competitiveness that I see here is a bit higher than I've seen in other countries in Southeast Asia. So I think fund managers probably will be the... is what the preferred trajectory would be, but I've got to get the money in bank to be able to do that first.
Jeremy Au (57:00):
Awesome. Ryan, it was an absolute pleasure having you and having you share your personal journey. What I really took away from this was not only your childhood growing up in the States and how your experience growing up and receiving, I guess the fruits of someone else taking the bullet and helping your family get to the next stage, how does a white dotted line away from that to your work in Vietnam. But also I think your experiences growing up facing the beliefs of your hometown and overcoming them. And also I really enjoyed your story about integration and assimilation into the Vietnamese tech and societal ecosystem. So really thank you so much Ryan for sharing that very frankly with me.
Ryan Galloway (57:56):
It was a pleasure to be able to join. I'm glad everything worked out. I forgot to tell you the funny story, I sent you over a message. So as I was getting onto the... I was on the tarmac, on the bus to get into the plane to go to Pleiku, I got poked in the arm by a guy wearing a mask and I quickly recognized him as one of the private equity fund managers that I tried to raise money from for Nafoods Group. And he's like, "So what are you doing?" And I'm like, "Were just heading back. Going to back to my wife sometimes. She's from Pleiku." He was like, "Oh, you're not doing the race." And I was like, "No, I'm not doing the race." And then it took me like 30 second pause to realize that there's actually a marathon that's going on in the city that I'm at.
During COVID, I became a very avid runner. So from the time that I got into the bus to take to the plane... There's a Facebook group for buying and selling racing bibs. I got onto that. I posted a post to see if anyone was going to sell a half marathon bib. By the time I landed, I had three different inquiries. I brought my running stuff with me, but when I left for the airport, I didn't know I was going to be running a race. And so now I'm going to be running a half marathon on Sunday. So that was my funny story.
Jeremy Au (59:22):
Well, that was absolutely awesome to hear your experience there. Next time we'll have to dig deeper into your hobbies and your more recent tech experience as well. Well, awesome. Thank you so much, Ryan.
Ryan Galloway (59:36): Thank you.