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Valerie Vu: Vietnam Startups, Entrepreneurial Parents & VC as Career

· Podcast Episodes,VC and Angels,Venture Capitalist,Vietnam

I am an ambassador, who trying to vouch for the entrepreneurs, who try to help them the mostthat I can. But at the same time, they also have to hear the truth, like why do the investment committeeand the advisory directors say no? No doesn't mean the end of the road. After the rejection email, I usually sit down and say, "Hey, what can you improve? And maybe because your traction is limited, maybe because you're pitching wrong, maybe you're not measuring your market size correctly. Maybe your business is a good business, it's a cash flow SME business, but it doesn't fit for venture capital return, what we're looking for. So I think, getting used to no, and being rejected, it's not necessarily bad things. - Valerie Vu

Valerie is Vietnam Country Head of Venturra Capital, a Southeast Asia focused venture capital firm investing in early-stage technology-based businesses headquartered in Jakarta. Venturra’s primary investment focus is on internet companies, in sectors such as e-commerce, financial technology, marketplaces, healthcare and education amongst others. 

Valerie began her career at Deloitte U.S. where she provided clients in the asset management industry with the tax and deal advisory services. Raised by an entrepreneurial family, Valerie is fascinated by breakthrough technology and product innovation. She then joins the digital transformation of Southeast Asia by joining Venturra to empower and support entrepreneurs throughout their journey.

On the side, Valerie is managing Launch Vietnam Startup, the largest Vietnam online start-up community with more than 50k members. Launch started out as a playground for startup founders, investors, and like-minded talents who are contributing to Vietnam tech ecosystem. Launch’s main mission today is to foster entrepreneurship and innovation through sharing startups journey together, growing together, and succeeding together. She hosts weekly session of “Founder Stories” on Launch Vietnam Startup to deliver knowledge and insights to the Vietnamese tech community.

Valerie was born and raised in Vietnam and was a first-generation college graduate of Temple University with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration. She loves traveling, volunteering for educational initiatives, and learning new languages. She is currently learning Mandarin Chinese, her 5th language, after Vietnamese, French, English, and Spanish.

This episode is produced by Kyle Ong.

Jeremy Au (00:00): 

Hey, Valerie, good to have you on board the show. 

Valerie Vu (00:32):Hi, everyone. Thank you. Nice being here with you, Jeremy. 

Jeremy Au (00:37):Well, I definitely have a lot of fans and friends who are all here to hear you share your journey. So I'm excited to dig in. So, Valerie, who are you? 

Valerie Vu (00:51): 

Yeah. So I'll tell a little bit about my story. I'm Valerie, I'm born and raised in Vietnam. I'm from a very working class family. None of my family member actually has the chance and opportunity to go to college, but they work really hard to put me and my younger siblings through college. So when I grow up, as oldest child and eldest daughter, I always had the pressure of being the best version of myself because I have to look up for my younger sister and brother. So really, I have no margin for error, as I feel, when I was growing up. I didn't really have that chance in discussing about studying abroad. So I bring up the topic to my family, stupidly, even though we didn't have that financial support necessary. But my parents really went above and beyond in... They are entrepreneurs. So Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization in 2007. And they start their own business two years before that. 

So they really put up everything they can and convinced me that the U.S. would be the best destination to study and I had no idea what U.S. was at that time. But I just took the chance anyway, without speaking any English. So I went to U.S. without speaking English, and having no family there. But I had a blast. And I started going out of the comfort zone and challenging the status quo of what is meant to be successful, role model for my younger siblings. So when I was in college, I was involved with a lot of things. I was founder and president of Vietnamese Student Association, president of Asian Student Association, being involved with student government. I did so many things, because I feel like I'm exploring myself for the first time. And after college, again, I didn't have anybody in my family to set out path, but they expect me to follow a corporate, stable job. So I joined Deloitte after graduation. And I stayed there for three years. They actually gave me the best... 

Even though the working hours was long, they really support me through Visa sponsorship to help me with studying for my professional certifications. I had really good mentors and good coworkers. But again, I always have that drive of seeking new challenges. So at Deloitte, I was leading blockchain initiative for Deloitte, helping them with gaining new asset manager clients, seeking new challenges, like being involved with test technology initiative. So I feel like the drive of disrupting and being innovator grow in me because I come from a entrepreneurs family. As I mentioned, my family start their own business. So really, I didn't have any role model in my family that followed that corporate life. So after one or two years, I feel like it's not really what I was thinking, I don't want to sit in the desk from day to night. I think I'm destined to do something more dynamic. And I can really contribute more if I can go back to Vietnam instead of working in the U.S., so I decided to... 

I mean, at that time, I was flying back and forth between Vietnam and U.S., and I volunteer for some of the local incubators and accelerators by helping their founders with finance and hiring and business model, et cetera. And I felt a little bit formal again. Vietnam is so untapped and so underrepresented in the region. Everyone is talking about Singapore, being the hub of Southeast Asia, or talking about Indonesia being the biggest economy in Southeast Asia. Or they talk about China as they always get the biggest attention in Asia. And my country, nobody really mentioned my country. And I am fascinated by technology, right? And I was looking at the technology startup scene. It's so unfair that Indonesia has eight unicorn at that time, around 2016, 2017. Vietnam, having 100 million people, and the number of engineers in Vietnam actually exceeded the number of engineer in Indonesia. But we only have one unicorn at that time. 

A lot of other statistics that make me feel frustrated in a sense, a lot of entrepreneurs, when I volunteer for the incubator, they have the same frustration with my dad, he couldn't get my financial support, he couldn't get bank loans, to grow his own business. So I feel like I can contribute a lot more. And that's why I decided to move back permanently in 2019 and join Ventura as the venture capital of in Indonesia, and support Vietnamese entrepreneurs here. And lately, I have been helping with Launch group. It's the biggest Vietnam startup community online, on Facebook and in Clubhouse. So on Facebook, we have about 50,000 members, on Clubhouse, we were reaching 500 members, and I do weekly activities, where I invite Vietnamese founders to share their startup story. And I'm going to test out some other activities from next week, pitching why you should work for a startup, and where talents can pitch the talents to a start up employers or technology companies in Vietnam. And yeah, I will try to make some more initiative for the Vietnamese startup community. So it's some background about me. 

Jeremy Au (06:48): 

So what I find interesting is that you mentioned your entrepreneur family multiple times, as an inspiration, as a way they got resources for you to go to university for the first time in the States, and also a role model when you were thinking about your corporate job, and where does it leave. What was like growing up with parents who were entrepreneurs? What was it like? 

Valerie Vu (07:11): 

Oh, they were never really around the family, because they have to work long hours. And they were always on call. From my memory, they were always on call, they were always on the phone, always trying to close that new clients or meeting with the government official to walk out with some revelation, or meeting with some banker to convince them to finance for their business. So, very hustling. And so that's why I couldn't see myself in a corporate environment, because I've never seen my parents sit for more than three hours. They're always on the road. And so that's why in the family, I take care of my younger sister and younger brother. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (08:01):How is your mom and your dad different in terms of being an entrepreneur? 

Valerie Vu (08:06): 

So yeah. Like the. My dad took care more of the external relations, meeting with clients, meeting with government officials, and my mom took care of the operation side, detail oriented, accounting, finance, et cetera. So I guess my dad plays the CEO role, and my mom plays COO role. 

Jeremy Au (08:28):Did you ever see them fight about the business growing up? 

Valerie Vu (08:31): 

I don't think so, because they are in construction business and it's not my passion. I love technology, I love new startup business, I love innovative business model. So yeah, that's why I'm in venture capital and I will see myself in some kind of a technology startup, not construction industry. 

Jeremy Au (08:50):Okay. So when you went to university, did you know that you wanted to be a startup founder or a business person? 

Valerie Vu (08:57): 

I didn't know what startup was at the time. But I know that I want to be a leader, I want to lead something. I always involved with multiple leadership roles in student organizations, mentoring younger students. So yeah, I didn't know what startup was, but I believe I want to be a leader. That's a strong drive in me. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (09:22): 

So how did you end up taking the corporate job, right? So your parents are entrepreneurs, they work together, you wanted to be a leader, and then you join Deloitte. I think it's Deloitte, but how did you end up doing that? 

Valerie Vu (09:39): 

Yeah, it's funny, but my parents don't want me to come back to Vietnam, and they wished me to stay in the U.S., to have a stable life. And so they tried to influence me that, "Take the job in the corporate and then wait until you have green card, and then you can come back after you have the green card." So I was really good at math and accounting and finance, in college. So, that's how I got recruited to Deloitte. I think they like my profile, because I was really involved with student organizations. And I also organized a lot of events for Ascend Leadership, it's an Asian professional leadership in the U.S.. So I was recruited, and I guess, it's also to make my parents happy at that time, work in the U.S. and eventually settle down there. But yeah, I never had that green card, and I just returned. And yeah, my parents thought it was a reckless decision. But I did it anyway. 

Jeremy Au (10:38):Like what? Like father, like mother, like daughter? 

Valerie Vu (10:41): Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Jeremy Au (10:42): 

So but why did they want you to stay in the U.S.? I mean, they were successful to some degree in Vietnam, enough to send you to college, is it because at that time they felt like you would have a better life in America? Why did they not want you to come back to Vietnam so early? 

Valerie Vu (10:59): 

Yeah. So they believed I was not experienced enough. They always tell me, "Don't follow entrepreneurship path, it's the hardest career in the world." And to do business in Vietnam without a formal education, and they did not come from a privileged family, or did not have the right connections, is extremely difficult. So I think they've seen the country has gone through dramatic economic transformations, but they also remember their childhood, growing up in one of the poorest country in the world. So I feel like they did not want me to have the same kind of experience when they go out. That's why they wish me to stay in the U.S.. 

Jeremy Au (11:43): 

So I understand the part about them wanting you to be in the U.S., right? Because my parents also were like, "Oh, America is good. You should spent some time there." I get it. Oh, Valerie, I forgot to mention, I did spend a semester at Ascend as well, Asian club. And then I was like, "Maybe I should..." I realized I wanted to do social impact consulting club instead, at the Berkeley group. So anyway, but I think what's interesting in this story is that your parents who are business people, entrepreneurs, did not want you to be an entrepreneur. So, that's the part that's funny to me, right? So why did they not want their oldest daughter to take the same job as them, right? Why not? 

Valerie Vu (12:24): 

Look, you've got to understand that they have to take call at midnight, in the middle of the morning, early morning, 3:00, 4:00 AM because something emergency happened, or some of the drivers had troubles, and they have to resolve it at 5:00 AM in the morning. Who would want that future in life for the daughters? Of course, they don't want that for me. They want a straight forward life, 9:00 to 5:00 kind of life. Yeah. And they see that Vietnam is not that developed still. We don't have that strong international footing as other countries such as Singapore, we still haven't taken advantage of the best of the world what has to offer, and so that's why they really don't want me to follow the same path. And also the lack of capital, very difficult political landscape to navigate around as well. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (13:17):So what was their reaction when you told them that you're coming back to Vietnam and you're joining 

Ventura Capital as their VC? What were they thinking? 

Valerie Vu (13:27): 

Oh, God. They thought I was reckless, they thought I was crazy. And we didn't speak for a couple of months. And actually, when I decided to move back to Vietnam, I did not have the offer with Ventura. I was just volunteering for local incubators and accelerators. And at that time, I had a bet. I took a risk that if I come back, build my network and just be helpful to the ecosystem and build the ecosystem, something good will come, the opportunity will come. But I have to go back and contribute first. So I have that conviction. But they thought I was reckless and crazy. And we had some arguments. Yeah, that was the reaction. 

Jeremy Au (14:10): Arguments. 

Valerie Vu (14:11): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (14:13): 

So, I totally understand your argument, right? Which is, you saw Vietnam, you saw it as an opportunity, you felt that it was unfair, you wanted to go come back and give back to the ecosystem. I was just curious, did you ever resolve the argument, or are they still arguing with you about it one year on? 

Valerie Vu (14:30): 

Oh, it's resolved. Well, because I get an offer from Ventura, one of my investment became the first Vietnam startup to be admitted to Y Combinator, the world leading accelerator, and then I am preparing to become a part time associate lecturer at a local university. So, all that progress doesn't come all at once, but they come slowly and I showed them what I have been doing and what is coming after. And they understand slowly, slowly. And yeah, their argument is resolved. They've become more understanding, and yeah, I think they are not questioning my decision anymore. Hopefully. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (15:17): 

I remember when I came back and I was doing a social entrepreneur, and then my dad had no idea what. So they would not talk about it. They were just like, "Jeremy is doing something else." Right? And I think they only got it when I first got a newspaper article written about me. And then they were like, "Okay, now we get it." They still didn't get it, but they were like, "Okay, I can show this to my friends." And I was like, "Okay, at least now it's easier." Right? Some of that external validation is important for them, I think. Because they couldn't understand it. Yeah. 

Valerie Vu (15:59):Yeah. Agree. Just that sharing, what are you doing? The event poster and then the feedback from the Facebook group, yeah, they start to understand. 

Jeremy Au (16:13): 

One thing you mentioned, that was interesting of course, you shared about your dad not being able to get easy access to capital, as a entrepreneur, and now you're in the business of providing capital to entrepreneurs, right? Do you think about that? 

Valerie Vu (16:27): 

Yeah, yeah. I think that's why I picked venture capital as the first career when I moved back to Vietnam. Because in my job, I speak with founders about their passions and dreams. And so in these conversations, I hear echo from my father. A hope for a more developed country, a country that can bring the best engineering talents to the world, but we don't get the same return on the fair basis level. So I hear the same frustration that my dad had. And they don't speak English well. We get out of the war in 1975, and we joined WTO in 2007. So, not many people have the chance to go abroad and have that English skills, have the public speaking skills and can express their vision and ambition really well to investors. 

So I really hear the echo of my father in even though... for the entrepreneurs, I cannot convince you the I see to move forward, because they don't understand what these entrepreneur are trying to do because of the language barrier. But I keep this relationship level with them mentoring them what they should do, like how to do a better pitch deck, what mistake they are making when they pitch to VC. So that's why I love this job so far, I love this career so far. 

Jeremy Au (17:49): 

So that's interesting, right? Because a big part about being in venture capital is that when you get to say yes, it's amazing, right? But you have to say no so many times as well, right? And then you shared that for your father, people said no to him as well, right? 

Valerie Vu (17:49): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (18:09): So do you feel conflicted? You're like, "When I say no to this person, it reminds me of how other people didn't believe in my father." 

Valerie Vu (18:17): 

No. You've got to hear rejection and feel it and learn from it. So I have to say no, because I am not a partner, right? We have an investment committee and the directors who are the ultimate decision maker. I am an ambassador, who trying to vouch for the entrepreneurs, who try to help them the most that I can. But at the same time, they also have to hear the truth, like why do the investment committee and the advisory directors say no? No doesn't mean the end of the road. After the rejection email, I usually sit down and say, "Hey, what can you improve? And maybe because your traction is limited, maybe because you're pitching wrong, maybe you're not measuring your market size correctly. Maybe your business is a good business, it's a cash flow SME business, but it doesn't fit for venture capital return, what we're looking for. So don't pitch to us. Don't waste your time. There are better financial resources that fit you better than venture capital." So even me myself, I get rejected. So I think, getting used to no, and being rejected, it's not necessarily bad things. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (19:39): 

Did your dad ever share stories about his business, like getting rejected or getting feedback? I'm just curious. Because, on my side, my dad was also entrepreneurial, and he got rejected many times. And I would never hear those stories from him. He's a very Asian guy who doesn't say anything, right? But my mom would tell me some of these stories, right? So I don't know, did you ever hear any stories? 

Valerie Vu (20:09): 

Same. My parents also barely share about their personal venture, their business, but sometimes they do share. For them getting no for financing is not as big as getting rejection from clients and from regulators as well. So there was one time we get that huge... I mean, he told me that he got that huge proposal from Japanese buyers. And if we get that contract, I think we'll be really good. I think he was about... he can retire if he win the clients. But at the end, there was some difficulty with the lobbying process to the governors. So we did not get approval from the Ministry of Transportation. And so that project did not come to the end. And yeah, that's why he's still working now. 

But he does share, and because I hang out with a girl, her dad works in that ministry. So he was hoping that I can reach out to the... and change the ministry mindset from my relationship with his daughter. But I couldn't do that, because my friend told me that they don't discuss business in the household. So, that was the only time he shared about his rejection. Yeah, but I guess it's a really sensitive topic, and as a typical Asian household, we don't share intimately with each other, unfortunately. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (21:41): 

Do you think you'd do the same in your own household? 

Valerie Vu (21:45):I'm not sure. I don't know. I haven't thought about it yet. Personally, I still feel like I'm quite young, but 

probably I will be more open, or try to be more open. Yeah. How about you? 

Jeremy Au (21:55): 

Well, it's a good question. I have a baby daughter, four months old. And yeah, some of these questions come on my head is like, "How much do I want to share?" Right? I think personally, I would be more open, because I think there's so much I could have learned as a kid if I heard the story, not because of the content or the moral of the story, but more about the process, right? And understanding that someone that was close to me and someone that I loved and someone who love me, went through that same process, right? And so I wouldn't have felt as lonely tackling some situations if I had heard the story from someone, rather than read about it on Google or gotten advice from an advisor, right? 

So sometimes it's funny where you're reading a book, and you feel that the narrator of the story, like Marcus Aurelius, he writes about meditations and the stuff that he's struggling with, I don't know, what, 5000 years ago, is the same problems that I feel, right? And so we had to be like, "Okay, I feel more connection on this topic in this tough time with this very dead, old Roman Emperor, right? But I didn't really get that story from my parents, right? If that makes sense. Even though I know they went through the same experience that they came to some similar conclusions. So I think I would want to be there for my daughter and share about it, not because I want to share about it, but so that when she grows up and has her own tough times, she knows that she's not the only person to go through this tough time. Her dad was also stupid to build a startup, right? Yeah. And then probably, maybe the same as you, I might tell her not to be a founder. 

Valerie Vu (24:04):Yeah. See, even you admit that being a founder is not the best idea, right? 

Jeremy Au (24:15): 

Well, career wise, it may not necessarily be the best in terms of financial outcomes, but it could be good in terms of career professional development outcome, maybe. Because if you take the right attitude to it, I think you'll learn a lot, right? And you'll learn faster than you would at a consulting firm, for example, right? 

Valerie Vu (24:39): Exactly. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (24:41): 

Valerie, I wanted to ask you about this, right? Because one thing that I heard from you was you were very frustrated, because you were like, "It's very unfair that Vietnam has all these engineers and is doing the engineering work for so many companies, but there's not much startup activity in Vietnam." Tell me more about that. Why did you think it's unfair? 

Valerie Vu (25:01): 

Personally, I feel like Indonesia has been getting a lot of attention because of their huge market size, the biggest market in Southeast Asia. So every investor, when they think of Southeast Asia, first they think of Indonesia, second, Singapore, as the financial hub, talent hub, technology hub of the region. And then everything else seems blurry because all the big... Vietnam market, combined with Philippines, combined with Thailand, maybe equal to... I'm not sure that was the number, but yeah, maybe equal to Indonesia. So that's why I feel like we are so undertapped of the venture capital in the world. 

However, it is changing. You start to see the talents are coming back to the country, we have a stable economy and growing at six to 7% a year, mobile penetration and internet penetration is above 60%. So what's next after Indonesia? It's so obvious that it's Vietnam. And so I think it's up and coming, it's coming now. So I feel like my effort has been answered. Yeah. And now we have two unicorns. When I moved back to Vietnam, there was only one. So now we have two, I think we'll have many more in the next 10 years. 

Jeremy Au (26:31): 

Amazing. A doubling. Do you feel sometimes like you do worry about coming back home too early or too late, when you're in the U.S. where you're like, "Oh, is it too early to come back to Vietnam to do this technology ecosystem thing?" Or will you worry like, "Oh, it's too late." Do you ever think about that? 

Valerie Vu (26:49): 

I do think that it might get too late if I get more than five years of experience in, it will be too late. Because by that I get too familiar with one industry, with one working environment, which is very corporate. So I don't want to make myself idle. And I want to seek new challenges every 18 months. That's my personal goal. So even when I was at, I constantly seek for new clients and write new white papers with my partner and participate in the client bidding process, even though I was only an associate at that time, in an Asian associate firm of Vietnam who speak English with an accent. But I didn't care. I just wanted new challenges, I'll always raise my hand every one year to 18 months. So I do think that it might get too late if I stay more than five years, and that's why I decided to move back in leave Deloitte after three years. 

Jeremy Au (27:54): 

So you came back, you're saying, okay, you're worried about it being too late, and then you start being at the incubators, accelerators, was there anything that surprised you during that time? Was there misconceptions, or did your opinion change about the Vietnamese ecosystem? 

Valerie Vu (28:12): 

So it's not a change of opinion, it just iterates my conviction that the ecosystem is very potential but need more work from oversea talents, need more mentorship, need more people like us coming back to the region. So I do get a bit surprised that there are so many entrepreneurs and founders who cannot speak English really well and cannot express their ambition to foreign investors. And so that's why there were always some domestic investor who take advantage of that and try to trick some terms, some weird terms here and there. And not necessarily every founder is sophisticated enough to see that and to take the terms as it, because they were not trained to understand what is a term sheet and what's the term that is founder friendly. So yeah, that was a shocking... I guess not shocking but a bit disappointing moment for me. Yeah, that's also iterate and proof for my conviction that that's why I need to come back. 

Jeremy Au (29:22): 

Did you feel it was unfair? I mean, all these I get weird term sheets and everything, did you get... make you frustrated to see that stuff? 

Valerie Vu (29:29): 

Yeah. Very. I was really angry. How can they put in the terms and the founders didn't understand and just take the term sheet and just signed it on the spot? Why don't they become more educated? But I don't blame the entrepreneurs. I don't blame the founders. Everyone has a different circumstance. I blame the investor who gave them that term sheet and who acted very unprofessional. But then I realized that's the industry standard in Vietnam at that time, two, three years ago where there was no VC, no foreign VC, no foreign investor really cared about Vietnam, as I mentioned, they all look at Indonesia. But again, we're a different time now. 

If you look at regional firms in Southeast Asia, almost every firm has Vietnamese associates. So they can communicate really well with the founders, speak Vietnamese to the founders and explain what's the good terms? What's a bad term? What do you have to look for in a term sheet? How to pitch, how to communicate better. And I don't see weird term sheets flying around anymore. From the time that I moved back to Vietnam and now, it took two years to see that the situation and the ecosystem start to improve and start to grow. 

Jeremy Au (30:50):Are there still things that frustrate you about the Vietnamese ecosystem? 

Valerie Vu (30:55): 

No, right now I'm actually feeling really pumped about our ecosystem. There are more foreign VC, as I mentioned, the talents overseas are starting to considering to move back home, and the domestic talents that are getting better with communication, with English. A lot of university has been creating courses on entrepreneurship, on venture capital, create investment club, create university incubator. So we also have stronger support from the government with the industry 4.0 initiative. So yeah, I feel more excited. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (31:33): 

So I guess when you say that you're excited, what are you excited about? Are you excite about the speed of growth? Obviously, you talked about unicorns growing, I think you talked about founders being more sophisticated, what else are you excited about? 

Valerie Vu (31:47): 

So, all of the above, including foreign founders starting to come to Vietnam. So I've seen Americans coming here, as I've seen Europeans, I have seen Indians founders coming to Vietnam. And I don't see that it's competition for local founders. I think it's a fuel for local founder to be more motivated as the foreign founders coming in the country and calling more investment to the country. So yeah, it's also another aspect that I haven't mentioned that we actually see foreigners coming to Vietnam and do startup in Vietnam. 

Jeremy Au (32:28): 

You're excited about all these things, obviously, there is a ton of talent as well in Vietnam, many good engineers, many great local founders, many sea turtles coming back to Vietnam and more foreign talent entering Vietnam. So let's talk about something, because you were comparing into Vietnam versus Singapore and Indonesia, right? So Singapore is very small and very rich. Indonesia is very big and has more to go, and then Vietnam is somewhere in the middle, right? 

Valerie Vu (33:00): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (33:00):Is it goldilocks? Is it the just the size, it does a development and population? How do you think about Vietnam versus Singapore and Indonesia? 

Valerie Vu (33:09): 

Yeah. So, all the aspects that you mentioned. But I want to talk about our human capital. If you look at our PISA statistic, which measure they're the same in literacy level of our Vietnamese populations, and compare that to GDP per capita, we've seen some outliers, really. We thought that as the GDP per capita, the higher it is, the higher the PISA score is, right? But we see some outliers. So the Gulf region, the MENA regions have very high GDP per capita, but lower PISA. On the other hand, we have Vietnam, which have very low GDP per capita, but we have one of the world's highest PISA score. We are on par with Switzerland. But Switzerland GDP per capita is eight times higher than Vietnam. So it's just very fascinating for me to see that kind of report and proof for my conviction for Vietnam. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (34:14):Why is the education outcomes so good? Is it because of the parents, is it because of the educational system? Could you explain that for people who don't understand the Vietnamese education landscape? 

Valerie Vu (34:24): 

Yeah. So, majority of the education system is sponsored by government. Public education has the largest market share. We don't really have to pay too much for education. And I think as a Vietnamese person, in our culture, education is so important. We came out of the war in the mid '70s, as I mentioned, and really joined the world economy in the late night late '80s and beyond. So we are so motivated by having a better life, to be able to provide for our family. And education is the only way to do it, as our parents often say. So, inherently in our culture, and also the government has provided us with really good public schools. So, I think that's why the PISA score, we have that outlier. 

Jeremy Au (35:25): 

So is that why Vietnamese engineers are so renowned around the world? Is it because of the education system? Because the education system you just talked about is more for elementary schools, secondary school, high school, but if you... There's so many people looking for Vietnamese engineers or stuff like that. So it's not just that, right? What is it like at a university level? 

Valerie Vu (35:52):Also, the same with university. Most public university are actually the top universities, and you need to be the best kid to pass that entrance exam to enter top public universities. And the tuition is very affordable. And back in the time we have... So our country owe a lot of other countries, because we were fighting for the war. So we paid that debt by sending our best professors overseas to teach other the country, and when they finish the mission in those countries that we have owed them, they have to come back to Vietnam and teach local public university because of the arrangement with the government. So the best professors actually teach at public universities. And so that's why we have amazing talent, an engineer talents come from Vietnam because the public education is so affordable. And the top professors actually stay in public university, instead of going to private university who might pay them more. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (36:59): 

For those who don't know Vietnam, what are the most respected jobs? Is teaching a respected job? Is being an engineer respected job? What are the jobs that people are like, "Okay, this is something we respect." 

Valerie Vu (37:12):I think just like any other Asian culture, right? Engineer, doctors, government official. So very similar to Singapore and other Asian culture. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (37:22):Actually, I think in Singapore, I don't think engineers are very well respected. 

Valerie Vu (37:27): Oh, really? 

Jeremy Au (37:28):I would say doctor, lawyer, government. Yeah, maybe a trio here, I think. So it’s little bit different. So I didn't hear lawyer for Vietnam. 

Valerie Vu (37:39):Because lawyers often associated with government official. So yeah, they also belong to the highly regarded career. But I don't know a lot of lawyers from my experience. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (37:53): 

Yeah. So Valerie, so I was just curious. You've done a lot of... you've been doing venture capital, and then, obviously, building out the local ecosystem, can you tell us more about your Launch, a Vietnam startup community that you've been building? 

Valerie Vu (38:10): 

I'm not the founder of Launch. So, Launch was founded by James Vuong. He was one of Vietnam earliest venture capital. He started out in IDG ventures. And then he moved on to do two startups. The first one, he successfully sold to LAICO and now he's doing a second one in, which I already have him as my co-host of my weekly founder story. And I also interviewed him before and I think you should interview him next. So, he's the founder of the group. I just come in and help him manage and grow that community. So, now 50,000 members, mostly active on Facebook, but we have seen some amazing stories from the group, really. We have seen startups finding investors and venture capital from the group, we have seen startups that successfully found the co-founder from the group, we have seen startups that found clients from Launch group. 

It's a Facebook group, right? So a lot of people can can post their questions, their requests, their demands, their concern, and their products. When they launch their product, they post and advertise for the product as well on that group. So it has been a very active community. I just come in and do a weekly community session by having the founders talk. Next week, I will also have talent pitching to employers who are top tech companies and startup in Vietnam. We used to have offline events, but after COVID, we learned that it doesn't have to be offline. We can just meet every week on Clubhouse. So really, the community has been very amazing. Our mission is sharing knowledge together and sharing insight and helping each other grow. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (40:07): 

Why do you think the community is successful? Is there some secret sauce? Because a lot of communities, they start and then they die, right? Or there's a lot of communities that start, they get somewhat big, but it's pretty quiet and nobody's helping each other. So why do you think this community is successful? 

Valerie Vu (40:29): 

You have to keep the engagement rate every week if nobody's posting anything. Somebody has that initiative to post something and create new content, I guess. So that's why I have that weekly founder story in it's like a network effect, once somebody successfully found a co-founder, or successfully found a first investor from that group, they will keep telling their friends, the other set of founders, "Hey, join this group it's amazing." So continuously reinvent yourself, creating new content, bringing value to each other, a group like Launch. But again, you should interview James, he's the founder of the group and he has a lot more to share. 

Jeremy Au (41:15):For sure, for next time. 

Valerie Vu (41:16): Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (41:17):So Valerie, I'm going to ask you a few quick questions, and then you just tell me off the top of your head what your answer is, okay? 

Valerie Vu (41:23): Sure. 

Jeremy Au (41:23):So Valerie, what's your favorite book? 

Valerie Vu (41:25): Favorite book, The Alchemist. But recently I like Edge by Laura Huang. I think you had her on your podcast. 

Jeremy Au (41:33):What did you like about Edge by Laura Huang? 

Valerie Vu (41:35): 

I really feel the version of myself being in that book. Did not necessarily come from the best background or... How to turn adversity into your delight, all the people had to enrich relationship with others. Really, I found that book very powerful, and applied well to my situations, being mostly the only woman in any kind of environment. So yeah, I strongly recommend that book for those who feel like they did not come from the right background or having the right resources. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (42:15):Awesome. I love that book as well. Yeah. And you can go to the podcast as a past podcast guests. What's 

your favorite movie, Valerie? 

Valerie Vu (42:23):My favorite movies is Interstellar. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (42:27):Why do you like this Chris Nolan movie? 

Valerie Vu (42:32):I'm very fascinated by fiction, by technology, I also like to see the father-daughter relationship, it's really 

touching. 

Jeremy Au (42:43):And then last question is, if you could go back 10 years in time, what advice would you give yourself? 

Valerie Vu (42:52):I would tell myself to, "Don't stress too much. Take life a little bit easier and travel more, try some more 

risky ventures. Don't be afraid to fail." Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (43:05):Do you think yourself 10 years ago would have listened to your advice? 

Valerie Vu (43:11): 

I think yeah. I think so. Because there was a period that I want to try everything, I want to do everything. But then I was hold back by parents' expectation that, "You need to go to a corporate environment and whatnot." And I followed them at that time. So I wish to honor my own self more. Yeah. 

Jeremy Au (43:37): Wow, that's really important. Well, for those who would want to reach you, how can they reach out to you? 

Valerie Vu (43:43): 

I am very active on LinkedIn, so they can find my LinkedIn. I am active on Clubhouse as well. Shoot me ideas on what I should do next on Clubhouse. I love this community. And you can also add me on Facebook, Valerie Van Vu, because I manage that Launch group, so I have to be active on Facebook as well. 

Jeremy Au (44:05):Awesome. Thanks so much, Valerie. And now if anybody wants to ask some questions, feel free to raise 

your hand and we'll go from there. 

Valerie Vu (44:11):Thank you, Jeremy. I really enjoyed this and it's been a while that I shared this much about myself. 

Jeremy Au (44:20):Hey, Adrian, you want to ask Valerie a question? 

Adrian (44:23): 

Hey, Valerie. I've heard you speak like multiple times on and I attend your talks weekly. I think I'm very glad to hear your story and know you better as a person. But I just wanted to... Just curious, I know we always talk about work. Because Vietnamese people like to talk about work and work, work, work. But what do you like to do for fun? How do you relax and a long day of being a VC? 

Valerie Vu (44:50): 

So tomorrow, I have a boxing session. And so, that's a fun activity for me. I also go on a hiking, trekking trip once in a while with my group of friends. And I guess reading, some time going for a run. But you've got to keep a routine that make you really enjoy, such as boxing, for me. So yeah, I find that these activity are really fun. 

Adrian (45:18):That's awesome. How did you find out boxing was your outlet? 

Valerie Vu (45:21): 

From my friend. She's Vietnamese adoptee. She was adopted by a Swedish family and she's actually a pro boxer. She earned gold medal in a boxing competition in Sweden. Really smart girl, she's doing a startup as well. So I met her in that startup environment, and she asked me to join the training session with her. So that's how I knew about this sport. 

Jeremy Au (45:46): 

Awesome, Valerie. Yeah, I do have to admit, I did use the boxing gym quite a bit when I was doing my startup because if there was disliked I imagined the person was the boxing bag. Linden, do you have a question for Valerie? 

Linden (46:03): 

Valerie, hi. Thank you so much for sharing. I found it very intimate, and thank you for all the very candid sharing. My question is this, I shared a frustration about Indonesian startups getting a lot more outside's attention. I'm wondering, in your investments or even in your firm, are Vietnamese startups almost held to a higher standard, I guess in a sense, if you had the same kind of company, same technological maturity, same business model, same market, will the partners be expecting Vietnamese startups to pull off a higher standard, just because the market itself is like slightly smaller than say like an Indonesian startup? 

Valerie Vu (46:53): Yes. 

Linden (46:53): That's my question. 

Valerie Vu (46:55): 

Yeah. Unfortunately, yes. We have to have higher standards just because our market is smaller. And that's a fact. What we look at when we talk to the team, we think about the market size, the first. Assuming they tackle the same industry, same business model, et cetera, and the quality of founders are fairly similar, of course Indonesia will get more attention, just because of the market size. Yeah. Good questions. 

Jeremy Au (47:28):[Chun 00:47:28], do you have a question for Valerie? 

Chun (47:30): 

This is [Chun 00:47:32] speaking. Yeah, I was browsing around, I was hopping in and out this room for a while, I've got a lot of stuff to do. But yes, thanks Jeremy and Valerie for having this room, sharing your thoughts about things around Southeast Asia. I don't have questions, so I just want to share a little bit for myself, getting any suggestion from you guys. So I was born in Vietnam, and I spent four years in Thailand doing my bachelor degree in entrepreneurship. I went to graduate in May. And somehow I'm fascinated with the financial modeling. So I hope that with my entrepreneurship degree and my passion in finance, financial modeling, I could get into any VCs. So I'm looking for VCs, maybe Southeast Asia. I got an offer from my mentor, but it's not finalized yet, it might be a good choice for me. I mean, Big Four a good choice. Yeah, I've done several internship in different startups across the world. Yeah, that's my story. Any suggestions? 

Valerie Vu (48:33): 

Congrats on the offers. It's interesting that you study in Thailand, not many people pick that option, I guess. But I will say don't go work for Big Four. Don't go for a corporate. You're so young, try something risky once in your life. Go work for a startup or work for at least venture capital. Yeah. 

Chun (48:58): 

Thank you, Valerie. I'm aiming for VCs. But I heard that VC in Vietnam, they are really, really paying low. I mean, no headhunter, everyone's doing directly recruit for them. They all use refer candidates. And I was lucky enough because my mentor, is working in a VC. So he said that he'll offered me a chance, but it's not finalized yet. Yeah, and for sure, I will go for VC because I hope that my entrepreneurship degree and my passion in finance might help me and might make me a good fit to your VCs. 

Valerie Vu (49:39): 

So I don't think career in venture capital is about finance. I mean, it is, but not the most part. You should build a strong conviction on what the future will look like, what the technology trend will be, and convince them by backing up with your investment thesis and backup of your chain of thought, rather than just understanding about financial modeling. And having some founders to recommend and to vouch for you will be another way to get into VC. Yeah, actually, I was recommended by a portfolio company to join Ventura. So that's how I got the job. It's not like I was familiar with some financial modeling. And I got the offer, right? So that's how you can show your values and be a part of VC. From my opinion. 

Chun (50:36):Yes, great. Valerie, thank you very much. Definitely, I would look at your options. Thank you very much. 

Valerie Vu (50:42):What do you think, Jeremy? 

Jeremy Au (50:43): 

Oh, yeah, what do I think? I think Valerie is spot on. I think venture capital has very little to do with the financial modeling piece. And obviously, [Chun 00:50:52], obviously not saying that that's the only thing that you bring to the table. But I think it's really like Valerie said, the ability to help startups, your ability to value add, and then how to eventually ask founders if they want to team up and collaborate together. That's really the crux of it, right? So I think that's something to think about. I actually am publishing very soon, a short piece on my website, there's an internal community. So, club.jeremyau.com. But basically it has a lot of resources that I have created for people who have asked me about how to get into VC. So, I've just put together a shot list of, "These are all the things that I read that were very helpful for me," right? And obviously, you should read your resources, but I think it covers 80 to 90% of the stuff we're can talk about, as well. So hopefully, that helps, [Chun 00:51:44]. 

And maybe the last thing I added that is, I think when we think about venture capital, I think people are very focused on saying, "I need to be a VC associate," right? Which is at a traditional venture capital firm. But I think there are a lot of ways for people to get there, but you just take a little bit more time, right? So you can work in an accelerator, you can work at a venture studio, you can even work at a regulator, or a government agency that handles it. There's a lot of what I call stakeholder agencies, that are supporting the founder ecosystem, right? And so that's a good way to join those things and then practice adjacent skill set. Or the other approach is, honestly, just join a startup and kick ass and grow the company, right? Because there are so many VCs who are looking for people who have actually been a startup operator founder as well. So I think that's just something to think about, is just the sub-lateral moves that you can have to explore. 

Valerie Vu (52:49): 

Yeah, I agree. 

Chun (52:51): 

Great, Jeremy. Thank you, Jeremy and Valerie. Yes, actually, I'm working for a setup here. Yeah.  for the options is quite realistic. Yes, yeah. I'll go for that. I'll try with that. Thank you very much. 

Valerie Vu (53:04): No worries. 

Jeremy Au (53:05):Awesome. Okay, Valerie, I think we have pretty much hit all the questions that we have here. So, thank 

you so much for taking the time to do this. 

Valerie Vu (53:13):Thank you so much. Very enjoyed this. 

Jeremy Au (53:16):I'll see you around, Valerie. 

Valerie Vu (53:17):See you around. Have a good night. 

Jeremy Au (53:21): 

Thank you for listening to BRAVE. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share this episode with friends and colleagues. Sign up at www.jeremyau.com to discuss this episode with other community members in our forum. Stay well and stay brave. 

 

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