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FEATURE STORY March 4, 2019

Thinking Equal in Vietnam: Vy's Path to Tech Startups

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On International Women’s Day 2019, we are sharing stories of women doing inspiring work across East Asia and Pacific. Whether in the business world, advocacy, media or countless other sectors, their contributions highlight the transformative power of women in the region. Le Hoang Uyen Vy is working to develop Vietnam’s tech startup ecosystem as General Partner at ESP Capital.

Tell us about yourself.

I am currently the General Partner of ESP Capital, an early stage venture fund with the mission to support tech startup companies in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. ESP aims to invest in companies that can create profound impact to improve quality of life and effectively utilize technological innovations to disrupt the market, with the goal of becoming the next unicorns in Asia (a privately held startup company valued at over US$1 billion).  
 
What inspires you to get up in the morning? What drives you?

In the US, it usually takes 7 years for a potential startup to become a unicorn. In China, it takes even less time, approximately 4 to 5 years. Meanwhile, for the last 15 years in Vietnam, we haven’t seen any tech unicorn other than VNG Corporation. Whenever I meet a potential startup, I can’t wait until the next morning to come up with an action plan to help the company get to the next level. My innermost drive is the desire to support the startup ecosystem in Vietnam, so that we can discover more unicorns in the future. 

What set you on this path?

I developed my interest in Information Technology from a young age. At 13, I founded TmSpeed Network, specialized in web design and hosting trading. My passion for entrepreneurship has empowered me to become a dynamic businesswoman highly committed to excellence and innovation. In 2009, I founded Chon.vn and served as CEO, developing the website into one of the most popular online fashion shopping centers in Vietnam. From 2014 to 2017, I served as Managing Director of Adayroi.com, one of the leading e-commerce platforms in Vietnam generating an annual revenue of over US$150 million. 

With my hands-on experience in e-commerce operations and leadership, I decided to take the next step in my career path, working at a venture capital, so that I could support more startups to fully realize their potentials. 

What advice do you have for young women who want to take a similar path? 

First, it is essential that women figure out what really moves them. However, after discovering their passion, they will encounter various challenges; they may find themselves surrounded by naysayers, including potential investors, business partners, even their family and friends. What really differentiates successful entrepreneurs from the rest is how persistent they are in achieving their goals. In fact, success is the product of passion and effort. Therefore, I believe that the key for women who aspire to be successful is to be persistent with a clear goal in mind. 

Do you have a favorite quote or saying?

My favorite saying is: Success is 99% hard work and 1% luck. Only with relentless persistence could we prepare for luck. Without perseverance, we wouldn’t have enough strength to achieve greatness. 

What are the biggest issues in Vietnam right now and how can they be addressed?

In Vietnam, we face different challenges related to gender inequality and stereotypes. Women are expected to focus on their family, children, but not too much on a professional career. Male dominance in business is quite typical. All of these social norms hinder women from fully realizing their passions and capabilities. Fortunately, in the past few years, we have witnessed significant social changes; young generations are highly encouraged to pursue their dreams, regardless of their gender. And more women are being empowered to become role models. 

Another severe problem in Vietnam are environmental issues. The quality of air, soil, water and waste treatment affects our people’s daily lives. The young and the old, the rich and the poor are living under the same conditions. In countries with rapid economic growth like Vietnam, environmental pollution is one of the most alarming problems. In particular, Vietnam ranks among the countries that dump the largest amounts of plastic waste into the ocean. This will affect different generations in the long run, so what we can do now is to train ourselves to be more conscious. If each person could be more mindful in daily life, even simple actions could bring about significant change to the environment. 

Where do you see Vietnam in 25 years?

Before, upon hearing about Vietnam, people would only come up with the image of a war-torn country. However, with our population at its sweet spot now, Vietnamese youth are tech-savvy and highly perceptive. I believe that our country is moving forward quickly. I hope to see my homeland as a dynamic tech hub in near future. 

What change would you like to see that could bring greater equality in Vietnam?

I would like to see a change in people’s mindset, men and women alike. In Asian countries in general and in Vietnam particularly, people are deeply affected by traditions of the patriarchal society. For now, it is undeniable that gender inequality exists in urban and rural areas, and women face a lot of sexual stereotypes. However, I think both men and women encounter hardships in daily life. While women are expected to take care of housework and children, men also face pressure to be the main breadwinners for the family. 

To overcome inequality in general, women shouldn’t victimize themselves or yield to any gender stereotype. Each of us, men or women, have our own shortcomings. What matters the most to success is the desire to fix these drawbacks and grow every day. I think that instead of obsessing about disparity, women should make use of all available opportunities to consistently learn new skills and refine themselves. 

If you could use one word to describe women in East Asia Pacific what would it be?

Strong-minded. Social norms in Vietnam dictate that women are always expected to take care of their family and children. At a young age, I witnessed my mother and aunts always trying their best to handle their personal and professional life. At home, they were mainly in charge of taking care of children and housework. At work, they put all their efforts into their jobs, no matter how simple or complicated the tasks. When I grew up, I got to know more women in leadership roles. With their entrepreneurial spirit and remarkable devotion, these extraordinary women have been the driving force of various companies in Vietnam. Their life-changing products and services have brought about tremendous value to customers in our country. There is also an increasing number of successful women startup founders and co-founders, especially in the tech industry. As more women flourish both in their personal and professional lives, only with the utmost strong will could they achieve so much. 

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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.



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