#14: Duc Nghiem

“It began with the love for photography. I used to do hip-hop dancing and dived in that kind of art playground. Photography later then came inevitably. My sister also happened to have a studio. I was clearly supported and inspired by it. But when I started making a decision for career orientation, photography seems not to have many opened doors. So I picked another related field, graphic design. I was a bit greedy when I believed I could handle two majors at once. It’s a risky move, but I glad I did it. After graduation, I got to know many friends from business, enlightening me on business and economy insights. It developed my interest in this field. That was 2012 or 2013, as I remembered, the time when Uber had just set their foot in the market. I received an offer to develop a startup community in Vietnam when I was still in the US. I figured it’s best to do something to learn more about it. The more you scare something, the more it can teach you. That mindset led me back to Vietnam and started my ride with startup. I was hoping to utilize the product development skills and technology to uplift startup projects within the first two years and going divestment for the next investor.

At first, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. So I started looking for like-minded people. There were 6 of them, including Eddie Thai from 500Startups & Hai Ho of Triip.vn. I spent over a month catching up with them, and fortunately, they were all thrilled by the idea of scaling up the startup community using their resources. They need someone to effectuate it. Feeling that enthusiasm, I moved back to Vietnam to lead the project. It took me nearly 3 months to connect and conversate with as many people as possible to know what step to follow next. I was completely blank, and people were welcomed to brush me with anything from their expertise. Conversate, collect, understand. I eventually got closer to the big picture, the struggle of stakeholders. I finally came to understand what a startup community is a lack. The first one I started was SHIELD. It stands for Startup Hub for Investment, Education, and Leadership Development. After nearly 3 years, SHIELD held up to 4 startup events per week, with the participation ranges from 10 to 200 people. I did everything that comes from the thirst for startup knowledge and the desire to contribute back to the community. I always feel if I help people with anything, I’ll gain back a lot more. The second thing is, I realize I’m not the only one who’s struggling with finding a place for a startup knowledge hub.

Evaluating a startup’s potential is a long process. You think you have it under control, but in the next second, it’s like there’s nothing clear. I think it’s a combination of sentimental and rational opinion. I might first look at the founder’s lifestyle and the way they run their startup. I even take a closer look at their personal value, particularly on the eagerness to learn and their strive for success. It’s the balance between the two virtues. The next thing would be a discussion on the current market, team resources, and financial status. I must answer 2 questions: “What is their story?” & “What kind of value can I bring?” Asking those questions prevents me from stressing myself out. I used to be an introvert. Meeting new people costs many of my energy. After a long time expanding my connection, I learned that the best thing to work for conversation is sharing your thought sincerely. Let them access our point of view on their business problem, and offer them the suitable solution. I tend to build trust rather than monetize from them. Develop an interest constructs the foundation for any long-term partnership. If you can’t going through a casual talk, a higher level of engagement is impossible.

People seek investors with a purpose. As a partner and an investor, my scope is to manage their expectation on the investment, how the resource should be spent, and everything in between. I support them with a framework and vision to verify their business model. Founders can build startups and still know nothing about what they should do. Support them with the right framework and method to evaluate the business growth helps them identify the underlying red flags and come up with the right solution. Founders will likely believe what they do is right, so it’s our job to help them see another side of the story. In a world where the chance of risk is beyond 90%, the ability to find the answer for “Am I going the right way” is vital.”

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