My respond was, “I will agree if you say that I’m a lucky and positive person but my life and entrepreneur path are certainly not smooth and easy” In fact, I think most of the entrepreneur paths are not smooth and easy. My favorite quote from Edward Phelps was “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything” … I probably made every single mistakes that every entrepreneur make in the last 5 years, from leadership to management, from vision and directions to detail-oriented, from raising funds to manage cash flows, from product positioning to intellectual property protection. Entrepreneur is never an easy path, because the word itself mean to describe the person who willing to take greater than normal financial risks to build a business or a company. It’s the path for only few chosen ones!
I was trained by Jeffrey Tsao, “The reason why Michael Jordan is the best player is he missed more shots than anyone else”. Among so many valuable lessons that he taught me in my early days, this lesson is the both encourage and challenging one. Many days I come back home, exhausted, lay down on sofa in the living room and wonder myself, “Is this worth it?” and the next morning I woke up and find myself ready for every challenges again.
This year, 2013, is the 10-year anniversary of my first-day in America, the land of dream and hope, of challenges and opportunities. And … I feel lucky to be a female entrepreneur!
A lifetime learning experience
“You don’t have to study business major to become an entrepreneur”. With over 3 years experience in retail banking, marketing, and personal finance, I graduated from USC with a Computer Science degree and start my first business venture of Parallel Frozen Yogurt in Vietnam. It become an overnight sensation with huge number of visitors, many prime locations, and become the iconic brand of frozen yogurt in Bien Hoa and Ho Chi Minh City. My working experience, my educational degree, and my first business venture are totally unrelated! However, these are the things that I learned in my 6 years studying and working in the US:
- Do it yourself, get your hands dirty: I never work in any restaurant before, neither have any experience in frozen yogurt or ice-cream; however, I did my own research, taking class with suppliers, contact and negotiating with them for the logistic and pricing, and most important is developing my own secret recipes for my frozen yogurt.
- Don’t avoid risk, manage risks: Entrepreneurs are risk-takers; even if I invest into a business with $0 cost, the biggest risk I take is the opportunities costs. The only way to avoid the risk is to avoid the entrepreneur path, and that’s all! And if I don’t want to avoid it, I gotta learn how to manage the risks on my best knowledge, even that mean to spend many sleepless night with accounting books, or to calculate to every penny on each gram of milk.
- Someone are not on the same roads with you, that doesn’t mean they’re lost: Many entrepreneurs was even discourage by their closed friends, family members, or even their loved ones. Aren’t they supposed to be my most crazy fans, my biggest supporters? It’s not always the case! Many of them just hope that discouragement will make me give up. But the fact is I don’t need the whole world support me, only fews those who matter.
A college degree from prestigious university is a ticket for me to any decent jobs in America; however, entrepreneur is a chance for me to keep learning and practicing my knowledge in a lifetime regardless where I am.
Work on the projects that I love the most
My second business venture in Vietnam, Greengar, started unintentionally. When Elliot Lee, my Hackathon-buddy in USC, travelled to Vietnam to visit my Parallel Frozen Yogurt. I started with helping him recruiting Vietnamese developers, training, and managing them. We decided to start an official office in early 2011 at … a living room of an apartment. The team grew bigger as there are more works from the exponential growth of Greengar’s users. Beside fixing bugs and improving the existing applications, our developers started come up with many new games and apps. In 2 years, we completed more than 20 different mobile applications, many of them still available on App Store today. The end of 2011, Elliot shared with me a blog of a blind person found how useful our Color Identifier application on his iPhone. I never thought such a simple application have a big impact to a person life. The blog was featured on NPR, Lifehacker, and many of international tech media. However, what impacted me was not the popularity or publicity, I found my passion in technology that make people life better.
In early 2012, I finally decided to shut down the chain of Parallel Frozen Yogurt and go full-force with Greengar. Elliot decided to move back to America and started traveling around the country. I start seeing the problems of visual communications. My engineering team decided to develop the Internet Collaboration feature for Whiteboard so that I can collaborative brainstorm with Elliot from half of the globe away. Whiteboard and Skype are the two main tools that Greengar team use the most to communicate with each others everyday.
Whiteboard is the most popular collaborative application on iOS App Store and Android Google Play. Though there are over 8 million downloads up-to-date, the app is only enable 2 devices connect together in real-time. There are many users requesting the cross platforms collaboration functions. And their voices are heard! Smartboard is my latest project at Greengar, which I proudly brought to the Women 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, enable more than 2 devices connect together, across platform, and cloud-storage integration. I remember my days in USC, when my Professors explaining the codes while writing on the white notepad, which is projected to the board. I had such a hard time of both listening and writing at the same time. I couldn’t wait for the day that my professors in USC start using the Smartboard for their lectures so that their notes will be synchronized with all students’ smartphones devices. I’m sure those students who English is not their first language (like me) will appreciate the technology a lot. And certainly not only USC students, but many other classrooms, meetings, and conference rooms around the world.
Being a female entrepreneur, I’m not alone!
Being a female entrepreneur in Vietnam is a little challenging, and I’m sure it happens in most of Asian countries. I can’t believe that, in 2013, women are still expected to get married, have kids, and take care family by the age of 30. Don’t get me wrong! It should be part of women’s lives, but should not be their entire lives. I kept hearing the questions about boyfriend, marriage, and kids every single family events. Everyone are very skeptical when I start talking about my business, my company, my products, and things that I build. The only thing they care about is whether I can build a family, a happy one.
I was selected to the Top 10 Finalist of Women 2.0 PITCH Competition. On Feb 14, 2013, I wore my traditional Vietnamese dress, Ao Dai, on stage to present my product Smartboard in front of 1000 entrepreneurs and investors in The Westin. After my presentation, everyone gave me a big round of applause and surrounded me with many questions about my products. That’s my first time ever have that many people pay attentions about my products and what I do rather than my personal life. In three weeks in San Francisco, I met many investors, entrepreneurs, and many talented developers. The Women 2.0 organizers, like Angie, Shaherose, Rebecca, my mentors Tom Kosnik and Linh Thai, and many other friends in San Francisco gave me lots of tips, connections, and even helped me setup meetings. They made my trip totally worth it!
“Entrepreneurs is a lonesome road, people will give you courage and support, but no one will walk it for you” However, the encouragement and supports of women entrepreneur ecosystem and many supporters have certainly make my path more meaningful and worthy!
Time flexibility for the family and my loved ones
I saw many happy family came to an end because of the entrepreneurs didn’t have anytime for their loved ones. The fact that entrepreneurs have their mind occupied 24/7 with their companies and products is inevitable. However, that also give them a chance of being the most responsible and committed ones. They would never have time, but they can always make time for our loved ones. The myth of dating entrepreneurs are very tough because they would never have time is not true. The fact is they could stay on bed cuddling on Monday morning and work all night long on a Saturday night should not be surprised at all. In fact, I’m surprised that you’re surprised!
Entrepreneurs are just like normal people, we love and care for family and our loved ones with all our hearts. However, we just use our time more wisely. In April last year, I decided to took my Mom on a trip from Vietnam to Malaysia, Indonesia, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane for 30 days. My Mom is now 67 years old and I really don’t know how many more trips we can travel together. During the trip, I always have to stay connected to work with my team in Vietnam, but we was also able to enjoy many exotic and interesting places and foods together. I rarely have any real vacations, I even have to work everyday during the Lunar New Year to prepare for my PITCH Competition; however, I certainly have the best time in San Francisco with my friends, Leslie and Judy, enjoy the most delicious ramen in Izakaya Sozai, fresh oysters at Water Bar, and many Philz Coffee in my trip.
Being with an entrepreneurs could be tiring and neglected sometimes. However, when we make time for someone, they are certainly one the most important people my our hearts.
More productive and effective
For me, 24 hours a day would never be enough. I always have some many ideas and works that I want to get done; besides that, I always want to make time for my family as well. Procrastination is my biggest enemy! I learned how to use my time more effective and productive.
- Instead of wasting 5 mins to decide what to wear every morning, my set of clothes are always organized by Sunday nights for the whole week.
- I will always go for grocery shopping with a list of items that I need/want by categories and not wasting my time for walking around the supermarket .
- Google Drive and iCloud became my hard drive so that I can access my files from any devices at any time.
- Instead of wasting half an hour to explain with someone my ideas, I could just ask them to join my Smartboard and get the problem done in 5 mins.
Treat people with care and love
Sometimes, I make time for some old-friend-reunion party and I hard so many complaints about their co-working and their bosses. I just listen but couldn’t join the conversation at all, not because I don’t understand but I don’t know what to say. I never have to worry about my boss hating me or co-workers back-stabbing me. I learned over time how to treat people with care and love. In a start-ups, we’re all like family members and the only thing we care about is building a great products for our users. We do not need to prove with anyone but ourselves about the capability of delivering scalable code structures, expandable UI/UX, and compelling business strategies.
I’m lucky for being a female entrepreneur and I know that …
On the International Women’s Day, I wish all the female around the globe to feel the same …