When John asked me to share one of my business experiences as a guest contributor to his blog a few months ago, I started to think which one would be the most interesting and relevant. Should I talk about starting an IT services company in my 20’s and what it was like to learn everything “on the job”? Or maybe the experience of taking a company public and playing with the “big boys” on Wall Street? Or maybe the humbling experience having our stock plummet by over 80% with the bursting of the dot-com bubble? Or starting a new company with millions in VC money? I decided I want to talk about my little start up in Vietnam. It is not a big company nor even a successful one (yet). But it is has been a very rewarding experience in unexpected ways.
My son Aaron, graduated from Pepperdine University in summer of 2006. During his college years, he had started an Internet company servicing the secondary ticketing market (ticket brokers and resellers also known as “scalpers”). By the time he received his diploma, Aaron was running a number of popular and very profitable web sites. When he asked my advice on what to do next, I encouraged him to explore living abroad to get a more “global” experience. As Thomas Friedman put it, the world is flat. We cannot ignore the growing interdependence of our global economy. Just look at how the US mortgage mess is affecting the credit (and now equity) markets worldwide! The next generation of business leaders must have a global perspective.
Having taken a more flexible role as Chairman of Noetix, I was not involved in day to day operations. So when Aaron suggested that I go with him to Asia and help him better explore business opportunities, I felt this was a unique opportunity for me to do something new and interesting with my son. We initially moved to Shanghai, China where we lived for about 5 months. But after a trip to Vietnam, we decided that we could best find opportunities to build a company together there.
So in April 2007, we moved to Ho Chi Minh City and started an Internet listing service for real estate in Vietnam. We’ve also launched a real estate magazine to compliment our web site (www.metvuong.com). When we started our venture, the real estate market was red hot, with prices nearly doubling from June 2007 to December of 2007. However with inflation and tightening credit world-wide, the market came to a screeching halt in March 2008 with prices declining as much as 40% in many markets (not too dissimilar to what is going on in the US).
This has created some challenges for our business but it also is providing a great learning opportunity. It doesn’t take great management to grow a business when everything is booming (remember the dot-com bubble?). But when things are challenging, when strategy and execution become a necessity, when resources and money is limited and tough choices have to be made, that’s when management counts. So even though metvuong is not a public company nor a company with millions in revenue, it has given me one of the most rewarding experiences of my career so far. It has given me the opportunity to start a business with my son. Though I was initially going abroad to help Aaron, actually, I may have gained more than he has from the experience. I’ve had the chance to live in a different country and to broaden my personal experiences. I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for developing countries and their challenges. I’ve come to understand first-hand what outsourcing means to companies both in the US and in the country. I’ve made many new friends including business leaders in other countries. And of course, I’ve had a chance to build some great memories and experiences with my son.
Life is but a series of experiences. These experiences become our memories, prejudices and perspectives. Those become the basis upon which we make judgments and decisions. This is why we value people with experience. And for me, this has been one of my best experiences.