Maneuvering through opportunities & traffic in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City traffic
Ho Chi Minh City traffic

I hold on tightly behind my brother as he deftly maneuvers his scooter through the seemingly chaotic traffic of Ho Chi Minh City.

At first, watching hordes of cars and scooters sharing the streets and avoiding each other without apparent defined rules can be both astonishing and terrifying. But from the back seat of Paul’s scooter, I soon begin to understand certain rules and reasoning behind the commuters’ actions. The traffic, as it turns out, moves along rather well, despite the congestion of the city.

Doing business in Vietnam works in similar ways. The rules and expectations are different than in the US. People seem to be coming at you from all directions, but then a pattern starts to develop.

Vietnam is a developing country. Its people have a relatively high education level.  The country also has a disproportionally high number of young people under the age of 30 compared to developed countries. The government is very stable. Compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors, I’ve also noticed that the Vietnamese culture has more elements of the Chinese work ethic like those in the Far East countries.

In addition, Vietnam is a handsome country, with a long, beautiful coastline. Vietnamese food is fabulous, gaining popularity throughout the world. With a population of around 82 million, Vietnam could someday become an economic pillar in Southeast Asia.

For now, though, Vietnam remains a developing economy, and the labor extremely cheap. Get a haircut, and you can have one person cutting your hair, while two others will manicure your finger nails. I played golf, and frustrated with a bunker shot, I raked my own mess. My caddy (and you have to have a caddy) thanked me profusely, embarrassed that she didn’t move fast enough to take the rake away from me. People are everywhere to serve you. It can be humbling, yet charming.

For the right type of business idea, Vietnam represents tremendous opportunities. Some entrepreneurs have already built technical development teams here to service the West’s appetite for off-shoring those components. International marketing and research firms have established operations here to help foreign brands move into the Vietnamese market. To support new innovations, venture funds are now being established here with both foreign and local money.

Nonetheless, many more foreign ventures will fail here than succeed. It is not easy to maneuver through the local business and cultural environment. The risk remains extremely high. Like Paul steering us through the traffic, any company that has a fighting chance of success here needs the guidance and support of someone(s) who already understands the business climate and culture in Vietnam.