Lam Tran, founder of lifestyle app WisePass, explains how he created a successful start-up based out of Saigon and why he believes more tech companies are being attracted to Vietnam.
Entrepreneur Lam Tran lived and worked all over the world before choosing Saigon as the home of his luxury lifestyle membership app WisePass. A subscription service that caters to Asia’s growing appetite for an attainably luxurious lifestyle, its members in Hanoi, Bangkok and Manila enjoy perks centred on socialising such as a free lunch, complimentary drinks or cinema tickets in return for a flat monthly membership fee of 6m VND (approximately 300 USD). “Lifestyle is all about having a good time,” Tran declares. “You can have a good time by having good food, going out with your friends to a bar and watching movies.”
Born and raised in Paris to Vietnamese parents, Tran studied Business in France, specializing in strategy. His studies, coupled with his desire to explore the world, led him further afield. “One of my goals was to travel and discover new people, countries, cultures and languages,” he remembers. “Starting a company abroad happens to fit that.” After stints in New York, Korea, Denmark and Ghana, Tran was lured to Vietnam thanks to its well developed and affordable tech community. “The developers are much more affordable in Vietnam, this is what has allowed me to survive in the first 3 years. If I didn’t have that, I would have died a long time ago.” Soon after arriving, he decided to launch his own business with big ambitions. “I like to thrive, and I like to grow and learn. My motivation became to build a global startup. By global I mean at least a billion dollars in at least 15 countries so that I can actually be the first person to do that in Vietnam, nobody has done that before.”
Tran isn’t afraid to take risks in business and stresses that others shouldn’t be either. “You have to look at the problems that nobody has been able to solve and see if that’s something you can solve. And if you can, how much money do you need? Do you think it’s truly valuable? If you can answer all those questions, though there’s still a lot of risk, you should go for it.” With this mindset, WisePass was born four years ago. Initially, a bottle subscription service that afforded its members a free bottle of wine or spirits at various bars, nightclubs and hotels around Vietnam, WisePass members conduct their social life via its app. Simple but efficient, users can flick through available locations and then scan their QR code once they have selected their freebie at their chosen location to redeem their perk.
Recently, the app’s offering has expanded beyond booze. “80-90% of our customers are corporates. Besides drinking every night, they also do a lot of business lunches, business dinners and travelling. So, the way we add more services is by listening to our customers.” Broadening WisePass’s appeal, benefits now include daily complimentary dinners and lunches, cinema tickets, haircuts and Starbucks coffees. All these developments have come about thanks to findings from the app’s own data. “I’m very impressed with the data right now. Alcohol used to be number one a year ago. And now food is number one, Starbucks is number two and alcohol is number three. So, we started to look at the transition from nightlife to lifestyle, and now it’s actually a broader service that we’re providing.”
Despite the fact that the market in Vietnam may not be as big as that in neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Tran believes that Vietnam a great place to launch for several reasons. With an increasing number of companies positioning their developers there such as e-commerce company ‘Lazada’ and booking website ‘Hotel Quickly’, there are “more than hundreds of developers” to pick from, he explains. In the long-term, he also strongly feels that Vietnam is worthy of time and investment, “there are almost 100 million people here, the middle class is growing well and the GDP growth is around 5-6% yearly now.” Raising money for innovative startups can be a challenge, but it’s getting easier. WisePass received funding from the local startup accelerator Viisa.
For Tran, WisePass is just in its infancy. “Manila and Jakarta were launched recently. Macau is going to be launched in August/ September. Singapore and Hong Kong are going to be in Q4.” And beyond those cities, he has his sights set on San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2019. “That’s going to be interesting because that will be the first time that a Vietnamese app goes from Ho Chi Minh City to Silicon Valley.” If he can achieve that, it will certainly be hard to argue with his theory that Saigon has a lot to offer its startup community.