Me Talking about Vietnam and the Social Media Scene on the Xpansion Podcast

Recently, I had the honor of talking to the Xpansion Podcast with Fiona Huang and Justin Taillole about my experiences leading social networking startups in Vietnam – I spent over 7 years there, learning, grinding, and enjoying my time in a rapidly growing 3rd world country.

Listen above and I would love to hear your comments!

Here’s the official Xpansion description for the episode:

Vietnam, the 3rd most populated country (93.95 million) in Southeast Asia. With a population average age of 28.5 years old, young Vietnamese are crazy about social media. Without a doubt, people there are heavy Facebook users. Before Facebook went viral in Asia though, Cyworld had been the social media that gained most tractions in Asia. Originating from Korea, Cyworld was founded in 1997. After acquired by SKTA, a Korean telecom company, Cyworld aggressively expanded to Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan amongst others.

If you are curious about how social media was ran in Vietnam, do not miss out on this episode of Xpansion. We’ve invited Michael Nguyen, the COO of then Cyworld Vietnam. Michael is born and raised in the U.S. by Vietnamese immigrant parents, went back to Vietnam in his mid-twenties and set up Cyworld’s operations. He successfully grew the user base to 4 million. During his stay in Vietnam, he founded Mimo and FriendsPlus. Mimo is a microblogging social network similar to Twitter and later a popular dating app, which Michael successfully exited.

In this episode, Michael shares his story of running social media companies in Vietnam. From his experiences, you will learn:

  1. The cultural differences between the young professionals of Vietnam and the U.S.
  2. How social media in Vietnam used to be monetized differently.
  3. How national-owned telecom companies in Vietnam affects startup survival.
  4. Why managing government relationships is a big deal in Vietnam.
  5. What are some challenges Vietnamese startups are facing.

The Origins of RedOctane (Before Guitar Hero)

I am reading a Harvard case study about Netflix for a class at Kellogg right now and reading about its timing of switching to unlimited rentals in the summer of 2000 reminded me of when I first heard about the company that would become RedOctane, the producers of Guitar Hero (did you see: Rock Band is coming back) and a startup success story.

I remember the exact article posted on April 17, 2000 at IGN: WebGameZone to Offer Import Rentals

Ever wanted to play the latest and greatest games out of Japan, but don’t quite have the budget to do so? There are many titles that are already out that deserve a good run through, but with prices floating around $70 each, one cannot afford to play them all. Well one online retailer noticed this and decided to start a bold new venture: renting import Dreamcast games Online.

WebGameZone is taking the high price of 70 dollars per game and changing it to a simple $4.99 rental. The company is already known for being the largest online videogame rental store, but until now has never offered the latest Japanese titles.

So what does a five dollar fee get you? How does 10 days of usage sound? That’s right… you get over a full week of gaming for the price of a typical fast food meal. After you are done with the game, you just send it back in the pre-paid, pre-labeled box that is provided.

Obviously, we can’t guarantee the quality of the site’s service, but it is certainly something import-hungry gamers may want to check out. Thirty import titles will be made available at first, with more and more being added as time goes on. This is truly a unique venture, and will be interesting to see if it works out.

Both Mike Won and I read the same article and while I am not sure exactly what happened next, one of us found out the company was in Sunnyvale (in Silicon Valley, 20 miles away from where we lived in San Jose), and I contacted them right away about internships. I would have happily worked for free, but got a quick response from Juan, came in a few days later, met the rest of the team (Kai Huang, Charles Huang, Dean Ku, etc.) and essentially had a part time job (probably at $7.50 an hour) at the age of 19 shipping game discs and learning about Japanese import games for the Sega Dreamcast. This probably all happened within 10 days. I was employee #9 or #10 until I left to finish my degree at UC-Berkeley in 2002, but my time there in that first stint is summarized in my LinkedIn profile:

In my first experience with RedOctane (formerly WebGameZone), I started as an intern, learning about shipping logistics. Over time, I was promoted to Customer Service and given complete freedom (and responsibility) to interact with customers and learn how to resolve issues without backup support in a loss limited structure.

Through these experiences, I learned vital lessons about the human psychology, empathy, effective communication, and stress management, critical lessons I still use on an everyday basis.

Promoted from Intern/Shipping Logistics (2000) to Customer Service / Game Inventory Buyer (2001).

Other fun links I found: (but couldn’t find the old logo)

Free Rental Offer

RedOctane Begins Renting Import PlayStation 2 Games

Woa! WebGameZone actually sent it to me!!