Trung Hoang Nguyen is the CEO of Vietnam-based delivery service Loship. The firm was born in 2017 as a delivery service part of e-commerce startup Lozi, founded by Nguyen. Currently, Loship is Lozi’s main business. In 2017, Nguyen was nominated in Vietnam’s list of Forbes 30 under 30, after which, in 2020, he was nominated in the main Asian list of Forbes 30 under 30. Trung studied at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and also worked as a software engineer at Microsoft.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
KrASIA (Kr): Why did you decide to launch Loship?
Trung Hoang Nguyen (THN): Lozi was similar to review site Yelp. We officially set up the company in 2014 to connect buyers and sellers, but three years later, we realized the model was difficult to monetize, and the scale potential wasn’t obvious. We had to do something else—something where we could see people doing actual transactions. With Lozi, transactions were not transparent, as we couldn’t see if they were completed outside of our platform. Vietnam is a country of motorbikes, so we looked into starting a delivery business, and we executed the idea of Loship. With this vertical, we had more control over our platform and the transactions happening on it.
Kr: What was it like to break into the e-commerce and delivery industry in Vietnam in 2017?
THN: Right now, Vietnam might be a hot space for e-commerce and startups, as many venture capital firms are pouring money into the country. Three or four years ago, though, Vietnam was an unknown market. It was difficult for us to determine the potential of the market, especially for investors. The concept of a startup was also new back then, and it wasn’t easy to bring people on. Workers had expectations of traditional roles in multinational corporations, so we had to find the right people who could adapt to the startup culture. There were also competitors who had a lot of capital from outside of Vietnam. We had to envision our journey so we could stand up against them.
Kr: How did you differentiate from competitors?
THN: From the beginning, the nature of Loship was not only about food delivery. It was simply about delivering any item from point A to point B. The more non-food items you can deliver, the more different you are from your competitors. We not only offer food, but anything you might need: cosmetics, mobile phone accessories, medicine, and other items.
Kr: What was your journey like going from Microsoft to becoming a co-founder and CEO of Loship?
THN: We didn’t even have the word “startup” when we started the journey about ten years ago with Lozi. I just knew I had an idea to do something new rather than work in a company. I talked with my co-founder, Son Minh Tran, my friend from high school. Then, I talked to ten or 15 other people, and some of them liked my idea. They wanted to work for me. We started developing the first prototype of our website because ten years ago, it was all about websites, not mobile applications. The journey was difficult because we didn’t have a lot of money. I had to use my savings for many purposes. We also tried to get money from investors, but we didn’t really know the right way to pitch our idea as newbies. The Topica Founder Institute arranged for a trip to Singapore in 2018 for B2B companies like mine to pitch their ideas and raise funds. During our networking session, no one had anything to say to me. However, sometimes when people don’t talk to you, it may be because you’ve already captured their attention. After a week, I received regular emails asking for updates on how my company was doing and contact requests. We eventually had investors believing in the idea.
Kr: What made you choose delivery offerings as your main product?
THN: First, since Vietnam is a society of motorbikes, it’s not something that you have to invest in heavily before you start. Everyone already owns a motorbike. When we started, it was just a matter of listing a restaurant on our platform and then getting a friend or family member to deliver goods from a shop to a house. Second, I never knew any e-commerce platforms when I was working an office job. I used to work from nine in the morning to as late as ten at night. I would want items delivered to me immediately and conveniently, but it was an impossibly crazy concept to think about then. When I thought if there was any way to connect traditional low-cost items to customers in a single application, the concept of delivery and Loship came naturally to me.
Kr: What are some common mistakes you’ve seen startups make? What advice would you offer them?
THN: People often try to do too many things. You have to focus and understand the nature of your business. As a startup founder, you also have to learn to say no more often than you say yes. You can’t do everything, but you have to make sure everything goes in the same direction, which can lead to you having to tell people that they can’t do certain things in certain ways. Every leadership is a democracy, but when you’re building the company, there are many unanswered questions and unforeseen problems. You can ask for opinions, but at the end of the day, how to solve these problems is a decision you make alone. Sometimes, asking for too many opinions or advice can slow down the growth of a company.
Kr: Did you ever lose confidence while building your company?
THN: At first, yes. There was a lot of rejection. But after hearing enough rejections, you learn to ignore them. You don’t really care for a while. Many people won’t validate your idea, but you’re the only one who knows your idea best.
Kr: What are the future plans for your company?
THN: We want to become the first Vietnamese startup to go public and be listed on the NYSE. It is a pillar that remains unclimbed. We have a lot of talent in Vietnam, but not a single recognized unicorn. Vietnamese startups need some sources of inspiration to keep the wheel spinning, no matter how tough the journey might be. We want to be the Vietnamese inspiration by being recognized as a unicorn listing.