Hayley Bakker, the founder of Vietnam-based technology specialist Colibri Growth Vietnam, saw first hand the challenges faced by startups looking to enter the market while working for one of the biggest banks in Singapore.
Financial technology has seen rapid growth in recent years, with Singapore on the cutting edge of the emerging new market.
“Working in the bank for so long I realized they were looking for opportunities to collaborate with the startups. At least half of the banks have divisions focussed on working with tech startups. This is either to accelerate existing startups or incubate their own new startups.”
She said that in her experience, the collaboration between the two wasn’t so smooth.
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Bureaucracy versus tech innovation
Ms. Bakker said she saw the difficulty the startups had adjusting to the traditional banking environment.
“The startups are used to moving fast and developing fast. They were being put in a bank where they had to wait for the approval and follow the process.”
“Anything that would have taken them a week was now taking two or three months.”
Witnessing this frustration made her decide to become part of the solution.
Uncovering Vietnam as a hotspot for tech talent
Hayley quit her job in Singapore and looked to another emerging market, Vietnam. She saw this as a potential location to base herself and her own startup enterprise to support tech startups.
“I used to visit Vietnam as a tourist and I love the country.”
“Working in banking in Singapore I know it has great entrepreneurs and an amazing startup ecosystem. But what is lacking is strong tech talent.”
“Many university students in Singapore are still focused on what is valued there; medical and business. There is an increasing focus towards IT but they are still lagging behind others compared to the demand.”
Hayley said Vietnam was an obvious choice.
“It has a strong focus on engineering and tech. It has a large enough population to meet demand and it was a place that I liked to be.”
Hayley said a one-hour time difference to Singapore, air connectivity in the region and the positive investment sentiment coming from Ho Chi Minh City confirmed her decision.
Tips on building a startup in Vietnam
For entrepreneurs looking to establish a startup in a foreign country, Hayley recommended spending time in the country before diving in. She offered four specific tips that made a difference in her startup experience in Vietnam.
Do your research
“I spent two months in Vietnam before I decided to establish the company. I attended conferences to hear about the investment climate in Ho Chi Minh City. After making the decision to proceed I spent two months there just working to build a network.”
Speak to and meet as many people as possible
“Build that network up while you are still in your current role. Test the waters and build your credibility. Meet as many people as possible, because you never know who is going to help you when or where.”
Expect the unexpected
“One thing I have learned is even if things seem 99% sure they are going to come off they can very easily not happen – you just never know!”
Outsource any expertise that is not core to what you are doing
“If you are not familiar in the market where you are doing business, this is even more important. For me, I realize I am at a disadvantage in terms of the local language and local knowledge. Anything that is legal, financial or if you can’t read it, not a good idea to do it yourself.”
Hayley incorporated and manages her payroll using Emerhub.
“By myself, I am too small to know when changes occur in regulations and I am compliant and reporting correctly. It’s more beneficial for me to spend my time working with Clients. I can utilize services like Emerhub offers and know that everything is being done with efficiency and accuracy.”
The journey from company incorporation to growth
Now into the second year of operations, Hayley has focused on scaling up her business model and expansion. Now with offices in HCMC and Hanoi and a total of nine employees, Colibri assists FinTech startups not only to recruit talent but also handles administrative, HR and financial management issues they may not be experienced enough to manage themselves.
“Startups are obviously in the early stages and most don’t have the capacity or experience to do everything. Some of them have just done their Ph.D. and come out of it with an amazing idea for a product but they’ve never actually managed a team.”
“Taking the pressure away from the business side provides a better environment for these ideas to flourish and develop and a greater chance of success… There isn’t one model that fits all my clients, so I work with them on a case by case basis to create a product that fits their needs.”
Incorporating Vietnamese Companies with Emerhub
Hayley said she worked with her clients on the expectation that they will take over operations and the team themselves.
“Our slogan is to connect, collaborate, co-develop. In the end, investors demand stability, and with that comes the desire for an in-house team. My advice to my clients is when they come to that point, I will assist them to make that transition.”
“This requires the establishment of an entity in Vietnam so I would then work with Emerhub to set up that entity and transfer the team over. I very much see my role as bridging the gap between very young startups and them going on to becoming fully established, self-sufficient companies.”