This has been a tough year for businesses in Viet Nam, especially micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), as a fourth wave of COVID-19 hit. On the occasion of Vietnamese Women's Day today, Viet Nam News reporter Thu Ngan asks young women entrepreneurs running MSMEs how they managed to overcome COVID and how they generally developed their business.
Nguyen Thanh Nga, founder of O Lang Vien
I am Nguyen Thanh Nga, founder of two brands: O Lang Vien, the first cosmeceutical retailer, and OLV, a local culture-based fashion chain.
O Lang Vien, is the first and leading retailer in cosmeceuticals in HCM City and OLV Boutique is a women's clothing chain with 22 stores nation-wide that are known for traditional Vietnamese embroidery products. My two partners and I have been building these two brands for six years and have tonnes of stories, challenges, lessons, and achievements.
I used to work in equity analysis and investment consultation at a leading brokerage firm, HSC, and a top insurance fund management company, PVIAM. During my time in the investment field, I had the chance to talk to other inspirational women entrepreneurs and leaders. These long and deep conversations about their business models and strategies made me feel inspired, confident, and ready to make the most of my life by becoming a businesswoman.
Many times in business we deal with situations where we take risks and handle negative situations. The COVID-19 pandemic is the toughest challenge we have ever faced.
I guess the challenges of being a businesswoman is that you have to sacrifice your personal demand to spend more time on your professional obligations. The trade-offs between work and family that are frequently imposed on women are clearly difficult for them. Besides, women face pressures in the industry.
My company was operating smoothly since 2019 after years of work. Suddenly, it has been facing significant operational, financial and strategic challenges due to the COVID-19 outbreak and associated restrictions.
This situation will put any businesswoman in the hard position of evaluating the risk of infection and effectively managing liquidity to survive. I think the toughest task during a pandemic is changing quickly to adapt and survive.
A strong background in finance does help me cope with the liquidity problem during this difficult period. Besides, I think a positive mind and soul begets positive results. Maintaining a positive mindset to evaluate the situation and seeking opportunities under these circumstances such as better supply and leasing prices, and using breaks to fix problems in the company’s process, etc…. help me better manage the company.
My vision is to grow our brands into the biggest local brands for women in Viet Nam, and the pandemic has given us down time to strengthen our company's processes and structures.
Currently we are continuing with our growth plans for each brand. For Olangvien, we are opening a new store at 116 Yersin, District 1. In the near future we hope to open more skin clinics in the south and become the biggest clinic chain in Viet Nam. For OLV, we are evaluating our growth plans in the north and expect to establish stores there in the near future, and hope to become the largest clothing chain in Viet Nam.
Along with numbers, I want to have the environment as one of our top missions moving forward. We are one of the rare brands that use only disposable packaging, and also have a platform for customers to pass on their old clothes to make money and save the planet. We hope to contribute more in future.
I believe success is drawn to those who are actively wholeheartedly pursuing it.
Nguyen Thi Kim Ngoc, CEO of Module K Vietnam
I am Nguyen Thi Kim Ngoc, everyone calls me Jade. I'm a co-founder & CEO of Module K Vietnam. I'm also a lecturer in interior design at Van Lang University.
I see myself as quite funny and feminine in daily life, but at work I'm totally opposite. I feel like 'a man' working in this industry, not an easy industry, you know. I work with men most of the time, and I like having conversations with them. They go straight to the point and give you solutions right away.
Above all, I have a passion for collecting Indochinese-style postcards and furniture.
Module K's mission is to become next generation unicon in interior design consultation with a professional team.
Our main clients are mostly from investment funds, travelling group, real estate companies, entertainment, and beauty areas such as VIG, Tan Binh ICC, Cattiensa, Beta Group, Tan Hiep Phat, Seedcom, Janus Capital, ect…. and we are also a partner in strategy and brand identity for Beta Cinema, Juno, Katinat, Cheese Coffee Mall, Shynh Beauty, Leyna Beauty, Jump Arena,…
I have a motivational phrase that inspired me a lot during my studying and working years. The phrase translated into English means 'Passion can't earn money for you, especially in the interior design industry'. I remember telling myself I'll prove it isn't true. What I believe is if you have enough knowledge, insight and passion and a bit of luck, you will be successful no matter what industry you are working in. Even if you think you won't make it, just try and one day the light will be there at the end of the road waiting for you.
This pandemic has hugely impacted all businesses and industries. The business models and strategies of our clients have changed so much. They have to change ideas and details of design according to customer behaviour after the COVID outbreak. It means we are now facing two circumstances. Stop the project permanently or the project will be changed and we have to study all over again without getting any fees. But what I'm dealing with right now is the imbalances between creativity and the market.
Unfortunately a few contracts have been rescinded permanently since the COVID outbreak escalated in HCM City. Our team was downbeat after knowing one of our members was hospitalised for nearly a month with COVID. Amid this tough situation, I have to change the way of playing the game to survive. I and managers often discuss and make suitable plans to deal with every week. For the remaining interior design team members, we shared and followed a few competitions and awards in the interior design field. It would make them feel competitive and motivated, but most important is to exchange knowledge, learn what style and trends people are interested in this year, and not let their passion diminish. I mean, keep the fire in them burning.
During the lockdown the company also sent out some food and books to all construction workers. I and the board of directors registered for online courses to acquire knowledge, which has made our lockdown periods meaningful.
In the near future we have to review the company's finances in all aspects. At the moment I am considering investing in new fields.
Vu Anh Thu, founder of Coco Dressing Room
My name is Vu Anh Thu. I am the founder of Coco Dressing Room, a fashion consignment business providing trendy second-hand clothes in good condition in a wide array of styles and price ranges. On the other hand, CDR offers women whose wardrobe are full of clothes they no longer wear the opportunity to clean out their wardrobe and make some cash from selling those underutilised items.
I try my best not to label myself as a businesswoman or entrepreneur. I grew up wanting to become a painter. Yet, I believe, first and foremost, it is the entrepreneurial spirit I inherited from my mother.
I didn't think I would start my own business until one day I was really in need of some cash, and the only thing I could sell at that moment was the clothes that remained unworn lying in my wardrobe. I had created a business plan on fashion resale for my university assignment, and so I was pretty clear about how I wanted to sell the clothes. I called some of my friends whose styles I adored to ask if they wanted to sell the clothes they didn't wear any more so that we could have a cool, hip and stylish garage sale together. That garage sale was a hit. We made US$3,000 on an investment of $300. That was when I was convinced I was onto something. Five months later, even before my graduation, I decided to launch my business and I have rolled with it until now.
There were challenges way before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I see myself as pretty much an intuitive person. I am not professionally trained in management skills, and like many young business owners I tend to overlook the 'boring' tasks of planning and reading financial statements, accounting and putting together monthly reports. I reckon it is less about exterior factors but more about my lack of management experience that brought us the challenges. However, we were well covered during the difficult time since our process and business model is very agile, and each team member is very self-sufficient.
I have to say the current small and agile operation makes our business crisis-proof. Therefore, all I have to do is take care of the safety of our staff. On top of that, we closed our pre-seed round during the hard time which allowed us to continue to grow our business though we were going through a few months without revenues. I myself do other personal projects to fund the business as well. On top of that, other stakeholders such as our landlords and partners have been very supportive which I can never thank them enough for.
Now we are focusing on building and growing our online platform since the demand for second-hand clothes and online shopping is on the rise. I am excited to see a better future where people consciously consider second-hand first when they make any purchase because buying what already exists taxes the environment 0 per cent. What we are doing now is making that future happen by making second-hand selling and buying as convenient and exciting as possible for our users. — VNS
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