November 21, 2011
Facebook, intermittently blocked by the government in Vietnam, still boasts over 2.5 million users there. But Tamtay, a local social network started in 2007, has used its home-field advantage to gain a reported 4 million users.
Inspired by Facebook, Tamtay features games, photo and video sharing, blogs, and instant messaging. It caters to Vietnamese users by placing less emphasis on following friends and creating content and more on consuming entertainment.
“Users here are more passive than users in the US. They like entertainment more and contribute less,” says founder and CEO Son (Sunny) Tran. “A lot of people come to Tamtay just to play games.”
Unlike Facebook, Tamtay and its 70-person team create their own online games. They started with a Farmville spinoff, but their big success was a traditional Vietnamese card game – their main source of revenue in 2010. From then on, Tran says, he decided to make only original games.
This entertainment focus – as well as a historical culture of sharing – means that users are less concerned about privacy in Vietnam than in the United States. “People love to show most of their activities to the public,” explains Tran, who claims he has never received a privacy complaint.
But Tamtay has faced some business challenges that are foreign to Facebook. With a less mature social networking culture in Vietnam, Tamtay had to educate the market. They did that by partnering with university beauty contests, putting up photos and news about contestants and letting users vote on their website. After a few schools saw huge traction, others came knocking, and Tamtay has made almost 100 such partnerships.
Vietnam’s investment scene is also young; Tran spent $200,000 of his own money from his savings and loans before IDG invested just under $1 million in Tamtay in 2008. According to Tran, investors in Vietnam want to see revenues, not just user growth, earlier than in the United States. Tamtay implemented virtual payments and started demonstrating those revenues in 2010 and became profitable this year.
In the end, Tran is trying to coexist with Facebook: to differentiate Tamtay enough that users find value in both. And he is grateful for the inspiration from Facebook and US entrepreneurs.
“Young US people have invented some things that are really meaningful,” he says. “Basically I want to say that I appreciate that very much.”
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