Vietnamese Founder: I Don’t Want to Be a Big Fish in a Small Pond

December 24, 2011

10:00 am

Son Tran’s business card labels him as the customer experience officer of Tiki.vn, one of Vietnam’s top online booksellers. When I asked him about that, he told me it means CEO, but different. “I’m ultimately responsible for the experience of each and every one of Tiki’s customers, either online or offline,” he said.

Passionately focused on customer service, Tran has spent the last year figuring out what readers want and giving it to them, fast. After working for a year at Vietnam’s top online bookseller, Vinabook, he decided to start his own company focusing on English-language books.

Early on, Tran spent $5,000 of his own money to buy books to sell on Tiki.vn – mostly business books targeted at men. But his prediction turned out wrong – looking at sales, he saw that readers, mostly women, wanted classic fiction books like Tom Sawyer and Jane Austen novels.

“The Vietnamese don’t want to explore the very new or very bestselling books in the US,” explains Tran, who was born in Vietnam and previously worked on a YouTube clone called Clip.vn.

To confirm this theory, he camped out at bookstores and observed who came in and what they bought. He saw women spending lots of time and buying lots of books, and men zipping in and out to pick up one book. From then on, Tiki shifted to target women and added Vietnamese books and gifts like stationery and Kindles. Tiki also spends extra money on protective plastic covers for the books, which are sized by a machine and verified by a factory worker. And they’ve tried out different machines and plastics to get the highest-quality result.

Now one of the top booksellers in Vietnam, Tiki has grown to a team of 40 – a big fish in a small pond. But Tran encourages foreign entrepreneurs to come to Vietnam, to help transform it into a big pond:

“Developing countries with big populations have a lot of opportunities: China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam. You can make a lot of money from collecting dimes and cents from a lot of people.”

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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