Start Tel Aviv 2015

Last year we had the Startup Israel competition in Hanoi; it’s now been rebranded to Start Tel Aviv 2015 so things are a little bit different. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tel Aviv Global & Tourism are holding a competition to send one founder of the winning startup to Israel from September 6-12.

Startup extraordinaire and Indiegogo evangelist Oren Simanian was in Hanoi on May 14, 2015 to announce the program’s launch to a crowd at Hub.IT. Mr. Simian engaged the crowd, pushed the audience out of their comfort zone, and gave some actionable advice to aspiring and current entrepreneurs alike.

From a document distributed at the event:

“Start Tel Aviv is an international competition held by The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tel Aviv Global & Tourism. In this competition startups from 20 different countries will compete for the opportunity of a 5-day intense startup experience in Tel Aviv to learn from the ecosystem in the city. This list the fourth annual competition, formerly known as Bizcamp Tel Aviv and this is the first time Vietnam is invited to join.

Start Tel Aviv will take place during the DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival, and participants will have the opportunity to meet the coolest and smartest companies, techies, startups, designers, artists, scientists, investors, and cultural drivers from Israel and abroad.

The DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival, a global gathering of innovators and entrepreneurs from around the world, is held throughout Tel Aviv in mid-September. The Festival is comprised of a long list of events, conferences, meet-ups, mingles and gatherings, all focusing on different sides of digital, technological, social and urban innovation.

Some of the participating countries this year are Norway, UK, Germany, Spain, Finland, Italy, Korea, India, Japan, and Russia.

As a part of Start Tel Aviv 2015 as well as a continuation of the successful Startup Israel 2014, the Embassy of Israel in Vietnam in collaboration with Ministry of Science and Technology of Vietnam and Business Studies Assistance Center (BSA) will organize a startup competition to find out a winner for Start Tel Aviv 2015.

Only 01 founder member of the winning startup will go to Israel for the study tour in September 2015.

  1. Criteria
  • Age of submitting founder: 25-35
  • Sectors: information and communications technology
  • Stage of startup: seed stage
  • Participants are responsible for reserving their intellectual  property rights to the submitted products
  • Founder member of the startup need to be fluent in English

2. How to Apply

  • An application in both English and Vietnamese includes the general information about the startup and thorough business plans in PDF
  • A video clip in English, no more than 2-3 minute long, explaining why their company should be picked to go to Israel
  • After screening of application and video clips, the finalists will have interviews (in English) with a board of judges including representatives from the Embassy, the Ministry and BSA in Hanoi. The final interview stage consists of presentation and Q&A session with judges.
  • Application need to be sent by email only to the following address:
  • Deadline for submission: June 7, 2015 (only shortlisted applicants will be contacted)

*Please note that participants shall cover their own expense if they need to travel to Hanoi for the final interview.

Fore more information, please contact:

Ms. Phan Thuy Trang, Email:

or visit or

Mr. Simanian gave some pointed and salient advice to the crowd, and even brought some members up on stage to quiz them in front of everyone else.

Below, points have been paraphrased from Mr. Simanian’s remarks at the event:

First, be ready. Leave the door open, don’t close yourself off to opportunities. Find a way to be better, faster, and cheaper than any of your competitors. The team and team development are a priority.

Keep your pitches short, keep your description to one page. Entrepreneurs need to get best out of every interaction. Don’t waste other people’s time. The world is flat, you need to use digital connections. Be a nice annoying person—for example, when following up, add another piece of the puzzle to help people understand what you are doing. Remember, no one works for you… so use creative ways to find a connection with the person you want to reach. Make your pitch one page, get it ready, so when you get the right contact then you are ready to go.

Most things will fail—it’s part of success so find a partner and fail. Enjoy your way but focus on the what, why, and how of things. What/who are you competing with?

Adopt more branding. Look to the Israeli Army’s Unit 8200 branding or Israel’s “Startup Nation” moniker, which was established six years ago. So start a brand; create a brand to improve the start up ecosystem—establish a unique selling proposition (USP). Figure out what’s unique in Vietnam. Build a brand around something new, and create it.

Try to find an academic correlation between your product and team—it helps establish credibility. Network! Find Vietnamese outside of Vietnam and try to connect with them. If you’re missing the know-how then find someone who has it; there is a huge Vietnamese community overseas.

Build your minimum viable product (MVP) so you can meet the market when ready. Timing is crucial; don’t pull trigger too early. Find connection on social media— on Facebook or LinkedIn. The world is flat so it’s easier than ever to raise money. Israel is a beta test market with 8 million people so most products/services are targeting the US. Go outside of Vietnam. Visit a different country. You need to understand how people around the world feel, so visit new countries.

Don’t be shy—it’s called chutzpah in Hebrew. Every “no” is an opportunity for education—find out why. Don’t be afraid to fail; this is life. Even if you fail, you will have expanded your tool box and gained more confidence. So start and fail. Start; don’t talk too much about it. Approach people to make it international. Before, startups used to raise money from friends, families, and fools. Now it’s friends, family, and Facebook. Use your network and be open to feedback. Think what is next. Think what you will be if you do well–and then do it.

Start with a feature killer. Don’t get distracted, but be flexible. Build it and ship it.

The Takeaway

Mr. Simanian had a great quote during his presentation: “Stop reading, put down the book, and do something.” We’d like to add, “and if you fail then try again.”

Thanks to Oren Simanian and the Israeli Embassy in Hanoi for their support of the startup community in Vietnam. If you’d like to know more about Oren Simanian then you can find his TED Talk here.

Building Vietnam’s Innovation Economy

On May 12, 2015, representatives from Google, Uber, 21st Century Fox, Cisco Systems and other multi-national corporations (MNCs) came together to discuss digital trade and cross-border data flows in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi. The event was organized by the American Chamber of Commerce Vietnam, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), and the US Chamber of Commerce. Of course, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was front and center throughout the daylong event but there were also a series of interesting topics throughout the panel sessions, some of which were named “Building Blocks for Innovation” and “Best Practices for Promoting the Economy and Protecting Consumers.” During these panels, company representatives spoke about attitudes and policies toward operating in Vietnam.

For example, Google’s Country Lead for Public Policy and Government Affairs, Alex Long, shared some insight into the Vietnamese market: there is 300% more language learning content that is consumed on YouTube in Vietnam compared to the average rate globally, showing the strong desire that Vietnamese have for Google’s services. Google has 13 data centers around the world including one in nearby Singapore. Thus, its interests are global so Google seeks to maintain a virtuous cycle where there is more demand for online services, more innovation in online services, more investment in online services, and therefore more online services in general. (In short, Google loves content–both in terms of volume and quality.)

On a local level, activating this “virtuous cycle” can work in a few ways:

  1. Policy advocacy (through events and working with public sector partners)
  2. Pilots—increasing access (Project Loon, for example.)
  3. Peering/caching (allowing locally and regularly-accessed content to be consumed more efficiently)

However, sometimes basic training needs to be put in place to get users to the point where they can use digital tools effectively. So in 2014 Google worked with organizations like Vietnam E-commerce and Information Technology Agency (VECITA) and VCCI to conduct trainings for 500 small businesses in Vietnam. Ultimately, the goal is to get Vietnamese companies to expand abroad so digital marketing is a way for Vietnamese companies to do that without setting up an overseas office. For example, one tool that Vietnamese companies can use is Google’s Global Market Finder.

One example of a Vietnamese company that went beyond Vietnam (and was present at the event) is Topica Edtech Group, which was founded in 2007 and is now operating in three countries: The Philippines and Thailand (besides Vietnam). The company will launch into the Indonesian market in September 2015 and will be exploring cloud computing solutions within the next six months. Nguyen Khoi, a product director at the company revealed that the first step for Topica was to train people how to use computers even before educating them through their service–again highlighting the need for basic training. Mr. Khoi also shared that he thought the perception of online education in Vietnam was changing and thus Topica Edtech Group may be one of the first in a new wave of Vietnamese startups to expand abroad as a result of positive interest in the field.

At the other end of the company spectrum, Uber Vietnam’s General Manager, Dang Viet Dung had some great advice for startup teams: “Make sure your product is kicking ass.”

He told the audience to “focus on your product first” and ask some basic questions:

  1. Is it good?
  2. Is it intuitive (especially for B2C)

“Often entrepreneurs believe that they need funding—no, get the product right.”

Mr. Dung said to focus on the following steps on the way to success:

  1. Invest in a product
  2. Find a mentor—open up your network, have allies

Mr. Dung also shared information about the recent cable breaks in Vietnam: Normally, the ETA in Hanoi is four minutes and 12 seconds. That means that the time from when a user orders an Uber vehicle to when it pulls up in front of him/her is, on average, four minutes and twelve seconds.

However, the ETA delta goes up during cable breaks which results in the Uber user experience being diluted. Mr. Dung also shared that Uber has had more than 25,000 failed credit card sign ups in Vietnam—the highest in Southeast Asia. Commenting further on recent reports about controversial Uber activities in Ho Chi Minh City, Mr. Dung said the incidents in Ho Chi Minh City related to “paper versus digital” contractual misunderstanding. Mr. Dung also pointed out that Uber is pioneering transparency since all payments are digital so they can be tracked; so instead of skirting tax responsibilities, as some have suggested, Uber is actually helping to increase the tax base.

So, according to Mr. Dung, Uber:

  1. Allows governments to trace transactions
  2. Allows the tax base to get bigger

In relation to Uber, Vietnam will continue to be a growing market and Uber will continue to make the service more affordable. However, the service will stay cash-free so as to not dilute the customer experience. [Update 08/2015: Uber will now be accepting cash payments by end of the year.] Uber is currently available in over 310 cities in 60 countries in the world but when Dung joined Uber in September 2014, Uber was in “just” 180 cities and 32 countries. For Mr. Dung, Uber introduces dynamic quality, feedback, safety—all while optimizing supply (vehicles) and demand (riders). He pointed to the average utilization rate of a private car, 5%; for a taxi, 25%; but for an Uber car it can be between 60% and 80%. Thus, Uber helps reduce traffic, an issue in Hanoi and other cities.

During Mr. Dung’s panel, he said that Vietnam has “one of the biggest startup scenes in Southeast Asia.” There certainly has been a lot of interest in startups in Vietnam since late 2013, from both the private and public sectors. Phan Hong Quat, Director General of the National Agency for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Development (NATEC), under the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), spoke a bit about the origin and mission of NATEC, which was formed four years ago.

NATEC is supporting SME in difficult fields and is working to simplify the process for investment certificate with the Ministry of Home Affairs. The challenge that NATEC is finding a solution to is how to encourage investors to come in and support the developing industry; one initiative that the MOST pioneered is Vietnam Silicon Valley (VSB).

Modeled after Y-Combinator (YC), a seed fund in the US, VSB seeks to replicate a model that is accepted and successful in the US. VSB provides seed money to startups in exchange for up to 10% equity. Last October VSB had its inaugural Demo Day. Through its network of mentors, it seeks to help to close the gap in the startup communities in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and growing scene in Danang–especially for outsourcing companies which rely on reliable and open technologies.

[NATEC was the main organizer for TechFest Vietnam, a three-day festival which was held last weekend from May 15 to May 17; the main purpose of the event was to foster international connections for startups in Vietnam. We’ll be doing a follow up to the event soon.]

On the topic of reliable and open technologies, MasterCard’s Indochina Chief Representative and Vietnam Country Manager, Arn Vogel, stated that technology allows better customer service—whether it’s e-commerce or payment facilitation and Vietnamese companies need to be able to talk to the world, especially in order to verify payments. In terms of payments, we are transitioning from 16 digits to tokenization—and verification is crucial; a company can only do that if the transaction is on its network or has access to it. Mobile payments are on the way in Vietnam; there are 130 mobile phone subscribers per 100 people and the internet is ubiquitous. However, facing different data protection laws, MasterCard and others can’t offer hosted services–which affects consumers because they can’t use their credit cards. Mr. Vogel stated that there are about 20 payment facilitators operating in Vietnam and they can all play a role to work together to change the payments landscape.

Overall, one of the key takeaways of the event was that digital tools are not just for information technology (IT) companies but for all potential fields, i.e., all successful businesses use the internet. Cross-border data flows are not just important for IT access but are necessary to use the best technology available. A major point driven by more than one speaker during the event was that the “Digital Economy” is actually the general economy and that any attempts to restrict the flow of data would impede the flow of trade as well.

Adam Schlosser, Director of U.S. Chamber of Commerce, stated that the TPP helps companies of all sizes but Vietnam stands to gain the most out of the trade agreement. According to some estimates, as Mr. Schlosser stated,  it could provide the Vietnamese economy a $46 billion boost by 2025. It would also favorably affect tariffs, market caps, and digital products and services to help facilitate free trade across borders. Jack Lambert, Economic Officer at the US Embassy in Hanoi, reiterated that with the TPP, the biggest opportunities of growth and jobs are for Vietnamese SME but they can’t compete unless they have access to the world and data.

During opening remarks, Vice-Chair of the American Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Foote, noted that the digital economy and global transformation is well underway. And more than a few speakers touched upon how Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has driven the Vietnamese economy in the last 20 years and will continue to have a greater effect in the next 20 years. And nations like South Korea, Israel, Sweden, and others can help to show Vietnam new models and tools in order to create its own digital economy with its own “Vietnamese” style. (One of Vietnam’s strengths is that it has a young population that loves working with technology, so it should be leveraged.)

Above all, the event provided key insight into how multi-national corporations and other entities in the public sector view the future in Vietnam. Throughout Vietnam, there are more than 16,000 foreign companies operating across a variety of industries. Through collaboration, local and international partners in Vietnam can work together to create an ecosystem innovation can flourish; one that is full of promising and fast-growing companies or in other words, building Vietnam’s innovation economy.

Note: If you’d like to know more information about the event, including key leadership opinions stated at the event, then sign up for our newsletter.

Feedback Loops

If you’ve ever been traveling through Vietnam, then one aspect that is noticeably different between the north and the south is the customer service. For example, when ordering a bottle of beer at a restaurant, the server will usually open it for customers in the south—while in the north, the server might not even bring a bottle opener with the bottle. A few weeks ago, over dinner with some Saigonese friends in Hanoi, the discussion touched upon the better customer service in the south. Not even two minutes later, the waitress (politely) informed us that she felt she was walking around our table too much so we should consolidate our future requests for her convenience. On another occasion, at a cafe/restaurant frequented by tourists in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem district, your author requested ice water; the waitress brought over cold water sans ice. After inquiring about the lack of ice in the glass, the waitress cheerfully responded, “I think the water is cold enough for you.”

Among the major reasons why customer service (among other things) does not change is simply that customers are used to bad service (they don’t know better), they don’t complain to someone who can do something about it (a manager or owner), they don’t want to complain (for fear of causing trouble for the worker), or they assume it will be futile to complain. This issue consistently rears its ugly head (for tourists, but also for locals) with taxi drivers who know “special” ways to get to the destination, pretend to get lost, or simply don’t know how to get to the destination. Usually, these drivers are from the countryside who flock to big cities after a holiday. Sometimes, taxi drivers will acknowledge where a fare wants to go and will then proceed to “phone a friend” for guidance (and sometimes more than once). At other times, drivers may try to take advantage of the confusion over the local currency by returning less change to a customer than required. Or a driver might not even want to drive to a particular destination if it is “too close” or won’t provide for a “high-enough” fare. (Before Tet in Hanoi, your author experienced some taxi drivers bypassing the meter and establishing “on-demand” pricing.)

However, with the arrival of sharing economy services in Vietnam such as Uber, GrabTaxi, EasyTaxi, they introduce more accountability, systems efficiencies, and feedback loops to allow service enhancements in the future. Or, as Uber Vietnam put it recently, “less congestion, more job opportunities, safer transportation, transparency, accountability and affordability for riders.” Could a similar impact be made in Vietnamese companies via new and innovative technologies (such as mobile apps)? If so, how would progress be measured?

Set Ways

For a team-building session at a major Vietnamese corporation, the management team watches a new TED talk every Monday. The company’s managing director shares some thoughts on the presentation and then opens it up to the rest of the office; almost always, the response is silence. Why?

After discussion with some foreigners who have experience working with Vietnamese—as well as Vietnamese, there may be a variety of reasons for the lack of engagement:

1. Afraid of giving the wrong answer and losing face;

2. Afraid of not giving the “right” answer and being embarrassed by his/her superior;

3. Afraid of giving the correct answer and looking “too” good in front of colleagues (thus painting a bullseye on his/her back); and

4. Not knowing the answer.

This scene presents a sort of “crisis of confidence.” Often, loyalty is valued over competency, making the critical resource of talent in even greater short of supply. And despite money being the ultimate objective for many Vietnamese workers, even bonus systems can sometimes fail. For example, in one Vietnamese company, the underdog team achieved a bonus (approximately $15 for hitting 120% of their target goal) which upset the atmosphere in the office since other units were expecting to win the cash bonus.

Whether it’s a rating system, or a new way to train workers, or standard training, many plans are tough to fully implement in Vietnam. For example, even a new trainer in a reputable gym requires six months before s/he is “good” and a year before s/he can handle any disruption. Long before then, competitors are offering “sweet” packages because the trainer has had a “brand experience.” The same goes for some of Vietnam’s own cafe/restaurant brands; this phenomenon isn’t new—ask any aspiring software developer in Vietnam, especially in the gaming industry. Training and retaining quality employees can be hard (especially when some Vietnamese companies want experienced workers for low pay), but the alternative is keeping the status quo.

Focused Efforts

The greater issue beyond motivating individual employees is that organizations need to establish a baseline pulse to gauge progress in six, 12, 18, 24 months. For example, what KPIs will be used? What will be your targets? How to increase the self-confidence of the workers? How to smartly increase pay to be on par with market rates (and inflation)?

Timeline: What’s the priority? How to identify current employees with the right mindset/attitude? What do you do first?

There can be a variety of initiatives:

  • Hiring process—establish an independent panel/screening to be selective—improving the way to hire
  • HR reorganization/operations—converging departments into a holistic unit
  • Branding/PR—attracting quality talent, connecting with consumers
  • Training programs—preparing the workforce for advancement in the company (meritocracy); promoting a culture of career advancement; and english tutoring components for managers
  • Intrapreneurship/empowerment of workers—expanding into new businesses and retaining the best talent
  • Welfare—raising morale, giving workers more than monetary reasons to stay

Unfortunately, some Vietnamese companies would prefer “quick fixes” which they would like to use within a three month timeline or sooner. Thus, even if core members of a leaderboard recognize that there is a deep cultural issue, they may not be able to do anything because of on-boarding policies and the need to close ranks (even if they describe some of the talent as “terrible.”)

More often than not, companies here can move too slowly, but on the other side of the spectrum they move too fast without thinking (but believe they are on the cutting edge). An example of this is retooling restaurants weeks before opening and consolidating marketing teams across different subsidiaries into a single unit–and then dismissing half the staff.

Creating a New Culture

The challenge is in the implementation, always. True transformation is never really an option unless it comes from the top and has buy-in at all levels, which is rarely the case. Why? Because Vietnamese companies are already very thrifty, there are set alliances in place, and any international hires on staff have usually been unable to implement recommendations that anyone has put forth to enact change.

Then, what should be done? There are a few options:

1. Organizational change

2. Physical building transformation (if necessary)

3. Team-building

Competition is increasing in ASEAN and around the world; what role will Vietnam and its people take on in the global economy in this century? It’s up to the Vietnamese to decide but for sure it will require a combination of innovation, commitment, and investment in areas even as simple as:

  • Empowering workers
  • Eliminating obfuscation
  • Enacting small cultural changes
  • Eradicating fear-based management

But perhaps most important of all is to establish feedback loops, which allows us to gauge goal realization (or lack thereof) in organizations (and in society). Ultimately, feedback loops allow what works to take off, and what is ineffective to be passed over by management.

Forty Years Later

This week we are at the end of a six-day holiday: Hung Vuong Day (Hung Vuong, i.e., “Hung King” is to celebrate the history and lineage of Vietnamese kings.) on April 28; Reunification Day (also called Victory Day or Liberation Day in Vietnam) on April 30; and International Worker’s Day on May 1, also known as “May Day.” It’s the first big holiday break since the Tet holiday (Lunar New Year, a nine-day holiday) back in February. (Originally, the current holiday vacation was requested to be eight days, but only six days were granted.) Signage proclaiming and celebrating these three special days are all over Hanoi, citizens have their flags out in front of their homes, and nationalist songs are broadcast on public address systems in the streets. During significant year anniversaries (30th, 35th, 40th, etc.) parades are held in Ho Chi Minh City to celebrate the north “releasing” the south and the veterans that led the way.

In general, the atmosphere in Vietnam is quieter between Christmas and the Lunar New Year (one-to-two months). Things pick up between the Lunar New Year and this current holiday, but slow down again as we enter this break—in effect, another “reset.” The last day before the holiday, April 27, was the deadline to push through agreements before the exodus to places like Ha Long Bay, Co To, and Cat Ba islands.

As with Tet, many workers return to their home provinces and the streets in major cities become a bit quieter with less traffic (and less honking but not less dangerous, unfortunately). However, some work still goes on: directly and anecdotally, some construction workers on residential projects, service workers in cafes and bars, and factory workers in Bac Ninh all maintained their posts. The next big holiday is in September when Vietnam celebrates its Independence day on September 2. Thus, there are four solid months where business can proceed, unimpeded by long stretches of holiday. At the same time, Ho Chi Minh City’s rainy season begins, which can slow down travel around town due to flooding, and the weather in Hanoi heats up considerably (also slowing down the pace of things) since the city experiences proper seasons without snow.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Reunification Day, when North Vietnamese forces (NVA) captured Saigon and the Second Indochina War ended. In the US, April 30, 1975 is largely viewed as the final day of a tragic chapter in American foreign policy in Vietnam. For the more than one million Viet-Kieu (and their children) in the US, every April brings renewed memories of hardship, sacrifice, loss—and perseverance in a new land. There is no doubt that the war was a dark period for relations between the two governments at great expense of its peoples, some of which continues today. However, more than 40 years after Operation Frequent Wind, Vietnamese attitudes toward the US and capitalism may raise a few eyebrows.

New Attitudes

According to Pew Research, 76% of Vietnamese expressed a favorable opinion of the US during a 2014 poll. Almost nine-in-ten young people (as well as more educated people) were fond of the US. Of those who lived through the Second Indochina War (the Vietnam War as it is called in the US), six-in-ten over the age of 50 held a favorable view of the US. Perhaps the most surprising figure from the poll was that 95% of Vietnamese respondents believe “that people are better off in a free market economy, even if some people are rich and some are poor.” That’s not a typo; ninety-five percent of Vietnamese believe that people are better off in a free market economy (perhaps because the poll respondents picture themselves as the rich ones).

In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear from successful Vietnamese (with direct or close relations to VVIPs) that “making money is not bad… as long as you don’t hurt anybody.” Now, for those who have not spent much time in Vietnam, it may be surprising that there are so many “pro-American” attitudes in a one-party state, especially in the capital.

But spend some time working with Saigonese and doing business with Hanoians and the Pew Research results aren’t that hard to believe at all. For one, Vietnamese love and voraciously consume American culture. Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, and Terminator Genisys are all films that have been screened or will be screened in Vietnam. Along with KPOP, Vietnamese youth listen to a variety of American music artists such as Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, and Katy Perry. American flag backpacks (as a fashion statement) are an occasional sight in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly and still known as Saigon). Last autumn in Hanoi there was even a American-style prom organized and American-style wedding requests aren’t that uncommon. (In fact there is even an American ordained minister who has performed a ceremonial wedding in Hanoi.)

In terms of American products, the Apple iPhone 6 is perhaps the most desired phone in Vietnam. Getting a gold iPhone 6 Plus is even better. Workers will spend two, three, or more months of their salaries just to have it and show off that they are able to afford one. Silicon Valley is the envy of many Vietnamese entrepreneurs in the tech industry. Even the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) initiated a Vietnam Silicon Valley program in 2013. And later this month the National Agency for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Development (NATEC), a division of MOST, is the main organizer for TechFest Vietnam, a three-day festival which will be held from May 15-17 at Vietnam National University in Hanoi.

And if you were to directly engage and question Vietnamese about the American War (as they know/learn about it), they would most likely respond with “No problem, it was not me and you who were fighting each other.” With two-thirds of Vietnam’s 90 million population being under the age of 30, that is not a surprising response at all. Other Vietnamese have described the US to your author as a “big and strong country,” a “rich country,” and even as “number one” in casual discussions over beer or coffee. (Of course, there are ideologues and “politically correct” apparatchiks to encounter as well.)

One Direction

But it’s not just people-to-people ties that are being forged; there are ever-growing official ties between the two countries as well. Coincidentally, this year is also the 20th anniversary of normal relations between the US and Vietnam. Looking forward, the US intends to be Vietnams’s largest trading partner (having traded $35 billion in total goods last year, the US is already Vietnam’s largest export market), and the TPP will only reinforce the relationship between the two countries even more. However, the intertwined paths of these two countries started long ago, and came to a salient point shortly after the end of the Second World War.

Thirty years before the Fall of Saigon in 1975, Ho Chi Minh stood in Ba Dinh square in Hanoi and read the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam; it contained a familiar passage: “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” “Uncle Ho,” as he also known, has another particularly famous saying that Americans might identify with: “Nothing is more precious than Independence and Liberty.” The American Founding Fathers would almost certainly agree with that sentiment.

Forty years later, Vietnam has transitioned from a war-torn economy to a manufacturing center and serves as an integral part of the global supply chain. Beginning with Doi Moi (“Renovation”) in 1986, the Vietnamese economy has become increasingly integrated with the world economy. There have been and will be other significant milestones as well: the US embargo against Vietnam ended in 1994, Vietnam ascended into the WTO in 2007, the TPP will most likely be implemented this year, and by 2018 all tariffs will be reduced to zero as part of ASEAN integration in the region–not to mention a host of other trade promotion vehicles that Vietnam is involved in at various stages. To some, the changes in Vietnam since 40 or even 20 years ago may be surprising, but as someone who heads a department in a ministry recently stated, “the world is changing so we too must change with the world.”