Dat Pham: Embrace mistakes and uncertainty, as they can light a fire under you

Many entrepreneurs live for the eureka moment — that second when a golden idea dawns on them, and all the pieces of the puzzle just fit nicely. But are such “aha” moments a myth? For Dat Pham, his idea for HATCH!, an entrepreneurship ecosystem builder in Vietnam, was birthed after a lunch meeting with his partner. The latter mentioned how the United States’ Small Business Association provides mentorships to start-ups, empowering them to achieve long-term success. “We realised we could create a similar organisation in Vietnam to promote entrepreneurial excellence, consolidate resources, and help nurture new innovation-based businesses.”

That was in 2012. In December that same year, Dat and his business partners organised HATCH! OPEN, a talk to facilitate the sharing of business knowledge. Armed with a flyer designed by Dat, they began rallying participants to attend the event. Ten participants showed up, and while the turnout was low, it was the official first step in a long journey legitimising HATCH! as a purveyor of incubation and acceleration programmes.

“Like every event organiser, negative feedback or lukewarm reception are our main concerns. With smaller events, we can make a mistake and adapt quickly to resolve it. For major events, our key challenge is gaining control over every event detail. We do a comprehensive risk analysis, and then we focus our resources specifically where they need to be to protect our greatest asset: the people we serve, be it our staff or customers. Participant experience empathy has become second nature to us.”

“Entrepreneur” is a French word, with a meaning of “to undertake”. In essence, entrepreneurs commit to and begin something. And we are pledging to give our best to do this very thing.

Within a span of a year, HATCH! went on to host networking events, a camp, as well as a hackathon for developers and programmers, and even set up a Ho Chi Minh City Chapter comprising volunteer executives and students. Its litmus test of success came circa December 2013, when it held its first HATCH! FAIR, a conference and exhibition that galvanises investors, entrepreneurs and visionaries to share business ideas and network with one another.

One thousand participants flocked to the inaugural edition. The spike in HATCH’s event attendance — from 10 to 1,000 participants — would seem like runaway success, but a lot of blood and sweat went into it. “Walt Disney once said, ‘The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.’ I believe the key to our expansion was the team’s commitment,” says Dat. “We kept to our promise of organising one event every week, and this allowed us to gain enough traction to launch HATCH! FAIR, now a returning staple on the calendar.”

A country on track to be a juggernaut

HATCH! is in the business of promoting effective entrepreneurship in Vietnam. “What this means is that we want to help start-ups become sustainable and scalable.” And HATCH!’s efforts are timelier than ever. Modernity is suffusing Vietnam, a country previously admired more for her exotic heritage and rural beauty. “The start-up scene here is vibrant. Fed by a young, tech-hungry population of 24.6 million smartphone users and 48.2 million internet users in 2016, Vietnam boasts a talent pool of ambitious individuals looking for opportunities to launch innovative products and service concepts.”

Be persistent. It’s easy to get discouraged when your first few endeavours don’t go as planned. For us, we fell back on our vision of serving entrepreneurs effectively to push through our failures.

The likes of Silicon Valley have long been a mecca for entrepreneurs who want to make it big. But Dat believes that it is possible for anyone, no matter where he is located, to achieve success on the global stage. “If entrepreneurs in another country can set a world standard, then we too can raise it and set a new one.”

Never resting on your laurels

Making mistakes comes with the territory of blazing your own trails. “When we began HATCH!, my partners and I were young and inexperienced. We were lucky to be invited to events in other countries, which was both an inspiring and humbling experience as we saw how much we had to learn and improve.” The secret to recovering from mistakes, he says, is to rely on verifiable facts to make well-informed decisions.

For fellow entrepreneurs on their nascent journeys, Dat has one piece of important advice: Empathy for customers is always more important than ideas. “When helping other businesses, we deconstruct an idea, put it through a series of tests and then evaluate if it deserves to become a product that should be offered to customers.”

Also, capital infusion can be a double-edge sword, Dat warns. He has seen instances where entrepreneurs, after drawing comfortable salaries, become overly complacent. When the grant ends, the organisation goes belly up. The entrepreneurs then have to revert to a nine-to-five job, and disheartened by their failures they lose their moxie to pursue their dreams.

“As such, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. We diversify our income sources the same way an investor diversifies his portfolio: We have a mix of funds, investments as well as revenue from our products and services. Taking a proactive approach to sustain our incomes also makes our success much more satisfying, because we know it’s the fruit of our thinking and endeavours.”

Dat Pham’s Quick Tips for Entrepreneurs

• Money follows opportunities, so instead of chasing funding, create opportunities. Once you can identify an industry demand, even the weirdest idea can gain traction very quickly.

• A great elevator pitch contains two elements: a simple explanation of your business concept; and statistics reflecting your company’s success and the market you are in.

• Values define culture. HATCH!, for example, values commitment, action and impact. With a strongly-defined set of values, your business will attract likeminded companions who are inspired by your vision. Monitor your competitors, but avoid becoming too similar to them. Spend more time building your unique core competency.