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Van Dang took part in our Mentoring programme as a mentee in 2014/15, and then as a mentor in 2016/17. She is Founder and CEO of Savvycom in Vietnam. We caught up with her to reflect on her experiences as both a mentee and a mentor, as well as her experiences of gender stereotypes as a techpreneur. 

The Impact of COVID-19

 

This was the first time my company, Savvycom, was faced with a pandemic. At the time, we had to slow down my business and change our plans. We had to plot different scenarios and how we would respond to them. Many people think that our service, our software would not be affected, but actually we are in the global chain of support for other customers. Customers with businesses in tourism, and travel had massive problems and that affected us too.

After a few months we understood what we needed to do for the business so we realised that this was the time to change. We worked with our customers to really understand what challenges they have been facing, understanding more about their business and the difficulties they have been facing. This increased the loyalty rates of our customers. We also realised that technology can solve many of the problems we’ve been facing in the pandemic.

Also with Savvycom employees during this time, we made work more flexible for them to provide a better service. We always understand that whenever there is a down there is an up waiting ahead.

It reminds me of the beginning of Savvycom and my entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurial beginnings

 

I gained a scholarship to study computer science at the university of Sydney. I got four years living and studying there. It was a great opportunity to compare Vietnam and Australia at that time. It was a huge difference. I see that many Vietnamese people are hardworking, skilled in mathematics and engineering but don’t have the same opportunities to work in large projects.

I was lucky to have many different friends from different countries. We talked about the opportunity of changing that situation for us. Savvycom was born at that time I finished my studies; I dreamed that I could leverage the engineering resources in Vietnam. We started in 2009 as four people. I spoke to customers, to understand the project and then passed that project onto the team.

My first project was a customer from Germany, we provided a solution for post office. We were successful and I was more confident to do that with more customers from the US. We continued to provide software projects with customers in healthcare and education. Now we have about 150 employees, customers from more than 20 countries from all over the world. I am very proud that we rank in the top 30 global app developers and within Vietnam’s 30 leading IT companies.

When we talk about barriers faced by women entrepreneurs… there’s a lot! And there’s many things that happened to me as well. It’s basically when I first opened Savvycom within the first two years I could not see the long vision of the company at that time.

But at that time, step-by-step I solved the problems. We were a small size within the first two years and I thought that was okay. After the first two years I thought: “being an entrepreneur is not only my job, it’s my career.” I love doing it and I love facing challenges and seeing how we can overcome. At that time I set the vision to become bigger and I gained confidence in building the team and also get the bigger mission, not just for myself and my employees but for the community as well.

Gender stereotypes and roles

 

It’s not just stereotypes that affect the way men see women, but also stereotypes that affect women themselves, when they don’t highly evaluate themselves. Especially in Vietnam we have that kind of concept thinking. I don’t have any brothers, but I have two sisters and in Vietnam at that time most people think that each family must have at least one son in order to continue their generations. Most people told my dad he’d need a son, but my dad was very happy with his three daughters.

People told me when I was young that I wouldn’t need to go to study any more, that I just needed to get a good husband; that’s all for a girl. But I was questioning it at that time, I loved to study but my classmates were mostly boys, about 10% were female at that time. When I studied computer science in the university almost 70% of the students were male. I believe now in the IT industry more than 70% of the workers are male as well.

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If we talk about entrepreneurship in tech, there’s less than 3% with women involved as well. So maybe because I work with men so often I never think that it is a minus point, in my company there is 73% male, and most of our customers, clients and partners are male as well. Now when women are encouraged to join in the tech industry, I feel more than lucky. I think some people still think about the gender stereotypes. But if they decide to work with my company maybe they don’t have that kind of thinking!

When I founded Savvycom I was a first time founder so I had no experience at all. I was not born as a natural talent so learning is really the way to gain more knowledge and experience and solve more problems. I understood there were so many things I needed to learn to run Savvycom. Especially when running the business I found a lot of questions that other entrepreneurs were facing as well.

Matching with an experienced mentor on the Mentoring Women in Business programme

 

So I joined the Hanoi Women Entrepreneurs Group in order to learn from them. I learned about this programme (MWIB) from the American embassy in Vietnam, I registered straight away. At that time I hoped that I could learn from experienced mentors, meet with like minded people or I can share my own story as well to the community. I thought: I’d love to see how other women in the world are doing. I was curious at that time to understand what other women were doing.

So at that time I was matched with a mentor from Malaysia. She worked in the finance industry, not IT. But when we talked together we realised we had a lot in common. We worked on business strategy, we had very good conversations.

After I believe about two months she flew to Vietnam to attend Savvycom’s five year anniversary celebrations. We connected her with many of my entrepreneur friends in Hanoi. We also had three days doing a lot of homework together on Savvycom. She had so many questions that I wouldn’t have thought of, but I thought, we need to answer them to understand how Savvycom can move forward.

That was a very good experience not only for me but for my mentor as well. And now we are still keeping as friends and have met each other in Vietnam, in Malaysia and in Singapore.

Transitioning to become a mentor for others

 

I think being a mentor at the Mentoring Women in Business programme was a wonderful experience. The reason why I wanted to apply as a mentor was first because I wanted the experience of being a mentor , I knew that a mentor can help the mentee but that she also learns from the mentee as well. The mentor can truly grow.

Secondly, I felt I wanted to give back to this community that had helped me grow. I gained a lot so I needed to give as well.

I found that the Mentoring programme gives so many opportunitires for people. The online resources, the big community that allows everyone to learn from each other. Everyone has a story to share.

We can see clearly that all things are changing very fast now, and we all need to adapt to that change. I see that the Mentoring women in Business Programme is the place where we can connect with each other, learn from each other and share knowledge and practical solutions with each other. We can access up to date knowledge and case studies, and we can build a true community which builds a better place and creates many incredible things.

One of the things that impressed me of the programme is that we found a common voice from many different people from different cultures. We are building the world now that each person can do each kind of job, each kind of service. We really want to build a community to live in.

I believe that with the programme now, if a person can join as a mentee and then as a mentor they can help us all learn and share a lot from each other.

I think we can really inspire each other and we can all gain confidence from each other that the direction we are going in is the right one.

At Savvycom we are now coming up to 12 years in business. When we got to the ten-year anniversary we defined what we wanted to do for the next ten years. Currently we are ranked as one of the thirty leading IT companies in Vietnam. But in the next ten years we want to be the leading digital technology company in the region.

I have a lot of dreams, but I think the biggest dream for myself is building the next leaders for Savvycom. We are forming the team now, and I hope the team will build into the next generation as well. It’s very exciting and we have a lot of work to do every day!

For me I believe that mentoring is a must in a journey for any entrepreneur. So let’s take up this opportunity as best you can. Each person can have more than one mentor (in their lives) and from mentoring we can learn and share and it can make your life more meaningful.

Speaking about my experiences to you all is really inspiring and makes me think of the work I have done and the work I need to do.  It motivates me more for the journey I am making in the moment.

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Van Dang is one of the brilliant speakers lined up for our Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business Summit, where she will be participating in a Panel discussion titled: Cross-Border Mentoring to Level the Playing Field on Tuesday 9th November at 3:15pm. The discussion will be moderated by the Foundation’s Programme Manager for Mentoring Intakes, Efe Olokpa, and will also feature representatives from our funding partners PayPal, Mash McLennan, Bank of America and the Asia Pacific Foundation.

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Working with partners all around the world, our Mentoring Women in Business programme matches experienced businesspeople in any country with woman entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries for a cross-border, entirely online mentoring relationship that takes place via our bespoke platform. Find out how to be a business hero and become a professional mentor for a women entrepreneur here! If you’re a woman entrepreneur looking to take your business to the next level, find out how to get a mentor here!

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