📣Honk honk honk! 📣 The horns never stop in Saigon. Traffic swerves in any direction so you'll have to be on full alert when you're walking the streets. Staying on the corner of a ward? Construction will start at 10pm so prepare your
pillow sandwich with your head as the patty.
It's 2 months into my move and in spite of these niggles, i'm loving it so far. The energetic craziness mixed with the warmth of the Vietnamese now makes me miss the city when i'm back visiting home.
"Why Vietnam?" most people, especially the Vietnamese, will ask; "My friend just moved to Singapore!". And you're reading this because you wonder the same right?
It's common knowledge that you'll learn the most when a business is growing fast. This has always been a key reason for joining a startup since the amount of work that needs to be done expands quicker than the rate at which you can hire good people.
Now this principle should apply to geographical markets too. When I looked up estimated GDP growth rates adjusted for inflation over a 10 year period, I was pointed toward Africa or Asia. Watch the dark green zones in the chart below.
From a regional angle, South Asia is top but it's worth noting that South East Asia (SEA) is starting to 'turn green' too with a real growth in 2018 which comes in 3rd.
This ranking has largely been driven by Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Philippines, and Myanmar which are all countries in the top 20 for annual growth (Vietnam is 11th behind Cambodia and Laos).
What could this mean for a product person?
If you join a company with the ambition to play regionally in these countries that are growing rapidly in close proximity, there is more opportunity to learn from the entire emerging economy instead of just been in a single market (in theory).
Additionally, there will also be plenty of chances to build or invest in products and services for the new middle class!
So we know that Vietnam's economy is doing well but this doesn't necessarily mean there would be a fit of my skills with new opportunities. The next thing I had to figure out was whether the tech industry would grow. Here's what I found out.
Ready tech talent - Vietnam's rising status as a tech outsourcing hub began in 2005 with a few MNC's such as Intel and Oracle choosing to employ teams here. Aided by investment in math and science education (Vietnam now ranks 22nd globally in PISA scores), the workforce is rich with software development talent.
Companies - Vietnam has just started attracting more capital and now has the second highest number of operating startups in SEA just after Singapore.
Young market - With the second highest population in SEA (90m) and a median age of 30 compared to 40 in Singapore, Vietnam's demographics put it in a great position for growth.
The large pool of young adults coming into the workforce with increasing income will further spur the demand for products and services.
And where does product management fit in?
When I started talking to people in tech, I found that the biggest gap was in product management. Startups and even established tech companies found it hard to hire good critical thinkers with the business acumen to complement their tech talent.
💡Something clicked. As a product manager, I can take advantage of the ready tech talent and work with diverse companies to solve problems for the local market. This brings me to my next point.
Traveling for vacation has started to feel overrated. The same behavior is repeated on each trip and after while, its a washing machine – rinse and repeat. You trawl the web for the "Top 10 things to see, eat, and do in X" followed by the mandatory 'instagram worthy post'.
I don't think it's wrong to put your best face forward. However, if you're keen to add fresh perspectives to your mental toolkit, this tick-the-checkbox style of travel which leaves little space for encounters with the local way of life often results in minimal personal change.
To truly grow, there isn't a substitute for living in another country, building new relationships, and soaking in a different culture. Arguably, this would be the best way to start uncovering problems I am interested in solving.
But why stop at just exploring the market? Since there is a lack of knowledge in product management, I can also contribute by establishing community events which increase the flow of learnings all around.
If my goal was just to work with strong product leaders, I might have chosen cities like San Francisco or Seattle. But it struck me that right now, I already have the right skills and experience. I am in just the right place to be a part of building the blooming Saigon product community!
My main purpose in writing this is to spark conversations about moving to emerging SEA markets such as Saigon.
Moving to a new country is deeply personal and everyone is at different stages or career so priorities will always vary. For product managers though, Vietnam (and SEA) is, in my opinion, the place to be for growth.
If you have any questions or thoughts do feel free to reach out to me!