Saigon, start-up paradise for young entrepreneurs

It was an afternoon like any other in Vietnam. The cab was making its way through scooters and bikes. The noise was deafening in the heat and humidity of the night in District 1. Just like any other big Asian cities, Saigon has its hidden places for expatriates. We met Pierre-Antoine Brun at the Workshop Coffee.

Saigon, start-up paradise for young entrepreneurs

The ancient building had been thoroughly renovated and modernized. It was one of the few spots in Saigon that enchanted both trendy entrepreneurs and Korean hipsters. From the window, we could see the imposing Bitexco Tower, from the top of its 300 meters and 100 000 m2 of offices. Two visions of a constantly moving world.

« The language is not a barrier »

Pierre-Antoine is one of those that make the city move forward. He graduated from Essec Business School in 2010 where he joined the Junior Consulting association. Initially business developer for lifestyle and luxury brands in France, he joined Lazada, Southeast Asia's new online e-commerce titan launched by Rocket Internet.
Pierre-Antoine had discovered Asia thanks to Essec's Asian Track. He initially attended conferences of speakers from all over Asia, on geopolitics, business and innovation; then moved to China to consult Renault; and ended with a four month journey of backpacking in the area. What about the language? Work or leisure, it's not a barrier, he ensured.

Alumni Interview Project Essec Pierre Antoine Brun

Asia, a goldmine of inspiration for business creation

Asia also embodies a goldmine of inspiration for business creation combining a booming economy and lower costs. But Asia is also a continent where normal benchmarks and habits are shaken. At Lazada, with its 3,000 employees and billion dollar valuation, Pierre-Antoine developed a strong expertise and know-how of the market and the region. He began as a regional category manager, travelling around 5 countries, to grow synergies across ventures and economies of scale; he then settled in Ho Chi Minh City, to set up Lazada Vietnam's marketplace. His job? Turn Lazada from a retailer to a department store, having retailers, distributors and brands open a shop on the e-platform; now 70% of the site's activity. He had to work on all fronts to succeed in an increasingly competitive environment but where the booming growth was extremely promising.

The most connected country in the area

At the time, Lazada was the only major online player; Pierre-Antoine saw the untapped opportunities and embarked on an entrepreneurial adventure. He launched his own business in Vietnam, an extremely dynamic country on China's doorstep whose digital economy is not yet exploited. He quickly saw both opportunities and obstacles to entrepreneurship in the country:

- Pros: Vietnam is an outsourcing tech hub full of talented computer developers, a great help for the tech set up; the country is also very connected online: there is an average of 1.4 device connected to Internet per inhabitant, the highest rate in the region! Online marketing, the cheaper option to broadcast your offers, is thus much more powerful. Opposite to rural areas, still backward, the cities are moving fast. Foreign investments pour in from Japan or Korea; France takes part in several organizations to promote international investment and is opening incubators to back French entrepreneurs.

- Cons of entrepreneurship in Vietnam: A substantial cash contribution is compulsory to start if you don't have a local partner; many categories can't be launched by foreigners (books or any electronics with screens, as they could contain propaganda); Vietnamese don't yet trust online payments and 95% of transactions are made in cash; roads and infrastructure are not yet all suitable for e-commerce as not all districts are served.

In this challenging yet promising context, Pierre-Antoine is developing the next step to e-commerce evolution: one that will offer discounted premium brands on a private sales model. Asia is carving for brands, and discounts, but you need an international looking platform and seamless customer service to get both brands and customers' trust. Pierre-Antoine is counting on his knowledge of bootstrapping he developed at Essec and during his internships. But he also relies on his the high technical skills and his knowledge of retail and local market he acquired when working at Lazada. With his associate, he already set up a tech and commercial team; and despite the administrative burdens, work is in progress and he is already appealing to investors. Vietnam offers fertile grounds for entrepreneurial spirit.

The Asian effervescence

What about the Alumni? Pierre-Antoine tried to give a new impetus to the Vietnamese community a few months ago and he organized a dinner when we arrived in Saigon. The network is already in place, divided between the North and the South of the country. With the development of Essec in the area, links occur and grow naturally between the ESSEC communities all around South-East Asia. Here right next door to Singapore, no doubt that the future of ESSEC Alumni is promising.

At the end of our interview, Pierre-Antoine was in a hurry. He left us on his scooter, making his way through the crowd, until he disappeared between the towers under construction in the new Saigon.

Alumni Interview Project Essec Pierre Antoine Brun

Pierre Antoine Brun

2007 : ESSEC Grande Ecole
2012 : Business Development at SeeConcept in Paris
2013 : Joins Lazada group in Vietnam
2015 : Founder of LEFLAIR in Vietnam, ecommerce platform