“I have this gamer mindset that just means maximizing the things I'm good at, minimizing the things I suck at. Whenever I do something, I just go all in. It’s a lot less about de-risking, I think it's more about expanding my options and just taking decisions and going with it. It’s like dropping out of school. I didn't think too much about it. It was just a decision th at at the end of the day I made and we just never looked back and so I think it just happened that way that all these things led to de-risking each decision.” - Robert Huynh
"The bootcamp part of Y Combinator is often overlooked. People talk about demo day and getting all these investors, but the advice in the bootcamp was so relevant. It was impactful to have different founders come in and talk to us and understand where we are right now. It's something that I wouldn't have been able to understand if I wasn't going through that journey then." - Robert Huynh
1. Robert shares about how he started his career at Microsoft and then Google's moonshot factory with a focus on finance, corporate strategy, and data science. Robert decided to go to Harvard Business School to do an MBA, and later dropped out to move to Vietnam. This was driven by his interest to explore his cultural heritage and build something of his own.
2. Robert Huynh wanted to localize the idea of making home renovation simple in Vietnam, but the experiment failed because people reposted the design into Facebook groups and searched for construction workers there. This led him to pivot to connecting construction workers with employers. He saw the opportunity to build a community that workers can trust, have better access to jobs, and provide an opportunity to level up skills.
3. The Y Combinator experience was amazing for Robert because of the community and people. The bootcamp experience was highly unique with relevant advice from high-empathy founders.
Watch, listen or read the full insight including the gamer mindset on reward vs. optionality, the difference between Vietnamese and US company culture & communications, and being stuck in Thailand during the pandemic at https://www.bravesea.com/blog/robert-huynh
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Jeremy Au: (01:43)
Hey, Robert, really excited to have you on the show. I still remember us discussing your decision to drop out and build a startup and it's been incredible to watch your journey and grow so far. So I'd love for you to introduce yourself real quick.
Robert Huynh: (01:57)
Thank you, and Jeremy, it's been awesome to get invited to the podcast. Excited to be here. A quick intro on me. I'm a Vietnamese American right now. I'm the co-founder and CEO of Nook. We're a jobs platform and I connect construction workers with contractors, and employers in Vietnam.
Jeremy Au: (02:19)
Amazing. So, how did you first get into tech? Because you work at Microsoft, you work at Google's Moonshot factory. How did you just say like, I wound up working in the tech industry?
Robert Huynh: (02:29)
Yeah, it's a really good question. Honestly, growing up I didn't have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. I grew up with a single mom and she was raising me and my little sister did not have a lot of opportunities. A fun fact is that I was an ESL, even though I was born in the US, I'm an American, but I never really had the opportunity to figure out what was possible and so in college, I just did a little bit of everything. I did an internship every semester, and every summer, and crammed in as much as I could. Consulting to banking, to just trying things out. Even med school was in question because that's what my parents secretly wanted me to do, and I think the way I made my path to tech was because of the consulting project I had at that time. I had Facebook and Twitter as my client over the summer for one of my internships and Symantec and other cybersecurity companies as my second internship, realized it was super cool to get that experience working at a client site, but as I was graduating, I realized, wait, wouldn't it be even cooler to just work at a big tech company and as a lifelong gamer, I had grown up playing Dance Dances Revolution, and Magic, and StarCraft.
I figured there was no better place to be than in a video game company. And so I joined Microsoft in a finance rotational program. It gave me a chance to kind of get leadership roles across many different departments, but the first rotation I was in, I was focused on this consumer group, specifically Xbox and so it was so cool to work on that Xbox One launch. So cool to get into tech. Where I felt like at least the narrative at that time was that tech was changing the world and I wanted to be a part of that.
Jeremy Au: (04:23)
And what's interesting is that you start in finance and you transition into eventually, joining Google and transitioning into business intelligence and various projects. So could you share a little bit more about how that transition happened? As you said, I've learned something at Microsoft, I would like to go to Google, but I also like to transition my role. So could you share a little bit more about that? I think evolution and maturation are about how and what role you wanted to play within that timeframe.
Robert Huynh: (04:47)
Yeah, that's a really good question. I felt like the first role I had outta college was this bootcamp. I got to see a little bit of everything. Every six months it would move us into a new role, and even though it was like a finance rotational program, we got to see a ton of stuff going through how we launch products, and how we think about gaming metrics. Then I went into a role that worked closely with our investor relations team. How do we think about launching out 10 Qs and 10 Ks? And then I went into a corporate strategy role, a role focused on M&A, thinking about our Nokia acquisition and then like at the very end of it, I even got a chance to move out to China, moved to Beijing and learned Mandarin. Was able to get operational with the sales team in there and that was kind of my first exposure to working internationally. So as I started thinking like, about what do I do after those first two years, I realized there were so many different teams I could join but what excited me at that time was our wearables team. They were doing these head mounted devices called the HoloLens.
There was the Microsoft Band, which is a wrist-worn wearable, and I want to get as deep as I could into this vision of the future. I guess nowadays we would call it the metaverse, but that wasn't where I wanted to stop. After four years and after all my ESOP I newly invested, I was like, okay, well I need to move down to the heart of Silicon Valley and that was when I was like, okay. Playing around trying to figure out what to do and a role in the Google Corporate strategy, the capital allocation team opened up a super small team on just alphabet-wide projects, looking and thinking through what are all the different product areas that Google has thought through capital allocation decisions and it just sounded like a blast. It was the CFO's SWAT team, and in that like one year on the team, I got to see so much of how executives think about big, big product areas. How do they understand what drives the P&O? What's the future of this company? But I also realized that these tech companies have very different perspectives on what they care about. I felt like Microsoft, at the end of the day, was at its core, an enterprise sales company and that was in the DNA of how Microsoft worked.
Everything was driven through this giant MYR, like mid-year review process. How do we think about growing each of the genes that we had in each of the different product lines, like it was this amazing beast? At Google, we didn't have that same discipline that Ruth, our CFO at that time or still is show trying to bring into Alphabet instead, I felt like the business teams had less of a priority and so about a year in, I started learning how to go into the data engineering field and I made my transition over to X, specifically on Project Lantern, their cybersecurity project and I got deep into the data engineering side while helping all the different business partners. It was a small 50-person startup, if you will and after my time there I was like, well, I want to get even deeper.
I want to see what I could do with this and so I moved over to our self-driving car project as a product analyst working in data science and that was super fun too. But I took on still a lot of business responsibilities cause that was my background. I think my journey from, starting on very businessy stuff to more technical, more engineering roles has given me a lot of perspectives on how to build product and how to manage PNLs, but also to think deeply about like, what is the culture and DNA I want to build into my company?
Jeremy Au: (08:36)
So what did you learn at Google Moonshots, right? What was it like? Because I think everybody thinks about it as this like crazy lab, or it's like villains, lair, or other folks that look like a financial black hole, a waste of money. I think from a public markets perspective. So what was it like from your perspective, from the inside?
Robert Huynh: (08:55)
Yeah, it's a really interesting question because there's a little bit of all of that in some ways. Yeah. It could be a financial black hole because you're looking at such long time horizons. I think it goes back to the culture of these companies. I like to joke that at Microsoft, the way that Amy Hood built out Microsoft is that it's very investor focused. We're always thinking about how do we have these amazing metrics for investors? How do we think about share buy bags or dividends at Google was the opposite. There is not a lot of emphasis on investors. It was much more of an emphasis on the employees, and so I felt like the Moonshot Lab was an awesome place to be an employee because you got to unleash your creativity and we are changing world. We're taking on audacious goals that would if it paid off, really start to change the way that we as humanity interacted with one another. How we advance in society and solve these big, hairy problems?
What I felt like the reality of it though was, is that we would get lost in that and a part of my realization over working on two different projects spending three years there, was that these time horizons were so long that I wanted to work on something much more tangible, much more here and then now and that eventually led me to start thinking about, well, maybe I could go back to Vietnam, a place where my parents fled as refugees to build something of my own.
Jeremy Au: (10:27)
So there you are thinking about this, and then you decide to go for Harvard MBA. So how does that timeline synchronize from your perspective. Yeah.
Robert Huynh: (10:37)
Yeah, it sounds a little bit odd from the outside, but my thought process at that time was, well, I don't feel well equipped. I don't know what I'm doing to be a founder, or if I need to have all these different things and with the COVID 19 pandemic coming online, that uncertainty led me to take that additional step of applying for an MBA program and so I made the application last minute, ended up getting in to build a startup in Vietnam. For me, it's been a long journey and my cousins over here in Vietnam will always say, "Robert, he's been telling us that he'll come back to Vietnam. We still haven't seen him".
When I decided to leave school to build Nook, they were like, oh my God, I can't believe this is actually happening at last and so for me, going to business school was a way for me to find community like-minded folks, but also to build up insurance for myself. This feeling of like, if this goes wrong, maybe I have this additional backup. Looking back, I feel like it was an unnecessary step, but I think that the community that I've built there is super powerful and has given me confidence, which without maybe I wouldn't be where I am today.
Jeremy Au: (12:01)
Let's double click a little on that, right? Because I think for most folks, going to Harvard for MBA is like a golden ticket, right? To Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory right? So, and there you are, you're doing a Harvard MBA and then you choose to drop out right after a year. And I remember us discussing that. My advice was generally if you can stick it out one more year, just do it and then start a startup, or to be more precise, do what I did, which was, really not focus on the second year of school and just focus on, start full-time and be a part-time student and just get it done and you decided otherwise, right. So I'm just kind of curious for folks, right, because they're going be curious, right? Like you chose to drop out of, the west point of capitalism, right. Number one business school in the world, right? So, kind of walk us through a little bit about, I think the process of how you made a decision and why you made a decision.
Robert Huynh: (12:50)
Yeah, it's a funny question because to me, when I was applying to business school, my coworkers, my manager, they were like, Robert, what are you doing? You're wasting your time with an MBA. If you want to go build something, just start building it and when I got to business school, I had come in with a mindset of like, well, maybe this is valuable, maybe it's not. It's a reversible decision, but one that I wanted to try out and see what the community was like when I was going through the experience. I realized that it's pretty freaking awesome. I love it. This is a blast to meet super smart, interesting folks all the time, and I was always talking about Vietnam. I was always talking about building a startup and that attracted folks to me that wanted to do something in Vietnam that wanted to build a startup. That community is something that I think is priceless. The reason why I ended up dropping out, it was kind of unexpected. I started Nook with one of my section mates and another friend and decided to move to Vietnam in the middle of their military lockdown.
We had a three week hotel quarantine and a one-week mandatory at-home quarantine. And for me, people were like, well, why don't you just wait till after graduation to do that, take another job, or started in US? I couldn't wait. At that point, I'd been talking about moving to Vietnam for so long that I needed to just go there, and be a part of this life that I wanted so badly. I wanted to be able to move to Vietnam as quickly as I could. Despite your advice, many other folks advice me to just finish the last year because I couldn't wait. The second part of this is that when I was there in quarantine with my co-founder Nathaniel, we realized, helping folks in Vietnam was exciting. I'd always loved building community wherever I was.
As a kid, I would organize these Magic, the Gathering meetups in the small, tiny town I was a part of in business school, I would bring people to play video games and even board games now in Vietnam. I felt the community in Vietnam was just amazing. People were so welcoming and everyone is always hustling. They're always working, not just one, but two, three jobs, selling something on Shopee, trying to run a restaurant, a cafe on the side, and that energy, that excitement. I didn't get the same feeling while at HBS. But I also recognize it's a door that I can reopen later on. That's not to say that HBS was a terrible experience. It was an amazing experience, but those three months in Vietnam showed me that like, I need to do this right now, and I would regret it more if I went back to school at that moment.
Jeremy Au: (15:46)
Was the decision hard? Was it a spur of the moment thing? Was it considered, or was it intuitive? How did you approach that decision?
Robert Huynh: (15:55)
Honestly, it was a spur of the moment. At the end of the first year, I was convinced I'm just gonna do an idea, copy something that was working in the US, applied to Vietnam, get my reps in, learn, and do the startup after I graduate at the end of the summer, I realized that I loved working. It was just so much fun building something that people would use, that people would benefit from, and connecting people. It was just this amazing feeling of getting back into making something people wanted instead of going through classes and doing stuff that at times, I know is very important, but also it was hard to connect at the moment. So for me, it was a spur of the moment when I remember distinctly Nathaniel and I were swimming around in a pool. We had been kicked out of Vietnam. We were in Thailand hoping to go to Israel Trek, which of course got cancelled that year and when we were thinking like, oh, so we have a week now extra. Should we keep on working on the startup or should we go back to Boston? Get ready? We decided like, no, let's, let's just keep working on it. Little did we know though we'd be stuck in Thailand for four more months, but that's another story.
Jeremy Au: (17:21)
So, I think what is interesting is that you had this idea and you decided to build in construction tech, right, and obviously, you've gone through some product market fit search, some iteration on it. Could you share a little bit more about that journey, about how you decided to build this company? Right. Because it's one thing to say, I want to come back to Vietnam and build something, or be part of something. But it's another thing to be like, okay, it's a new market to me right, and it's a new vertical, right? You haven't been part of construction tech as part of your prior history. So how is it that you land earned this problem and pro product market fit?
Robert Huynh: (17:51)
Yeah, that's a great question. So it originally started, like I mentioned as a copycat idea, something that I saw work out well in the US and I could just paste into Vietnam. I quickly realized that was not gonna work and I'm ashamed, but it took me almost 11 months before it sunk in. I have now pivoted away from the original construction tech idea, making home renovation simple. Instead, I connect construction workers with employers, and the reason why we landed on this idea is my third co-founder is my family member cousin, and she has never left Vietnam outside of going on vacation and for her, she noticed that the reason why the original idea failed was that people would use their 3D design tool, create this amazing home layout, and they would just repost it into a bunch of Facebook groups and in these Facebook groups, people would say, hey, I need five construction workers to do it for $17 a day per person, and I need it now. Here's my phone number. Call me.
At first, I was upset. I was like, hey guys, they're stealing our IP. They're using this amazing design tool that we put together and my cousin was like, well, they're always gonna do this. Like Robert, I wanted to tell you earlier, but, we were just starting. We weren't sure exactly how this was gonna work, and I then realized one, there's a huge cultural difference in how we work in Vietnam and the US. How about two? I was like, oh, wow.
I just learned something and it's that in Vietnam, Facebook groups, Zello groups, they kind of run a lot of the economy in Vietnam, if you want to go find a house, you're gonna go look for that apartment in a Facebook group, you're gonna contact a bunch of agents. On Zello, we discovered the current idea by looking into all these different Facebook groups where people reposted our designs, and seeing how many people were going through the same process every day, posting a job on a Facebook group, commenting, looking for that job, and the painful process of responding to all those different messages. We interview countless contractors, employers, and workers and so for us, I thought about the things that I cared about.
I'd always cared about building community, and here was my chance to help this community get better access to jobs, have a community that they can trust instead of potentially fake spam users that were pushing an agenda and three, providing like a level-up opportunity to use my gaming metaphor to get new skills and get to the next. Could we look at how dangerous it was to be a construction worker in Vietnam and how there's no protection at all for these workers, for example, I can go on and on and on, but maybe I'll pause there Jeremy.
Jeremy Au: (21:13)
I mean, what did you learn from product market fit iteration, from your perspective, from these, transitions?
Robert Huynh: (21:19)
Yeah, so the first idea I think had a lot of great product market fit. People were excited to use the design tool, but it was a mismatch because when I started talking to the users, they were like, you want me to use a lighter equipped iPhone or iPad to scan my room? The people with money, they're like, no, I want you to do it for me and the people at the low end didn't have those high-tech sensors with this, with this new idea. I think what was encouraging for us was that we just started with a quick pilot. How about we build our own Facebook group, our own Zello group? Let's see what would happen if we did that. And we had 50,000 community members within the first six weeks. People were excited to join as long as we were posting trusted, valuable content and the product market fit as an early pre-seed stage company.
I wouldn't say we have it just yet now but we're seeing early signs of it as in the last six months, we've been seeing tons and tons of workers sign up for our platform that are asking us every single day like, Hey, have you found a new opening for us? Hey, can you help me solve this problem? And realizing that a lot of these workers just didn't get paid on time and there's no one looking out for them. No one reading through some of these labour contracts nor is anyone speaking up. If they got hurt, we're like, wow, I want to do this regardless if they're starting market fit. These people need our help.
Jeremy Au: (22:50)
And what are some myths or misconceptions about this, labour marketplace and matching platform that you've built?
Robert Huynh: (22:57)
Yeah, I think a lot of the misconceptions here is that construction is this big machine that is already well ran because it's been around for so long, and technology doesn't have a place to help out. What I'm seeing is that there's tons of ways that technology can help, not just with the early things that we're working on now, but even with a lot of the computer vision stuff that I had worked on prior and thinking through how do I assess the quality of construction workers at the very high end and the very large contracting firms, they want to not pay these workers by the day. They want to pay by quantity. How many square meters can you do? And so yes, you can go ahead with the very manual. Let me see you work for two hours and I'll tell you how much I'll pay you.
Instead, we can rate them ahead of time with computer vision apps. Just use a bunch of different sensors to figure out how exactly are they performing. Can we use different AIs to help coach them or interview them? You can go on, find most popular hugging face models for voice-to-text, use it with any of these new AI models from Open AI or Anthropic, and you can have a pretty good sense of how well these workers are performing because they'll know for setting the paint on the wall, you need to wait a certain amount of time.
To do this, you need to do that and being able to build trust with these workers is the most important part. And so even though technology is this very archaic industry. It's been around forever. I think of it as this ripe opportunity to help build up emerging markets, literally building it up and for me, I see this jobs platform focusing on construction as just a starting point. I want to hit other industries over time, but construction's the largest part of what's growing and building this economy, and that's what I want to focus on.
Jeremy Au: (25:05)
What's interesting, of course for labour marketplaces is like the two sides of it, right? So you ask, for example, to be in construction firms and I don't want to be a construction worker, right? And as you said, there's a very strong blue collar orientation. So for example, we talk about contracts that, are badly written or perhaps not understood so a lot of work goes there. What do you think about the economics of that transition? Do you see that monetizing from the employee side? Do you see that value coming from construction companies? How does that play out from your perspective?
Robert Huynh: (25:36)
Yeah. For Nook, the way we see it is that, and we started with just focusing on the individual freelance workers. There's roughly four and a half to 5 million workers in Vietnam and the majority of them only work part-time. They can't find consistent stable jobs. So these are more gig workers than they are true employees. The economics of it is, of course gonna be born by the employer, the contractor, but I'm seeing other ways that we could potentially monetize. Like for example, going back to the safety point, they don't have the proper training upfront, I think that a lot of these construction companies would be excited to see workers knowing what are the right regulations, and policies ahead of time, but also having the right escalation points while they're on the project and after the project, if there were any issues during construction we could sell micro insurances that would help the workers or the contractors and so to start with a six month pivot in this new direction, we'll focus on the straightforward thing, monetize up front, instead of charging 10% to source a gig worker, we'll just charge 5% over time.
I see us building out these tools that would help the workers or the employer, and so that's micro insurances, just like what Grab or B does with their motorcycle drivers. Or we can help them build out HR accounting tools to track where their workers are. A lot of times they don't even know if these workers came. Because there's many sublayers within this. The large construction companies are subcontracting out many, many times, and so by simply creating a jewel ring fence around the project site, I know if this phone has entered and left that perimeter.
Jeremy Au: (27:30)
So you know, there you are building, and so far, and what's interesting is that you are a sea turtle, right? As you described, right? You're a Vietnamese-American who's, who returned to Vietnam, Nick Nash, Asian Partners has written a whole report. I know you saw those, like 10 slights talking about Vietnamese sea turtles, Vietnamese-American and Vietnamese students returning to Southeast Asia and Vietnam. What has been some of that, cultural transition that you have, right? Because you had this childhood piece, right, of returning to Southeast Asia and now you've done it. Right. So what have been some of the learnings and changes or differences from what you expected initially?
Robert Huynh: (28:08)
Yep. I think I had always expected some cultural change to happen from the US American workforce workplace environment that I had been in, but I didn't think it'd be this severe. It was pretty drastic for me. I saw that the employees here, the culture of how they work is very, very hierarchical. When we speak in Vietnamese, we address each other with different titles and I try to drop that. And the way that they engage is kind of waiting to be asked, something prompted before speaking up. So a big part of how I built Nook is just focusing on the right people to hire and ingraining the cultural values into each new team member so that as we grow, as we scale up, we're able to maintain that culture. An example would be speaking up to people in Vietnam. Even though my cousin, I told her, hey, if there's a problem, if you think this is a bad idea, I need to know about this. Didn't tell me until after we decided to pivot towards the new direction. I trust her.
She's a super smart, incredible woman, boss lady. Still took a decent amount of time, but now she understands. Now she gets it. Another cultural difference is just how work gets done. The teams that you build out in Southeast Asia are just much, much bigger. A part of that is because of the cost of labour, but also the saying here that we have in Vietnam is everything is like it's run by rice, I guess. And so there's that human labour component until you get something up. And so we've been able to do that to kind of MVP test out this new idea and direction that we've been in, building out a Facebook group, let's manually connect the workers, and now just this past month, we can launch an actual Android app that is converting those users from the Facebook group's solutions that we had before into our proprietary solution.
That's all to say that it's been a fun journey as I kind of rediscover my heritage, and that was a big reason for me to want to return to Vietnam in the first place, is to be able to learn more about myself and not just the life that my parents had described as refugees fleeing Vietnam, but seeing Vietnam as it is today. And that's been exciting.
Jeremy Au: (30:45)
Could you share about a time that you have been brave?
Robert Huynh: (30:50)
Yeah. For me, I think that the time that I felt I was most brave was dropping out of HBS, coming to Vietnam, leaving Vietnam, and not knowing what I would do next. The timing was a little bit interesting, so let me talk about that. When Nathaniel and I had decided to leave school, we were still in a military lockdown. We were hoping to go to Israel Track from Vietnam, but it was blacklisted, so we had to get to Thailand first. When we were trying to go back to Vietnam, we realized there was no visa, so we were waiting, living from hotel room to hotel room for four months. Two, we didn't know anyone. It was a random country that we didn't think we would be in, and Thailand wasn't what it is now, it's, it had a curfew at 9PM and I think what was tough was that we just didn't have our support network. We didn't know people in Thailand and we didn't know how long we would be there, so we didn't invest in those relationships.
What was so interesting about that timeframe was that. It was through the daily micro interactions with Nathaniel that I was like, wow. I found a co-founder that I fully trust. We had been sharing a bed for almost five months at that time, eight months and for us to go through that experience to realize, wait, all my section MAs and HBS friends were constantly messaging me like, Hey, how are you guys doing over there? Like, I am excited to hear about Nook. My friends from before business school were reaching out and even my old boss came in as an investor into Nook, gave us the confidence that even though we hadn't secured any funding yet, YC came in a little bit later on that we were working in the right direction and that no matter what, we always had the community behind us and so that was the thing I, I learned going through that experience of leaving school to a place where we were eating way at our saving.
Didn't know anyone and didn't know when we would be able to go into Vietnam to do the thing we wanted to do, which was to work directly with customers to practice the Vietnamese that we were studying online every day.
Jeremy Au: (33:10)
You know what's interesting, of course, is that during this time we've also as you said, gone into Y Combinator, which is I think another dream for many folks, I guess the Harvard of Startups as well. And what was that experience like from your perspective? Because, that's actually, a pivotal moment of like what you shared in that journey, right? It was like a turning point in that community. So could you share a little bit about what it meant? Because I think historically Y Combinator also has not had too many Southeast Asia companies represent India cohorts as well.
Robert Huynh: (33:41)
Yeah. Y Combinator was amazing. I love it because of the community and the people. It's similar to like HBS as you mentioned, but I think the difference is that as I was going through business school, the classes, the lessons that I took away, I was like, yeah, that's so cool and it's awesome hearing the protagonist come in and talk about that experience. But it's not something that I would use today at YC. The bootcamp part of it, I think is often overlooked. People would just talk about like, oh, the demo day dynamics, you're gonna get all these investors. Like it's awesome just being in there. But the reality of it is that the bootcamp to me was one of the most unique parts because, it and worth staying up until 5:00 AM in Vietnam time to watch and understand.
It's because the advice was so relevant, Henrique from Brex, for example, if he was telling me about this and I wasn't building a startup on week four of my startup journey. I wouldn't understand that. Oh yeah, that's how you build an MVP. That's how you think about, well, if I can't get a license to do credit cards for startups, then I'll try out debit cards, and if that doesn't work, then I'll try out gift cards and it's just the moments in time that feel really, really special that when these different founders come in and talk to us, It's like, wow, yeah, that's really impactful.
They understand where we are right now and it's something that I wouldn't have been able to understand if I wasn't going through that journey then. So the YC experience overall was amazing and the community of folks that I've been able to meet to get to know now spam WhatsApp messages asking how many holiday days are you giving them in Vietnam? How, what does your labour contract look like? These are all little things that help when I'm trying to get very, very operational.
Jeremy Au: (35:45)
The interesting phrase you've used multiple times is that you've often used these programs as a way to de-risk, right? Certain processes, right? So you said MBA, you want to try it out as a way to de-risk, that process and then you also talk about YC as an interesting inflexion point of that risk curve slash money running out, et cetera. So do you have a philosophy on like decisions and reversible decisions around risk and de-risking?
Robert Huynh: (36:10)
Yeah, I mean, I think Jeff Bezos has a lot of things around two-way doors and minimizing regret. I think that's great. The way that I've always looked at it is that as a gamer, I like to have this gamer mindset, and to me, that just means maximizing the things I'm good at and minimizing the things I suck at. Like in Runescape, I would, go out on my offence because that's how you want the pvp. And for me, it's like whenever I do something, I just go all in. And so it's less about de-risking, I think it's more about expanding my options and just taking decisions and going with it. It's kinda like dropping out of school. I didn't think too much about it. It was just a decision that at the end of the day I made and we just never looked back and so I think it just happened that way that all these things led to de-risking each decision. But I think at that time it was just the best decision that I saw.
Jeremy Au: (37:13)
Amazing. On that note, I'd love to kind of like paraphrase the three big things that I got from this conversation. The first, of course, is thank you so much for sharing about how you grew up with a single mother to eventually join big technology with Microsoft and eventually Google Moonshot and you learned a lot from the experience about the investor framing versus, a long-term future framing to eventually deciding that you wanted to build something of your own and return to Vietnam, and how you eventually navigated your way back to becoming a founder in Vietnam as a Vietnamese American. And I thought this was a tremendous journey where you also got to share a little bit about some of the dynamics and career decisions and the way that you thought about risk and maximizing your strengths and minimizing weaknesses to make that decision. The second, of course, is I appreciate you sharing your experience dropping off Harvard and how you thought about it and how you approached it during the time of the pandemic, as well as how you saw that in the context of founding your own company.
I also found it interesting to talk about how you are also at a time going through your cultural transition as a sea turtle understanding, for example, the differences in communication patterns and how work is done due to hierarchy versus a non-hierarchical approach that you have. And also how you see that there are larger teams on average for the same stage due to the lower cost of labour and a way of work as in Vietnam, and also how you appreciate it rediscovering your cultural heritage. Lastly, I appreciated you sharing how you approached the iteration of the product market fit. I think it was interesting for you to share so openly about how you thought about localizing a US based idea, right? For home renovations. And I thought there were some really interesting anecdotes about, for example, upperclass wanting the scanning to be done for them and the middle class, not having the mobile hardware needed to make it happen. And the customers who did buy you ended up disintermediating you to engage your construction workers. Right?
I thought that was a beautifully honest story and parable honesty of how localization can go wrong. But that was interesting to see how you took user feedback and the feedback from your cousin about how to pivot and build a construction labour marketplace that has turned out to have much more natural traction and excitement from both the construction agencies and companies, but also from the construction workers themselves. So thank you so much for coming on the Brave show.
Robert Huynh: (39:38)
Thank you so much Jeremy. It was amazing being on the podcast and stay brave.