Loship is one of the fastest-growing startups in the food delivery sector in Vietnam, and CEO Trung Hoang Nguyen is widely attributed to being the brain behind the homegrown company.
Trung Hoang Nguyen’s entrepreneurial journey and startup efforts have since become an inspirational story for Vietnam’s young generation and startup community. At the age of 22, Trung Hoang Nguyen co-founded Lozi – a food search and restaurant review site, and successfully raised a 7-digit investment. Roughly two years later, Trung got the ball rolling with food delivery by launching Loship; simultaneously, the 25-year-old founder was honored in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2017 list.
In 2019, Loship secured 8-digit funding led by South Korea’s Smilegate Investment and Hana Financial Group, supporting its expansion across the country to become a one-stop solution for Vietnamese consumers’ one-hour delivery needs.
Entrepreneurship for Trung didn’t start with the purpose of earning money, but rather a burning desire to foster the local startup scene and create the next Unicorn of Vietnam. Trung identifies himself as a “perfectionist” who is ambitious, headstrong, and demanding, never resting, never still.
You are known to be a perfectionist. How does it affect the company?
I’m indeed a perfectionist. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to compromise on any delays, no matter what. Especially when it comes to recruitment, I always ask candidates the same old question: if I need to call you at midnight, how would you act?
In my perspective, to create a great company, there should be no bottleneck in the flow of work. The harsh truth is that when starting a business, there are always obstacles and challenges happening along the way. Just imagine when the going gets rough and you’re not willing to be there, then it’s tough for us to go far together.
Business is about creating value for shareholders and employees, but more importantly value and services that customers would love to have, making their life easier every day. You’ve got to demand what you want. That means making the tough decisions as you see fit.
So how is working for a perfectionist Trung Hoang Nguyen really like? Will your employees find happiness at work?
Happiness is a fascinating concept at Loship. It doesn’t mean how much you get paid or what your job level is. Money alone doesn’t buy happiness; work does.
I believe there’s greatness in everyone, and it’s essential to demand the best and most from everyone (including myself). At the end of the day, happiness is riding a roller coaster; that is, the rise and fall of emotions with a job that suits you and fully exploits your potential.
This explains why I always set high expectations and standards for my team. In order for them to push past their limits and perform to the best of their abilities, then I, as a CEO, must be the end of the limit.
How about yourself? What is the driving force that has kept you going over the past six years chasing the startup life?
In the very early stages, everything was too vague to me. In 2014, I founded Lozi with the desire to solve only one problem: customers wanting to eat but not knowing what and where to eat.
Back then, Pinterest and Instagram took the throne when it came to social media platforms. These two platforms’ overwhelming successes inspired us to create a website/application with a similar interface to solve the main problem of finding food. Looking back, I think it was a pretty naive choice; however, we were fortunate to be one of the pioneers in Vietnam stepping into this field, so some investors agreed to invest in Lozi at this nascent stage.
Once I decide to do something, I always pursue it to the end. Some people work, study, and start a business at the same time. To me, it doesn’t work that way. I would focus on only one thing and devote myself to a singular goal.
If you only focused on one thing, why would you have decided to change your direction from Lozi – food review site, to Loship – food delivery app?
Being dynamic lies at the heart of every startup. We need to adapt to changes and seize opportunities that come our way to maximize the chances of success. And sometimes, success tends to happen on a completely different path than we had initially embarked on.
For such a long time since we set foot into the startup scene, we have only focused on improving and upgrading our initial idea, Lozi. Back then, my colleagues and I have never thought of an e-commerce and delivery business model like what we’re doing now.
In 2017, during a trekking tour with the company, I had the opportunity to step back and reflect on everything. I realized that Lozi needed a transformation. Lozi’s model wasn’t working in the way we wanted it to. But this transformation must, in one way or another, have something to do with the food search sector that we were pursuing.
There’s no denying that Loship is a latecomer in the food delivery market. But thanks to that, we gained a lot of experience and the advantages of being a latecomer. Notably, we can learn from the earlier movers’ mistakes, follow their strategies, and improve the innovations. I call it a copy strategy – something that not all founders dare to admit frankly. Because if you don’t copy, it’s challenging for you to close the gap with those early movers. That said, we looked around the industry, watched what was going on, studied the competition, and followed what the customers wanted most.
Loship is currently offering a wide range of sub-services apart from food delivery, such as grocery, medicine, laundry, or parcel delivery. Is it contrary to the claim, “we should focus on one thing” you have made?
Since the inauguration of Loship, none of us ever thought of a multi-service delivery platform. It was unrealistic.
Only when I looked at a driver who was set to deliver food, did I realize that with the same two-wheeled vehicles, he actually could deliver many more things – anything that can fit on or be transported legally by motorcycle. The essence here is that with the same act of delivery, the driver can deliver more than just food.
Needless to say, we still focus on one thing: the drivers and try to expand our service offerings around those two-wheelers. And most importantly, we never worry about what our competitors are doing. We might have followed them at the beginning to get the startup off the ground. However, once we get our competitive comparison done, we don’t give another thought to the competition. Because if we keep looking at it, we will forever live in others’ glory.
It seems that drivers play a crucial role in Loship?
In Loship, drivers are a core and integral part of our team. Because neither I nor any of the Loship employees will interact with customers every day, that must be the drivers.
In this day and age, we talk a lot about technology and how it can boost business growth. But for me, technology is only part of the game. The technology gap isn’t difficult to bridge.
We place greater emphasis on the human side, especially the drivers. We have made endless efforts to provide the drivers with more intangible benefits apart from monetary values. Here at Loship, the CEO will directly take care of the drivers. All the drivers know my name, know who I am, and are able to talk with me whenever needed.
You once said that Loship wouldn’t enter the cash-burning competition. If not cash burn, which is your “silver bullet” to conquer the market?
In Vietnam, people often think that to compete and win over the market, startups need to burn a hefty amount of cash. Money is a finite resource, I believe. Competition isn’t always about discounts or promotions. It’s how you take care of your most significant assets – customers and keep them coming back.
With the current market size and capital resources, it’s tough for a local startup to burn through much cash like other regional players. Spend wisely, not blindly. And the less money we burn, the more we’ll focus our resources on things that yield the most impact.
My ambition for Loship is to become one of the most successful Vietnamese companies and join the league of so-called unicorns. In Vietnam’s bustling startup scene over the past ten years, unicorns are scarce. Our country has so many talents, but it lacks inspiration.
I firmly believe that, in the economic flow of Vietnam many years to come, there will always be a place for Loship. I’m proud of my team, and the only thing we need is time to prove that we deserve it.