Vietnam’s Tech Evolution: Exploring the Story Behind a Vibrant Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

There is no denying Vietnam is a young country with a young entrepreneurship ecosystem. A fifth of the country’s population of 100 million is under 25. Some might see this as a weakness, but after founding the Endeavor Vietnam office and running it as managing director for five years, I have come to believe the ecosystem’s youth is its biggest strength.

As we get ready to host the next Endeavor International Selection Panel, I am excited to show off Vietnam’s potential to launch and grow many more high-impact companies in the future. 

Young ecosystem problems

When I first moved from my last role managing Forbes Vietnam to start Endeavor in late 2018, I knew from my work as a business journalist that Vietnam was full of ambitious young entrepreneurs trying to build companies and solve problems in logistics, e-commerce, and many other verticals. Success stories like Grab and SEA were already proving then that it was possible to scale Vietnamese companies by adapting international business models to local conditions.

We quickly recruited 43 entrepreneurs from 33 companies to join our local network, 16 of whom have so far been chosen to become Endeavor Entrepreneurs by our international selection panels.

But while there were a lot of ideas and energy in Vietnam, the ecosystem back then was still in the early stages of its development and had many of the same problems that other early ecosystems face. The venture capital market, for instance, was small. Expanding beyond the local market to access the huge Southeast Asian market, with its 600 million potential customers, required entrepreneurs to navigate significant differences in culture and language to reach them.

Finally, like startups across the world, Vietnamese companies have been rocked over the last five years by national and global events beyond their control. A slowdown in Vietnam’s economy created headwinds for entrepreneurs. Then there was COVID-19, which slowed the growth of many young companies. The global deep freeze in venture capital investment that followed the pandemic also hit Vietnam particularly hard, with VC funding falling to a new low of $650 million in 2023 from a peak of $861 million in 2019.

Young ecosystem promise

Being young presents challenges, but the last five years have convinced me it creates even more opportunities. Vietnam’s population is young and dynamic. It is also well-educated with an international outlook. Vietnam ranks eighth in the world just behind giants like China and India in terms of the number of students it sends overseas to study. The result is an incredible pool of local tech talent for companies to tap into.

Companies not only have a huge population to hire from, but they also have a big and rapidly digitizing population to sell to. Add to these advantages the sense that there are opportunities to be had and the daring to try and you have a recipe for continued, long-term development. In this way, Vietnam is positioned much in the same way that Latin American success stories like Brazil and Argentina were a decade or more ago, with as much scope for growth.

At Endeavor, we believe it is our job to try to make the connections and offer the support that catalyzes that growth. Two successful Vietnamese Endeavor Entrepreneurs companies illustrate both our ethos in action and the enormous future potential of the ecosystem:

Left to right: Nguyen Thanh Trung, Co-founder of Sky Mavis, and Vu Lam, CEO of Katalon.

Vu Lam, co-founder and CEO of Katalon. Vu got involved with Endeavor Vietnam first as a board member. After moving to America as a child and attending school there, Vu returned to Vietnam in the mid-90s to found a series of successful tech companies. As soon as we brought Endeavor to Vietnam we identified Vu as an experienced entrepreneur who could add immense value to our network, and he jumped right into supporting our mission and mentoring younger founders. But it turned out the benefits of joining flowed both ways. Inspired in part by his work with Endeavor, Vu joined forces with co-founder Uy Tran in 2015 to start the fast-growing software testing company Katalon to serve companies around the world. In 2021 Vu and Uy were selected as Endeavor Entrepreneurs. Vu serves as the perfect example of the Endeavor Multiplier Effect in action — both giving and receiving help to create a virtuous cycle in which everyone wins.

Nguyen Thanh Trung, co-founder of Sky Mavis. Blockchain gaming company Sky Mavis is one of Vietnam’s latest unicorn companies, reaching a valuation of $3 billion in 2021. Its founder is a great example of the Vietnamese ecosystem and the Endeavor approach not only for his successes but also for his resilience in the face of challenges. In 2023 Trung and his co-founders faced a nightmare scenario when hackers stole more than $625 million from its clients. Weathering the crisis calmly, the Sky Mavis team was able to pay back users and continue its path towards growth. Young companies — and young ecosystems — inevitably face difficult moments. Thanh Trung’s experience illustrates that it is possible to overcome them and thrive.

Both Katalon and Sky Mavis show how local companies are overcoming the challenges of expanding beyond the limitations of the local market. Both offer technology-based products that can be sold globally from a home base in Vietnam and leverage the country’s wealth of young tech talent. There are many other companies in our network that are thriving based on the strength of the people and the availability of the global market, especially in the verticals such as SAS, games and blockchain. We expect to see many more such businesses in the future.

As Vietnam gets ready to host a selection panel that will bring candidates from all over the world to select the next generation of Endeavor Entrepreneurs, I look back over the last five years of running the office and see both how far Vietnamese entrepreneurs have come and how much more impact they are set to have in the years to come.