Mr. Le Van Thanh, Co-founder of the Coc Coc browser, discusses his company's experience in taking on the major players.
■ In the initial stages, what difficulties did Coc Coc meet in brand building?
The greatest obstacle we needed to overcome was to create belief among consumers that a Vietnamese product was capable of competing with international products. The Vietnamese market at that time was dominated by three big names: Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. This was a huge challenge for us as we had only recently started. Another difficulty was in brand identity, with many people thinking Coc Coc was simply trying to mimic Google.
■ There any many famous search engines and web browsers that are familiar among Vietnamese people. Why did Coc Coc have the bold aim of competing equally with them in the domestic market?
After conducting market research we found that there are many features Vietnamese people seek that foreign products haven’t fully provided. This was an opportunity for us to create a unique path.
With the explosion of IT, web browsers and search engines became crucial tools. If a domestic company or corporation can provide a high-quality product it will help reduce reliance on foreign technology.
The most important thing that foreign corporations can never have in Vietnam is home ground advantage. From that we were able to quickly approach customers, receive feedback, and respond in a timely manner. Another reason we received customer encouragement was that Coc Coc is a domestic product. We had no reason to give up on our dream and the project.
■ What is the potential of start-ups in the IT field? What advice would you give someone considering a start-up in the field?
Starting a business in the IT field has a great chance of success at the moment. Vietnam’s IT market is still nascent, with international corporations yet to focus on investing here. For example, Yahoo has stopped developing products that used to be popular in Vietnam and Google does not have a Vietnamese branch. If you focus on creating user-friendly products for Vietnamese you can certainly succeed.
To make an idea become reality you need to take risks. One corporation or one product cannot solve all of the problems in one field, and customer demand can be very diverse. A product without any unique selling point will be mimicked by major corporations. With weaker human resources and financial resources, you will eventually be crushed.
It is also necessary to start working on the project as soon as you can. The market is dynamic, and if you’re too slow in implementing your idea the technology or customer demand may change.
It’s not necessary to think about finance for the long term. It should be divided into small periods. When a product is developed into the next stage, new investment opportunities will appear.
■ Is there any difference between investment by corporations in start-up businesses in Vietnam and those in other countries? Are the criteria different?
Vietnam is now an interesting destination for foreign investment funds. They already had experience gathered from prior markets, so they can easily see what is suitable for investment. I don’t see any notable difference in the criteria. The ones chosen are those that are able to show investors the opportunity for success.
There are some challenges for foreign investors when entering Vietnam, however. In other countries, especially developed countries, investors understand the market and so can provide the necessary consulting to start-ups. Vietnam’s IT market is unfamiliar to them so they have to spend time conducting market research and understanding the market before giving appropriate advice.
■ What achievements of Coc Coc are you proud of and what are your plans for the near future? Will Coc Coc launch any other product lines?
In addition to its business activities, Coc Coc has also conducted many social activities, such as holding digital marketing classes or sponsoring programming contests, etc.
We’re gradually expanding into other countries in Southeast Asia with the support of Hubert Burda Media from Germany. In the first stage we will conduct a trial of the Coc Coc browser but the development goal is the Coc Coc search engine. We haven’t got any plans to develop other product lines. In the near future we plan to focus on improving quality, increasing new features on existing products, and providing corresponding products for mobile platforms.