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Making connections

Released at: 23:45, 05/11/2014

Making connections

A young ambitious Vietnamese man sees the importance of turning dreams into reality.

by Minh Tuyet

Two years ago, as he was preparing his CV to find employment, Mr Doan Hai Giang, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, met a professor with a stack of Vietnamese students’ CVs. “Are these the best Vietnamese students ?” the professor asked him. From this question sprung the idea to create Human Rank, a company collecting and processing information on employees in a global database. He raised the idea later with the professor, but felt a little deflated at his response: “Do you think you can do a better job than professional headhunters?” Yet he still felt motivated to found Human Rank.

Not long after the idea came to him, two technology giants - Facebook and Google - asked the 32-year-old to work for them. He decided to work at Facebook, while also getting Human Rank off the ground, as a computer engineer. The pressure doesn’t seem to have affected him much, as his innovations in technology are still coming. His most recent idea is to develop applications for Google glass, where employers can identify the abilities of employment candidates.

Mr Giang, though, doesn’t see himself as being talented. “I’m a normal man that had some luck,” he said. Encouraged by Donald Trump’s words, that the harder you work the luckier you tend to be, Mr Giang encourages himself when coping with failure, “The only losers are those who give up before finding success,” he believes.

Flying high

His inspiration for Human Rank is similar to that of Mr Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn. Mr Giang sees that establishing the company is not only for profit but also to create a product that users can benefit from. Besides Mr Hoffman, the “empty chair” theory espoused by Mr Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, of serving and satisfying users, also influenced him on his way to starting Human Rank.

Start-up companies constantly need taking care of and chew through time and money, Mr Giang said. Some two years have passed since the company was established, but there is still much to be done regarding finance, human resources, and identifying the direction the company should take. Running a company doesn’t take a miracle, he said, but it’s a challenge, like scaling a tall mountain peak. 

Nonetheless, he may not have pursued the idea of Human Rank if he didn’t meet its co-founder, an old friend who helped him with capital and management. He spent a lot of time finding the right partner. “It was like finding my wife,” he said. The two have worked together to resolve the problems the company has faced, and put their heart and soul and no small amount of time into it. 

Three workplaces gave Mr Giang the background needed to establish the company: the Center for High Throughput Computing, the Flight Simulation Lab, and Facebook. The Center for High Throughput Computing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was his first workplace, where he used an HTCondor computer to solve complex formulas that would normally take decades to figure out in just several weeks. Its greatest achievement came in 2012, when it identified the “God Particle”, which is said to hold everything together. From this job he learned how to develop programs to process hundreds of millions of calculations and design enormous databases.     

Working at the university’s Flight Simulation Lab gave him experience in making flight line systems and huge databases. The lab also played a role in the company’s start-up, in that here was where he met Professor Chris Johnson, who is now CEO of Human Rank and advised Mr Giang on what was needed to make the start-up a success.

His experience at Facebook, with its young and active workforce, had a major impact on an information technology engineer such as Mr Giang. The most important lesson he learned was adopting a professional working style. Firstly, every detail must be paid full and proper attention, so staff at Facebook often spent twice as much time on preparations than at other workplaces. Secondly, tasks must be solved as specifically as possible. Finally, stability and discipline were always maintained at Facebook. These three points have played an important role in the success of everyone he met.

From these lessons he can run Human Rank and attract customers from recruitment companies. He is modest about his achievements, even though Human Rank has processed a remarkable 15 million CVs and is expected to have processed about 30 million by the end of this year. “It has potential,” was his assessment of his company’s operations.

Coming home

Three years have passed since he was last in Vietnam, when he was studying information technology. At the time he knew next to nothing about business in his home country. After his efforts in the US, however, he has realised that Vietnamese employers also need a database to evaluate the abilities of potential employees. So his company will expand to Vietnam next year, providing a database its software projects in the US. Following that will come moves into China and India.

When starting his company in the US he faced a range of difficulties in penetrating into a new market. Expanding into Vietnam now presents both similar and different challenges. Fortunately, his experience in US helps him significantly. Firstly, he conducts careful research on the market, such as its size, rate of development, customs, and competition. Then, improving links between people and organisations is an important and effective way of accessing the market. Most important of all, he emphasised, is the legal foundation as a key factor in opening a company in Vietnam.

Bringing his ambition back to Vietnam, Mr Giang’s advice for other young Vietnamese start-ups is that everything is not simple. “If you want to set up a company, you have to prepare now, and as thoroughly as possible,” Time, money and relationships are the three key factors in success and where initial preparations are needed. Patience and passion are also necessary, which are internal strengths that can keep a company developing as fully as possible. 

He believes that every start-up stems from a wonderful idea, but it will stay as an idea it can’t be turned into reality. An idea is only valuable if it comes to life, he said. He is confident that his app for Google glass can be used to identify talented Vietnamese people for employment around the world.

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