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Inspiring lessons from a Vietnamese startup in US

Monday, August 10, 2020, 14:04 GMT+7
Inspiring lessons from a Vietnamese startup in US
Tran Viet Hung, CEO and founder of the educational app Got It, stands beside a poster of his startup in a supplied photo.

Tran Viet Hung, the CEO and founder of Got It, a platform that connects students with teachers who help them through schoolwork, shared with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper his early stages of embarking on a startup.

Got It has become one of the most well-known apps among its kind, once reaching second place on App Store’s most downloaded list.

It has raised millions of U.S. dollars in investment, but Hung said things were not always so easy.

While taking time to acknowledge some of their notable achievements, Hung shared that he and his coworkers have also made a lot of mistakes that he hopes he can help other entrepreneurs avoid.

What is Got It?

Got It is an educational platform that was officially launched in January 2014. Two years later, it became the second-most downloaded app on the App Store, just behind Apple's iTunes U app.

Got It helps users, mainly school and collge students, look for the answers and solutions to their exercises quickly via their smartphone.

When a student posts their schoolwork online, the app connects them with an expert in the field who helps guide them through solving the problem, usually within ten minutes.

Got It’s experts come from many parts of the world, primarily the Philippines, India, South Africa, Eastern Europe, and the U.S.

Apart from providing a useful platform for students to ask questions and get answers, the app also helps many educational experts around the world increase their income by becoming an online tutor during their free time at any time and anywhere.

Determination in face of hardship

Tran Viet Hung graduated from the University of Iowa over ten years ago with a computer science degree. He then continued pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science at the same university.

With an inclination to start a business, he created his first startup Tutor Universe in 2011 in the state of Iowa as an online network of tutors. Got It, his second app, was created in 2013.

“My first version of the educational app was a failure and my most painful experience,” Hung said.

“The app didn’t have many users and investors refused to renew their funding. On top of that, the co-founder withdrew from our project. I felt as if the whole world was against me at that time."

Although the ordeal did not discourage him, it caused him to think everything over before trying again.

He was determined to start over by rebuilding the app from the ground up, making it more user-friendly.

Even though Hung was determined to make it work, he still faced the same hardships any tech startup in Silicon Valley faces, including bankruptcy.

Hung said he was on the verge of bankruptcy at least three times, even putting aside US$1,000 at one point in case he had to use it to go back home because of going belly up.

“U.S. law stipulates that only when a company has enough money to pay the employees can it require them to go to work,” explained Hung.

“I experienced a few weekends when I didn’t know how I would manage to have the money to pay my employees the following week.

"If I hadn't found the solution to that, I would have asked them not to come to the office on Monday.

"Fortunately, I was eventually able to address those problems."

The happiest moment for Hung was when Got It passed the product-market fit test, which means that there was a market demand for what his startup was selling and people were willing to pay for it.

“We had had a lot of ideas, done many surveys, and made numerous mistakes. In the end, everything was solved, resulting in a product that users found useful and would use again and again,” Hung said.

Giving back

Although he is often overwhelmed with his business and work as an advisory board member of Vietnam’s National Committee on Education and Training Innovation, Hung also has time to spend on contributing to many community activities.

Most recently, he and other Vietnamese alumni of American universities helped found STEAM for Vietnam, a non-profit organization that provides Vietnamese students with high-quality knowledge in STEAM fields for free.

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math. It is an approach to teaching and learning in which STEM education principles are taught through the arts.

“Science and technology now appear in every aspect of our lives. So I believe in the future, anyone who does not have knowledge of those subjects could be considered ‘illiterate’,” Hung said.

“Apart from that, to have a competitive edge, future generations will also have to have a background in general knowledge, which will help them deal with future problems that may come up, especially ones that are expected to be more complex than those that we’re facing at the moment."

That is why STEAM for Vietnam focuses on all five aspects of STEAM, providing learners with comprehensive knowledge, the Got It CEO added.

The non-profit organization has been operated by Vietnamese volunteers who are both working and studying in STEAM fields all over the world.

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Kim Thoa - Cong Nhat / Tuoi Tre News

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