After leaving the military in 2019, Le Tuan Hung, 24, found himself without a path in life.
Not knowing what to do with himself, he juggled a series of short-term jobs before developing the idea for a business to which he could apply his years of military training.
Hung, from the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong, knew he was at a disadvantage in the business world.
With no formal business education and only a military background to fall back on, he knew becoming a successful entrepreneur was a long shot.
That is, until he found a way to apply the lessons he learned in the military toward the successful launch of a housekeeping company.
Finding a path
“I experienced a lot of difficulties when I left the military. I didn’t know what society needed or wanted. I applied for a job in a real estate company in Ho Chi Minh City but I left it after only eight months because I felt I just wasn’t a suitable fit,” Hung said.
Hung spent several months moving around the city, working short-term jobs and brainstorming business ideas.
Eventually, he realized that urban residents needed serious help keeping their houses clean.
Though competition in the city’s homecare industry was tough, Hung decided to take a shot at entering the market by launching a company named for himself to provide a professional home cleaning service.
“Given the intense competition from existing service providers, I chose to keep our profit margin small. I also worked as an employee in the company,” he shared.
Hung borrowed hundreds of millions of Vietnamese dong (VND100 million = US$4,300) to open the firm.
Building a business and paying back his debt would be difficult, he knew, but it also would not be the first time he set out on his own to make some cash.
As a high school student, he worked a side gig as a middleman selling mobile phones and motorbikes to earn spending money.
“I was an underachiever at school so I couldn’t ask my parents for money for anything,” he explained.
Now, a successful adult business owner, Hung no longer labels himself an underachiever.
“I want to live responsibly. Anything I borrow I’ll repay without asking anyone for help,” he said.
The pros and cons of being a former soldier
Though Hung only spent eight months in his first post-military job, the experience of working at a real estate company taught him how to manage and staff a company, as well as working within a budget.
He also took it upon himself to learn more about Vietnam’s enterprise laws and clauses related to launching a company.
One of Hung’s steepest learning curves, he said, was decoding the housekeeping market, especially the ‘unwritten’ and ‘underground rules.’
“I’m still learning more and more each day,” the young entrepreneur said.
In Hung’s own opinion, his biggest limitation is his lack of formal business knowledge and inexperience with technology.
“As a soldier I barely had a chance to use a mobile phone or computer. We weren’t allowed to access the Internet or study English,” he explained.
“It turns out those skills I missed out on are extremely important for launching a company.”
Despite such disadvantages, Hung acknowledged his military experience helped him much more than it hurt.
Thanks to his service, he has developed a mature attitude toward life, a serious work ethic, organizational skills, and fortitude in the face of pressure.
One of the biggest challenges, Hung said, was finding employees he could trust and who shared his vision.
“Without financial power there is a lot of risk. Only the people who believe in you won’t leave your side when difficulties arise,” Hung said.
“Founding a firm is extremely difficult. Even with passionate devotion there is still risk involved. If we’re scared to take the leap, opportunities will be missed.”
Finding a ‘niche market’ amid COVID-19
Like thousands of businesses during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Hung’s company has faced enormous obstacles.
“The most stressful period was when nearly all service providers had to close temporarily or permanently, including offices, restaurants, hotels, gyms, and hair salons,” Hung shared.
When companies began allowing employees to work remotely, his company's revenue saw a sharp decrease as demand for office and house cleaning services came to a sudden halt.
Faced with this new hurdle, Hung decided to launch a new service, CAR-E, which provides car washing and leasing services after noticing an increase in demand for travel by private vehicle.
“It’s fortunate for me that this direction has worked out and brought in enough revenue for me to maintain the first company,” Hung said.
“It was the COVID-19 pandemic that drove me to launch another company and motivated me to explore a new market.”
Currently, Hung manages a staff of ten employees whose average monthly salary ranges from VND5 ($216) to VND12 million ($518).
His company also pays for their accommodations.