September 13, 2012

Esther Nguyen – Entrepreneurs Must “Almost Die”

 

“You have this fear in you that washes over you, that you’re
almost going to die, but you’re not ready to die. So this inside
strength just comes and tells you just to keep going, keep
moving.”

-Esther Nguyen, Founder & CEO of Pops

Great interview!  Key takeaways:

  • Entrepreneurs bring ideas into reality.  The exciting part of being an entrepreneur is taking an idea and building it into something great.
  • Entrepreneurship is a lonely road but worth it.  Says Esther, “As an entrepreneur, you’ll have a lot of tough, challenging days, but once you have that one great day, it just erases everything. When you launch your product, when you sign that deal, or when you make that first dollar for your artists or for your company, when you start creating a value for your company, everything washes away.”
  • Persevere.  Everyone who starts a business will “almost die” a few times.  The key is to keep going no matter what.  Don’t worry about this beforehand — the strength will come when you need it most.

Show your appreciation to Esther on Twitter!

Chris: Hi. I’m Chris F. Harvey. Today I’m in the office of Pops, a
media and gaming company here in Saigon, and with me is Esther Nguyen,
founder and CEO of Pops.
Esther: Hi, Chris. Good to be here.
Chris: Hi Esther. How are you?
Esther: Good.
Chris: Good. Esther, maybe we can begin by you telling us a little bit about Pops and its business.
Esther: Okay. Well, Pops started back in 2007. I moved here from
Silicon Valley to start a media company. So we were helping
artists sign up with licensing and trying to really monetize
their media content. We work with all the major distribution
channels here in Vietnam, meaning all the telcos, as well as
iTunes, Amazon, mp3, and YouTube, really trying to push their
music, not only here in Vietnam, but also worldwide.

Chris: So you represent Vietnam artists and help them get their
content onto phones as ringtones and also iTunes?

Esther: Right. So we’re focused on either their ringback tones for the
mobile device or full audio downloads through all the major
distribution channels, like iTunes and Amazon.

Chris: In other words, you’re spreading Vietnamese pop culture across
the world.

Esther: We are. Absolutely.

Chris: Are we going to see Vpop in America?

Esther: I hope so. That’s what we’re pushing for. Not only do we do
music content, but we also do gaming content. We had all those
great distribution channels already in place, so we decided to
expand our mobile content from media to gaming. So now you can
find a large library of games on iTunes.

Chris: And so you leveraged the relationships you built with the
carriers and iTunes to then move into the gaming space?

Esther: Right.

Chris: Okay. If I want to get one of your games, where do I go? How do
I do it?

Esther: You can do a search, or you can go to our website at Pops.vn.

Chris: Pops.vn. Okay, great. I understand, Esther, that you’re a
lawyer by training. So I have to ask. What are you doing in
business?

Esther: Yes, I am a lawyer by training. I went to law school to take a
break from entrepreneurship, but I really found out that
entrepreneurship is really the heart of who I am. You know as a
lawyer, you’re trained to think about the pitfalls, the risks,
the issues in a contract, the negatives, but as an entrepreneur,
you’re really trained or you’re naturally able to see
opportunities and optimistic solutions about things to make
things better, your life better.

Chris: So you felt, as a lawyer, lawyers are focused on risk and what
can go wrong.

Esther: Right.

Chris: But as an entrepreneur, entrepreneurs are focused on what can
be and the positives, and that was more suitable for you?

Esther: Yes. I love taking an idea, just a mere idea and building it
into something that can be used or something great, building a
business around it. That’s the exciting part.

Chris: Okay. Wow. Sounds like you chose the right career for you.

Esther: Yes, absolutely.

Chris: Good. Esther, how did it feel to start your own business?

Esther: Well, all the emotions you can think of: nervous, exciting,
passionate, just that feeling of I’m embarking on a new
endeavor. But also, once you receive that investor money, that
you have now this large burden on your back, or this thing that
you have to carry around every day knowing that you’re
responsible for your investors. But then when you make that
first hire, you’re responsible for your team and your team’s
family and their livelihoods.

Chris: That sounds like a lot to carry around with you, all that
responsibility — responsibility for investors, responsibility for
salaries of your employees, the people that work with you. So
what’s the flip side of that? What’s the reward?

Esther: Oh, as an entrepreneur, you’ll have a lot of tough, challenging
days, but once you have that one great day, it just erases
everything. When you launch your product, when you sign that
deal, or when you make that first dollar for your artists or for
your company, when you start creating a value for your company,
everything washes away.

Chris: So even though you have a lot of bad days, one good day, where
you feel great, just washes it all away?

Esther: Absolutely.

Chris: Wow.

Esther: And it gives you this newfound courage or newfound strength to
keep going.

Chris: Okay, good. When we had lunch together, you told me that
someone once told you that, in order to be a real entrepreneur,
you have to die a few times.

Esther: Not die, almost die.

Chris: Almost die.

Esther: Every startup, and this is some really good advice that one of
my board members told me, mentor, as well, he said, “Esther,
you’re going to almost die a few times, so get used to it.”

Chris: Did you almost die?

Esther: We did. We almost died a few times. Either we didn’t have
enough money in the bank to make payroll, or the product we
launched, that we spent months developing, wasn’t getting market
acceptance. So we almost died, but fortunately we pivoted and
found another way. So here we are.

Chris: Would you agree with that statement now?

Esther: Absolutely.

Chris: You feel like you’ve been through the baptism of
entrepreneurship.

Esther: Yes. Entrepreneurship. Yeah, absolutely.

Chris: For entrepreneurs who might be watching, how did you get
through that almost dying experience maybe more than once?

Esther: You have this fear in you that washes over you, that you’re
almost going to die, but you’re not ready to die. So this inside
strength just comes and tells you just to keep going, keep
moving. Don’t give up, because if you give up, you’re really
going to regret it later on.

Chris: So keep going.

Esther: Keep going.

Chris: And the strength will come at that moment?

Esther: Right.

Chris: Okay. Esther, I see that you have four values on the wall. I’m
a big fan of values and company values. I see labor, learn,
love, and laugh.

Esther: Yeah. These four core values are the basic foundation of Pops.
Basically, we believe in labor, working hard. You’ve got to work
hard. If you don’t work hard, you’re not going to get anywhere,
and people don’t hand things to you. So working hard is first
and foremost. Learning is very important to the company. We’re
always about training and finding new ways to do things and
learning together. Technology is constantly moving, so we have
to keep up, and that entails learning.

Love. Love is all about teamwork. There is no “I” in team, so we
always need to work together, respect each other in order to
come out with a good product or a good solution or a good
outcome. Otherwise it shows.

Last, is laugh. You’ve got to have fun. You’ve got to laugh. Even in
the times of failure or hard times, you have to laugh about it.

Chris: I like that last value. These are all great. I like the last
one because, to me, working doesn’t have to be serious. It
can be fun.

Esther: Yeah, absolutely. We’re a gaming media company, so you’ve got
to have fun.

Chris: Okay, great. Esther, one last question. For the new
entrepreneurs who might be watching this interview, what advice
would you have for them?

Esther: Well, I heard once from an entrepreneur that being an
entrepreneur is one of the loneliest journeys in life. It is,
but you just have to keep going. You have to keep persevering
through it all and just do it.

Chris: So keep going, don’t stop.

Esther: Absolutely.

Chris: Great. Esther, thank you for joining me today.

Esther: My pleasure.

Chris: Cheers.

Show your appreciation to Esther on Twitter!

 

Chris Harvey

Founder & CEO at ITviec.com
Chris Harvey is the Founder & CEO of ITviec.com, a jobs site featuring the best IT jobs in Vietnam. He enjoys building great teams and writing about leadership.