After four flights and 30 hours of travel, we’re here! The team met in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday before the final leg of the journey to Nha Trang. We were greeted at the airport by Hang Huynh, co-founder and CEO of K-Biz, along with two of her colleagues. Hang and her team arranged for our transport to our hotel and new home for the next six weeks, and graciously gave us 24 hours to get settled in and caught up on rest before our scheduled meet and greet with her team.
The next day at the K-Biz office Hang introduced us to several associates of K-Biz. Later we would learn that most of the people we met were not actually employed by K-Biz, but rather former colleagues of Hang’s who work in the tourism industry in Nha Trang and aspire to be independent consultants.
Notably, we met Selene Alcock, Hang’s trusted advisor and colleague. Selene specializes in media services and consulting, and recently helped launched the redesigned K-Biz website (http://www.kbiz.com.vn/). Selene hails from Australia, but has lived in Nha Trang for the past four years. She has worked with Hang since the inception of K-Biz, and will be a valuable resource for us in understanding the organization, it’s challenges, as well as the local business environment. Unfortunately, Selene’s commitments as a documentarian will require that she spends a few weeks in Australia while the Thunderbird Team is in Nha Trang.
After the introductions, we briefly revisited our expectations for the engagement. We quickly gleaned that K-Biz is very entrepreneurial and opportunistic. Hang handles the majority of the business plan writing and consulting. Her administrative staff take care of business license applications. The majority of the consulting that she offers is outsourced to one of many experts that Hang has in her professional network. This model provides K-Biz with flexibility to quickly scale itself when work presents itself, but also allows the business to avoid the costs of employing full-time consultants.
Speaking of flexibility, we quickly realized upon arriving to K-Biz that we would not have enough room to work at the office. Hang indicated that she often meets with her colleagues or clients at local cafes, and urged us to do the same. Thankfully, our hotel (and many other beach-side cafes) has a roof-top lounge with WiFi and a restaurant.
Another point of flexibility revolves around the presence of translators. Prior to the start of the engagement we had an understanding that we would be provided translators, as only one of us speaks any Vietnamese (Ben received an Advanced – High on the OPI). Given that the majority of our interactions will be with Hang (who speaks English) and Selene, we should have no communications problems without translators.
Towards the end of the formal meeting, Hang discussed one of the largest hurdles for her business. Consulting, especially smaller economies such as Nha Trang, is not considered a legitimate service. Hang indicated that because her consulting services do not offer tangible goods, potential clients are highly skeptical of the value that K-Biz can offer. As a result, the majority of K-Biz’s clients are those with whom Hang has established credibility: family, friends, and former colleagues. All of K-Biz clients are acquired through word-of-mouth efforts – there is no formal marketing budget.
We finished off the evening with a dinner hosted by K-Biz at a seaside restaurant, chatting with her associates and enjoying some authentic Vietnamese fare.
On Friday we met with Hang and Selene at a beach-side cafe for a meeting to revisit the project work plan. Despite the fact that we had created and agreed upon a work plan prior to our arrival in Nha Trang, this discussion provided some additional objectives for our consulting team to consider. We have committed to internally determining the projected time required to deliver these new objectives, as well as their value relative to other objectives. Our follow-up conversation on Monday afternoon will reveal which areas Hang would like us to focus upon for our remaining five weeks.
Thus far, we have had very positive interactions with Hang and Selene. Our meeting on Friday really helped them understand the value that this team can bring to K-Biz. In an email, Hang indicated that she was thrilled with the methodologies that we are employing to structure the project. So far, so good.