Unconventional ideas can produce roaring success, as illustrated by the following stories of three daring entrepreneurs who defied and turned conventional wisdom on its head.
Nobody but Phan Quoc Nam, director of Long Uyen company in the southern province of Tien Giang, thought Vietnamese ordinary foods like bánh tét (glutinous rice cakes), bánh ít (three-cornered sticky rice cakes), boiled sweet potatoes, and boiled corn could sell on the international market.
As an economics specialist, frequent traveling led Nam to see the considerable profits that could be made from those kinds of foods and come up with a way to tap into their potential.
He presented his ideas to various firms to get turned down again and again. So he decided to set up his own business to turn his audacious ideas into reality.
He started by targeting the frozen food sector. To meet international standards, he purchased German equipment and machinery to use in the production of the Vietnamese foods.
“Vietnamese fruits cannot compete yet with those from Thailand, so I chose to freeze them to avoid a head-on confrontation with the Thai products and to create a niche market for my own. Peeled, frozen, and packaged fruits will surely catch eyes and easily meet safety benchmarks,” Nam said.
Long Uyen is just a start-up but its success is beyond Nam’s expectations. It has exported over 60 traditional Vietnamese foods like chilies, ginger, sweet potatoes, bánh bò (or ‘cow cakes,’ made from glutinous rice flour and coconut milk), bánh da lợn (literally translated as ‘pig skin cakes,’ a colored steamed layer cake made from tapioca starch, rice flour, coconut milk, water, sugar, and other ingredients), grilled bananas, and others.
A lab in the middle of the potato field
Do Quy Hao, from a rural village in the southern province of Kien Giang, has proven he has more than enough business acumen to realize the brilliance of an idea and make it work, by establishing a firm selling just sweet potatoes.
Despite living in of the most far-flung areas of the country, Hao managed to get an Internet line and even open a website for his firm, the Ba Hao company.
Most surprisingly, he set up a laboratory in the middle of his sweet potato field to research ways to increase its productivity!
“Many people have grown sweet potatoes for export but do not know how to market their produce. They have had to do business via wholesalers and thus got very cheap prices. I opt to use the Internet instead to market my sweet potatoes and it proves effective,” Hao talked of his website.
Hao’s sweet potato field has yielded bumper crops since the introduction of the lab. Also thanks to the lab, Hao has learnt to adjust his crops so that the harvest season will not coincide with, and can even last longer than, that in China, a fierce competitor.
The potato farm has since expanded to 100 ha and now supplies produce for export firms and fast food processing plants as well.
Each year, Hao ships 3,000 tons of sweet potatoes to foreign markets.
Failure is the mother of success
Unlike Nam and Hao who built their fortune from scratch, Vung Manh Hung, director of Hung Nhon company in the southern province of Binh Phuoc, had to jumpstart his career again out of the ashes of a near-bankruptcy after an outbreak of bird flu in 2002.
“I spent a lot of time trying to find out how other developed countries raise chickens. And I discovered that the environment and chickens’ body temperature are the crucial linchpin in the business. In 2006, after saving enough money and finding the right partners, I founded a chicken farm called Thuy Thao,” he said.
From having chicken farm in the early days, Hung has increased the number to 18 and even imported modern German technologies to use in disease prevention.
When the foot-and-mouth disease broke out in Vietnam some years back, he surprised everyone around him by deciding to build a pig-raising farm that produced 600 pigs a year. He is now set to expand the farm to cultivate a larger number of cattle: 10,000 sows and 25,000 pigs per annum.
For the enterprising businessman, success can be carved out of failures. And ever since the success of the first farm, he has never looked back.
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