PATAMAR PORTFOLIO: LEADERS PROFILE – MINH PHAN (CEO, JUPVIEC) & ANH DANG (COO, JUPVIEC)
JupViec is Vietnam’s largest digital platform that provides customers with housekeeping services such as cleaning, washing, cooking, and childcare. Founded by Minh Phan in 2012, the Hanoi based firm provides a service which aims to professionalize and improve the quality of housekeeping in Vietnam and create more flexible jobs across the country. Today, the firm is operating in the country’s two largest cities and has over fifty full-time employees and twenty part-time employees. In June 2018, Patamar Capital announced an investment in JupViec through its groundbreaking ‘Investing In Women Fund’ – a partnership with the Australian Government – which is the first fund dedicated to investing in high potential women-led businesses in Vietnam.
Our Associate, Yen Do, met up with JupViec’s CEO Minh Phan and COO Anh Dang to find out more about the firm’s journey so far.
YEN: How did you develop the original idea for JupViec?
MINH (CEO): When I was studying and working overseas, I observed that the quality of life was very different from our lives back home. In Vietnam, riding a nice motorbike is already considered to be enough of a luxury. However, we didn’t have quality healthcare, education, decent income, access to quality products. I wrote a research paper on the maid industry while I was studying in the UK, and that got me intrigued by the problem. When I first started JupViec, all my professional expertise – at companies like LG and Diamond World – was in distribution. So, initially, we focused on a distribution model. But then, when we looked at companies like Handy in the US and the regional success of players like GoJek, we began to understand the huge growth potential that a platform model presented. So, we turned JupViec into a platform and it took off.
YEN: As the founder, what have been the most challenging aspects of the JupViec journey so far?
MINH (CEO): Probably hiring people. In the beginning, the maids were very hard to find. We had to search in the restrooms at schools, hospitals, or commercial buildings – looking for the cleaners and then trying to convince them to join us. At first, they thought that we were a scam business because we didn’t yet have any credibility or brand awareness.
Building trust with customers was another challenge. It is hard to accept an unknown person into your house and trust an entirely new company to take care of your home. During the first three months, every day from 6:30-8:30 p.m., I would go to deliver flyers to every single house in a neighbourhood. It was ineffective, and back in 2012 social media advertising wasn’t yet a thing in Vietnam. Although there was high demand for maids, we didn’t know how to approach the customers. We never thought about spending billions of Vietnamese Dong on marketing. That was the hardest period.
The second difficult time was during the economic crisis. Suddenly, our funding from our original co-founders was cut. With no money, key employees started leaving the company. My family and I had to save every penny to keep the company alive: we stopped using a personal driver and started traveling on public buses. At this time, we had only one IT guy left at the firm, but even he ended up leaving. Overnight, we became a technology startup with zero tech employees!
I realized that we needed to bootstrap even more, and we became so lean that we got to the point where we knew we needed to bring in an angel investor at a discounted price. Then, one year after the angel investor joined, CyberAgent Ventures from Japan came in. We became the first Vietnamese household cleaning service firm to receive foreign investment. At this point, things started to get back on track.
Today, JupViec is at a very different stage in its growth. There is still a lot of stress, but now we have a system set up. I have a reliable management team who enable me to spend more time thinking about strategy and about partnerships, rather than spending time choosing the right cleaning cloths for the cleaners.
YEN: Tell me about a maid at JupViec who has left a strong impression on you?
MINH (CEO): There is this one cleaner, Ms. Truong, who has been working with us from the very beginning. One day, in 2013 completely of the blue, she disappeared. We went out looking for her because we feared that something bad had happened to her. We couldn’t find her anywhere. Later, we discovered that she was pregnant and had been in the hospital to deliver her baby. It was during the winter and she had hidden her pregnancy so well from the entire firm that nobody knew: even though the majority of our team is female. It was quite shocking to me because at that time she was working without any insurance and her salary was still very low. We decided to give her VND 10m (or $450USD) to help her out with her expenses. I didn’t think she would return to JupViec, because there is no binding contract for her to come back. But she did and she is still with us today. And she has been doing really well ever since. She eventually got married and had another two children. In fact, we have many single moms working with us just like this. JupViec is a tool that helps these single moms get more work and even better jobs.
ANH (COO): I joined the firm in 2013, and the employee story that is most memorable is that of Luan in Ha Noi. She joined us very early on, only a year into the enterprise. Minh and I were working late one night and she came to get her salary, which was only around $30 USD that month. We wondered how she could possibly manage to make ends meet with such a small amount of money. At that time, we still didn’t have enough customers to give her more jobs. She told us she was doing some side-businesses and it would be tough for her to stay with JupViec if the situation continued. We were very disheartened, because it felt like our model might not be working and might even be making life more difficult for our workers. So, we give her some additional salary as an advance and showed her how to get more income by persuading her clients to sign longer-term contracts. Luan is still with us today. She tells all of her friends about the company and, as a full-time employee, her story is an inspiration for many other workers at JupViec.
YEN: How is your role at JupViec different from the jobs that you had before?
ANH (COO): Before working at JupViec. I had a wide range of experience, from professional jobs to working on my own company. I was also fortunate to join the Tomorrow Entrepreneur Club at the Foreign Trade University where I was studying. During that time, I got a chance to interact with the judges of their entrepreneurial competitions who are managers and CEOs of famous companies.
JupViec started with a small idea, but today we have a much bigger purpose: which is to change the image of Vietnamese women. At the time, being a maid was not a role that was respected or held in high regard. Today, people don’t worry about that and it is considered to be a real job that is respected. We have many office workers or preschool teachers who are willing to spend three or four hours every day earning extra income. We are also changing our customers’ habits. They now consider our employees as partners that take care of their home. The relationship between the two sides has shifted significantly.
Coincidentally, I am a self-confessed workaholic who doesn’t like doing my own housework. However, in Vietnamese society, if there is nobody who supports them, women have to do their own housework. This means they have less time to advance their careers. We believe that JupViec is the tool to help women free up their time to achieve more and do more of what they like.
YEN: How did JupViec help change the mindset of the people who work for you?
ANH (COO): The hardest part was when we first got started. Three or four years ago, hourly cleaning services were unheard of. Cleaners were considered to be people who stayed in the house all day. Firstly, we had to educate customers on the concept by having specific job descriptions and terms of service. We also incorporated a specific message into everything we did from product design to advertising: that this was a job and a service that deserved respect.
YEN: How do you communicate with the employees? How do to make them feel important?
ANH (COO): When we first started designing the product, we tried to learn from the existing overseas models. We went to Singapore, where there was already a mature industry with a very clear cleaning service model. For example, we learned how 5-star hotels conducted quality control for their maids. We also partnered with NGOs to learn how to create an environment where our employees would feel cared for and therefore would be more likely to stay with JupViec. It has worked because many of our employees have dropped all their other jobs to work full time at JupViec.
When the employees first join us, we train them on professional practices, like being punctual. We also have a transparent and clear salary structure, bonuses packages, and insurance plan. In addition, we try to create a strong community among the employees by organizing activities such as cooking competitions which are proving to be very popular.
YEN: As a female COO, what have been the most surprising or difficult aspects to building Jupviec?
ANH (COO): It is probably working with women who are older than me and happen to also be unskilled workers. When you work with people from the same background, it is much easier to communicate. When we work with our employees, we have to explain our ideas using straightforward terms. Secondly, our employees are not always independent and they can be swayed by external factors. For instance, we can lose a good employee simply because her husband tells her that she needs to stay at home – even when her work is rewarding and she is earning well.
YEN: How do you solve problems like this?
ANH (COO): Firstly, we try to keep to our promises. We have a system of policies that transparently outlines all of our rewards and penalties. We have also introduced a little touch of Buddhist philosophy into our company culture. Deep down inside, we believe that people always know the right things to do and will try to do them.
YEN: What are the barriers facing female business leaders in Vietnam?
ANH (COO): Firstly, it’s important to understand that Vietnam still has a very traditional culture. Women are still expected to stay at home and take care of the children. There aren’t that many organizations here who focus on supporting women leaders. Moreover, we still don’t have the general tools to support women. In general, I think Vietnam has not yet reached other countries’ standard of gender equality. I also feel that there is not as much trust in female leaders in Vietnam. During business interactions, I have to be sure to set clear boundaries.
For example, many people regularly ask me when I am going to get married and have a family – and what would happen to JupViec when that happens? At first, I also thought this would be a problem. Then I realized that when I get married, it will probably help me empathize and understand our employees even better: especially because many of them already have families themselves.
YEN: What are your future plans for JupViec’s next stage of growth?
MINH (CEO): Our growth trajectory is to double our revenue within the next twelve months.
Our next cities in Vietnam will include Nha Trang, Da Nang, and Binh Duong. Next, we plan to launch other services, for example, handyman services.
ANH (COO): Our short-term goals are to expand our existing services to other provinces across Vietnam in order to bring more jobs to those areas, but also to explore new services that might bring more jobs to these women.