If you ask Ha Lam and her husband, Ho Hai, co-founders of Triip.me, if selling their house to fund their startup was the right move, you’ll quickly discover that it wasn’t a difficult decision for them.
“At one point, we almost gave up. We said, ‘We cannot support the business ourselves anymore.’ But when we looked at all the interest from people saying ‘I want to be a Triip creator,’ I thought, ‘People need us.’ So, that’s the moment we decided to sell our house, even though we had two children,” Hai explained. They put everything they had into Triip.me, a web platform that connects all types of tour guides with tourists looking for a more personalized, unique travel experience.
Lam started the business as a weekend project alongside the tours she led as a full-time guide in Vietnam. Her initial goal was to create a platform to allow students to offer free tours to tourists, something Lam and some friends had done ten years earlier as students at the local university to improve their English language skills.
Luckily, their gambit paid off. After selling their house, said Hai, things improved: they were able to establish an office, hire full-time staff and eventually secure seed and angel investment.
Today, Triip.me offers tours in over 90 countries and has employees in Vietnam, Singapore and Germany. Hai said that, as they have grown, they have focused on English-speaking countries first and will expand into countries like Japan, China and Russia later on, as they acquire more investment.
Funding has been Triip.me’s main limiting factor. The platform takes a 10 percent cut from every transaction (though many free tours are also available on the site), but exchange rate differences and fees for processing payments have cut into their margins.
Hai said that they have had limited success with incubators in Vietnam because, “what we’re doing is unprecedented in Vietnam.” Lam added that many local incubators are focused on solving local challenges, rather than global ones.
To other companies trying to go global, Hai advised, “When you have a company that’s starting out from a very small country like Vietnam, you have to start targeting customers outside your market from the start, because it’s a very, very different world. You have to find a way to grow in a bigger market first.”
They also had some advice for policymakers, saying that they are very supportive of policies such as the ASEAN single visa, which they said would be very helpful for the travel industry. “The cost of getting a visa to every country in Southeast Asia is almost the same as a ticket for air travel. If they made just one visa, people will spend the money to go from one place to another place.”