Anh Nguyen was born in Vietnam, raised in Germany from the age of four, and has been based mostly in Singapore during her eight years as a fashion media and marketing professional. She believes that today’s shape-shifting markets create an unusual challenge for those trying to build businesses and attract talent.
“I recently read how during the industrial age, hiring decisions were made based on physical attributes, and in the mid 20th century people were hired based on past experience, degrees, and IQ. Today, top talent is hired based on the ability to deal with changes and constant ambiguity.”
She graduated from Berlin University of Applied Sciences with a BA in visual communication and immediately went to work for Elle magazine in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
“I witnessed this shift in the industry and consumer behavior due to the internet. Print, as it was, wasn’t able to survive. After working on this transition for Elle, I realized that there are so many more opportunities to bring fashion into a consumer’s life in a more interactive and engaging way. And so, when I had the opportunity to work in e-commerce, I jumped into it. Although I had never bought anything online.”
Nguyen helped launch Zalora, a venture-backed fashion e-commerce platform across 11 markets in Southeast Asia, before leading Zalora Vietnam as managing director. She reflects on her experience as one of the most exciting times in her career.
“Telling users about your product is one thing, but doing that while explaining to them how to use it is even harder. In the past, rural customers had to travel hundreds of miles to purchase the goods they needed; now it was just a click away. The internet was causing inevitable change for this region, and I wanted to be there when it happened.”
Nguyen consistently ended up in industries transitioning between critical growth phases: from print to digital, from offline to online, from struggling to profitable; or from free services to paid premium products, like in her last role as a Singapore-based marketing executive for YouTube. She feels the ability to manage such transitions is a particularly crucial skill right now.
She came to Stanford GSB’s one-year MSx Program looking for a way to combine her passions for visual communication, e-commerce, and technological entrepreneurship. She’s scheduled to graduate in June 2019.
“I spent the majority of my career in fashion and retail, then suddenly was in this tech world. I like both, but I want to reconcile them. I still believe there’s huge change happening in how people discover and buy things. Retail isn’t dying, it’s evolving. And in fact, with an increase of women working, there will be an increase in disposable income. I’m passionate about this space, but still want to discover how I want to be involved during my time at Stanford. Is it as an investor? As an entrepreneur? In a tech firm? I don’t know. I just know I want to combine my passion for consumer products and the skills I’ve acquired in the internet space.”
Meanwhile, Nguyen isn’t sitting idle. Besides building a direct-to-consumer brand for the future female workforce and completing a venture capital fellowship at Pear VC in Palo Alto, Nguyen partnered with classmate Karen Wu to help young professionals connect with qualified advisors. Wu says Nguyen is self-funding the idea, Qwikconvo, which they hope to launch in early 2019. Nguyen already has four people in Vietnam working on it. “She’s putting her money where her mouth is,” Wu says, “and it inspires me in so many ways.”
“The way it works is the person who seeks advice has to donate a small amount to a charity chosen by the person who is giving advice. And so there’s a transaction happening to lock down the conversation, but that transaction benefits a third party that needs it more. It helps you filter out people who are really serious about that conversation and not just asking random questions.”
In an ever-changing and demanding marketplace, Nguyen sees her multicultural, multinational perspective as an advantage and hopes to provide that advantage for more young people.
“I grew up in two cultures that couldn’t be more different. At home I was Vietnamese, and in school I was German. I slipped between languages and cultures all the time, so it was really easy for me to adapt to new environments, because I had diverse perspectives. With Qwikconvo, we hope to build a global community to give any young professional the opportunity to ask questions and learn from different perspectives in a more frictionless way.”
Photos by Kiefer Hickman