INTERVIEW | Founder & CEO, Wee Digital, Christian Nguyễn: “Giving up” is not an option - NỮ DOANH NHÂN - BusinessWoman Magazine

INTERVIEW | Founder & CEO, Wee Digital, Christian Nguyễn: “Giving up” is not an option

The emerging Fintech wave has set the stage for many talented individuals around the world. And the Fintech stage of Vietnam now hails a man who has been putting his efforts into the betterment of the community through this digital revolution, the Founder & CEO of Wee Digital – Christian Nguyễn.

Fintech interview CEO Wee Digital Christian Nguyễn

Christian Nguyễn sharing

Greetings, Christian Nguyễn, Founder of Wee Digital! When you first returned to Vietnam, your vision was to build a tech start-up here. So now, over 15 years later, what is your view on the Fintech area and its reception in Vietnam? And compared to other countries in the region, where is Vietnam’s Fintech standing?

To tell you the truth, the Fintech market in Vietnam is yet to be on par with other countries in the region. Take Thailand for example, the country has the highest rate of cashless payment in the ASEAN region (at 67%), some of their Fintech companies have not only thrived in the domestic market but have also branched out to neighboring countries. Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia are all a long way ahead of us in the Fintech area. However, there is a silver lining. We may be a bit late to the race but being in such a position provides us the opportunity to observe and learn from the other countries’ experience. In addition, the fact that Fintech is growing vigorously in those countries helps set the expectation for many Vietnamese, making it easier for them to embrace this new concept.

A large proportion of our population are young people, who are aspiring and willing to learn, eager to explore novelties, and equipped to adapt to new technology. The youth in Vietnam also possess the mindset for business, the desire for independence, and the audacity to start their own business. Technology has offered them a wide range of effective tools for business operation and competition, and now they are constantly searching for more, newer, better technology to give them the edge when starting-up. Business, no matter which form it takes, always comes down to money, and the close-knit connection between the circulation of money and the current living standard. That is why Fintech and the digital transformation in financials and banking have been, and will be growing exponentially, making breakthroughs, and boosting economic growth. Such a rapid growth also puts pressure on every other line of work as well as the government, to make advances on the underlying policies and infrastructure that will facilitate a smoother digital transformation.

As a long-time and devoted proponent of technology and Fintech in particular, have you ever felt “impatient” with this field where success often takes quite long to come to fruition?

To be more precise, our company Wee Digital has been committing to the development of biometrics technology for several years. I believe that in 5 to 10 years’ time, every social activity will revolve around biometrics technology. Biometrics will be implemented in hotel, entertainment, traffic, security, financials, and many other fields. Our next goal in sight, however, is to intergrade the technology into financials and banking, which will have the greatest impact on economic growth rate, and as I have mentioned earlier, business always comes down to money, no matter which form it takes. So, you can call us Fintech experts, or you call us Digital Identity experts, or both.

Biometrics, including facial recognition, is a highly advanced technology which handles sophisticated problems. The more complicated the problem, the more elaborate the solution, hence the more time it takes. Time for the world’s technological infrastructure to catch up, advancing smartphone technology, 4G and 5G networks, and cloud computing, enhancing the chip’s processing speed, as well as developing the theory for new algorithms… Then there’s time for everyone, including the government, businesses, and each person, to familiarize themselves with the technology, put it to use and see if there’s room for improvement. The larger the scale, the greater the impact, and therefore the more prudent we have to be.

That is why we, Fintech businesses in particular, and every tech business in general have to be patient and keep a slow and steady pace. With my seniority in the field, I believe “it’s not how good you are, but how far you are willing to go that counts”. Therefore, I have never felt “impatient”, but rather concerned, on a daily and not monthly, or yearly, basis. Concerned as to how to steer Wee Digital in the right direction, concerned as to how to improve the product quality and bring about the best user experience.

Fintech interview CEO Wee Digital Christian Nguyễn

At the moment, Wee Digital is known for its success in introducing the very first facial recognition payment platform, named “Facepay”, to practical use in Vietnam. What is your vision when launching such a platform?

The society evolves, and so does technology, to this point where everyone demands as “personalized” a lifestyle as possible, meaning that every service, merchandise, and product delivered to us has to be “as I said so”, as if they were created to serve us and us only, satisfying the practical needs while indulging the emotional whims. In return, if people wish to personalize their life experiences, first they have to let the service or product providers know who they are, their age, gender, preferences and interests, in order to prepare the services and merchandise customized to their likings. As a result, biometrics and digital identity will be soaring in 5 to 10 years’ time, as I mentioned earlier, and will become prevalent in almost all social activities. This is the first vision.

While biometric identification technology ranges from fingerprints, iris recognition, to pulse reading and vein reignition. Facial recognition remains the most simple, convenient, discrete and secured technology for individual use; and for businesses providing services and merchandise, the technology is easy to implement and scale up while generating minimal costs. This is the second vision.

Based on these two visions, our facial recognition payment platform Facepay came into place. With Facepay, you face becomes your “password”, which is “unique” and readily available, cannot be hacked or stolen, and acts as a basis to offer you the most personalized experience. With Facepay, whenever you need to make a payment for any product or service, you won’t have to carry cash, credit card or even your phone for QR code scanning, you are basically unattached to, and independent of anything. Isn’t that, in my opinion, the best way to heighten and honor a person’s values?

With such confidence in Facepay, what is your expectation for the platform’s growth?

The retail industry is growing at an amazing pace, and the people’s consuming behavior is also shifting rapidly. From groceries stores to convenience stores, traditional markets to modern supermarkets, and prominent restaurants to humble diners, they all strive to bring about the ultimate shopping experience to the consumers. And “digitalizing” the payment method is one of the solutions to enhance such experience, while helping businesses save both human resources and expenses. For instance, in a convenience store, after every shift, it takes two staff to count and sort the cash for up to 30 minutes, cross-check and store it, and finally transport the cash to a bank to digitalize it. Now imagine how much time and effort could be saved, if the payment was digital in the first place? From a banking viewpoint, this promotes information transparency in the transaction system, mitigates the risk of counterfeit cash and alleviates the pressure of printing new cash.

Integrating Facepay into major convenience store brands, i.e. the offline environment, is the first implementation stage of this technology, with a view to give people a tutorial on how to use it and build up individual consumer’s confidence in Facepay. The second stage will take place online, that is, introducing Facepay to the e-commerce platforms, from the industry “giants” like Tiki to the humbler online shops.

My expectation, if you ask me, is that whether with or without this project of ours, the future for digital payment and facial recognition technology is certain. The world moves on, with me or not. What is important here is that Wee Digital was quick to consolidate its vision, to catch the wave and ride on its peak, becoming the pioneer in the industry. We are proud to offer a top-notch facial recognition algorithm to leading corporations and banks. And we endeavor, with Facepay, to come closer to each and every Vietnamese consumer, from enterprises to small-sized businesses, offering them an option for better business operation and facilitating other innovative changes in the society.

Christian Nguyễn sharing

A start-up entrepreneur may not go far without a dedicated core team to set out with. With your experience and seniority, which do you suppose to be the deciding factor for their commitment to the business, its founder – you, or its direction?

I do believe that the deciding factor for their commitment is me myself, and not the direction, potentials or prospects of the business. For over the last 15 years since I returned and started my business, I have been through several different projects and products, which were all highly appreciated by major businesses, being utilized or acquired entirely. That is the basis for my associates to put their trust in me. Now that you mention it, I am realizing how much we have been through since day one, and how they have always been there for me through it all. One reason is that they believe in my capabilities, as I have just mentioned. Another reason is for the person that I am, one who leans on sentiments and treasures the bond of brotherhood. Throughout these 15 years, the members of the core team, my brothers, have always been on my side for the faith in my vision, responsibility, and compassion. I might be even more than a blood brother to them, and they to me. Such a strong bond of mutual trust has spread to other staff who joined us later on, and continues to grow from generation to generation.

On such grounds of trust as you just mentioned, what is your leading and administrating style in Wee Digital?

I cannot take on 100 tasks at a time, but I can manage 100 people, each one handling a specific task. And for 100 people with 100 different personalities to cooperate with each other in harmony and deliver the highest quality is a matter of trust. I put my trust in the core management team, who, in turn, put their trust in their subordinates and delegate each person to a task fitting their capacity.

Not everyone can adapt and commit to a given business, so if and when you find someone suitable for a long-term companionship, all you need to do is build a mutual trusting relationship with them and make sure that you are both heading towards the same goal. As a leader, it is my duty to recognize a staff’s capabilities, how much they can handle and whether they can meet my expectation for them. So, if anybody makes a mistake, it is my fault and my responsibility because I was the one who chose and trusted them in the first place. Leading does not mean pointing fingers but supporting others to discover and make good use of their abilities. In this sense, I will not hesitate to give them “on-the-job” trainings so that they can become more confident and avoid repeating the same mistake. Everyone needs to learn to become better, and I am willing to provide my staff, and even myself, the opportunity to learn and improve ourselves. This has been my solid leading and administrating style throughout the years.

The fact that you treat your staff with much affection may be beneficial for the long-term relationship, but what about situations where you are torn between “emotion” and “logic”. What type of “corporate culture” have you established to avoid such dilemmas, and ensure a professional and sustainable development?

I created Wee Digital not as a mere company where people go to work, earn their wages and leave, but a thriving “living environment” where people can plant the seeds of their abilities and consistently grow them every day. I often remind my employees, do not see your work as an exchange of time and money with the company, where you exert the former in return for the latter. Drawing such a distinct line will deny us the opportunity to accompany and support each other in the long run. I hope that every member of Wee Digital will see it as their second family, where they feel the need to bolster it through sympathy, unity, and mutual support.

Patience, per se, cannot be proved overnight, but demonstrated through a leader’s unwavering vision day after day. The key to winning everyone’s sympathy and consent is to keep reminding them why we have to be patient. On the other hand, I also show them the accomplishments of this direction we are heading in order to reinforce their confidence in it.

We never know what will happen, but I believe I have convinced them with my prowess, “can-do” spirit, and willingness to take responsibility for my decision. I always ask with questions to remind and readjust myself, “am I doing the right thing?”, “how can I go faster?”, “how to reach the goal without any regrets?”. However, no matter what the answer is, I will not let those who put their trust in me down, and I will keep moving forward. Technology never stops evolving, and we will always be able to come up with a better solution, so there is no reason for me to lose hope and give up. As long as I keep the ultimate goal in sight and march towards it with determination, so will my partners and staff.

Christian Nguyễn sharing

Aside from success, a business career does not lack failure either. What kind of failure have you been through, and how did you get back up on your feet without being discouraged?

To be honest, I do fail everyday (Grinning). I learn from every failure and realize that you do not always get what you want. However, with everything I have been through, “giving up” has never been an option for me. I simply refuse to compromise myself no matter what hardship I am facing. My philosophy dictates that doing business and being on top of a business means being in the most worrisome, lonesome, and troublesome, but also the most idealistic position. Above all that, you are the only one who can never give up; others might leave your side, but you have to be there always, to uphold the ideal you’re pursuing. With this in mind, whatever commitment I make to myself, I intend to deliver. A promise to one’s self is the most difficult to keep, but also the motivation to get me up and going regardless of any failure.

Fintech interview CEO Wee Digital Christian Nguyễn
Fintech interview CEO Wee Digital Christian Nguyễn

What is your view on women’s career opportunity in Fintech? What do you recognize as their strengths and weaknesses in this field?

Women are naturally suited for any line of work, the problem is that they lack the initial orientation towards the seemingly dull technology field, thus leading to the scarce number of female programmers and the resulting gender imbalance in general. The fact remains, however, that there are several female programmers who perform even better than their male counterparts, thanks to their meticulousness and in-depth analytical skills. The current female ratio at Wee Digital is approximately 40%, and they always excel at what they do.

I believe that women have no real weaknesses! Competence-wise, women are amazing multi-taskers, handling their work with subtlety and flexibility while showing sympathy and understanding towards others. However, there comes a certain time when they start a new family or become occupied with other concerns, they might adjust their mindset and shift their priorities in life. That is perhaps their most notable weakness.

Being in the tech field where logical thinking is a must, have you ever unknowingly made a “machine” out of your life?

I’d like to consider myself a rather disciplined person with certain standards to uphold in life. I always wake up at 5 in the morning, no matter if it is weekend or how exhausted I was the previous night. I strictly adhere to my pre-set procedures and find it hard to change. This has become my absolute habit and lifestyle. But I do not suppose this to be wrong or too much like a “machine” for the simple reason that, if you lack discipline and the ability to organize your life in a clear and appropriate way, how can you, as a business owner, run the business with hundreds of employees in your hand?

But surely there is room for flexibility, won’t you say?

Of course, there is (Grinning). Such flexibility is expressed through my decision making. The daily operation reeks with issues, which need to be dealt with flexibly, but “having principles in life” remains the hinge, the unshakeable foundation upon which I smoothly handle everything else.

Thank you for sharing!

Fintech interview CEO Wee Digital Christian Nguyễn



Women are amazing leaders!

If you have ever come across the idea of contributing to the betterment of millions of other lives, do not let it sit idly by in your heart, but build it up, find a way and make it a reality. Be a dreamer, and dream big, but do have a plan for it, for a dream without a plan will forever be a dream. And remember these 3 things:

  1. If you have the opportunity to do amazing things in your life, bring someone with you!
  2. “Trust” is your first priority, not “product”
  3. Sincerely care for your companions

“If you seek happiness, do something for yourself. If you seek fulfillment, do something for others.”

Christian Nguyễn, Founder of Wee Digital

Text: JENNI VÕ, HỒNG ĐẶNG | Translated by HÒA TÔN | Photo: THẠC TRƯỜNG GIANG | Copyright© All Rights Reserved.

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