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  • Voices of Vietnam now: Lien of Appota

    Lien at her office in Hanoi. All photos by Aaron Joel Santos

Originally from Hanoi, Lien Nguyen is one of the founders of Appota, a mobile platform provider offering quality game publishing, payment and advertising services. The Appota platform has more than 22 million users in Southeast Asia, and the company’s client roster includes names such as Google and Facebook. Lien is among those contributing to the changing ways of life in Vietnam. Here, she talks finding community, Vietnamese curiosity and keeping traditions.

Lien Nguyen

What was it like growing up in Hanoi?

My best memories of growing up in Hanoi are about great food. I was born in 1985. Of course, I was poor and the country was still poor, so we didn’t have a lot of food. But the food that we had was always a delight for us kids.

I’ve travelled quite a bit over the years. There are cuisines all over the place that I can enjoy, but somehow, Hanoi and Vietnamese food is always the best. So food has always been a really good memory for me. 

How does living in Hanoi compare now to before?

Back in the day, it was much slower: fewer people, less congestion, and the community used to live in houses or cramped apartments, not high-rises like we do now. We kept our doors open so it was very easy for kids to hang out at one another’s house. We only went to school for half the day. Kids would always go to each other's houses easily to play. It was really fun and very close-knit. Nowadays things are moving much faster. We focus on our work and there’s less interaction with our neighbors. So the convenience is there, but you pay for it right?

Do you worry that your children won’t have the same upbringing you did?

I think that you just sort of go with the flow. Right now we try to reach out a little bit, even in our apartments. I’m sort of surprised as well that I’m finding my new community in my kids' community. With other parents, we will chat on Facebook, we have gatherings on the weekends, get coffee, very laid back sort of stuff. We find ways for to interact instead of being isolated.

Appota Hanoi

Do you think growing up in Hanoi has influenced your work?

I think understanding Hanoi as a Hanoian helps me do business in Hanoi. [laughs] In my line of work I’m in charge of investments, so I work with a lot of foreigners. But the business is here in Vietnam, it’s helpful that I grew up here. I know the local market — how in a conversation, people say something and mean something else. For foreigners it’s hard to detect.

What’s the best thing about your work?

I work in startups with a lot of young people. I used to work in places with older, more conservative people. But this company is very young, goofy and extremely creative, which is a lot of fun. The fun environment is something that moves me to work everyday. 

We’re also doing things that are helping citizens, or netizens. We bring content they love to consume, so that is making an impact. We also provide an eWallet. It’s something that helps bring more convenience to people and helps cut down the cost of established banking institutions. 

We’re doing new things, creative things, and hopefully making an impact.

Appota Hanoi

Do you see tech as the future of many businesses in Hanoi?

Definitely. Vietnamese in general are early adopters of any new technology. They’re curious. They’ll spend a thousand dollars on an iPhone! Of course some of it’s for show, but some of it’s also for curiosity and keeping up with new technology. We may be leapfrogging over a lot of old, traditional technology of developed countries, and the Vietnamese curiosity is the driving force in that.

We’re doing new things, creative things, and hopefully making an impact.

Do you think the traditional way of doing things will be lost along the way?

Inevitably some traditions will be lost. But there are groups of people making efforts to hold onto the old. Like us, we have a product which is mobile calendar. The design is very traditional. The dates are related to the lunar calendar, the events that are traditional to Vietnamese people. That’s a mobile application, a new thing, but we bring in the traditional elements of it.

Sometimes you’ll see black and white images of Hanoi in the old days. They’re beautiful and we feel so reminiscent. It’s beautiful but we cannot go back to that place. It can’t be avoided, but there are many people who still want to keep part of it.

Appota Hanoi office

Are you excited about where Hanoi is right now?

A lot of problems need to be solved, which are the same in other developing countries. All the convenience helps our careers more. There’s a lot more to choose from. All of that is good.