I had spent nearly two weeks walking among the streets of different Cambodian and Vietnamese villages and cities. While I was learning so much about the resilience of their cultures and the prevailing spirit of South Asian entrepreneurs, my feet hurt. I was in the French district of Ho Chi Minh City in search of relief. Like any good growing market, the spa industry is huge and diverse; but something about the Blue Moon Spa struck me. In the window, I could make out a small pool with thousands of fish, nipping at a foot. The sign read:
For the best foot massage, use fish -- specially-imported from Turkey that will eat the dead skin off your feet.
Blue Moon Spa's fish.
These fish were trained to eat off of your feet. I opted for a Thai foot massage, but my friend tried the fish and loved it. He said he had never felt as relaxed in his life -- that at first, it tickles, then it feels more like a regular massage with the extra joy of thousands of fish cleaning your body.
My friend Rodney Walker at the spa.
I knew I had to interview this spa's proprietor. After visiting local schools in Hanoi, I knew how important the spa business was to Vietnam -- more than one student told me about their plans to open a spa.
Plus, as I learned in Cambodia, women are playing an important role in the resurgence of Southeast Asian economies. In fact, I recently read that females account for 25 percent of new business owners in Vietnam (read the full article here). As reported in Forbes, women in countries like Vietnam and Cambodia look to entrepreneurship as the best -- and sometimes, the only -- means to financial independence and success.
So, with all of this in mind, I persuaded Ms. Viv Lie to sit down with me for a couple of hours, to tell me her story and talk business ownership.
Born in a small village in 1978, Viv always wanted to be in business for herself. In 1996, like many people her age, she immigrated to Ho Chi Minh City to find better opportunities. After graduating at the top of her accounting class, Viv was hired by a large company where she stayed for ten years.
But Viv was not satisfied with the corporate track and she continued to look for a more fulfilling life and an entrepreneurial opportunity. She spent a year researching enterprises before landing in the spa business. However, she knew she needed a comparative advantage -- the key to making her spa stand out among thousands in Vietnam.
In my career in entrepreneurship education, the concept of finding your niche is one of the most important lessons I try to impart to my students. The key to successful entrepreneurship is knowing your niche and using it to your advantage. And, as I wrote about recently, one also must know when to pivot.
Today, Viv operates the only spa with a Turkish-fish massage in Ho Chi Minh City. Her place is clean and fun. Her staff is well trained and happy.
Vietnam is set to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The country offers so much freedom for entrepreneurs like Viv, since only 10 percent of their income is taxed. I know that Vietnamese business owners like Viv are what makes Vietnam such a vibrant place. I am glad to have a glimpse into this reality.