Adapted from an email, April 14, 2020.
After graduating from SOM eight years ago, I moved to Vietnam—a word more often used to reference a long-ago war than a fast-growing, dynamic country of nearly 100 million people.
As a Vietnam-focused venture capitalist, I have been betting on the assumption that Vietnam and indeed the world was hurtling towards a better future. Then the world abruptly ground to a halt. Vietnam, with much of its growth fueled by globalization, especially vis-à-vis China, Korea, and the U.S., has been hit hard economically, as have countries elsewhere. (Still, it’s one of just a handful of countries that economists project will maintain positive GDP growth this year despite the pandemic).
A number of our companies are struggling in this context. As a result, we have made a number of aggressive markdowns in Q1 and have shifted substantial attention to supporting companies across our portfolio.
On the other hand, some of our portfolio companies are not merely surviving but thriving. How? Well, the better future we envisioned already included distributed work, digital learning, and similar segments that are positively blowing up. Some of our companies have been building that future. Just last month, one of our companies became the world’s newest “unicorn” (a company with a billion-dollar valuation) in edtech. My fund’s net internal rate of return has never been better.
As for Vietnam’s public health response, thanks to a combination of decisive government action (schools have been closed since late January, for example) and attentive adherence from the broader public, Vietnam currently has fewer than 300 confirmed cases, versus over 600,000 in the U.S. I never could have imagined today feeling safer during a pandemic in Vietnam than in the U.S., but here we are.
Last week we welcomed our baby boy into this crazy world. His names, Ethan in English (from the Hebrew word meaning “strength”) and Chính in Vietnamese (from the word meaning “integrity”), were picked without consideration of COVID-19. But they will serve as good reminders to me of what will be needed for the world to make it through these difficult times and continue on its path to a better future.