Interview with Mike Beard, Managing Director of Simple Group Co. 1) What inspired you to start a business in Hanoi? I believe that I have been blessed in life in many ways and want to pass on those blessings if I can. I also believe that business is not about making mon read more
by Scott Homan (Check out part 1 on Manual Bikes’ Do & Don’t here) SEMI-AUTOMATICS: Wave 110: $250 – $500 Most efficient, reliable and most often copied by Chinese knock-offs as well as stolen: These are everywhere and highly reliabl read more
By Scott Homan Hanoi may be the quintessential motorbike city of the world. How can you join the daily racetrack with style, efficiency, safety and reliability? Which bike should you get? Here are a few common affordable options to get you started on your bike shopping: read more
By Jody O’Dea It was four days into our new life in Vietnam when I first heard the term. My wife had accepted a teaching position at an international school in Hanoi, and the offer being too good to pass up, we up sticks and left. Moving to Vietnam gave us the per read more
Looking for a place to live is hard and tiring. Looking for a place in an entirely different country without speaking the language can be downright daunting. In Hanoi, it’s not that bad. Here’s our guide to renting an apartment in Hanoi (plus a checklist for your conven read more
Walking in SpaceBar any day and you probably will find a guy sitting in at a corner table, staring at his laptop, next to a half-empty cup of coffee. He has slim and tall figure, tanned skin, single eyelids on a face too-cool-to-socialize; unsure if Vietnamese or foreigner. But try to ring the bell at the bar, this mysterious person will swiftly approach you, pen in his hand: “May I get you something?” And if you’re lucky, his solitude vibe will disintegrate, being replaced a smile as sincere and harmless as of a farm boy you stumble upon at the dirt road of Vietnam villages. That person is Christian Ki; and we call him CK.
That smile can be traced back to his childhood. CK himself was a farm boy. He was born in a tiny straw-and-mud house 30 years ago in Vung Tau. The house did not have electricity. What it had plenty was dust: dust on furniture, on skin, on eyes; with the passing of big trucks on the nearby highway. Despite the lack of materials, CK recalled a magical childhood: lots of free time, no worries, catching crabs, playing games in the woods and the riverbanks, working at a rubber farm, illegally.
My face widens. CK goes on, as casually as commenting on weather.
“My mother and I worked illegally at a rubber farm to earn more money. We sneaked around to steal rubber milk, sometimes right in front of a guard with a gun in his hands. I was a two-grader at the time.”
“It was the happiest time of my life,” he concludes.
The spirit of an explorer showed early in CK. Thus, he did not like his teenage years in Hoi An – a nice city to visit but – with his temperament – too suffocating to live and work in. Plus, “I don’t play well with others,” CK admits – not to my surprise.
After finishing high school, he ran away on a 1-year cross-country trip, exploring different terrains of Vietnam like an untethered horse. CK’s interest in travelling then led to the 2 years studying Hospitality Management in Singapore. Alone, the eager 19-year-old boarded his first plane abroad; it was SilkAir. CK arrived at midnight to one of the most expensive city on earth without yet a place to stay – because why not?
By the end of his study, CK decided to return to Hoi An with the passing of his older brother. Unlike the trend of young Vietnamese moving South, CK swam upstream to Hanoi in 2012. He had an intuitive urge: “It was a spiritual calling.”
From 2012 to 2014, he was close the expat community and freelanced for various projects as hotel butler, tour and ticket booking person, technical interpreter, hospitality consultant. This added to a myriad of other working experiences during his college years. They seem unrelated at first glance; but all had one thing in common: offering a helpful service for people in need. He said yes to whatever he knew how to do – sometimes also to things he didn’t know for sure.
“Have you ever carried explosives?”
My face widens again. I say I haven’t and don’t have yet any craving to do so.
“We blew things up 6 times per day. When I worked as technical interpreter of a Canadian mining company, I used to hold 15kg of dynamites in my arms. I stuffed dynamite in a hole with a stick. It wouldn’t explode.”
Apparently it didn’t. At the same mining site, he walked several kilometers down a sloped tunnel, holding a robe. The tunnel was pitch-black, small like a wormhole.
In between the ticket booking, the travelling, the translation, the explosions, the underground walk; CK put in stock countless tips on how to settle in and get around Vietnam, both in life and work. He knows how to help: from getting a Sim card, to booking an authentic tour, to getting a temporary residence. The demand for this kind of expat service was clear.
However, this demand wasn’t the only reason CK created his own company in 2014. When I ask about his motivation, CK thinks for a brief moment and shares about his compassion for the villagers.
“In the rural areas, there are people who deserve better lives. They are not getting enough help. At the same time, I know expats who dedicate their lives to Vietnam, but they lack support.”
This compassion for the village life was born in his wild childhood. Same way as the love for Vietnam natural landscapes was born in his years of travelling. Many travelers arrive to the hustle bustle of the big cities and label it Vietnam. While the truth is they need to see the life at the villages to understand the totality of what Vietnam has to offer.
What pains CK is how the rural villagers regard themselves as inferior to foreigners. He feels compelled to change that. “One of my visions is to reduce the gap between the local villagers and the expats.”
This urge, combined with a compassion for the village life, a willingness to help the expat community, and a love for Vietnam landscape, leads to the creation of “The Insight Frog” in April 2014.
The Insight Frog does many things: assist visa, work permit, and residence permit process; book accommodation and flight; arrange tour and travelling; provide technical interpreter, organize events, and giving hospitality consultancy.
May sounds like a mouthful but the company simply reflects CK’s way of working: offering helpful services to people in need – whatever within its’ capability.
Besides running his company, CK is now a partner of ClickSpace – putting his expertise in Hospitality Management into work. He also serves Quinoa Salad at your table and makes you Matcha iced blend. But this should not surprise you by now.
A story by Milena Nguyen
Although Christian Sextl always knew that he wanted to live an extraordinary and purposeful life, he spent a decade following the beaten path, not finding a way to bring into the world what was inside of him. It’s a startling revelation from this idea-addict, this described ‘Informator’, the nomadic knowledge worker whose passion for coffee runs so deep he carries his own Aero Press, hand coffee grinder, and portable kettle in his backpack. Some people spend their whole lives running in the corporate treadmill. Not Chris. Luckily, he had the courage to jump and follow the life-long itch to spend his time with more meaningful projects that would make him and others happy. In March 2015, Chris and his girlfriend Mercedes signed on to support Knowmads Hanoi, a course for Entrepreneurship, Personal Leadership and Sustainability. They helped facilitate the course for the third team of students during the March – April program, and, inspired by its success, decided to stay for the fourth team of students over summer.
The path to get to this point wasn’t easy, and Chris might instead have ended up in a suit in some office, if not for a workshop called “Find the Job that Makes You Happy” in his native Germany. He didn’t find a job that made him happy, but gained a vision of a lifestyle: the life of a traveling entrepreneur, giving workshops and coaching to inspire people to change their lives. What sparks his passion is his own process of growth. “I always loved when I stumbled upon something that would change or improve my life, or when someone gave me a feedback that would create more clarity in me. I know how great it was for me, and that’s why I want to give the same inspiration to others. Because I know that there might be just this one little information that might change someone’s life.” At Knowmads Hanoi, Chris is doing exactly that: inspiring young people to make a positive change in their lives, and helping them make their dreams come true. On the side, he is experimenting with different media like websites, webinars, videos, coaching or books to develop his own projects in the area of personal development.
On the market potential for alternative education in Vietnam, Chris has a positive outlook: “With the growth in economy, more and more people now realize that they need to invest in themselves in order to be successful in their careers and business.” Having worked with a team of 20 young people – mostly Vietnamese – in Knowmads Hanoi Team 3, Chris was impressed by their level of openness and proactiveness. The students’ drive for creating social changes inspired him: “Most people in the program had projects aimed at creating positive change in society – something much more fulfilling than just making money.”
Chris finds the co-working space useful for his changemaking work. “The best thing is the environment. It’s a very cool café, but you know that you’re here to work. I hardly procrastinate when I’m here.” “And there is great coffee!” He added. He certainly enjoys it more than a corner office in Germany.