From readers’ feedback about the desire for more practical examples, in this newsletter, Malu sends you a summary of the TripX product development story of Mr. Nguyen Truong Long, an experienced Senior Product Manager. Products at leading technology companies such as Momo, Zalo, Laban Key, etc.
Mr. Long also mentioned at the end of the article that TripX may not be a successful product for him personally, but the experience still gives him a lot. For readers who are learning about Careerly’s products and dream of starting a business, Malu believes it’s not just success stories that bring you many valuable lessons. For readers who have experience in making products, Malu hopes you can find some sympathy.
The process of finding ideas
In the fall of 2017, while working at Autonomous, I realized that my daily tasks do not take up all of my time, I have quite a bit of free time, especially at night and on weekends, which if only Playing is a waste of time. I think something should be done to add more value, anything.
I think the idea goes in two main directions. I research a lot around to see if there are unresolved issues or what users need to solve their needs. Another approach is to look outside the world, look at the US, look at China to see what products your country has that Vietnam does not have and see what we can do in Vietnam. Are not.
Finally, I came to the idea of a self-driving car rental platform in the Vietnamese market. “Self-driving” here means renting a car wreck and without a driver, the car hirer has to drive himself, not self-driving with the meaning of artificial intelligence (autonomous). In the US market with Turo friends, GetAround is making this product and is still doing well. In the Vietnamese market, Mioto.vn also operates quite methodically. I think the best way to find out is to talk to Mioto.
In November 2017, after a process of researching Mioto company, I got the phone number of S – CEO of Mioto. I called S directly to make an appointment to meet and talk. After meeting S, I realized the potential of the market, and started building a team to build TripX.
The name TripX also came quite by accident. It was inspired by Elon Musk’s SpaceX name*, a company that I admire a lot. TripX has something to do with trip — trip, travel, and it’s friendly, easy to read and easy to remember. Adding an X at the end of the name makes it quite mysterious and magical, and also short. Combined with the .vn domain name, the product is a bit lean and light.
We built a website and 2 Android and iOS apps for TripX within 4 months.
From day one, I thought, to be able to build TripX in this self-driving car rental industry, the key personnel I need are: technology, operations and legal. I have been able to target some positions like backend, operations, Android, web frontend, UX/UI from friends I worked with in the tech industry before, and I still lack iOS and legal.
To reach these friends, I have built a slide specifically for you to talk about the potential of the market and the product that I am about to build, to invite you to join the founding team. In order for everyone to feel the product better, I rented a car through the Mioto app to drive myself to Vung Tau. I present slide pitching to you at a cafe in Vung Tau about the potential of the market, product, vision, and invite everyone to join the team. In the end, almost all of you agreed to join me, except for the operating position.
I was forced to look for another person to operate this product, who I would like to be able to do in the future as COO, that is a sister who used to work with me at MoMo. I went to a cafe near her house, also pitching the idea of this self-driving car rental platform and she agreed to participate. I am overjoyed because she is a person that I believe is very good, having her in my team is extremely reassuring.
After reaching out to several iOS developers with no success, the Android developer suggested that he program for iOS using React Native — a framework that can build both apps at the same time, saving you a lot of time. time and cost. Obviously, I’m as happy as catching gold.
So I already have enough backend, mobile, web, design, operation programmers and I do the rest. What could be better than building such a great tech team and running it. We started working at the level 4 house that we rented the whole house. We work on weekends and evenings because everyone has a full-time job. To maintain the team and the voting rate in the team, I divided the shares among everyone and paid a symbolic salary for the brothers, each from 1–2 million.
But the stream of life can be peaceful for a long time. After about a month, she decided to leave the team because she felt that she was not committed enough to go with the team for a long time. About 3 months ago, I decided to give my backend a break due to disagreements even though he built the system from scratch and designed the architecture of TripX. There are times when he arbitrarily does some things that I think affect the product and the company, although I tried to talk privately a few times but couldn’t change it. So I had to make the difficult decision to let him leave the team because it was necessary to create stability in the team.
So there are only 3 people left in the team, one friend later switched from web frontend to fullstack to take care of both web and backend, one friend took care of both Android and iOS and I did all the rest, from Operation, CS, Marketing, Design, Product , QA… A team of 3 is compact, but can go together for a long time. Through the process of hiring and firing, I have learned a lot of valuable lessons about human resource management.
Apply to YC
YCombinator (YC) is an incubator in Silicon Valley of many investment geniuses like Paul Graham. Those who pass the YC interview round will receive a lot of training and help, the whole team will work in their headquarters in California and will receive a minimum investment of 120,000 USD. The companies that used to be in the incubator of YC are Dropbox, Stripe… and many other popular technology companies. Obviously YC is the destination of many startups and TripX is no exception.
I submitted to YC and then invited my backend to record a video introducing the two brothers and TripX. The filming was also difficult because both of them had to memorize the English script and go to the webchat software whereby.com, at that time the backend was not in Vietnam. However, YC rejected us. No news response. Looking back at the video we shot, it was also sketchy, and maybe due to the small market, the product was not so prominent, so it was eliminated.
Operating TripX floor
At the beginning, when the platform did not have any cars or customers, I approached each car owner to convince them to upload their car to TripX. The operator and I met a traditional car rental company to introduce TripX and understand the difficulties in operating a car rental. Through the process of approaching car owners, I have learned a lot about the problems of car owners, also have many insights that I have never thought of, so I will improve the product to serve car owners better.
In addition to approaching the car owner directly at their company/home (this takes quite a while), I went to Cho Tot, went to the car rental section, to get all the phone numbers of the car owner. they posted it online. In addition, the car owner’s phone number is also easy to find on Facebook, websites I search on Google. I phoned all the phone numbers I got directly, claiming to be an employee of TripX and inviting them to post the car on the floor.
At the beginning, many car owners were still concerned when they did not know which floor TripX was, never heard the name, and did not know if it was safe to rent a car. After listening to my sincere presentation, they were gradually persuaded to upload the car to the system. The process of persuading cars to post on the system also takes a long time.
I also spent a small amount of money to advertise TripX to car owners, through Facebook, so that car owners can reach TripX and actively post their cars. When the car owner posted the car and the app/web was in the early stages, there were a lot of errors and crashes every day, I had to go to the car owner’s house to see what specific error they had, on what device. It is clear that when the product is released to the market, users use it in many ways that we do not expect, and sometimes do not understand why on the user’s computer there is an error.
After I had reached a number of car owners to upload their cars to the system, I began to approach tenants. You know, the floor model is always two-way, the service provider and the service user, TripX plays an intermediary role. In TripX’s model, I approach the car owner first to post the car on the system, then approach the customer to direct them to the car rental website. This causes a small drawback, but is acceptable at first. That is, from time to time, there are complaints that the TripX floor has few customers, posting cars forever without seeing tenants. This is easy to understand, at the beginning when I first approached the car owner but there were no tenants, it was obvious that no one rented the car.
I PR TripX on several channels like Facebook ads, spam/seeding in forums like otosaigon, otofun, car rental groups on Facebook. I also planned to distribute leaflets at the gates of the driving school, at the crossroads, and also asked Zing News to take a PR post, etc., but these orientations have not been implemented. Customers come to TripX also regularly, about 10-12 car rental requests/week. Although the number of bookings for this car was not much, it was just enough for the size of my time spent on TripX at that time, when all the team members worked part-time and had other full-time jobs.
Going to raise capital
Raising capital is one of the key parts of a fledgling startup. I have participated in pitching sessions with investors, also approached a few people like Viettravel, ESP, Shark Phi… but still not getting their support. Some people think TripX will not succeed, because it has not met the needs of the market.
Changing the model in a new era
After about 6 months of building and operating TripX, I realized that I myself do not fit this much offline business model. Our team is also unable to focus fully on a business model where the number of transactions is not really high, investors are not really interested, and the team members themselves are not too good at this subject. Therefore, I decided to change TripX’s business model.
In November 2018, I changed the exchange model of TripX to become a listing floor (turn off the features of tenant management, deposit, receive car, return car, review …). The simple model is that the car owner posts the car and after it is approved, the car will appear on the TripX floor. Customers who want to rent a car just need to choose the car they like, they will see the phone number of the car owner and the two parties will contact each other directly. This way, the operating cost of TripX is almost zero, only one employee is required to browse the car every time a new car is posted.
Around the time I changed that model, I also started communicating with the parties about the desire to cede TripX to the right people and have the desire to enter this business.
One of the two people who are very interested is Que. Que used to have experience in car rental and self-driving car rental, now she has a company specializing in building and deploying electrical systems for buildings. After a process of negotiation and mutual understanding, both sides have agreed that Que’s company will acquire and operate TripX. After a period of time when Cinnamon has been operating, I think the decision to sell TripX is wise. After entering the hands of Que, TripX has started to change skin and especially bring in revenue for Luster company, which is Que’s company.
Building a company from the ground up is a tough one after another, but full of excitement and memories. In the process of trying this idea, another idea, I also discovered what I am suitable for, where I am strong and weak. TripX may not succeed with Long, but will succeed with Luster. I have no regrets that TripX has been a part of my youth, and if I have the opportunity to rebuild another product, I will not hesitate to plunge into that arduous road again.
City. Ho Chi Minh City, July, 2020