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Passion for applied technology creates start-up

When he was a student, Le Anh Tien had a passion for scientific applications. He tried to create products in various fields, from economics and the environment to education.

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Le Anh Tien, CEO of Chatbot Vietnam Technology Joint Stock Company, with co-founder Hoang Minh Phu, at an online meeting. — Photo courtesy of Le Anh Tien

He became a software developer after graduating from high school. He won awards at amateur competitions in Da Nang and creative contests for teenagers nationwide.

During his four years studying at the Da Nang University of Science and Technology, Tien spent most of his time in the lab. Of his 20 research projects, the most notable was his MultiGlass product – a smart device that enables people with disabilities to use computers with the movement of their eyes and head. With these glasses, it is easier for them to access information online as well as look for jobs.

The product won him a prize at the Vietnamese Talent Awards 2016, an annual event held to honour talents in the fields of IT, applied science, medicine and the environment.

That initial success encouraged him to team up with other friends to create bot bán hàng – a chatbot platform for sellers and advertisers.

“At first, we decided to set up a chatbot to facilitate the management of a coffee shop we operated in a co-working space,” Tien said.

“After three months, we saw our costs reduce by 40 per cent while efficiency improved at the same time. Then we decided to expand the product.”

Tien and his colleagues set up Chatbot Vietnam Technology Joint Stock Company in 2017.

Chatbot has been used around the world for many years and is widely applied in e-commerce, insurance, healthcare, retail and hospitality.

Developing chatbot technology became a common trend for start-ups in Vietnam and globally in 2017 along with blockchain technology, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data.

What makes bot bán hàng stand out is that it allows customers to find information, make orders and pay directly on Messenger without having to switch to another interface, said Tien, who is now CEO of the company.

The platform also carries out gamification which incorporates fun and an element of competition to marketing strategy to help businesses attract more customers. The strategy can attract tens of thousands of users within a few hours with conversion rates of 30 per cent.

Hoang Minh Phu, a co-founder of bot bán hàng, said the operation of the platform facilitates interaction between sellers and customers, making online shopping easier.

“Changing shopping habits through a convenient channel can be considered the biggest contribution bot bán hàng offers the community,” he said.

With three founding members graduating from the Da Nang University of Science and Technology, Tien said it gave the company a solid technical foundation. However, it was not an easy path for him and his co-workers.

At the beginning, the founding members had to multi-task, from developing the platform, marketing, sales and customer care.

“I only slept about 3-4 hours a day and I was working part-time for another company to earn money to run the project,” Tien said.

The first problem the company faced was how to persuade customers to use their product.

To convince customers in the early days, they decided to offer a free service for nine months, Tien said.

“After that period, most customers chose to buy the product and more and more people became interested in it.”

According to Tien, the most difficult period the company had faced over the past two years was when Facebook data was exposed online.

Like other applications operating on Facebook, chatbot was deactivated.

Determined not to depend on another platform, the company’s staff tried to set up a “data driven” platform. At the end of 2018, bot bán hàng officially split from Facebook.

Sharing his experience, Phu said a start-up always faced certain difficulties in its development stages.

To complete a new product, the staff had to approach customers, exchange and listen to users' comments, and then make suitable changes, he said.

“This is a time-consuming and labour-intensive process as the majority of online sellers were still not accustomed to applying technology in their businesses,” he said, adding that some customers didn't trust the product but even objected to the adoption of new technology.

But his efforts have been paid off.

Bot bán hàng is now used by many agencies and businesses, such as the Ministry of Science and Technology, Vietnam Television Corporation, Vinmart, VnPay, VinID, Grab and Viettelpost.

More than 15,000 firms have installed the platform with over 10 million users from five countries and territories including Vietnam, Taiwan, the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan.

With customer growth of over 5,000 per cent and strong potential, the company has successfully raised US$500,000 in funding from NextTech Group.

Nguyen Hoa Binh, Next Tech’s CEO, said the reason why they had poured capital into the firm was that it had a positive impact on society.

He said the chatbot had the ability to deliver 24/7 automated customer support, thereby not only increasing customer engagement but also saving costs for businesses.

Tien said the investment would help connect the company with the group’s regional e-commerce ecosystem, contributing to speeding up the globalisation process of bot bán hàng.

Given the complex developments of COVID-19, Tien has completed a chatbot about the pandemic to make it easier for netizens to stay updated on the situation.

“On Lunar New Year Eve, I spent six hours setting up the chatbot. The launch of the chatbot helped people share information more quickly, and easily access the latest data from around the world,” he said.

The company is also offering 50 discounts for all of its products to help Vietnamese businesses overcome the hardships caused by the pandemic.

Having used bot bán hàng over the past three months, Vo Van Phuong, 36, the owner of a milk tea shop in Hue, said he was satisfied with the product.

“I used to hold promotions like selling tea for only VND19,000 (0.8 US cents) or putting on live music, but they were not effective in terms of marketing.”

He decided to apply chatbot to attract Facebook visitors.

Phuong was surprised by the results after launching a game developed by bot bán hàng last month.

“It was really impressive. The number of customers is up to 300 per day, an increase of 50 compared with normal days, while revenue has gone up 25 per cent compared with previous months.”

According to Phuong, the benefit of chatbot was that it helped save marketing costs and time while creating a professional fanpage. It had also improved the shop’s brand perception.

Using customer data, we can send messages when the shop is running promotions.

For Tien, his dream has not yet been fulfilled.

“We will continue to improve our technology to turn bot bán hàng into a super platform and useful sales tool to meet the rising demand for online sales and turning Chatbot Vietnam into one of the country's leading technology firms,” he said.  VNS

Mai Hien

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