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A Startup Adventure that Started in Saigon

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Last summer I packed my bags and moved from Brooklyn, New York to Saigon, Vietnam to embark on an unconventional startup adventure. Best summer of my life to say the least.

Funny enough, Vietnam was actually not Plan A. Prior to that decision, I applied for Y Combinator in hopes to start developing TravelCat and didn’t get accepted. I was DEVASTATED – it was sad face, pouty face, end of the world status for two weeks. I really had my heart set on it. Naturally I turned to my trusted suitcase and went on an adventure. Nothing cheers me up like traveling so I took a quick trip to Montreal to clear my head.

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Morning view from my bed in Montreal.

The change in scenery helped to put everything back into perspective. TravelCat means a lot to me and I shouldn’t let something like not getting accepted into YC stop me. I tucked that experience into my pocket to serve as a reminder that I need to work hard for what I believe in. Just like that, I felt better.

Then it hit me, baby! I do my best thinking while I’m traveling. I feel inspired & creative when I’m traveling. I’m creating a travel app. I should be traveling while I start this darn company!

The story of my life = cannot find a technical co-founder. All the good ones are taken, or they just don’t want to commit the way I do. The technical co-founder I had during the YC apps only wanted to commit if we got in. So there I was without a developer. This time around, instead of looking in the Silicon Valley, Seattle, or New York for a talented developer, I had my eyes set on tapping into the growing pool of kick-ass developers in Vietnam (think ).

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Flappy Bird developer Nguyen Ha Đong lives in Ha Noi Vietnam

The idea of moving to Vietnam was planted and it grew like a weed. I returned my apartment, put all my stuff in storage, booked a one way ticket to Saigon, found a trusting cat sitter, and jumped on the plane with my laptop, wireframes, and suitcase of full of dreams.

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The world is my office.

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The very first TravelCat wireframes.

I wasted no time upon my arrival in Saigon. I met with the promising freelance developers and the outsourcing companies that I had already been emailing with. Most of them blew me away by how entrepreneurial and smart they were. Ultimately, I went with one of the top outsourcing companies in all of Vietnam – .

I LOVE TMA. I spent a lot of time there working with my dedicated team in true startup fashion. It was a side by side, collaborative, comfortable, and creative environment. I didn’t feel like a client at all. Actually, I made peers and lifelong friends at TMA. Heck, I even went back to Vietnam recently to attend one of their weddings!

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Me, Hieu (TravelCat’s project manager), and his lovely wife on their wedding day.

Here’s what my days looked like. I commuted to work riding on the back of a motorbike taxi. Weaving the busy streets of Saigon really got my brain rolling. I spent my weekends at cafes that felt like spending time in someone’s day dream. The whole place was like a HUGE startup. I was having an incredible experience and getting top notch talent all at a fraction of the cost it would have taken in the States. In the thick of the development process, I knew I made the right decision to outsource development and not wait around and beg a developer in the States to work with me.

The She Cafe in Saigon was on of my faves

The She Cafe in Saigon was one of my faves

I bet a lot of you are wondering how I financed all of this. The answer is 1) luck and 2) double shifts. The luck part came a year before I went to Saigon. I had a little money saved up from when the startup I was working at got acquired by a Fortune 500. I used that as startup money for TravelCat development and design. 2) The double shifts helped me sustain my everyday life. I decided to not quit my job in the States when I went to Vietnam. When a huge company acquires your startup, you have lots of down time. I was already working remotely in the States, so I just quietly snuck away to Vietnam. During the day I would be at TMA working on TravelCat and at night I would report to work per the usual. I didn’t skip a beat. After all I was running on all that Vietnamese coffee.

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So where is TravelCat now? Still just the very beginning of this adventure. I’ve never been so stressed out to be honest, but somehow it’s okay. After last summer in Vietnam, I released the alpha and got a lot of good feedback. Since then, we’ve been working on the beta release, coming at you in March 2015! :) We’re also starting to raise funding so I can focus 100% on TravelCat. If you’re an angel/investor interested in joining me on this adventure please let me know at and I’ll send you our investor deck. Still looking for that dream CTO. If you’re out there, give me a ping at .

For all you travel enthusiasts, you can join the adventure by signing up for our beta list here.

Thanks so much for reading!

Best,
Mai aka The TravelCat

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