THE INC. LIFE

Coins Over Cheese: Why this German Entrepreneur is Making Vietnam his Start-up’s Home Base

In a country where cash remains king, Dominik Weil wants to make Vietnam the next bitcoin market

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BY Adelle Chua - 17 May 2017

bitcoin vietnam

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

“Cheese is so expensive in Vietnam,” laments Frankfurt native Dominik Weil, who runs his start-up Bitcoin Vietnam out of Ho Chi Minh City. “It costs $10 per 200 grams!”

But cheese is about the only thing Weil misses in his country. “I can always fly back and visit the EU from time to time,” Weil says, but emphasizes he does not see himself living and working there anymore. “I don’t see my future in Europe at all.”

The start-up founder came to Vietnam three years ago, hoping to bring the bitcoin idea to a new market—a challenging exercise in a country where cash remains king. “About 95 percent of transactions here are in cash,” says Weil. He observes that at the end of every month, people would fall in long lines at the ATM and withdraw all their cash, all at once.

It’s precisely this mentality that Weil hopes the Vietnamese will break away from by introducing bitcoin, the up-and-coming digital currency that offers a cheaper and quicker way to move money from one place to another. Faster than regular remittance channels, bitcoin is ideal for transactions that take place without the parties having to wait for or face each other.

Bullish on bitcoin

Bitcoin is especially useful for the cross-border transactions common in Vietnam, where a whopping two million of the population work overseas. Many of these overseas Vietnamese, unable to find gainful employment at home, seek jobs in other countries. Richer families also tend to send their children abroad to study.

This phenomenon has allowed for a thriving remittance industry as workers send their earnings home and parents send out their children’s tuition and allowance. It’s the same industry that bitcoin promises to make more efficient.

But if the Vietnamese are known to distrust non-cash means of transferring money, how can Weil’s start-up get them interested in bitcoin?

There’s much work to do, concedes Weil, saying he’s in it for the long haul. “People don’t necessarily need to understand exactly how some things work. In bitcoin’s case, we just have to make sure that it works every time, and that people are able to send and receive money hassle-free,” Weil says.

A Promising Market

Weil describes Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s economic capital, as his current home: “It never sleeps, there is always something going on.”

Development has been quite rapid: In the past five years, a new skyline has appeared. Everybody in Vietnam, it seems, is trying to making some money. “Even students try to earn something on Facebook,” he says. “The country is officially socialist, but the mentality is capitalist.”

While there are concerns about security when it comes to such a novel concept as bitcoin—“You have to manage expectations, regulations,” Weil says—the prospects have been really good, specifically because of the country’s political stability. “It helps people to just focus on their business, on how to make money. I imagine it will be a much stronger force in five to 10 years,” says Weil.

Demographics plays a key role—“The population is young, as is the start-up ecosystem”—but it is not the only growth driver. According to Weil, perhaps the biggest difference between his native Europe and Vietnam is people’s attitude in terms of what they can expect from their government. “People here are independent,” he says. “The culture in the West is that people always complain that this is what their government should do. Here, when people have a problem, they solve it on their own.”