Published on 02 May 2024

Making e-commerce accessible to all in Vietnam

Sendo is one of the leading e-commerce players in Vietnam. Its founder, Tran Hai Linh, an alumnus of NTU, is reshaping how locals shop. In June, he will speak about AI’s impact on consumers and e-businesses at an upcoming NTU Alumni Regional Conference.

By Sadia Roohi

Tran Hai Linh graduated from NTU’s Nanyang Business School in 2005 with a business degree in marketing. Little did he know that his education would lay the groundwork for his future endeavours in the tech industry. Fast forward to today, Linh is the co-founder and CEO of Sendo Technology JSC, one of the most prominent online marketplace platforms in Vietnam, which serves more than 20 million customers and has 300,000 registered merchants.

Tran Hai Linh (NBS/2005), co-founder and CEO of Sendo Technology JSC, one of the most prominent online marketplace platforms in Vietnam. Photo credit: Sendo

Sendo was established in 2012 with 30 staff members as Linh and his co-founders saw a growing potential in e-commerce in Vietnam.

"The e-commerce landscape in Vietnam has changed drastically in the last decade. It has become commonplace for consumers to purchase almost everything from online platforms. We saw an opportunity to create a platform that would revolutionise how Vietnamese consumers interacted with online marketplaces," Linh explains.

However, being in the business of innovation, Linh is aware that finding the right solution at the right time is one of the biggest challenges. “Changing people’s behavior is hugely rewarding, but at the same time, you need all the prerequisite conditions to be met. Knowing when is the right time to go in with a new and innovative product is definitely most important,” he said.

Recognising the challenges faced by those residing in rural areas, where access to quality and affordable products is often limited, Sendo wanted to bridge this divide. Understanding that first-time buyers in rural areas usually purchase daily essentials rather than big-ticket items, Sendo tailored its product offerings to cater to this group at accessible price points. The e-commerce player also introduced a Cash on Delivery (COD) service through Vietnam Post in areas where electronic payments were not commonly accepted. 

“By addressing the unique challenges faced by rural communities, Sendo not only provided access to diverse goods but also promoted economic growth in these areas,” said Linh.

Linh (far left) and colleagues at a Sendo warehouse. 

Sendo has grown to a company of 500 employees with plans to be listed in the next few years. Linh said he has always hired alumni from NTU because he believes in the calibre of NTU graduates. 

For himself, Linh took up a tuition fee loan to study at NTU in 2002 and was active in the NTU Vietnamese Students’ Club. The 41-year-old reminisces fondly about his time at NTU, where he honed his business acumen and forged lifelong connections. The father of three boys plans to bring his eldest son to visit the NTU campus, hoping that his son will one day become an NTU student. 

(Left) Linh and his team participated in the 2004 NTU Business Plan Competition, an experience he said formed the foundation for his startups later on. 
(Right) Linh with Indonesian NTU student, Dei, at the NTU International Culture and Food Festival in 2004 which was jointly organised by the international student bodies in NTU. Both were members of the organising committee. 

“At NTU, I received the best of both worlds. On one hand, I was able to access the best business education that helped prepare me for the demands of the business world. On the other hand, I was immersed in the environment of technology, with friends from various technological disciplines. This put me on the trajectory of my career, from running the computing hardware business for Lenovo in Vietnam and Indochina to creating my first mobile app company to the establishment of Sendo,” said Linh, who received the Nanyang Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 2020.

With crisis comes opportunity

Linh's strategic foresight steered the company through uncharted waters, notably during the COVID-19 pandemic when supply chains were disrupted. While other players pulled back, Sendo expanded and launched “Sendo Farm”, an online grocery service, in 2021. 

"As the world grappled with unprecedented challenges, we saw an opportunity to make a meaningful difference. One key moment was when our first Sendo Farm warehouse opened exactly in the week Ho Chi Minh City went into lockdown. Since then, Sendo Farm has seen great acceptance across the country, and we intend to make online grocery shopping the next big project for us in this decade,” said Linh. 

Many Vietnamese would spend half an hour travelling on their motorbikes to the local markets daily, and Linh proposes an alternative for them. 

“They can order fresh produce online from Sendo Farm. We are an online supermarket which purchases directly from the suppliers and delivers them to our customers, saving them the trouble of travelling,” he said. 

Linh expressed that there is fulfillment in serving millions of people through Sendo’s service. He mentioned that the actions taken by him and his team every day have an impact on the lives of their customers, as well as the livelihoods of their partners and their families. 

Fusing AI into e-commerce 

Looking ahead, Linh envisions Sendo playing an even more integral role in shaping Vietnam's e-commerce landscape. "The future of e-commerce in Vietnam is brimming with potential," Linh says. 

As technology evolves, he believes businesses which can identify the right technologies to solve real-life problems will win the market share. 

Linh advises aspiring entrepreneurs looking to venture into the tech sector to be brave, bold, and humble to learn. 

“Never before have consumers had more choices, power, and access to information. The more customisable the services are, the more engaged the customers would be, and hence give business owners more business – and this is where AI comes into use to customise solutions,” explained Linh.

At the upcoming NTU Alumni Conference in Hanoi, he will share his insights during the panel discussion on "AI & Data Analytics: Shaping the Future of Business in Southeast Asia". 

“In innovation, the biggest challenge is finding a new way of doing things to convenience your customers so they are willing to change their behaviours. In turn, the business will profit from that change,” added Linh.

Linh will speak at the Conference about how artificial intelligence will impact consumers’ way of life in the next five years. 

Sign up for the NTU Alumni Regional Conference 2024, happening in Hanoi, Vietnam, on 22 June 2024, where alumni business leaders will come together to discuss topics on economic growth, AI and innovation. 

Related Topics