From Corporate to Entrepreneurship: A Candid Expat Story

Have you always been into entrepreneurship and dreaming of running your own business one day? Or are you finding some inspiration to take the first step from corporate to enter the entrepreneurship journey? Then, you wouldn’t want to miss this article. 

It takes a lot of guts to go study and live overseas because it means stepping out of your comfort zone. It even requires a lot more boldness and determination to set up your own business in that foreign country. The reasons might be because of differences in culture or in working environment e.g. corporate to entrepreneurship . However, entrepreneur-spirited individuals might just see these difficulties as motivations for them to overcome and step forwards.

We were lucky to sit down with one of them: Thuy Duong Le, who currently owns MayVy (https://www.mayvy.nl/), a retail business founded in October 2020 that specializes in Eastern food and ingredients. We had a conversation through which Duong genuinely shared her experiences and advices moving from corporate to entrepreneurship.

A quick look and feel at MayVy’s physical store in Amstelveen

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Duong and I’m the owner of MayVy – a physical and online food shop that specializes in Asian cuisine products. I came to the Netherlands in 2003 to study marketing and have been living here for the past 17 years. After graduation, I have worked for both Dutch and international corporations. 

It was hard to find a marketing job at the beginning because of language barrier and cultural differences. But thankfully, I was somewhat better at research and statistics than my peers at the time, so I was recognized for my data analytics skill and thus my career shifted towards web analytics thereafter. 

The front of MayVy store in Amstelveen

Can you tell us about the story of MayVy?

I’m passionate about marketing but I’m also an entrepreneur by birth. Running my own business had always been my dream; and so I was thinking and thinking about the idea for my start-up. I’m originally from Hai Phong city, where food is amazingly delicious. I guess that’s why eating good delish food is not only my hobby but also my standard.

At that time, Vietnamese food was getting more and more popular and I could see many Vietnamese restaurants were opened in the Netherlands. However, they served only a few dishes, while our food is actually much more diverse and flavourful than that. Besides, the demand for Asian food and ingredients from the expats was high. I knew that the chance had come and so decided to seize it by starting MayVy, both a physical store in the expat-friendly area of Amstelveen as well as a webshop. May and Vy are the names of my 2 daughters, who are my eternal source of motivation.

Duong (in the middle) with her friends in front of MayVy store in Amstelveen

We knew that you already built an online webshop in the past; but then you stopped and went back to corporate life. What were the reasons you decided to stop back then, and after a few years once again went on your entrepreneurial journey?

My first business was founded when I first entered the job market. I liked working in big companies with smart colleagues, because I could learn a lot and gain a lot of experience. But it comes with a disadvantage, that is I could only specialize in a certain area of the whole process, while I wanted to explore other business aspects as well. That was why I opened a small business to try on-hands end to end how to run a business. 

But I guess it was just not the best timing. I just got married, worked full-time and studied for a master degree all at the same time. It was just too much to handle. And also, my financial situation was not ideal at the time. Therefore, I decided to first focus on my family and corporate career to get experiences first, before coming back and building my own business. Last year, when I felt like I was ready, financially and professionally, I decided to embark on the entrepreneurship journey once again. 

What are the 3 biggest lessons you learned from the years at corporates that can apply to your own business now? 

First and foremost, I would say corporate life teaches me to develop a standard and professional system that helps a lot in my entrepreneurship journey. If you build it correctly from the beginning, it will be easier to scale up later on. For instance, for MayVy where we have both a store and a webshop, the stock management system is very important to reflect exactly the quantity of products in both sources. Hence, I tried to set it up correctly at the beginning.  

Secondly, I sharpened my stakeholder management skill through the years working for corporations. I am quite frank and honest, so corporate life wasn’t always easy; but overtime I learned to be adaptive so that I could work well with co-workers, and this has helped me in running my own startup. 

The last lesson is about having perspectives, looking at different angles. This is actually a lesson learned from entrepreneurship, but I wouldn’t gain such a new perspective without working in corporate before. When working in big corporates, I couldn’t see an entire process but only my piece of the puzzle. Hence sometimes, I didn’t get why people did things in certain ways, or why the work of others wasn’t done the way I expected. However, after building my own business, I could understand that everything happens for a reason, so I become more empathetic towards colleagues and managers. 

What have been your most valued-learned lessons so far, since your webshop and physical store were opened? 

I would definitely say that it’s about finding the right people and this applies to both corporate or entrepreneurship. It’s the most challenging task for me because teamwork is very important. The key to success is to find people who share the same values as you do. It’s also wise to find people who are good at different fields so that they can help you grow further and faster. Right now since  I’m working mostly by myself, everything needs to be developed at the “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product) state, because I couldn’t dedicate time to perfect everything. 

How do you differentiate MayVy from the rest of Asian physical or online supermarkets? And what is your vision for MayVy in the future?

I adore aesthetics and so I invest in making things as beautiful and eye-pleasing as possible for my business. My motto is to be aesthetic, delicious and convenient to consumers. That’s why MayVy offers not only high quality food but also a nice shopping experience. I want my customers to feel good while shopping with MayVy, either in the webshop or at the store. I think that’s one of the main distinguishers of MayVy from the rest of the shops in the market. 

For this industry, the market is very competitive while margin is relatively low. But I stay committed to my principle of honesty: honest pricing and treating customers the way I would like to be treated. With this principle, I hope this creates trust and respect with my customers and differentiates MayVy from some other stores. 

For vision, right now there are quite a number of Asian expats living in Amstelveen, so in the short run, I’d want MayVy to be their go-to Asian grocery store in the area. In the long run, besides cuisine, I’m also very passionate about Vietnamese tourism, hence it would be awesome if I can expand my business into that area. But now, that’s still just an idea.  

Goodies inside MayVy

In general, what do you think about the Netherlands as a startup environment? 

I would say that it’s an ideal and very dynamic environment for start-ups. As long as you have a good idea, the rest (e.g. paper and legal works) will be facilitated. The government offers prompt and on-point support to help you establish and grow your business. Beside food, fields such as technology or logistics are also potential because of the Dutch well-developed facilities and infrastructures. 

What advice would you give to other women who want to embark on the entrepreneurship journey?

Running a business consumes a massive amount of time, for me it takes 60-80 hours per week. I’m lucky because my husband is very understanding and helps me a lot with houseworks and children. But it’s still very hard for me to balance time for work and family. So my biggest advice would be to simplify things, do everything in a minimalist way. This way, you can use your precious time wisely.

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