Interview with Mike Tran from Snapbuck Company in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

By the time I knew what was planned, our family was on our way to "the promised land". After a very long flight, I woke up at night in Syracuse, NY (March 22, 1992) and saw snow for the first time. I still can vividly visualize the moment as I stepped down from the plane. The soft white powdery and fluffy feather like things were pouring down from the sky as I deplaned and this still leaves an imprint in my head.  I had gone from the tropics to one of the coldest cities in the US in the space of a little over 24 hours.

Before I realized it, 10 years had passed by and I was preparing for college. I spent 4 years at Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY learning computer engineering. You would think that I would be tired of the snow and go to college somewhere warmer but Clarkson was nearly as cold as Syracuse. While I was in college, I participated in a talent development program for minority students called INROADS and this is where everything kind of happened. I recall one motivation speaker who spoke to us and said, “Do business my friend. It does not matter what you do. Just do business.  Business will be your ticket to financial freedom.” And he also said “Dream…and work hard because words without action is just a mirage.” His words still linger in my head till this very day. While with INROADS, I interned with Lockheed Martin for approximately 3 years, but additionally I am a man of curiosity so I took on little software projects here and there to make extra money for college expenses and to get more experience.

Upon graduation, the economic landscape for computer engineering was drying up at that time so I made use of the software background that I’d accumulated doing freelance projects and landed my first job in Portland, Oregon in 2005. I wanted to get a job in Portland because my girlfriend was in Portland. You know what they say, love is blind. While working professionally for several companies, I had grown tired of the 9-5-work day, but most importantly, I felt unmotivated because work became boring and I lacked a challenge. It was at my last company, CMD Agency, where I found a challenge and my innovative spirit sparked. Because of the business nature of CMD, I had the opportunity to work on many software projects for various companies from various industry thus it allowed me to see rare opportunities to innovate. My friends and former partners (Toby, Eric and I) came up with an idea to make sales and marketing presentations more interactive and engaging. We wanted to make the companies sales and marketing content adapt to the way you present based on who you’re presenting it to. Thus AdaptivPath was born and we formed Transit Technology Inc. The vision of Transit Technology was to innovate and develop software products that real people needed but maybe didn't yet realize how much they were missing. Transit was set up to develop products in-house and for other companies who had a need to develop new products from scratch. At the time, I was the software architect and developer so our ability to take in mid-large scale project was limited. This is when we explored other cost effective markets to build our development team. We looked into India and Vietnam, but decided to go with Vietnam because we believed communication and culture can be a real issue in India. Since, I can understand and speak Vietnamese – we believed it would be advantageous to have the team in Vietnam.

Just like a flash, 5 years went by and Transit (“AdapivPath”) had gone through many transformations and now is known as FileString Inc – share your important and confidential documents with confidence. Unfortunately, the now executives at FileString and I did’t get along so I unplugged and went into hibernation for about 6 months to consider new challenges. This is when Snapbuck was born. I just can’t stop innovating.  Because of my passion for innovation, I have setup the Snapbuck development team to develop products in-house and for other companies who have a need to develop a new product from scratch.

So what is Snapbuck? Snapbuck was born to reward you for doing the thing you love – get paid to take beautiful pictures. For every picture you take, we paid you $.001 cent per photo. Better yet, you can win up to $1 dollar daily just by participating in our Snap Flash game. Wait… There is more. Not that you can earn money by taking pictures, but you can also save money. How? It’s easy – download our app and snap a pictures at our partner sponsored location and make $1 dollar for that pictures and receive discounted services should you decided to try out our partner services.

Wait… There is more. Really? Yes – really. We strongly believe in sharing. Share your Snapbuck’s joy with your friend and we will credit $1 dollar into your Snapbuck account when they successfully signed up and use Snapbuck.

Hmm? So how does Snapbuck make money? Good that you asked. We make money when you make money. We believe in sharing. When you use our app to take pictures we run a little banner ad on top to generate ad revenue to pay you. We only make money when you participate in our partner-sponsored events. Our partners pay us $1 plus change when you visited and snapped a photo at their sponsored location. We then take that $1 dollar and pay you and we keep the change.

Question 2: Can you discuss a little about the development of mobile applications development in Vietnam and how Vietnam compares to the U.S., India, China and the Philippines in terms of mobile applications development?

Answer:  Vietnam has a very rich and fast growing IT talent pool and mobile is one of the hottest fields today in Vietnam. Of course when you compare Vietnam development talent to India and China, Vietnam is still relatively young but they have quickly become a key figure in the global software outsourcing industry rising to 8th place in 2011 and have now surpassed the Philippines. In fact, Vietnam is the #2 choice just after China for Japanese companies when choosing software-outsourcing partners.

Question 1:    Mike, I know you are originally from the US and a Vietnamese American who came to the US at a young age.  Can you tell us a little about how you came to the US.  Your education and past work.  How you came to be interested in software development and how you came to return to Vietnam to start a new venture?  Also, a little about this new company and what you and the company are doing?

Answer: My family migrated to the US when I was 9 years old. I don’t recall what program we were processed through, but we were required to learn English and US culture prior to coming to the US. Hence, we spend 7 months in the Philippines learning what we could about US culture and improving our English language skills. At the time, I had no idea that we were going to the US. I was going along with whatever path my father drew up for us.

Question 3: What is the availability of talent in terms of mobile application development software staff in Vietnam and how do the costs in Vietnam compare to say the US, China and India?

Answer: The mobile talent pool availability in Vietnam is massive and still growing, but demands are high for good mobile developers so they are quick to get swept away. The cost for software staff in Vietnam is very affordable. Here is the break down.

a.    Vietnam & US ratio: 5 : 1 cheaper

b.    Vietnam & China: 3 : 1 cheaper

c.    Vietnam & India: 2 : 1 cheaper

Question 4:     To go back to your new company - snapbuck -  again as I understand it pays the user a slight amount for using the system as you've mentioned above.  Can you describe what is its' current status and user base?

Answer: We currently have ~17,000 users and are still growing without doing any marketing to date. We are in a very strong position to grow and become the leader in mobile camera apps in Vietnam. We have already had several companies interested in using Snapbuck platform to advertise their product/services. We have already closed one deal and we are preparing a marketing campaign to promote Snapbuck and our partner through Facebook and online news channels to expose Snapbuck to the mass market in Vietnam.

Question 5:   I know your company is focused on rolling out this mobile application to first Vietnam, then the region and then to the world.  Where are you at in that process?

Answer: We are already coming out of beta test in Vietnam and are now preparing to launch a marketing campaign to officially introduce Snapbuck to the mass Vietnam market. Our next step is to raise a little money to expand our business to the US.

Question 6:    Say a US or other company was to want to hire your firm to work with them to develop a mobile application, how would the firm contact you and what information would you seek from them initially in terms of getting started.

Answer: They can contact me via LinkedIn, Skype, email ( or phone (971-259-5500). What I would need from them is a brief call to get to know them and their business. From there, we can advise them whether we are the correct choice for their business. If not, we can refer them to someone who might be a better fit to help them.  My contacts are:

US Mobile: (1) 9712595500
VN Mobile: (84) 6966467870
Skype: Knightkode

Potential readers can visit our current launch product site to learn more about what we do and the product we developed at or our previous project at

Question 7:   How difficult do you think the barriers to entry are for a foreign company that wanted to set-up an application development company in Vietnam?  How hard is it to find, hire and retain good staff?  How challenging is the learning curve for getting traction in this sector?  How would working with your company simplify things and what sort of figure are we talking about in terms of developing a mobile application?

Answer:  It’s not hard to setup a development shop in Vietnam, but without prior experience and knowledge of the local landscape, you can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars before you can get your company up and running. Finding, hiring and retaining the right staff is a steep learning curve in Vietnam. You can lose a lot of time, money, and wasted opportunities trying to find, hire, and retain the right staff. Hiring them is easy, but retaining them is another story. You can draw them in with a high salary, but that does NOT last.

Working with us simplifies several things for you.  Among them:

1. Communication barriers – My staff and I fluently speak and read English and can correrspond and communicate with you and your staff.

2. Peace of mind – We do nothing here but mobile development. Our team has experience developing two enterprise scale applications and 3 cross-platform mobile applications. You’re working with a team full of senior software engineers. Most importantly, we only work on one project at a time. Hence, you get our full attention almost 24/7.

3.  Protection - We protect your intellectual property and your information just like we were working for you in the U.S.  We perform at the highest security and privacy levels.  Your work is safe in our hands.  This is not the same in China and many other places.

Mike, Thank you for talking with today. 
About the Interviwer: 

Christopher W. Runckel, a former senior US diplomat who served in many counties in Asia, is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School. He served as Deputy General Counsel of President Gerald Ford’s Presidential Clemency Board. Mr. Runckel is the principal and founder of Runckel & Associates, a Portland, Oregon based consulting company that assists businesses expand business opportunities in Asia. (

Until April of 1999, Mr. Runckel was Minister-Counselor of the US Embassy in Beijing, China. Mr. Runckel lived and worked in Thailand for over six years. He was the first permanently assigned U.S. diplomat to return to Vietnam after the Vietnam War. In 1997, he was awarded the U.S. Department of States highest award for service, the Distinguished Honor Award, for his contribution to improving U.S.-Vietnam relations.
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