Ngoc Anh Tran – From initiation to empowerment

As the covid situation is getting more complicated in Germany, we couldn’t see Ngoc Anh Tran at a coffee shop as planned. Instead, we managed to schedule a call with her on the second day of the new year.

As a fresh graduate, our VSNE mentor Ngoc Anh Tran made a brave decision to start her career at several early-stage startups, which helped strengthen her can-do spirit and develop necessary skill sets to become a businesswoman in general and as of today a Managing Director at simpleshow asia in particular. Aiming at empowering and connecting female entrepreneurs, she founded the non-profit organization International Women’s Connection back in 2016, and via this blog, she shares her journey with practical opportunities, threats, and valuable lessons learned for women in entrepreneurship.

Speaking of your journey to becoming an entrepreneur, could you describe some of your first steps?

After graduation, I joined Delivery Hero – currently a global-leading food-tech startup from Berlin when it was only 2 years old on the market. Starting as an Account Manager, after 6 months, I got promoted as a Supervisor. Within my 2-year working there, I had a chance to conduct new projects with young and enthusiastic team members, experience leadership and human resource management, and see the business grow internationally. Later, I had the chance to work in leadership and global positions in various early-stage startups in the European and APAC-market. 

Why did you choose to work in early-stage startups after graduation? 

Actually, I didn’t plan to join a startup from the beginning as in 2012, Berlin was not the startup hub of Europe yet and there were only a few tech startups. However, when I came back from my Master’s study in London, I wasn’t ready to work in an old-fashioned and too established company. I wanted to work in a dynamic and innovative firm and I went to a lot of interviews. Then I came to Delivery Hero and I did not only like the challenges but also felt comfortable with the company culture. To be honest, I worked very hard but I didn’t feel like working because I was surrounded by young, educated, and ambitious people. It was more like studying in universities but with the difference that I got paid. 

What did you learn during the journey that made you a female entrepreneur now? 

During my journey, I have developed a Can-Do attitude: As you know working in startups means wearing different hats and getting out of the defined comfort zone on a regular basis to find a solution to unforeseen challenges. I’ve embraced the approach of “Done is more important than perfect” and I believe that there are no perfect leaders as leading is life-long learning. For me, leaders are brave, willing to take calculated risks, have a growth mindset and implement strategies accordingly.

Second, a growth mindset really helps me get promoted and achieve my current position. Working in startups also means to grow…grow in sales, in users, in team size, achieving traction, and so on. At the same time, we need to be resourceful and cost-effective. This is why it’s much more exciting to work in a place and market where there is endless space to grow. 

The third thing is a problem-solving skill which allows me to confidently take responsibility for projects and people. You should always proactively find solutions, not be afraid to make mistakes but instead not redo mistakes. These skills helped me tremendously to overcome obstacles and uncertainty in the business world.

What was your motivation to found the International Women’s Connection? How do you attract, connect and keep people in your organization? 

As a startup person, I joined many networking events and after doing some research with my co-founder, we realized that in Germany, there are only 15.7% women in entrepreneurship. Half of the population is female but still, women are underrepresented in leading or decision-making positions. For example in the German media industry, a channel that we are consuming on a daily basis – only 2% of chief editors are female. In the German DAX-companies, there are no women in CEO positions, only until this year, the first woman has been appointed as CEO to break the glass ceiling. With the belief that “You can’t be what you can’t see”, my co-founder and I founded International Women’s Connection to create an interdisciplinary and diverse network where women inspire, empower and support each other.

The organization is very participant-oriented. We choose companies and co-working spaces to organize meetups for even moms to join with their kids and maintain the quality with a maximum of 30 participants each event. Our events are totally free of charge but open for people to sponsor. We attach great importance to be inclusive, provide a safe space for people with different professional and cultural backgrounds, colors, ages as well as LGBTIQ+ people, we welcome founders but also expats, freelancers, coaches, yoga teachers, etc. Since we focus on an interdisciplinary and diverse network, we want to represent this in the choice of speakers, as well.   

To you, what are the chances for women in entrepreneurship?

Unlike the previous Industrial Revolutions, Industry 4.0 opens a highly digital, diverse, and complex world that requires talents with good communication skills, innovation sensitivity, and consumer orientation. Women have certain advantageous leadership traits to develop in this information age such as high EQ, flexibility, empathy, strong communication skills, and transparency. Furthermore, women drive the majority of consumer purchasing and usually make purchasing decisions for their families. That being said, women can relate better to the needs of other women and therefore, they are more likely to design products & services that meet those needs. Women also strive for long-term and sustainable values that help bring more profit and success. 

What are obstacles for women in entrepreneurship?

Women in entrepreneurship have 2 main obstacles: network and capital. Female entrepreneurs usually lack a strong and wide network to find mentors, co-founders, and investors. Furthermore, they also have less access to capital. In raising capital, males consistently outperform females since only 15% of venture capital funding is allocated to female founders based on research by All Raise although female-led companies exhibit stronger financial performance. According to a study with 350 companies from Boston Consulting Group, for every dollar of investment raised, female-run startups generated 78 cents in revenue compared to only 31 cents from male-run ones. Male investors’ prejudice, trust, and awareness may reduce the chance for talented businesswomen to get funded.

Could you share a story that you saw and proactively took advantage of a business opportunity?

The only thing I would say is just to ask for opportunities. Don’t wait for it. Don’t wait for a manager or someone to say “would you like to take a leadership position?”. You need to believe in yourself, your abilities, and your strengths. After achieving an impactful goal or when I see a chance, I was not afraid to tell my manager “I would like to take the leadership position. I would like to try out this project. I think I can do that”. If you don’t ask, it never comes. 

How do you balance between your professional career and non-profit activities?

I usually spend time for my organization after 9 pm on weekdays and on weekends. I always need to prioritize tasks and goals. It’s usually very challenging when I need to go on a business trip. However, on an emotional level, seeing the rewarding impact and growing interpersonal connections is a driving force for me. The motivation of contributing and changing things is the key to my balance.  

Thank you so much for your sharings. Do you want to send a message to our VSNE community and also those who are reading this blog?

“The world as we have created – it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking” by Albert Einstein is my favorite quotation that could be applied to any sector. I would encourage people to always question the status quo, the current reality as it’s based on previous experience and perceptions. We could change and evolve by changing our thinking. Don’t accept the reality too easily, reflect and always ask why to understand the situation and your pattern. When something happens more than two times, then to me it is a sign from the universe that I need to learn something, to overcome an obstacle. Otherwise, the universe will continuously send the same situation to me until I learn the lessons. 

Interviewer: Vanessa Pham

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