Exporting to Vietnam: Theo shows us how it's done

In last night's programme, we watched as three businesses - luxury boat business Fairline, teacher training and consultancy firm Creative Education and publishing company Haymarket - tried to establish themselves in Vietnam. As Theo points out, the three companies are launching themselves in at the deep end: not only is Vietnam a completely different culture, but it's also a communist country - whether our entrepreneurs like it or not, the government will have to get involved.

But the economy is on the up: for the last few years, it's been growing by 4-5% each year - even through the recession - and, with the majority of its 86m inhabitants under 30 years old, it's primed for Western businesses to go in.

At the beginning of the programme, the entrepreneurs attend a dinner with British expats who have made a success in Vietnam. "There is no Vietnamese word for no," says one. And throughout the programme, we watch as cultural wires are frequently crossed - Theo and his friends attend many meetings where their deal is never quite refused. 'Is it a yes, a maybe, or a not yes?' asks Theo several times, growing increasingly frustrated as his entrepreneurs insist their deals are still on.

It's a given starting a business in another culture can be fraught with problems - but in a pitfall worthy of a Dragons' Den girlling, Creative Education trip at that first hurdle. A deal which looked to be set in stone falls through, wasting time and money - not because they didn't do their research, but because they didn't get the deal in writing. "It's their culture," protests founder Alan Morrell - despite warnings from expat Dominic Scrivens. "Don't sacrifice good business practices for cultural differences," says Theo later. "If you were doing this deal in the UK, you would have got a signed contract."

At the other end of the scale, Fairline has insiders working for it: Nam Pham and Long Huynh want to become distributors for the company, selling the company's multi-million pound luxury boats to the country's new millionaires. At the beginning, Theo is incredulous: while the market is there, Vietnam doesn't isn't exactly primed for a luxury boat market - there aren't even any marinas, and Nam and Long have never been on a luxury boat. But they have the contacts - they are friends with 'most of the millionaires in Vietnam' and already have guaranteed sales. In the end, the deal is made - "you don't always have to know your product," explains Theo. "It's just as good to know your market."

The businesses in question may not necessarily be small, but the programme is a sort of advanced version of Dragons' Den: the lessons they learn from their trip are the same ones businesses fall down on in the Den. It just goes to show if you get your basics wrong, everything will come crashing down around you.

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