the cosmic theory 01 // the interview: daan + bright
Daan is an experienced and awarded business driver, thought leader and change agent with experience in 5 major markets in Europe, North-America and Asia-Pacific. His focus lies on finding the sweet spot between strategy, technology and creativity to build omni-channel platforms that improve customer experiences and business results alike. Equally a through-the-line generalist with the capability of framing the big picture, and a specialist in CRM, eCommerce, media, content, video, mobile and social. Consulting for big companies, and small ones. A thinker, and a do-er. And then, a year ago, it started dawning on him that there was a great opportunity to build something new in Vietnam. Which, gets us to today – Daan is the co-founder and managing director of Vietnamese lifestyle brand “Bright” (bebright.vn).
TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AS AN ENTREPRENEUR. HOW DID YOU START, AND WHY VIETNAM?
The second part of that question is the easiest to answer: after time in my native Amsterdam, New York, Chicago and Singapore, I landed in Saigon about 2 years ago and absolutely feel in love with the city, the country and its people. Vietnam has a very rich culture, and momentum the country has is absolutely palpable.
Just a simple walk around District 1 in the center of Saigon shows you all you need to know about the Vietnam of 2017: big, modern residential and office buildings are being erected left and right, rooftop bar parties are popping and more and more luxury retailers are coming into the country. At the same time, the “aunties” of Vietnam are still selling their one-dollar noodles on street, you wouldn’t be too surprised if a bunch of chicken were running around close to you in the back streets and the rich culture is of the country is as much historical, as it is present. The smells, the noises, the faces you see… It’s an incredible source of energy, inspiration and all-around goodness that comes at you (whether you’re ready for it or not.
The more I fell in love in love with the country, the more I knew that I would stay here and plant my roots in Saigon; and the more I opened to the idea of opening up something for myself.
The entrepreneurial spirit in Vietnam is incredible; it’s very common for girls to run little online cosmetic shops, simply by taking back some “surplus” from their trips to countries like Hong Kong and Korea, and little homegrown fashion brands are popping up left and right. That it’s easy to build a business here plays a big role in that: sourcing products isn’t too hard, inspiration is all around and the usually solid online connectivity combined with first-handed social media marketing experience that everyone has makes it that you can go from idea to execution in literally weeks.
So at some point, once I got to an outline of an idea I basically thought: why the hell not? It’s not hard to find an affordable space, the talent is great, there isn’t too much red tape (there’s still a lot of course, but the government really is trying to make this work for everyone.)
WHAT’S THE BRIGHT MANTRA? HOW DOES IT RESOUND WITH YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE’S LIFESTYLE AND HABITS?
Bright is built around the insight (there you go, agency language!) that while the modernization of Vietnam is bringing an incredible amount of progress, it has also opened the door to some of the downsides of more developed societies: workplace stress, lesser sense of identity, the pressures to “have and do it all.”
Bright came into this world to offer a sense of relief. We see it as our mission to “inspire happiness.”
The labels in our products say it all:
Bright believes that less is more.
That living simpler means living happier. And that it’s the small things that fulfil you the most.
All you need to do is find it in yourself.
We hope you will always do what you love and that you can be who you want to be. We’re right here by your side.
So you can be you.
Bright. Makes you happy.
Together with my business partner Chi Nguyen (a stylist and Instagram influencer – instagram.com/lem0n) we have built an entire business around this insight. We publish a magazine (print and online) in which we cover the people, places and products that inspire happiness. Our bi-monthly gift box does the same thing, but even more tangibly, and our products, ranging from postcards to apparel, literally are “by your side.”
Our design reflects this: it’s clean, it’s simple, but always thoughtful. We hope that people immediately feel delighted when they pick up one of our products, an issue of our magazine, or get gifted our Bright box. That they feel relaxed, comforted and supported. The things we all need every now and then in this crazy world of ours.
HOW DID YOU CREATE A CONSUMER CULTURE AROUND YOUR BRAND AND PRODUCTS?
We are lucky to be surrounded by a group of people who not only inspire us but also help us get the message out to others. They are credible in their individual spaces and of great influence on their followings. And slowly but surely, their following is becoming ours. The number of times that we reached out to people we would love to work with and that replied saying that they had already heard about us, or had read our magazine, has been enormous. Not bad for a company that’s in effect only about 2 months old.
To build on this momentum, and to really be someone (or at least, something) to people we keep a couple of core values in mind whenever we’re creating something for them, whether it’s an affirming quote on Instagram, a blog post, a travel feature in the printed magazine, or a new product:
How can we bring value?
In which way do we organically fit into their life? Are we overstepping boundaries?
With this, do we inspire, rather than prescribe?
Is the barrier to engage with us low?
And, since we’re very designed focused, does it look nice?
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED SO FAR? HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
I originally started this under a different name and while the overall thought was similar, the execution (a subscription sampling box) was very different. I had to find out the “hard” way that no matter how great the intentions, at the end of the day you really need to deliver value to someone. And value isn’t always monetary, but it’s a real requirement to do something that solves a problem in some sort of way. I believe Vietnam is not ready for a pure subscription play at this moment. Credit card penetration is low, options recurring payments virtually non-existent, but more importantly, with food quality issues and cheap imported products from China still planting a lot of doubt in people’s minds, it isn’t all that common to a) buy something online from an unknown party, and b) definitely not to buy something blind (the hallmark of the subscription box idea). So we had to evolve.
HOW DO YOU THINK BRANDING AND DIGITAL HAS HELPED WITH YOUR BUSINESS?
It’s everything. I’ve actually learned a lot more about the intricacies of online vs. offline behavior through this “project” than with anything I’ve previously done for clients. People live an online life, that’s for sure. But it’s typically the things you do for them offline, that they’re most proud of photographing and sharing.
Brands play a huge role in that. Seth Godin’s idea of Tribes (and all its predecessors) may sound obvious (especially ten years later), but it seems truer than ever. In a quest for identity, it isn’t always that mass market brand (even luxury ones) that will make you feel (and look, to a degree) special anymore. It’s about something meaningful, something special. Something that makes a statement to the world. And I believe that if we can land the right middle ground between our higher-order philosophy and the practical manifestation of that through our products, our writing and down the line, events, shopping experiences and anything else that may come to us, we really can deliver something of meaning without hollowing the intention behind it.