The first startup

Oh boy, this is another post I have been looking forward to write. As briefly mentioned in my 10 years of coding post, I decided to major in Computer Science when it was neither sexy nor high-paying because I simply wanted to "build stuffs". So in 2018, instead of getting a good job, I went to launch Sweego, a Vietnam based mobile platform offering digital restaurant discount coupons through a subscription model.

The idea

It was a ridiculously simple concept really. Vietnam has many new restaurants opening everyday (its F&B industry is very vibrant). On one side, these restaurants had problems with attracting customers, on the other side, customers want an incentive to go to these new, unvalidated restaurants. So Sweego is a platform that connects these 2.

The team

I started with 2 other friends who were about the same age as me, just graduated from university as well, and later on we onboarded a Vietnamese cofounder. My role was CTO, which is really just a glorified title of a coder.


I built the fully-functional MVP on Ionic and Firebase with payments handled by Stripe in 3 months for both iOS and Android, with only some prior experience in HTML and CSS.

It was the most fulfilling period of my life because I was coding 14 hours a day (7am-10pm) out of coffeeshops (we didn't have an office). It was stressful because I was the only technical founder working on the MVP and the other founders worked on sales. That 3 months felt more like a year in terms of learnings.

This MVP also formed a big part of my philosophy about coding, especially about shipping fast, use boring tech and doing just enough.

Simplistic yet functional UI (I didn't even have a designer!):


The Progress

We had a good launch, 100+ LOI signed, 10k+ users onboarded, few thousand dollars MRR, so we were able to raise some from some angel investors, followed by a seed investment about 4 months after launch.

Then everything went south because suddenly we had that money, we started spending on things that we didn't really need to spend on, such as an office space, hiring lots of sales people etc. Blame it on our inexperience, but some of these mistakes really shouldn't have been made.

Having angel and seed investors on our board and being our advisors was really one of those 90% of everything is crap things once again. People like to associate having investors and advisors as a good thing, I disagree. Lots of advice from lots of people at an early stage startup is just going to confuse the founders, and it is also difficult for the founders to keep saying no to those who control the cash.

I actually really like my investors, they are decent people. But I dislike that constant meeting and advice I received because it killed our momentum. I could launch a big feature in 1 week but I had to work on it for 3 weeks instead because of the meetings.

How it went

The mis-management and COVID basically destroyed the original model, and the startup pivoted into something else entirely that my cofounder decide to continue running while I took a step back because of a variety of reasons, such as this.

What I learned

The biggest one is I want to be CEO instead of CTO if I start a company again. At the early stage, coders are the most important people because they build the product. However as the business grows, the business side gets increasingly important. The truth is as long as the product is somewhat decent, the coders just have to maintain the product while the business side has to drive up the usage and investments (if you are looking for any).

Do things slowly at the start. It is ok to take your time to build a solid foundation before ramping up the efforts in investments, marketing and sales etc. Make sure you have built something that you know fills a gap in the market before you double down. Your aim should be to build a sustainable business, not a growth-at-all-cost business.

Try not to take investments. If you have to, close 1-2 rounds enough for you to reach profitability. I firmly believe that not all tech ideas should raise investments. Those who associate tech startups with investments are clearly not coders because they think they need the money to hire coders to build their app ideas. NO! Managing coders is far more difficult than learning to code it youself! I wrote more about this in my No Entrepreneurship Porn post

The moment you take the money, you lose control, it is a tradeoff you need to consider. I believe only ideas like Google that require lots of up-front capital should seek huge rounds of capital. There are many loss-making joke companies basically turning into an investment vehicle through IPO so that the initial investors can profit off the new investors. Just saying it like it is!

Sales, not tech, is harder. I am and always will be a techie, but tech is the most certain part of a business. You write a functional software, you host it, set up some load balancers and monitor the usage, and that's it, you can let it run on auto-pilot. Sales (and marketing, HR, customer service etc etc), on the other hand is highly unpredictable, sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down, sometimes users quit for no reason, sometimes you get an influx of users, sometimes your coworker disappears. There is no f***ing way to predict this.

Lastly, trust your intuition, do things your f***ing way. As a founder, you are in control, not your investors, not your advisors. If the company fails, it's all on you. So have some fun, have some personality, be weird, do things differently, say 'no' a lot, you cannot really predict the future anyway, so why not just go with your guts?