How did you end up as a CEO? What was your route to this position?
I co-founded Afforai with Hung Nguyen, my CTO.
Why are you the right person to be the CEO of your company?
Thank you for posing such a thoughtful question. Like many leaders, I do occasionally grapple with feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome. However, I’ve found that physical activities like running or working out at the gym are effective in centering myself and refocusing my mindset.
I am the ideal candidate for the CEO position at Afforai because I have a clear and compelling vision for the company. This vision is rooted in leveraging artificial intelligence to foster innovation in regions that are currently underserved and lagging in technological development.
My background offers a unique perspective that informs this vision. Growing up in Vietnam, I have first-hand experience of the needs and challenges in such areas. Furthermore, my educational background, with degrees in Economics and Data Science from the United States, has provided me with the necessary skills and knowledge to drive this innovation forward. Thus, I am not only suited for this position, but also passionately committed to the mission of Afforai.
What gets you up in the morning?
A strawberry banana smoothie with a scoop of whey protein always does the trick.
However, on a more profound level, it’s my appetite for new experiences that ignites my mornings. I’m constantly propelled by the desire to seek out and immerse myself in fresh experiences. At this point of my life, that translates into an urge to be innovative, to tackle problems, and to contribute positively to people’s lives. This intrinsic motivation to generate change and make a difference is what truly gets me up each morning.
Who helped you get to where you are today?
My parents. My teachers. My friends.
What is the best or worst business advice you have received and from whom?
The most impactful business guidance I’ve ever received was from my professor, Gary Vaughan. His advice – “Keep pitching and good things will happen” – is something I hold dear. It encapsulates the idea of tenacity, resilience, and the capacity to adapt as needed. The concept of persistently pushing forward, trusting that the universe will ultimately bend in response to your efforts, is deeply ingrained in me.
On the other hand, the worst advice, or perhaps more accurately, the worst influence, has often come from those around me inadvertently projecting their own limitations onto me, thus creating barriers. This was a crucial realization that catalyzed the dismantling of my fears and limitations. Now, whenever I decide to pursue something, I commit my heart, time, and energy to it. The outcome is always educational: either I fail and learn from the experience, or I succeed and gather insights from the victory.
If you could go back in time to when you were a teenager, what life advice would you give yourself?
Reflecting back, my teenage self was somewhat hesitant about engaging with the world. So, if I had the chance to share some wisdom with my younger self, it would be this: Don’t hesitate to put yourself out there.
The world is a vast and vibrant tapestry of experiences waiting to be discovered. Each individual you encounter leads a life that, while perhaps different from yours, is filled with compelling stories and perspectives worth listening to. Embrace the diversity and richness of experiences that the world offers; it will enrich your life in return.
What are the most important values you demonstrate as a leader?
For me, it’s about empathy and lead by example. Before I’m a leader, I’m a person and I always try to put myself in the other person’s perspective. This perception compels me to strive to understand others’ perspectives, to identify their motivations, and to ensure that their talents are utilized effectively and appropriately.
Secondly, my leadership style is grounded in leading by example. Rather than adopting the role of a conventional boss who simply delegates tasks, I choose to be a proactive leader. This means that before assigning tasks to others, I ensure that I fully understand those tasks and am willing to execute them myself. By doing this, I aim to foster a team culture where everyone feels valued, understood, and motivated to give their best.
How can a leader fail?
When the leader fails to communicate and understand the people they are leading.
What does the next five years hold for you?
Life, as I’ve found, tends to evolve significantly every five years. I’ve relocated periodically, and each move has heralded an invigorating new chapter filled with unexpected journeys.
Looking ahead, my primary focus for the next five years will be to nurture and develop Afforai, striving to create a positive and tangible impact on people’s lives. If it succeeds, that will be a phenomenal achievement; if it doesn’t, it will undoubtedly offer invaluable lessons for future endeavors. Regardless of the outcome, I’m committed to embracing the journey and rising to meet whatever challenges or opportunities come my way.
Mentorship is a big business in the west, do you have any experience with it?
Yes, mentorship plays a significant role in Western business culture, and I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it firsthand. My current startup, Afforai, is affiliated with gener8tor and 1871 Chicago, which are among the largest startup incubators and accelerators in the US. The mentorship I’ve received from the individuals in these organizations has been invaluable.
While I still consider myself more of a mentee than a mentor at this stage of my career, I am making progress. I aspire to reach a point where I can impart the wisdom and guidance I’ve received to others, essentially paying forward the support and help that I’ve been privileged to receive.
If people want to reach out to your or your business, what is the best way for them to go about doing that?
They can send me a connect request on LinkedIn to reach out to me.