A month-ish ago, I was invited to one of the most prominent Vietnamese podcasts called the Money Date by Vietcetera by my friend An Truong to discuss money, wealth, HackerNoon Business model, work-life balance, and cultural differences between me and my husband David 😀 (also, HackerNoon Founder CEO). The podcast is now fully subtitled in English (thanks to my brilliant teammate Tuan Anh). Please enjoy the podcast here as well as a the transcript down below. Shorter clips to come from HackerNoon 🙂
I have a few learnings from this experience:
- It’s my first mini-exposure to a “mass” audience (Vietcetera specializes in podcasts and is credited by many to bring it to the mainstream in the country, with hundreds under the belt, and millions of views/listens/downloads each episode). The main video gets 75k views so far, but there are some smaller reels/tiktoks/youtube shorts that amassed a lot more.
- With exposure, comes the backlash. Particularly, the backlash was regarding something non-eloquent I said about how Vietnamese people tend to show wealth. From one of the short clips used to promote the full video, I came off rather arrogant and even condescending (many resorted to attacking my appearance, which is wowza, what an experience!) I take this as: In the internet era, anything one said could easily be taken out of context, and it’s not the audience’s job to understand my backstory, or where I was coming from. I’ll try to do better next time. But also, I’m so thankful that my day-to-day job is not that of an influencer 😅 AND, I’m thankful for long-form content!
- The podcast was in Vietnamese, but most of my experience talking about HackerNoon was in English, very rarely do I have to (if ever) explain HackerNoon’s three fundraising efforts in Vietnamese. I was fine with chitchatting in the beginning, but struggled a bit with explaining HackerNoon’s editorial protocol or fundraising efforts. I take that as an opportunity to improve and fine-tune my mother tongue. Hopefully future podcasts will be smoother!
Without further ado, you can watch the long form version here, and the transcript below :)
0:46 - 3:03: Money and Wealth
An: Hi, and welcome back to The Money Date, this is the show where I (the host), “borrow” the topic of Money to talk about broader things, either work, life, or hobbies.
An: Today we have a very special guest, in fact the last time I met her was over 10 years ago and thanks to this podcast episode that we have a chance to reunite and have a little chat. Fun fact she and I went to the same university in the US. Okay so without further ado, may I introduce you to today’s guest, Mrs. Linh Dao Smooke, Co-Founder and COO of HackerNoon. So what is HackerNoon, and who you are, I think I’ll let you talk for yourself. BUT, in your introduction, you have to use the word “Money”.
Linh: Oh okay.. greetings to the audience of Vietcetera, my name is Linh, I’m the COO and Co-owner of HackerNoon, a tech company with over 3M monthly readers. I’m also a mother, I have 2 kids, a six and a one year old, I run HackerNoon with my husband… who is also the father of my children.
An: So what about money =)))
Linh: Oh I forgot haha
Okay, for me, money - which is also the name of this podcast - and wealth are 2 completely different concept that are often equated, and when it comes to the work that I’m doing I’d like to think that it’s related more to wealth and prosperity rather than just money. Or at least it’s what I’m aiming for =)))
An: Uhmuh and after this episode the podcast should be renamed “The Wealth Date” not “The Money Date” anymore lol
3:33 - 9:06: 2 Lies 1 truth
An: Okay, to start off the show, we have a little game - 2 Lies one Truth. And in the game Linh will have to read some money statements about herself; and my job is to guess if they are true or not. Let’s start with the first statement!
Linh: The only crypto that I own is BitCoin
An: When exactly did you buy BitCoin?
Linh: Let’s see… the first BitCoin that I own… (fun fact is I already lost it). At that time I didn’t know the importance of keeping the key to your wallet, and it was back in 2017 - 2018 something…
An: Oh it was the peak haha
Linh: Haha yes
And after that I bought it like 2 or 3 more times
An: Why did you invest in BitCoin only?
Linh: Why hmmm… to me it’s the only cryptocurrency that has value, because it’s a scarce resource, so people love to own them. And it’s the only cryptocurrency that everyone, even when they first heard of it, can associate it with crypto industry
An: Yea BitCoin’s branding is good haha
Linh: Yes they have good branding haha
An: I think this statement is true
Linh: Ha no, it’s not true haha. Okay but really I’m a true believer in BitCoin, to me BitCoin is still the only valuable cryptocurrency, but I do own some Ethereum.
An: Hmm okay, but you closely follow the crypto market right?
Linh: I read about it a lot, because we do publish a lot of crypto articles on HackerNoon, and the first time I’ve heard about BitCoin is through a piece on HackerNoon as well.
An: It’s your first time? Reading about BitCoin?
Linh: Yes, back in 2016 - 2017 was when I first realized that oh there turns out to be a whole different world like this that exists. But crypto investing is not something I’m that interested in, I still believe in BitCoin only, and a little bit of Ethereum haha this statement is half-truth.
An: Haha, but Ethereum has good branding too!
Linh: Haha, word.
An: Okay. Second question.
Linh: The salary of my first job post graduation back in 2014 was 10 million VND (415.2 USD).
An: What was that first job?
Linh: Hmm being the teacher at a school named Everest.
An: Oh, Everest Education, in Saigon, what did you teach?
Linh: I taught Math for fifth and sixth grader.
An: You taught Math in English?
Linh: Yep, I taught Math in English.
An: In Saigon?
Linh: Yes, in Saigon
An: I think this is a truth. Back in 2014 Everest was pretty new, so 10 million VND per month was reasonable. This one is true!
Linh: Yess, correct! Yay (applause)
Linh: Actually it came with caveat, so they offered 10 mil VND per month, with a place to stay for free.
An: Aaah, oh then that’s great, because housing in Saigon is so expensive. So do you remember what did you do with your first month’s salary in Saigon?
Linh: Let’s see, I went to each district to get familiarized with the geography haha and I did hung out with some of my acquaintances in Saigon, you know, to learn more about life there. The thing is I’m an introvert so I didn’t quite enjoy that time so that was the last time I hung out with them.
An: And you saved all the leftover money ahha. Okay, next question.
Linh: Haha the translation is wanky haha
An: Hah sorry everyone Linh sent me these 3 statements in English and I had to translate them into Vietnamese
Linh: Haha okay.. I live solely on my shares in HackerNoon.
An: So you don’t receive salary?
Linh: Yea, according to this statement, I don’t have a salary.
An: Okay, according to this statement, you don’t have a salary… Okay the thing is, maybe not many people know but Mr. Hao - Founder of Vietcetera, in the first years of the company, he did not receive any salary as well haha. But what do you mean actually, when saying you live solely on your shares in HackerNoon?
Linh: It means that I already had enough savings to not needing any salary anymore… my reason to work… passion and desire to grow the brand.
An: Haha hmm okay I think, comparing to… cuz HackerNoon is also a media company right, with a website, publishing articles. Vietcetera is the same, and to my knowledge, now Mr. Hao has been receiving salary haha. So by that logic, you must have had your own salary, so no, this statement is false.
Linh: Okay, you’re correct. But it’s another half-truth. I actually want to live solely on my ownership in HackerNoon. So what I did was I paid myself right away, because the company can’t survive on purely trust and passion haha. So both I and my husband when we started the company, we both get paid. We placed emphasis on profitability, and that profit covered our salary at first. And the fact that the company was able to make money right in the beginning gave me the drive to continue running it. But in recent years, I have had a small savings through selling my shares to some private investors. So on papers, I can technically not receive my salary anymore. But the thing is I have 2 kids, and our lives together, and a house as well with mortgage to pay. The house is in Colorado… I mean that everything adds up, it’s not cheap and I have to have my salary to at least pay for the mortgage.
9:20 - 12:34: From education to tech
An: Let’s go back to before you started HackerNoon, Linh, you shared with us that your first job was being a teacher, and I know that you have years of experience working in education, and you have a passion for that industry. So, from education to HackerNoon… what happened in between? haha
Linh: Haha yea so actually my story started when I got a scholarship from UWC - a collective of international high schools, which An you already know since at our college, Brown University, there’re a lot of students from UWC. I owe that scholarship a great deal, as that opportunity completely changed my life. Personally, I grew up in a normal, middle class family in Hanoi. My parents are also very ordinary people, my dad is a musician and my mom an office worker, so we are not some big shots. So when I got the UWC scholarship, I felt really grateful and when I came back to Vietnam, I immediately had the urge to do something related to education to pay back for the opportunity I received. And I founded a small project named Creative Kid Project - CKP.
An: Maybe many of our audience have already heard about this project ahaha
Linh: Haha yes I don’t know if that’s true because it is a summer camp and during COVID-19 it was hard to continue. Yea, but founding CKP led to a lot of different opportunities, education related, and even though now I’m working in tech, my heart still belongs to education and I want to come back to that industry in the future. And about the question “What happened in the middle” so it’s simply that I wanted to make a living. But more importantly at that time I’ve had enough potentials and skills to run my own company, and I’ve worked through many jobs, from teaching to becoming a regional manager of a university. And when my husband founded HackerNoon, he needed someone with my skill set, operations, management, community engagement and recruitment. So my husband was like: “You know, since now we’re living under the same roof, my money is your money, let’s run this company together”. haha
An: We’ll have to dig deeper into this story later hahaa “My money is your money too” haha you sure about that? Did you sign a prenup? Haha
Linh: Haha actually it comes from mutual trust haha. But I really like this job, after started at HackerNoon, I realized that I love working remotely without having to meet people.
An: Because you’re an introvert
Linh: Yep. Before when I worked at that university, I had to outreach a lot, I had to turn on my extroverted mode, I had to talk with people, I had to be confident. But it wasn’t who I am, I’m a person who just need 2 hours of walk everyday, stay at home listening to podcast, I don’t want and I don’t feel the need to go out networking. So having this job allows me to stay at home, have the time for my husband and my kids. And my colleagues are from 20 different countries, we can’t meet each other frequently, so we just chat on Slack, that’s it, I really like it.
12:34 - 15:16: Introvert vs Extrovert
An: There’s something that you mentioned earlier, the trend of the 2 “mode” - “introvert” and “extrovert”, I don’t know if there’re any differences but which mode do you think allows people to make more money? Because they tend to equate extroverts to being able to make more money than introverts.
Linh: I don’t think there’s any correlation here. In general, there are 3 things people tend to strive for: money, influence and happiness. More money doesn’t mean more of the other two. Back to the introvert - extrovert story, you can sit around at home and still make a lot of money. On the other hand, people that do a lot of networking maybe they are not chasing money, what they aim for might actually be for example, power and influence you know, yea. And there are many types of influence, there are people with “loud” influence, when you look at them you know. But there’re cases when you look at a person, very unassuming, you have no idea how much authority they have..
An: Mysterious right haha…
Linh: Yea! But then they say something and everybody listens! that’s the quiet form of influence. So yea my point is they (being extroverted or introverted) are not relevant to being rich. But the 3 points I mentioned (money, influence and happiness) are surely the things most people chase. And coming here talking about money, what I actually want to talk about is the bigger topic because I feel like when people talk about money, what they are mentioning about are those 3 things, not just the numbers in their bank accounts, right.
An: Right, right…
15:17 - 20:18: How HackerNoon makes money
An: Let’s talk about how HackerNoon functions as a business. How does a website like HackerNoon make money? In my mind, I have a comparison to a Vietnamese website tinhte.vn, which is also a website that post about tech and tech products. But HackerNoon, you guys have to visit it, I’ll have the editor show you the website right here. It’s futuristic, it has that tech vibe. People go on HackerNoon and write about tech trends: Blockchain, Web3, AI… HackerNoon covers them all. So that’s a little bit of information for people to imagine. Now back to the topic of HackerNoon, how does it make money?
Linh: May I ask about the website tinhte.vn, is their content written by staff writers, do you know anything about that ?
An: I’m not quite sure myself. All I did was making comparison from the content. Another example is Vietcetera, we do have our own staff writers, and we do also work with external contributors for content creation.
Linh: Uhm, so talking about our business model, different from traditional publications that rely on staff writers to write up content for the sites. For HackerNoon, almost 100% articles on the site are written by contributing writers from the community. Imagine a venn diagram between social media and traditional journalism. So a traditional newspaper is typically credible, when one reads, say, The NewYork Times or Dan Tri or VNExpress… one feel like they can trust the content because it has been vetted by editors. On the other hand, social media democratized content access for the mass, especially content creators. Anyone who has good stories to tell can easily become popular on social media. So the business model of HackerNoon is a mixture of traditional journalism and social media, meaning that, like a social platform, everyone can contribute to HackerNoon, but like a normal publication, not every articles submitted is published because our editorial staffs will constantly monitor for quality control, such as plagiarism or AI-assistance.
An: ChatGPT ahhaaha
Linh: Hahaa ChatGPT yes. So yea it’s the editorial model of HackerNoon. In terms of business, the more traffic we get, the more money we make from advertising. But our ads are not the same as cookie or programatic ads, meaning we put a Google tag for the ads and they will follow you everywhere you go when you browse. We don’t do that. Our ads are based on content relevancy. We work directly with our partners, the ones whose work related to AI will get the AI ad slots, same with Blockchain and Software Development partners etc. So readers only see the ads relevant to their favorite content. And our ads are built in to the site, meaning that partners directly upload ads through the HackerNoon system.
An: Oh so brands are able to make their own ads on the system and…
Linh: Yes, so we have a set banner ad, a specific size, and brands will have to write their own content for the ad. If we feel the ad is suitable, even the colors palette and such are made by HackerNoon. Because the thing we hate the most is when you go on a website and you are overwhelmed by all the popups, it’s like when you are out on the streets and you see all that lights, billboards that goes POP POP POP you know, yes, yes it feels really irritating and overwhelming. We really hate that and when you go on HackerNoon, there are virtually no pop-ups. So all the readers experience must be smooth, you don’t feel the irritation when reading from pages to pages and you don’t even need to create an account for reading. You just read! And you only need to create an account when you want to start writing.
20:32 - 28:29: How HackerNoon fundraises
An: According to my research, 2-3 months back, you guys announced that HackerNoon were able to successfully fundraise at the whopping pre-money valuation of $50M USD. It’s a huge number, and I wonder how you guys feel about that number?
Linh: Uhm okay, a brief history about HackerNoon’s fundraising, we called for funding for a total of 3 times, the first time was through something called equity crowdfunding, meaning…
An: So it’s like from friends and family…
Linh: No, no even strangers. You are mistaken equity crowdfunding with kickstarters, like when they donate for our business and in exchange they get gifts and such, no, equity crowdfunding is when people give a small amount of money like $100, which is a very small number for investors in the US, in exchange for equity. It’s almost like you are investing in stock, you invest a small amount of money and in exchange you get a small piece of HackerNoon. But the thing is in the US, private companies are not allowed to raise from individuals like us, who are not certified investors. But there’s a policy back in 2017 called the Jobs Act that has changed that. So now even normal people are able to invest in a private company, thanks to the Jobs Act. So based on that we hosted an equity crowdfunding round and we successfully raised the maximum amount allowed which was $1.07M, and back then HackerNoon pre-money valuation was $6M, $6.5, it was back in 2018-2019. The second fundraising effort was through a strategic partner of HackerNoon. Actually after the equity crowdfunding, we have 2 strategic partners, with whose technology we integrate. We did not go with venture capitals, VC funds because they are a little bit “shark” haha they’ll take big bite out of the company, and there will be strings attached and you’ll have to give up a lot of control. So for me and David, we thought that we had already sacrificed a lot to choose this entrepreneurial journey. If we only need money, we’ll go after venture capitals, raise $20M - $30M easy but in exchange we’ll give up a lot of control, we’ll have a big boss and board members and what have you control us like puppets. We don’t want that so every time we fundraise, we raise a small amount, enough to run the company. Thus David and I remain the majority shareholders, the owner of HackerNoon. Actually after 3 raises, we still hold 70% of HackerNoon, with the second and third time through strategic partners. The second time was with Coil back in 2020, which is a micro payment company, meaning that whoever works with Coil will get small amounts of money when they browse different websites. That’s the monetization model of Coil. And for the third and most recent call, we worked with Arweave, a blockchain company, they back up your data on the blockchain and they actually are the one that helped Meta to back up a part of their data on the Arweave blockchain. The amount Arweave invested was very small, only $250.000 but in exchange HackerNoon achieved high valuation so it’s basically a win-win for me and David. Haha sorry I was rambling a bit too much haha…
An: Oh no it’s okay..
Linh: So how did we feel about that 50M number. Well, it’s just a number, on paper. Only when it becomes something tangible, then it’s real. But since its a digital valuation, it can change anytime. Whenever people ask me about the moments that I have the strongest feelings about money in relations to HackerNoon, normally I would not think about these fundraisings, I would think about the fact that 3 of our employees were able to buy a house. Those are tangible, I can see their houses through their pictures, I can see they are financially capable of starting a family, have kids… Those are the moments that I know I have made an impact on my employees.
An: Hmmm I don’t know when I’ll be able to buy a house haha
Linh: Talking to your boss huh
An: Haha yes talking to my boss right now… Wow, it’s true that sometimes we are too focused on the flashy numbers that we mistaken them as being important, but actually how those numbers (money) impact the employees…
Linh: Not only employees, but for example, why I wake up every morning and still loving this job so much… because all the nice words from Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn… from our contributors, saying that they are so so thankful because getting published on HackerNoon 2 years ago got them a job at this tech company, or that an endorsement on their HackerNoon article got them an invitation to be a guest at that podcast… What a media company sells is very different from a pure product-based company. What we actually sell is the reputation, not only for us but also for the people around us. This is the reason why whenever we get a submission from HackerNoon, we have to make sure that content is good, relevant and valuable to readers. That is bread and butter and we cannot mess it up.
An: Listening to this story of yours, I still see the passion in education haha, right? Because when talking about educations, we should not limit it in academic environment. Education is also about creating impacts and changes, and what you’ve just shared are the impacts as well as changes brought to not only HackerNoon, but also readers, writers, you and your husband and also your colleagues.
Linh: Right! Yea! That’s enough for me!
28:32 - 32:56: Additional sources of income
An: Aside from your job at HackerNoon, do you have any other additional sources of income?
Linh: Hmm not many because I am the owner and I also run the company so my job mainly revolves around HackerNoon. In fact 95% of our assets is tied to HackerNoon, and the rest is stock and a bit of crypto, property also. We actually just own that one house in Colorado, we want to buy a house in Vietnam too, but I don’t think I have enough knowledge of Vietnamese real estate just yet haha
An: I also have a lot of friends who are living abroad and when they come home they always ask about real estate…
Linh: So what do you think?
An: I kinda lost trust hahaah
Linh: It’s a bubble right?
An: I mean it clearly divides into 2 main camps, either they buy property to live or they buy it as an investment. And the latter holds many risks because right now the industry is coming to a halt and the supply/demand… oh no this is turning into Real Estate Date haha
Linh: Oh no it’s okay keep going, I’m listening…
An: The supply/demand chain is mainly focusing on the luxury side, therefore the price is super high compared to the average Vietnamese salary.
An: Yes, young people now are struggling a lot in being able to own property, or to own a house, and I think in there will be soon a shift in their mindset like “Oh is it necessary for me to own a house?” or “To have access to affordable estate price, where do I need to scout?” Because buying a house in big cities are really expensive.
Linh: Well, I mean because you are still very young, so your goal right now I think is not necessarily be a house where you can stay for a long time. I think when you are like me, when you start a family, with kids, then owning a house becomes an important thing. For me, my kids they are Americans but they are also half Vietnamese so I still want them to be able to meet their grandparents and Vietnamese relatives. So whenever we come back to Vietnam, renting house or staying in a hotel, we basically lose that money, right? But if we are paying a mortgage, we gain ownership to the property, so we won’t feel like the money we spent whenever we go back to Vietnam - I come back 2 months a year - is wasted. So that’s why I think it is good to own a property, not as an investment but as something for my kids. Me and my husband also have our own smaller company to manage all the things that we love, but we cannot put it in HackerNoon haha for example book publishing, artistic stuffs… yea and for my husband it’s things that related to sports, yea he LOVES basketball. So all of our hobbies that are not related to HackerNoon, we put them under one company, and for now it is not making any money whatsoever haha
An: It’s losing money right haha
Linh: Haha, not only losing money but we have to spend our own money on that company right now haha…
32:56 - 40:35: Putting all eggs in one basket (Talk about individual’s risk profiles)
An: So husband and wife, managing money together, “Your money is my money” haha like you said… How do you feel about running a business with your partner? Did you meet any hardship?
Linh: My experiences are my own, so they are not applicable to everybody obviously. But for me, what I did were the best things that I could think of. Why? Because me and David are two very similar people in terms of values. For example we are both family person, we want kids, we agree that if we have kids, we have to give them something for the future. David is Jewish, and I’m Vietnamese so both of us, ever since we were little, were enforced the idea of “studying is the utmost importance” by our parents haha
An: Haha so we have a common ground, nobody ever thought Jewish and Vietnamese are similar haha
Linh: Yea so the biggest common point that I’ve been telling my husband’s parents is that if there’s no education, there’s nothing. Meaning that my viewpoint in education have always been the same, it is necessary, and not until I graduated that I realized there are more to degrees than just following a traditional path of education, going to university and then masters and such. But to get to that point, I still had to go through that traditional path, so just to be sure, me and my husband both agree that following a tradition education path is needed for our kids, and when they are old enough to decide what they want in their life, like the education system/university system in the US and in Vietnam also is bound to change drastically in the next 10 years or so. And if my kids decide that they want to study online or something, I am okay with that, but from now till they graduate high-school, studying is the most crucial thing. Because there are a lot of things that are similar in values so there are not many people who are able to understand me as David and vice versa. And now, running a company, with about 20 employees, million readers and various problems, i’m talking more here about the dark side of running your own business, only David can truly understand these harder problems with me. And whenever I feel like I can’t handle all these work, only David is able to empathize with me. So in our relationship, the pros out-weight the cons, there are many cons of course because we are putting all of our eggs in one basket, so if, there’re problems with the company, we might double down on each other’s bad moon hahaand it’s a bit frustrating. But, to work as entrepreneurs, we both have to be a bit delusional, right hahaa we both have to believe that we could so we do it anyway. If we’re more play-it-safe type we’d have just gone for a banker job, or finance or something…
An: More traditional right?
Linh: Yes more “proven”, where everything else is taken care of and you’ll just have to do your best and if you can’t you simply just switch job. But the thing about HackerNoon is that if the business doesn’t do well, I can’t jump to another job. So yea, I’m just glad that I have a partner who is on the same boat.
An: But yea, back to the story of, you know people said that you shouldn’t put all eggs in one basket right? But it’s what you guys are doing, the complete opposite, and at the same time, you and David have to take care of your family. So do those thing ever fight each other?
Linh: So last October, I guess people have heard, US economy in general and the US tech/finance industry in particular got into a bit of a crisis. And if you invest in stock, you can see that your portfolio literally shrinks, and for companies like us, we had to let some people go, the big layoff, yea. But to talk about my life and my job, running a company, I don’t see any contradictories, because it’s only a matter of building a good enough support system for the company for us to spend time with our kids. For example, when we go back to Vietnam, I knew that the time zone was going to change a lot, but instead of forcing our colleagues to adjust their working time, we adapted on our own. So instead of having meetings at 10AM, we had meetings at 10PM. Yea and in Vietnam, my older kid didn’t have a school, so I enrolled her in a summer program, and for my younger kid, we hired a nanny. So in order for us to have money to do so, we have to be good at our jobs. So my ultimate goals of building a family and running a business are generally aligned. If my family is not okay, I won’t be able to run the business well. So I think the question here is not if running a business contradicts building a good foundations for a happy family, but it is about whether or not you are able to handle those two things at once, finding that balance or not.
An: My point wasn’t exactly about how you can allocate time to do both jobs well, but the question here is that in the case of something ever happens to HackerNoon, are you guys prepared so that the family part is not affected?
Linh: Yea so in each person’s life, there will be different risk profiles right? So the quesiton is if you can tolerate that risk or not. In our case, we have a fund that we will not touch, and we will add on to it every 6 months or a year. And the fund must include me, David and our 2 kids, and also in contingency if we ever get into an accident or something that is unpredictable. The rest to me is the risk of many things, not just about running my own business. For example if you work for a certain company, and you get fired and that thing is not in your control, it’s not your fault, it’s just the industry is eliminating you out; it is also a risk of working. And to put it simply, whenever you go out, you are at risk of getting into an accident right?
An: Every day we wake up we face risks ahaha
Linh: Exactly! And you’ll have to be okay with those risks. Yea.
40:35 - 48:40: Vietnamese wife and American husband - difference in perception about money.
An: Okay now let’s try to look at this angle. You are Vietnamese, and David is American. Do your perspectives on money differ? Or is there any surprising similarity?
Linh: That’s a good question, because I also learnt a lot from marrying a person from a totally different culture. For example, when we eat out with friends, in the US, or you can see with the Gen-Zs right now, they split the money, like they pay for what they eat, simple right? But if it’s in Hanoi and involve an older person, there’ll always be a person who’ll pay for everything, they compete with each other to pay even. Another example is that in weddings or funerals, it’s a whole transaction. Like if you came to my kid’s wedding and you gave us 2M VND or 3M VND or 5M VND then I’ll have to come to your wedding and give 2M VND, 3M VND or 5M VND back to you… It’s not like that in the US. I’ve come to so many weddings and they were just happy that I came like “Your presence is our honor…” something like that. It’s enough to just be there and it’s not a transaction. So back to the difference between me and David, I think David has a very healthy relationship with money, meaning that - like you said - money is just a tool, and when you talk about money, you’re not a materialistic person who only cares about money. But rather it is a necessary topic to talk about. For example, going back to Vietnam, how much do we need to spend, how much will your parents cover, and how much you’ll handle on your own, how you allocate your budget to vacations, to hiring a nanny, or renting a house etc. everything has to be clear. I’ll give you an example, whenever I was a student going home in the summer right, I’ll just simply think my parents will handle everything and take care of me. But go hand in hand with all that lack of transparency especially when it comes to money, are invisible expectations. It’s like - “It’s okay for you not to pay me back the money I covered for you, but you gotta be careful of how you talk to me or how you treat me…” it’s like that. While it all boils down to the fact that you have to pay for things you owe, even if it’s not money. For me, what is money? Money is the ability to not have to do something you dread to do something you love. So you can equate it to many things, for example, my time is valuable, today I had to spend an amount of money to go to Saigon - haha pick myself as an example - and then I’ll have to fly back to Hanoi immediately. But to me, these 2 hours talking to An are important, you can also say it’s my investment to doing media work. But if you spend your 2 hours hunting for sales, even though you can save up to 30-40% but to me it feels like nothing. You just falsely thought that you have saved something but in fact you didn’t, you just spent your time buying a thing that you don’t need. Ever since I met David, my relationship with money has become more and more fair, I think we need to be very clear with each other whenever it comes to “the numbers”, like - “How much does this cost?” or “How much do you have to pay for this?” - money or no money.
An: Uhmm, very nice answer. Because back when I was studying abroad, every time I went back I had to ask my parents for money, and they didn’t tell me at all that I’ll have to pay them back later on. But… Hahaa… I cannot count how many times my parents..
Linh: Haha they reminded you about that huh hahaa…
An: “Do you remember this trip that I paid for you?” haha yea so it’s true that how people think about money now, it’s still like some kind of transaction. I’ve already given you something, and you should pay me back in the future - like it’s an invisible expectation.
Linh: While in the US, in my husband’s family, they just say their expectations out loud, they are… visible expectations. Like “Yea here, I lend you this amount of money, and you’ll have to pay me back in the future.” How great! Yea, and it relates to many things, for example my parents, they really want to look after the kids for us; but my husband’s parents whenever we need their help babysitting, we had to schedule 2-3 weeks ahead because technically we’re using their time slots for our kids. Though mostly it’s the difference in culture, it is also a difference in the perception of fairness. When we give somebody something, we should receive something back as well. That’s how everything works, both in Eastern and Western culture, it’s just how we talk about it to each other, in the West they will say it straight but in the East we just think about it haha.
Linh: Yea haha here if we don’t pay back they just gonna think that “Oh this kid is not sensitive to the situation at all.” even though in the beginning, how people settle things with each other was already unclear, making the topic of money… complicated.
Linh: Well I think that my parents will also see this podcast haha so I have to confirm that my parents have always been very sensible about this topic. What I said was about the general culture of Hanoians and Vietnamese to have certain expectations about money. About my parents, I feel that they have done all they could for me; I remembered the first time I left to study abroad, I was going to India, it was the first time my mother pulled me back and gave me a goodbye hug. And even though I had my scholarship and all, she shoved some money in my jeans pocket and even sewed it up haha…
An: YES haha, we did the same thing when I went abroad too.
Linh: A couple of million VND, I didn’t remember well… but I cherished those money so so much. Because back then I was just a naive 16-17 years old and my parents were worried that I would lose my luggage or something in India or something so they wanted me to have something sewn with me all the time.
An: Yea back then my parents also sewed money onto my pants haha because I remembered back then going to the US we were allowed to bring…
Linh: 7000 USD right?
An: Yea 7000 USD, back then it was 7000 now I think it is 10000 USD, or it was 10000 USD but obviously I didn’t bring 10000USD in cash with me haha but it was still a wad of cash sewn onto my pants and I struggled to cut it out haha and the pants ended up ruined.
Linh: For me, that pants, right the next day I wore them to hiking so they were very dirty, muddy and I completely forgot that I still had money in them and I just straight up washed them by hands. Fortunately my mom sewed so tightly so the money just got a bit crumpled haha…
An: Wow, how fortunate. What a story of a lifetime!
48:40 - 52:07: My speculation on how Vietnamese people show that they have money.
An: This time coming back to Vietnam, do you have any speculations on how people talk about money, or use money or invest…?
Linh: Having a savings deposit in Vietnam now is pretty good actually because the interest rate is at 9-10% or something…
An: WHAT?!!? 90%?!?!
Linh: 9 - NINE, nine to ten percent haha
An: Oh haha I was like what 90% interest rate haha
Linh: Hahaha nah of course not hahaa
An: Yea yea 9-10%, I think it just recently dropped as well.
Linh: Oh really huh because some of my friends told me that I should have some savings in Vietnam but the thing is making a savings deposit is easy but it’s hard to withdraw, no? My friend to me to make a ladder CD, like a CD with an expiry date on it for example I can only withdraw the money after 18 months or even a few years. So I just keep stacking it up, like I have a main CD account for 12 months and one for 18 months or so… So yea my friends suggested me to do that. But I am still hesitant because I don’t have anything that ties me to Vietnam except for my family - my parents; David’s parents are of course in the US, I don’t have a company or anything here to connect me with a large amount of savings deposit. But your question makes me think about how people show that they have money.
An: Oh okay yea this one is going to be good haha someone is about to get startled.
Linh: So it’s different from America, if they have money they don’t show it, they prefer quiet luxury, or it’s because the people I met in Vietnam, people with money don’t really have very very very much money, they just HAVE money; so that I don’t know. But generally speaking, in the US, people with money they just enjoy their money, they stay at an expensive place, eat good food and play sports. They don’t always buy luxury cars or wearing designer brands, or being as loud as possible about being rich. What I see in Vietnam is that whenever I go somewhere, for example going to a concert, the first thing people do is to take pictures, check-ins and tag everyone to let them know that they’re going there.
An: Oh no, busted, Black Pink concerts happened just now hahaha
Linh: Whooops! Hahaha
An: You can see from the pictures who got VIP tickets hahaha
Linh: Yea but in the US I see that less often, of course people show and check in they do but not everyone. Maybe they’ll upload something when they go fine dining or when they got VIP tickets to concerts. Yes, people do that but the frequency is less than in Vietnam. But maybe it’s also the difference in how people use social media. The place that I’m living in the US is the place retired people stay so it might be different because of the age…
52:08 - 59:39: 5 essentials in my bag
An: For every guests, I always ask them to bring their bags and show 5 things that they always need on them to be able to do their jobs well. Because that’s how they make money right. And the 5 things that I talk about is the starts of their journey… So Linh, let’s show us 5 things in your bag.
Linh: You said I needed to show 5 things right, actually I don’t have one here with me right now, so I’ll have a substitute instead. Okay so, firstly, the thing that I cannot live without, this hydroflask water bottle, totally no product placement here but honestly, I drink a lot of water. In a normal day, I can drink 4 of these bottles, full of ice.
An: This bottle is very heavy guys…
Linh: Yes it is, it’s 16… oh no 32 ounces
An: 32 ounces, you guys can change it to milliliters if you need haha.
Linh: Okay, the second thing is normally laptop. But we of course all have a personal computer with us, which is a phone. I mean with sudden business trips like this, if I don’t feel that it’s necessary, I’ll just check my work, emails, slack and allocate tasks for people through my phone, yea I don’t need my laptop all the time.
An: How much is this hydroflask do you remember?
Linh: 70-something USD? I don’t remember…
An: Uhm 70-something? But like 70 dollars for a water bottle haha
Linh: No no but the thing is it’s heat retention. I like to drink cold water so normally I put a lot of ice in it and they won’t melt for the whole day. So I always have cold water, especially when I come back to Vietnam, I feel like having a luxury. Back in the US, like I told you I have my daily 2 hours walk, I would just need this bottle because, you know, walking, up and down, especially in Colorado which is a very high place and it’s dry so I need my water.
Linh: Next is my airpods, I lost my airpods so many times but I need them especially when I work, have a meeting or go hiking so that I can listen to podcast or talk to my colleagues. I sometimes have walking meetings, which my colleagues didn’t like because of the sound from my end but I feel like I can learn a lot because I listen to podcast at 1.5x speed so every time I go on a 2-hour walk, I can listen to more than 10 podcasts.
An: Oh… more than 10? Do you remember anything after that because for me…
Linh: Haha yea, really before I flew here I downloaded a lot of podcast episodes and I think I got through more than 10 already.
An: Wow. Airpods are the things that every guests show. To me, airpods, along with smartphones are the doors to the world, because sometimes when we listen to something, we can regulate our mood, so I feel like they are essentials to everyone.
Linh: The thing is I hope that I can keep them more carefully because I lost them so many times haha talking about essentials
An: Put an airtag on them haha
Linh: Sometimes I lost them because I was walking on snow, and I just dropped them hahaa
An: Oh my god
Linh: Haha yea I couldn’t find them, or sometimes I forgot and put them in my washing machine… I feel like Apple is really good at making users sticky even though their products are neither cheap nor easy to use haha because when you use Apple products, it’s a closed system.
An: Their ecosystem
Linh: Yea their ecosystem
An: Talking about that… Apple, please sponsor us, thanks hahaha
Linh: Okay next, glasses, because I’, shortsighted so I need my glasses, sunglasses also because it’s sunny in Colorado. But I don’t need to always wear my prescription glasses I only need them when I work on the computer for long, or when I’m driving. Other than that, when I’m talking to people, I don’t need them, everyone is pretty!
Linh: Okay the last thing, floss. Hahaha
An: Floss haaha
Linh: Yes because I’ll get irritated when I finish eating and I don’t floss. And I don’t like to use toothpicks because I have sensitive gum so I’ll use floss. I love this brand of floss - Coco Floss, it’s extremely sturdy and it smells good so…
An: This you bought in the US?
Linh: Yes, yea I bought it on Amazon. So yea. These 5 things I cannot live without, wherever I go, the same 5 things even when I go on a hike…
An: Okay so anyone who wants to start a media company, buy these 5 things haha this is the formula to success.
An: So finally thank you Linh for showing your 5 essentials, and thank you also for flying from Hanoi to do this podcast with me. I can totally sit here for a couple more hours, but the team is also pushing haha but I guess we can stop here, for the audience to feel the hunger haha If you want to know more, you should check out Linh’s business - HackerNoon…
Linh: I also write a lot on my personal blog, so if you want to contact me through my blog linhdaosmooke.com, it is also feasible.
An: Yep. Thank you again Linh for coming here and share with us your stories, both work and life. Thank you, and goodbyee!