"My life is about startups," says Tien Nguyen, CTO of Wego, the Singapore-based travel search engine.
Nguyen spent five years working in the startup world of Vietnam, but took a chance and relocated his family—his son was only three months old at the time—when he got a position with Wego in Singapore. He quickly rose through the Wego ranks, advancing from software engineer to his current position leading a team of engineers.
When he landed, there weren’t many startups, but the city-state has since experienced a tech renaissance in the eight years that Nguyen has lived there. Today, Singapore has emerged as a hub.
When considering the "why" behind Singapore's evolution, there are a number of factors to consider. Government funding and an abundance of excellent schools both play important roles but, according to Nguyen, a particularly crucial reason for Singapore's boomtown status is that it draws talent from across the region. Part of this has to do with the fact that Singaporeans enjoy a high standard of living.
"Singapore is a pretty developed country compared to other countries in the area, so having a chance to work in Singapore with lots of very smart engineers in this area is a pretty good opportunity," Nguyen says. "People from Vietnam, from Malaysia, from Indonesia, all come over here."
Even so, Nguyen maintains that hiring isn't always easy. Much of his current energy is directed toward building a kind of Wego dream team, one that's focused on productivity and bound together by a culture of learning. To that end, everyone on Nguyen's team is a full-stack engineer. Since he started as a mechanical engineer, Nguyen knows how important it is to have a comprehensive, end-to-end view of what you're working on.
"It's about [the] people in the team; how you can help other team members grow," he says.
As Singapore's reputation as a startup destination has developed, so has Wego's presence in the ranks of online travel platforms. Their expansion has been made possible, says Nguyen, through a company-wide preoccupation with automation. "We focus a lot of effort on automation, so we try to bring automation into our culture," he explains.
Nguyen credits their success to a combination of automation and striving to streamline user experience. User experience, in fact, is one way that Wego tries to differentiate itself from its competitors.
"It's (fast), and […] you can easily filter results. We try to make it more and more intelligent, so actually from the background, we run some algorithm, to make sure that the result that’s given to you [is] sorted by some certain score which is relevant to you," Nguyen says.
Wego's current main market is the Middle East—they're "the number one travel managers, in terms of traffic" in the region—but Wego has plans of branching out toward the larger population centers of South Asia. It's a question of untapped potential, according to Nguyen.
"In the next few years, I believe the engineers, like myself, will try to focus more on the area because there's still a lot of opportunities in countries like Indonesia, Vietnam," Nguyen says. After all, the same renaissance that occurred in Singapore may soon be dawning in places like Hanoi and Surabaya.