Jesse Khanh Tran: “Unique” start-up business

Update: 14:58 | 09/08/2019
The World & Vietnam Report recently had a conversation with a young Vietnamese in Finland who came up with the idea of the world’s first waterproof shoes made out of recycled coffee.
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Jesse Khánh Trần. (Photo: Jesse)

Through the conversation, he displayed the livelihood and confidence of an enthusiastic start-up businessman, always striving to contribute to building a network and facilitating management methods for Vietnam’s “green and clean” industrial production in the future.

Hello Jesse Khanh Tran. Can you introduce yourself and your current work in Finland?

My name is Tran Bao Khanh, 27 years old. I am living and working in Helsinki – the capital of Finland. At the moment, I am the Co-founder and CEO of Rens Coffee Shoe – a company specialized in manufacturing shoes from recycled coffee-grounds and plastic.

Did you go to Mikkeli to study?

I went to Mikkeli to attend Mikkeli Campus at Aalto University in 2012. It is one of the universities with the most prestigious Bachelor program in Economics in Europe. Their education programs are also very creative and unique, even in comparison with other universities in Finland and Europe. In addition, foreign students didn’t have to pay tuition fee. And the university also covered for my accommodation and living expenses when I participated in a student exchange program at Hongkong Polytechnic University in 2014.

Starting a business in a foreign country is by no means an easy journey for a young Vietnamese. How did you start your business?

After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree at Aalto Mikkeli, I fortunately got a job in a successful international E-commerce start-up company in Finland. This was a boon, in retrospect, given the low chance for foreign students who undertook a major in economics, tourism or trade to get a job immediately following graduation in Finland. After working there for a while, I was able to build a solid and wide-ranging network with businessmen in Finland.

Therefore, I was confident to launch my first start-up business named FactoryFinder, which aimed at connecting small Nordic fashion brands to green and clean factories in Vietnam, China, Taiwan and India. From this point on, I continued expanding my network of partners and business relations in those countries.

Thanks to the work experience, the connections and my great co-founder – Son Chu (CTO, CMO of Rens), startup Rens had achieved its initial success.

So far, many start-up entrepreneurs are still struggling in finding their ways forward. With your valuable experience, in your opinion, what should they seek?

I believe that you have to find a partner with a knack for skills that can complement yours. You ought to believe in and take care of your employees, while scouting talents continuously. Instead of the initial successes, what I take pride the most in my company are the excellent employees. They are even more “passionate” than me – the start-up leader. When you start your business in a foreign country, you also need a team of international members – people from different nations and backgrounds whose life experiences and professional abilities can complement each other.

Where does the idea of waterproof shoes made out of recycled coffee-grounds come from?

I and Son are sneakerheads. We met and came up with the idea of an unprecedented pair of shoes, they have to be “breathable”, “creative” but also “clean” for young people. Take a look at the tedious sustainable fashion market around the world. These brands mostly produce unappealing, outdated products and then sell them at an insanely high price just because they are “clean”.

This reminds us of the pre-Tesla electric car market. Consumers are frustrated as they rarely have any outstanding options. After two years of research and development, we are confident that Rens has been and will become an excellent choice among sustainable fashion brands.

We heard that your company has just launched a community fundraising campaign for your “unique” product?

We are running a community fundraising campaign on Kickstarter (an American public-benefit corporation that maintains a global crowdfunding platform focused on creativity and merchandising) named “Rens/Waterproof Shoe Made From Recycled Coffee”. After a month, we have raised over $400,000 with nearly 4000 customers from over 60 countries and territories around the world. The campaign is still running for about a week, and we hope to reach more than half a million dollars from Kickstarter.

When we began our Kickstarter campaign, we could not imagine Rens could get that much support from thousands of customers around the world. This is the most surprising and amazing thing for our team.

Do you wish to connect with your homeland after developing business in Finland?

No matter where I have gone or what I have achieved, I am still a Vietnamese and I’m very proud of that. I hope I would be able to represent Vietnam on the international stage.

In the long run, I plan to invest more in research to produce my company’s shoes entirely in Vietnam from raw materials, auxiliary materials to the final products without having to import materials from another country. Not only do I want to contribute to Vietnam’s export turnover, but also to the network building and industrial operations management of our country in the future so we can be “greener and cleaner” than China, whose existing methods have severely affected their environment, particularly in textiles.

Thank you very much!

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