How the king of mattress got over sleepless nights
Author: Hoang Tuan Anh – CEO of Vua Nem
17 August 2022
On a Saturday night in 2020, I – the CEO of a company that brings good sleep to customers, could not fall asleep, and carefully considered writing my resignation letter as CEO of Vua Nem. My job had come to feel—not like a career position—but, rather, like a “life sentence.”
Nghia and I co-founded Devico (the predecessor of Vua Nem) in October 2007 as a mattress retail store on Xa Dan stress, Ha Noi. We developed and expanded to a mattress chain with 30 stores across 18 provinces and cities after only 10 years. Seeing the opportunity and ambition to build the No.1 mattress retail chain in Vietnam, in October 2017, Mekong Capital decided to invest VND 100 billion with the goal that Vua Nem will become the market leader in 2021 with 300 retail stores.
Thus, we immediately started to restructure everything—from the business model to key manager positions. We not only successfully onboarded senior leaders from top corporations in Viet Nam, but also invited global industry experts to the Board of Directors, namely Sam Wood (Vice President of the most prominent mattress chain in the US, Mattress Firm) and Craig Schmeizer (Founder/CEO of Nectar, America’s fastest growing online mattress retailer). With strong new faces in the management board, we quickly doubled number of stores to 68 by the end of 2018. However, that was when problems started to arise.
Firstly, the stores did not meet targeted revenues. Top KPIs were all underperformed. As the result, 14 stores shut down. Conversations at the Board of Directors’ meetings and within the management level became stuffy. We had several occasions to discuss on the off-tracks and brainstorm on the strategies and solutions. Still, the performance in 2019 fell short. 2020 began with the Covid-19 wave, which led to the adjustment to the planned targets and a default future the Vision 2021 was unlikely achievable.
As the CEO, I was the person most responsible for those results. I lived in a nightmare throughout the period of 2020, continually tormenting myself for being not good enough and lacking leadership competency.
After lots of sleepless nights, I made up my mind that a new CEO would be better for Vua Nem. I sent resignation emails to the chairman, Mr. Craig—and to other members of the Board of Directors. In that moment, I felt so relieved. With a new source of energy, I dove eagerly into search for a new CEO for Vua Nem.
I had open, heart-to-heart conversations with Nghia, Craig, and Chris Freund respectively, and especially with Minh Giang on the context and the reasons behind my decision. Through those conversations, a strange thing happened. These conversations helped me discover what self-doubt look like and how all the self-judgments were only stories in my own head – and that was exactly what did not work in my way of operation.
That moment of enlightenment gave me a new perspective. I realized how enthusiastic I still felt for Vua Nem as CEO. If it wasn’t me, could any new CEO be able to love, understand, and lead Vua Nem to our Vision? This question led me to an unprecedented decision in my life: Break the “life sentence” mindset that I was the one-and-only person responsible for Vua Nem’s failures and transform myself to continue taking charge of a new future of Vua Nem as well as of my life.
In 2020, after 10 months of ups and downs, for the first time, we successfully organized a 3-day-session to co-creating our Vision with the participation of 28 heads of departments. That event marked the first milestone and turned over a new leaf with a new context of a whole leadership team coming together to “declare a new future for Vua Nem in 2023: Vua Nem to be the No. 1 and largest mattress retailer in Vietnam”. That night, I had a very good sleep: I was no longer the only one responsible for the future of Vua Nem but it was now a shared future of 28 other team mates.
We overcame the storms of 2021 together. In the first half of 2022, Vua Nem reached 130 stores nationwide. A wave of excitement broke out as everyone together acknowledged, celebrated, thus declared a new target for 2022 with quadruple revenue growth compared to previous year.
The journey to Vision 2023 would still be full of challenges, potential off-tracks and “sleepless nights”. The leaders of Vua Nem and I might not only once – but many times – stand in the shadow of being the victim of the circumstances and give up or being the cause of the matter to transform and create result. The decision is only ours to make!
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Mekong Capital makes investments in consumer-driven businesses and adds substantial value to those companies based on its proven framework called Vision Driven Investing. Our investee companies are typically among the fastest-growing companies in Vietnam’s consumer sectors.
In January 2022, Mekong Capital founder Chris Freund published Crab Hotpot, a story about a bunch of crabs who found themselves stuck in a boiling pot. The colorful cover of “Crab Hot Pot,” complete with expressive cartoon crustaceans, looks like a children’s tale at first glance. But as one continues reading, it becomes clear that the work has an important message about organizational transformation, leadership and focusing on a clear vision for the future.