VC Interview Series: Tuan Ho, ScholarJet

Interview with Tuan Ho (12/20/18)

VietChallenge Interview series

As the long-awaited VietChallenge 2019 Screening Round finally kicked off, we reconnected with our past winners. This series is to update our community on the accomplishments that VietChallenge winners have reached and what advice they have for our future applicants.

We hope that from the stories our winners shared with us, entrepreneurs of our community will also see their own stories, their desire to better the world, reflected; and will be boosted to make that change happen, like how our fellow contestants have.

This Week’s Profile: Tuan Ho from ScholarJet

Two years ago, ScholarJet was announced the winner of VietChallenge 2017. With their innovative approach in providing students in Boston with action-based scholarships, they brought home $20,000.

After parting with VietChallenge, ScholarJet moved on to achieve many milestones.

They graduated from MassChallenge, one of the most renown startup accelerator in the US. Uptil now, ScholarJet has awarded more than $30,000 in scholarships, impacting the lives of over 300 students. ScholarJet’s paying customers include Santander Bank, Akamai Technologies and WeWork.

ScholarJet’s co-founders: ( from left to right) Joseph Alim, Tuan Ho, Francisco Calderon

For this interview, we asked one of ScholarJet’s co-founders, Tuan Ho, to share with us his experience as an entrepreneur, what he has learned through VietChallenge and his advice for future VietChallenge applicants.

We visited Tuan Ho recently at GSVlabs, a co-working space in Boston, where ScholarJet and other startup companies form a community, working towards solving the world’s problems innovatively and efficiently.

What problem is there to solve?

The problem Ho sees in the world is how it only focuses on the people in the top who are able to “afford food, water, shelter, and have the intellect and the education to participate and creat[e] technology and com[e] up with new concept and research to innovate.”

With keen concentration, Ho hypothesizes: “So let me ask you a question. If only 100 million people are only working on a cure for cancer, wouldn’t it make sense to, you know, […] extend that opportunity to more people, then more innovation can come about?”

That is ScholarJet’s mission: extending that opportunity to the rest of the people who are often overlooked, those who are trying to live by working menial jobs.

“ScholarJet is more than just giving money to the students and help them to afford their education, but it’s also employment opportunity as well,” Ho says.

Unhesitatingly, Ho continues: “I mean that’s just the start, and our goal is to build ScholarJet big enough, and we can hand it over to a bigger company who has the resources to drive the mission forward.”

“And, maybe I’ll start something else with, basically, the same mission–creating a better world in a different way,” Ho adds.

Mission, Fear and “Failure”

Tuan Ho is 23. He graduated from Northeastern University in 2018, and is a CEO, which Ho dubs “chief emailing officer,” considering the 5,700 emails ScholarJet has sent this year.

Recently, Ho received the Priscilla Chan Stride Fellowship and, along with other co-founders of ScholarJet, was named Forbes 30 under 30 as well as awarded the City of Boston Spark Impact Award.

At this point, a question that many of us would ponder is: how did Ho find his mission and the courage to achieve it?

As recalled from the moment when ScholarJet was announced VietChallenge winner, Ho exclaimed:

“They say that the greatest moment in your life is the moment you were born, and the moment you find out why. And when the idea came to me, I know why I’m alive.”

ScholarJet competing in VietChallenge 2017 final round

The same sentiment echoes when we ask Ho if he has ever felt unsure about his path. With a resounding “No,” Ho explains: “There are a lot of intricacies that you’d have to figure out. That’s something you’d have to experience for yourself. […] It’s like diving into your fear and really go on into an adventure.”

Ho adds: “It’s a leap of faith that you’d have to take. You can’t tell yourself: ‘ok, now I’m ready.’ You’ll never be ready until you’re actually doing it.”

When we challenge Ho with the question of fear, he says confidently: “whenever I fear something, I don’t think about the fear, I just do whatever that is necessary.”

Because to Ho, “you either win or you learn.”

He argues: “oftentimes, people think that there’s a binary in terms of winning and losing or ‘failing’ because they haven’t grasped the concept of learning, and you would miss the opportunity to learn if you consider failure as something that’s negative rather than something that is positive.”

“So if I consider every single thing that I’ve failed, I look back to learn from that experience, and so, that learning experience becomes a win for me,” Ho asserts.

VietChallenge, Lessons Learned and Advices

“VietChallenge is one of the very first big competitions that we’ve ever won, it makes a big splash. It really helped my mom to be proud,” Ho says, with his hands clasped tightly.

To Ho, competing in VietChallenge is also a way to “plu[g] [him] into the community” because part of the things he wants to do in the future is to motivate Vietnamese entrepreneurs.

Winning the competition also means much more than receiving the monetary rewards; Ho emphasizes: “it helped hold me accountable because you never want to win a competition and ultimately fail in the end.”

“[I] want to keep going, and [I] want to prove that I was a winner, and I deserve it, and somehow I will be able to give back in the future.”

And what Ho learned through VietChallenge, he says, is humility.

Therefore, Ho advises incoming applicants of VietChallenge to always keep that quality. He says, earnestly: “Trust me, I’ve fallen into the same trap, but it took a long while for me to realize that you’re no different than anyone else, and it’s just a learning process.”

And the second advice Ho offers is: “opening your mind.”

Taken from his own experience, Ho says: “the biggest lesson that I’ve learned this year is that I could be wrong. If you’re able to accept that you’re wrong moving forward or what not, you’re allowing yourself to be open to more options and being able to learn more, rather than being right all the time.”

“Because no one is ever right all the time,” Ho concludes.

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