4 Lessons Owning a Hostel in Vietnam Taught Me
4 Lessons Owning a Hostel in Vietnam Taught Me
Get to know how you can successfully manage multiple projects at the same time from my own experience as the former owner of DaBlend Hostel in Saigon!
After I opened my own hostel at 24 years old, it took me 2 years to realize I was overwhelmed and stressed as a business owner. Then it took me 2 more years to solve these two problems.
As a result, this 4 years journey transformed me drastically. The process was very slow and hardeous because I was on my own during the entire time. But in the end, I managed to free-up enough time for myself and for other projects so that I could have a better work-life balance.
Let me share my story and what I believe is the best way to manage multiple projects at the same time.
These 4 life lessons are the foundation of the reasons why I started coaching entrepreneurs who are currently going through a similar transformation.
The question: “how to manage multiple projects at the same time” implies another questions: what is my definition of success?
That is why, I will use my own experience as the owner of DaBlend Hostel in Saigon from its creation in 2016 to it’s closure in March 2020 (#covid).
I am going to go through two main transformations that happened during these 4 years as a hostel owner. And I hope this will inspire you to improve your operations in your own business.
How to become successful.
My first goal was to be fully booked.
When I opened DaBlend Hostel in 2016, I invested almost all my savings into this projects. So needless to say that my only goal was to fill up my empty beds. I wasn’t looking for managing multiple project at the same time but rather becoming stable with a single one.
The first thing I did was to make sure that the few guests who checked-in would review us 5 star on all the different booking platforms. Any 5 star review was crucial for us to gain visibility and attract more guests.
The hardest wasn’t to get 5 star reviews…
It’s to be consistently good at getting them. The hardest was to keep my high-scores while having more and more guests booking at my place. The busier you are, the hardest it is to consistently take good care of everybody.
What was my response to this? I accepted to work twice as much as I used to, so I could still have the time to handle my guests’ needs and get closer to my goals. 🙈 I thought: “Wanna get more results? Work twice as much if not more!”
Even if I eventually hired some employees and volunteers to assist me running the operations, I was not delegating properly and taking the time to lead the team properly. We will see this later in this article.
One thing I am still proud today is that we were doing amazing from the beginning and over the entire time DaBlend Hostel was opened:
- In 2016, I received a 9.6/10 score from Booking Guests Review Award.
- In 2018, I became the number one hostel in HCMC on Hostelworld.
- The following years, I was ranking Top 1 to Top 10 on all the different booking platforms.
- In 2020, I received a 9.1/10 score from Booking Guests Review Award.
After two years of owning my hostel, these rewards were giving me a lot of satisfaction but I was too busy and quite frankly, not really happy.
Then, what is the point of reaching success if you still feel miserable?
In 2018, after two years of sacrifices, I realized two things:
On the one hand, I am successful. My hostel is full and my guests are 97% satisfied. I’m number one in the biggest city of Vietnam, I make money, etc.
On the other hand, I am miserable. I have no time for myself, for my relatives, for my friends. I don’t exercise at all. I smoke like a firefighter. I am a pure product of the “Work hard play hard”; I was hustling the day then clubbing at night.
Is that success? Yes, in the eyes of society. My guests were loving my services. I could tell people I was number one. That was the bright side.
The dark side of this is that I almost died because of success.
How I almost die because of success.
After starting my hostel, I didn’t realized that I was loosing weight. The business was going good, I was high in the rankings. My hostel was recommended and guests loved it. But I was taking no time for myself and my own health.
Here is a little summary of my lifestyle at this time:
- I was living in the staff dormitory, so as soon as I would get out of my bed (not my room) I would be in this working environment. Straight after bed. It’s like if you sleep at the office basically. Being a 24 years-old entrepreneur was my excuse.
- 7am. The first thing I would do in the morning was to get a coffee (sorry; an “amazing coffee”, okay?! it’s Vietnam, afterall!), one or two cigarettes and get to work.
- I would work the entire day, definitely skipping breakfast, sometimes lunch. sometimes eat a late lunch and stop to work around 11pm.
- After work, I would usually go to party with my guests and eat late-night dinner.
- I was not practicing any sport, not cooking for myself, not eating enough and smoking, drinking alcohol, coffee, etc. etc.
So what happened, how did I realized I had to change?
Hospitalization. At the beginning 2018, I got sick, like really sick. So I went to see a doctor. He prescribed me some antibiotics. It didn’t worked, because I was still sick. So he gave me some more powerful ones. And I got allergic to them! This allergy combined with other things led me to spend 10 days in the hospital. I was K.O. I was having fevers every two hours for the first 5 days while they were curring me with a dozen of different “magic pills” every day!
I mean I knew I needed more than magic pills to save me. I needed a radical change.
It’s just because of an allergy, right?
Afterwards, thinking about it, I don’t think so. As a teanager, I used to be sick twice a year but it was just a cold. I’d sleep better and drink some vitamins and it would get sorted within 2 days, without seeing any doctor.
This hospitalization happened because I poorly took care of my health gradually for a long period of time. I was weak, my immune system was subject to be defeated against some sickness.
So, what is my definition of success?
My definition of success is not the definition given by the society. I stopped defining people’s success based on how good they do at work or at “building their empire”. Yes,.. Look at me on my hospital bed. Do I look successful?
No, I look at all areas in life; social skills, love relationships, mental health, fitness, soft skills, ideas, etc.
Someone successful to me is someone who:
I) Has a solid long term plan. It’s not about becoming number one. It’s about managing the after. What do you do to keep up once you are at the top. How do you handle crisis, face problems, detect imbalance, etc. Both professionally and personally. How solid are the foundations of your system; how easy it is to upgrade it and adapt it to the world’s changes, etc.
II) Build a strong work-life balance. How are you going to be successful in the future if you don’t sleep enough hours at night? if you don’t eat the right food? Success is about what you put into your body.
That is actually one of my goal when I interview Creators in Saigon in my podcast (picture bellow). The three of us (Dana, Tue-Si and me) are very interested in learning how our guests “made themselves”. What are their support systems, how balance is their life and what type of imbalance did they experienced that made them come to the same realization than me.
III) Understand the differences between “scaling” and “growing”. Growth is a good sign; your revenues, results are increasing. When you scale it basically means that you don’t need as many resources to keep growing your business. Usually when you scale up your business, you have enough control over you activity to grow the company “exponentially” while keeping the cost at the same level. Although it’s difficult for certain type of businesses, the principles are very instructive and useful for all kinds of businesses. To me, they are summed up into three steps that we can go through during my consulting with your business; optimization of your activity, automation of processes and delegating tasks (properly).
How to manage multiple projects at the same time.
After my horrible stay at the hospital in 2018 (I mean the doctors and nurses were really nice, sure!), I really wanted to avoid this to happen again. So I started to put in place some actions that would help me maintain my growth, but not “almost kill me” again.
Let me take you through the entire process. It is two years of trials and errors; from 2018 to 2020, but here are the key solutions that I implemented and that successfully worked for my me as a hostel owner.
I managed to extract myself out of 75 to 95% of the operations by doing these three things which helped me to have enough time to manage multiple projects at the same time:
I reviewed all my sales, spendings, productivity, etc. and evaluated the margins, the potential growth, the cost-per unit, etc. etc. I kept tracking and looking at how to optimize my business model so that I maximize my profits and minimize my costs.
For example, instead of outsourcing my laundries, I realized that if I invested in a washing machin and paid my cleaner more; I would cut my expenses tremendously while she would be happy to get paid better and we could get it done quicker!
Another example is the “AC policy”: I decided to turn off the air-conditioning in the dorms during 6 hours everyday from 11am to 5pm an replacing it with fans. This allowed me to cut my electricity bills instantaneously; guests weren’t really bothered because 90% of them were out visiting the city at these hours and the others could use their fans. Meanwhile, my cleaner could come in the room, open windows to fresher the air and clean properly. It was a win-win-win deal.
I used to do everything with a pen and paper. And usually people were stealing my pen and I was loosing my paper. So I had to switch to more trustworthy tools! 😉 Tools that would not let human mistakes fail me.
So I started looking at all our processes, operations, what guests need the most, etc. and see how I could automate things. You can automate with technology, but you can also automate by training your staff more.
For example. We were using a PMS (property management system) that was handling bookings for us, but also emailings and the POS (point of sales). It came with a monthly fee, but it was saving me and my team hours of worries, mistakes and duplicated tasks everyday.
To scale the business, you must learn to give some of your tasks to others in the team so that you can focus on what your business needs or other things. You need to work on your management skills and your motivation to train, guide, mentor your team to achieve their goals. Doing it in a multicultural environment also adds to the challenge. But this step is crucial to be able to get back your free time.
For instance, I recruited a communication agency (shout out to Stay The Night!) that guaranteed me they would post 3 times a week on my Instagram and Facebook and run my ads. It was a no brainer; they were the experts, I was just checking they were doing it properly and that it would bring me the expected results.
Let’s take another example… I created what I called “the hostel bible”. It’s the operations-manual or the training book and resource manual… All our processes, policies, FAQs, etc. dedicated to the team was in this book. So the team had no excuse not to operate properly and something to refer to if they were lost during their shift. Combined with daily short-meetings and some trainings, it was powerful.
IV) And what about self-care?
When I closed the hostel in march 2020 because of COVID, my work-life balance was far from perfect. I didn’t made it a priority. I still had some serious health issues to tackle down. But I was in a much better shape than in 2018 and I was having some times to socialize and eat healthier home-made food. I was already using my free time to open a second business and different extensions of the hostel.
I had started to practice some sports again, take time for me and my girlfriend, reduce drinking, stop smoking completely (yes!) , taking some times to sleep better, etc.
Since my hostel closed down, I took the time to think about my learnings. And this led me to the conclusions I am making today in this article. And the advise and training I give on a daily basis as an Entrepreneur Coach are the fruits of this extremely rich experience.
Because in the end, today I am still an entrepreneur running my consulting business, cohosting Creators in Saigon, administrating one of the largest French Expat Groups in Vietnam and still having some times to meditate, eat at the right time, take care of my wife and my cat; and most importantly my own mental and physical health.
To me, the above is how I manage multiple projects at the same time!
I don’t consider myself successful, but if there is something I want you guys to remember from this article is that applying all these principles to me today, brings me much more satisfaction and confidence in my future success than my previous lifestyle. If you want to find out how to manage multiple projects at the same time, consider the following:
A) Your success on the long run will highly depends on your abilities to maintain your amazing results you usually have in the beginning of a project. So keep in mind to fuel your body with the right things and view this journey more like a marathon rather than a sprint to the podium.
B) Your ability to run several projects at the same time is tied to the operations’ structure of your day-to-day. If you have to do everything, and the work is not properly organized or you use the wrong tools, there are high chances that this particular project takes up a big part of your own time and you may not be able to focus on other things.
So, I highly encourage you to assess your daily rythm and try to find ways to improve it. And if you need any help, I am here to discuss it.
Start To Reclaime Your Time With Me!
Additional: If you want me to talk about my hostel experience in a more specific way, please let me know. I am happy to make more articles about how to improve the guest experience or how to answer bad reviews or how to create a hostel in Vietnam, how I designed unique beds with pallet wood, etc.
If I write this, it’s not because I believe there is only one recipe to success and one way to operate your business. As an Entrepreneur Coach, I meet a lot of different people and I learn a lot from them. So, the knowledge I have now may evolve in the future, I may even change my opinions. I hope the information you can find here will serve you. If you have a constructive comment on this, please, reach out to me I will be happy to learn from you.
Thank you for reading until the end!
My last words on this experience and these advice:
If there are one good reason to become an entrepreneur, is to enjoy every moments, it’s more important than success, money or fame. To all the people I met during this journey, thank you. You all made me a better person and I am grateful for that.