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Marina Tran-Vu of EQUO International: “It is really important to have co-founders”

Entrepreneurship is probably one of the hardest things you ever do but no one ever tells you that. Because they don’t tell you how lonely or difficult it is, or how much extra work you have to put in versus a stable, salaried job. Entrepreneurship is usually described as this glamorous lifestyle, but, in fact, […]

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Entrepreneurship is probably one of the hardest things you ever do but no one ever tells you that. Because they don’t tell you how lonely or difficult it is, or how much extra work you have to put in versus a stable, salaried job. Entrepreneurship is usually described as this glamorous lifestyle, but, in fact, it’s a lot of hard work and dedication.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marina Tran-Vu.

Marina was born in Canada, years after her parents immigrated during the Vietnam War. She has over 10 years of brand management experience at companies including Unilever, Bacardi, LG Electronics and Spin Master. Recently she and EQUO were the recipient of the SME100 Fast Moving Companies Award, featured on FORBES, the first Vietnam-based company backed by Techstars, named to Vegpreneur’s 25 Vegan Companies You Need to Know, and Marina was named one of Flik’s 21 Women Entrepreneurs to watch in 2021.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career started in Marketing, specializing in Consumer Packaged goods. I have over 10 years of brand management experience at companies including Unilever, Bacardi, LG Electronics and Spin Master. With the inspiration of trying to build a sustainable future for my nephew, working to support local economic growth and job creation from my parent’s hometown, and the desire to elevate Vietnam’s profile as a global leader in sustainability and innovation, I decided to venture on my own to bring to the world truly eco-friendly solutions through the sustainable brand, EQUO. EQUO does not only sell products, we aspire to change the way the sustainability category approaches customers. We believe that sustainability does not only mean no-harm to the environment, but it could also be a fun and easy way to save the Earth!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

It’s hard to pick one because one of the privileges of growing a startup is the experience of facing new things everyday. The most interesting thing I have experienced was probably getting my first offer on my business for an investment. We were pre-revenue at the time, and I had only learned a limited amount about the investing world from my time watching SharkTank. After that experience I was exposed to a whole new world of investments, angel investing, term sheets, and accelerators.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s a start-up, we can’t expect everyone to make the perfect decision, including myself. The funniest mistake I made was probably putting a window for our products on our packaging. We did this originally because consumers mentioned they wanted to see the actual product and material inside. But, who knew the pandemic was about to hit and hygiene would become one of the biggest concerns and priorities for consumers? After we got consumer feedback and realized that window wasn’t something that everyone wanted anymore, we had to go in a completely different direction and had to redesign the packaging to close up the box.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

I think that one of the most significant social impacts we’re making is that we’re using our platform to let people know that there are materials other than paper and plastic as an alternative for drinking straws. The second impact that we’re making is within Vietnam. Our goal is to educate consumers about plastic pollution and to put VIetnam at the forefront as a global leader in sustainability.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We’re helping to support the local farming industry through sourcing agricultural products from rural farmlands. In Vietnam, farming is not only a job or a source of income, but it is also a way of life.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We hope to get support from the local government on our sustainable initiatives. This support could be anything from fundings, grants, or even new regulations to open up new opportunities for socially responsible businesses. Recently, some of the cities around the world have passed regulations to ban single-use plastics and we’re more than excited about it! This really pushes consumers and businesses alike to consider alternative materials that are truly sustainable.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is leading by example, it means that when you ask someone to do something, you have to do it yourself and you need to show them how to do it by yourself. Do not tell them what to do and leave them there. Leading by example shows that you have dedication to your work and your employees. It also means that you care about the outcome of the task and want your employees to grow professionally and personally. In a business environment, great leaders are the ones who help their employees thrive together.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Entrepreneurship is probably one of the hardest things you ever do but no one ever tells you that. Because they don’t tell you how lonely or difficult it is, or how much extra work you have to put in versus a stable, salaried job. Entrepreneurship is usually described as this glamorous lifestyle, but, in fact, it’s a lot of hard work and dedication.
  2. Sometimes it’s better to learn things yourself than hire people to do it. Not only does this widen your own breadth of knowledge, but you don’t have the same limits around time and resource as hiring an outside third party.
  3. Having a good basic knowledge of finance and cash flow is extremely important. A company dies when it runs out of money!
  4. Managing people is going to be 90% of your job as an entrepreneur, so get good at dealing with even the most difficult personalities!
  5. It is really important to have co-founders. Being a sole founder is rewarding, but also extremely difficult as you don’t have anyone else to fall back on except yourself.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to inspire a movement within the business community to support and lift eachother up. We often think we are in competition, trying to eat from the same small pie. If we just turned that around and instead of competing with each other, supported eachother, than we could so much more than being on our own.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My life lesson quote is: “You never know if tomorrow’s gonna come”. You can’t keep worrying about tomorrow and saying “What if? What if? What if?”. Especially in things you don’t have control over. The sky could fall down tomorrow, you never know! Don’t trip up on “What if?” questions, because that could paralyze you from making decisions and taking actions. Sometimes you just have to take a leap, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would want a private breakfast or lunch with Ryan Reynolds or Shawn Mendes because of the Canadian connections. But on top of that, they’re both big icons in social activism and I think that they’re great examples of people who take advantage of their platforms for social change. Especially when it comes to the environment, they are driving real changes in the community. I love what they do, how approachable they are, and that is really what I try to embody with our brand: being welcoming, open and relevant in a way that connects with people! To throw an American idol in there, would ABSOLUTELY want to meet Robert Downey Jr. He’s doing some great things for the environment!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You could follow Equo at @equointl on Instagram and Facebook!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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