From the outside, Haravan (a shortened version of the Vietnamese phrase “hai ra vang,” meaning to pick gold like you pick fruit) resembles Shopify and, indeed, at its core they both have the same mission and operate the same way. Shopify’s website states: “We focus on making commerce better for everyone, so businesses can focus on what they do best: building and selling their products. Today, merchants use our platform to manage every aspect of their business – from products to orders to customers, selling online, in retail stores, and on the go.”

This is also what Haravan is doing. It’s a platform for shops, retailers and new SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) ecommerce merchants to run their businesses offline and online. To the average Vietnamese user, it may look like a WordPress clone, where you can create a website using provided free and paid templates. But Haravan takes WordPress and Shopify’s basic core concept and expands on it considerably, placing it firmly into a Vietnamese context. This is rare in Vietnam, where copying is rampant but shallow. Haravan is a case where the cofounders identified a problem and then found a model that fit. They started with Vietnam’s burgeoning underserved SME ecommerce market, researched various models, and ended up with a Shopify clone. Haravan provides the following:

  • It has an API for third-party providers to create more features and provides a POS platform for offline businesses to manage their inventory, marketing and ad integration.
  • Haravan coordinates with local logistics companies to automatically provide logistics services to SMEs.
  • The company connects with prominent payment gateways like Smartlink and VNPay.
  • Haravan provides a full customer service toolset which includes integrating emails, newsletters, call centers and chat services. Users can easily manage all of this through their dashboard.
  • Given Vietnam’s forum-heavy social media space, Haravan provides forum integration for SMEs. This means Haravan works directly with forums to embed a store into forum comments. Sounds weird, right? For example, if I am a shop owner, I can comment and have my store website embedded directly into a comment. The user interested in my products doesn’t have to leave the forum to shop. Haravan works directly with forums like WebTreTho and 5giay (both among the top 30 most visited websites in Vietnam) to build the embedded ecommerce stores inside their forums.
  • In line with forum integration, Haravan provides Facebook crawling. It helps Facebook Page sellers by crawling orders placed in comments and messages on their Facebook Page, and then organizes everything into a dashboard.

Haravan started with SMEs as its main focus because Huynh Lam Ho, one of the five cofounders, was a merchant himself. “I started out selling stuff online but I wanted to start an offline store too. And with one store, it wasn’t bad, and after that we had this vision of opening ten stores in our second year. After the second quarter, we had three stores total. That’s when we started to feel the burn of managing inventory, customers, cost, suppliers, etc. With our small omni- channel operation we had to keep building tools to help ourselves. And we thought, ‘I bet others have the same problem as us.’”

Huynh’s goal is for the company to become a low-end outsourcer for everything merchants need. Haravan’s numbers reflect its potential. Since its official launch in September 2014 (and starting sales in December), it has accumulated 24,000 free trial users, of which 1,700 (seven percent) are paying a monthly subscription fee of at least VND170,000. The team has grown to over 50 employees. If it can execute its vision successfully, it has a path to be one of Vietnam’s most influential companies in the next five years.

BIO: Anh-Minh Do is the editor at TechInAsia.com for Vietnam, focusing on technology startups, trends and companies. Minh is on the board of Starthub.vn – a database and forum for startups dedicated to the growth of Vietnam’s business ecosystem.