I’ve read this quote many years ago, when I was just a middle-school kid. It was in the “Learn To Be” book collection by my mentor Nguyen Hien Le. And at the time, I surely didn’t expect that it would have such an impact on my work later on.
The early 1980s was a tough time for Vietnam. I wanted to find a way to help my family struggle less. But with Vietnam being in the Subsidy Period and having a closed economy, there was nothing to do, and so that goal was put on hold.
In 1990 I got married, and with every struggle we face in our daily lives, I was tormented and thought to myself: I can’t let my mother, father, wife and kids live like this forever!
Hesitation wouldn’t lead me anywhere, so I came to action!
My day job was a math teacher teaching at the Education college of Can Tho Province. I had no capital, no knowledge and experience about business, just a burning desire to escape poverty!
And that was indeed a “hard problem to solve” for a math teacher.
After many nights of thinking with an intense pressure to act, I’ve chosen a path for myself: do something creative, something different, it’s the only way that I was going to make it.
To create something entire new was impossible, I chose a more modest approach: in everyday products, is there any problem that frustrates people? And if there is, I will research and improve upon it.
Having a goal, I look at many different product categories, if I saw something I can improve, I’d jumped on that opportunity. It took me through dandruff shampoos, shirt-collar stiffener, sandpaper, dust-less chalk, automatic fire extinguisher, paint roller without dipping, etc.
However, at the time, counterfeit and fake products where a huge issue, so every time I came up with an invention, I patented it, therefore I had 6 patents. Sounds great, but when it comes to practical application, most of them failed. Some had relative success, for example: the dandruff shampoo that I developed the formula for based on what I’ve learned about what local folks were already using: honey locust fruit and lime leaf. But after some time exporting from my small province of Can Tho to the big city of Saigon, fake products of my brand started to appeare everywhere, so I gave up making shampoo. However, I did make some money to be capital for next time.
This small success from Dandruff Shampoo taught me a big lesson: success requires something unique, and solely relying on books and theories is not a good idea.
The journey to waterproofing.
Every raining season, the walls of my house got water permeating through, even though I had waterproofed my house every year. I asked my friends who were builders, and they said waterproofing is a difficult field.
Suddenly a thought came to my mind: Difficult? Is this waterproof thing challenging me?
And the first experimental product came out, I used it on my own small house in Can Tho of course. Then I “expanded in the market” by offering my family and friends to try out for free, and made gradual adjustment, improvements to the product quality.
When things got better, in 1966, I decided to move to Saigon, applied for a teaching job in a Highschool and a University exam preparation center to get some income and more importantly, prepare for a bigger fight ahead.
Getting a big market share was a dream of mine, but at the time there were already many imported products, some are famous big brand in the Vietnam market. How could I get customers to notice INTOC, an unknown name, and at the same time writes “100% Vietnamese technology” on it’s product? Not an easy task!
I decided to spend some money on small advertising on Thanh Nien Newspaper with the quote “waterproofing without removing the tiles”
Tile was a popular terrace floor finish in Vietnam, and with terrace getting water permeation being such a common thing, people had to remove and discard the tile layer and the mortar layer underneath, down to the concrete. Very complicated, costly, and with limited success. Therefore “waterproofing without removing the tiles” cached on really well, homeowners would try it out because it was simple and cheap.
I was the owner, the manufacturer, and the construction worker working directly on many customers’ houses, then I was also getting feedbacks from them. Feedbacks were not good, not a lot of success, and a lot of failures. I was shocked, but I persisted, I didn’t skip any fail cases, I insisted that I would fix their houses, even if it takes multiple times (but not troublesome for them). I think my enthusiasm impressed them, so they excused my earlier failures.
A sense of pressure overwhelmed me. I had advertised to put my work out there, yet I’m failing. The risk of losing it all haunted me. I even wondered if I should just go back to be a teacher.
I was not giving up, I put my mind and heart into improving and diversifying the products. Almost every waking moments, I thought about waterproofing. Some nights, I went to bed and realized it was 3-4am!
Good fortune came to me, all my improvements started working, the products were effective, and the trust of my customers came back.
Now thinking about it, I not even sure what got me through that stressful period. Maybe it was my experience with previous chemicals, or how my math profession taught me to see the true nature of the problem; maybe it was the creative thinking I inherited from my father, or maybe it was the determination I’ve learned from those “Learn to be” books by Nguyen Hien Le.
Around 1998, the cement-based product named INTOC-04 had gotten attention due to its ability to waterproof difficult high-water-pressure task.
My team and I were excited to introduce our product to large construction project.
But again, more challenges came, the plan was scrapped because everywhere we went, all we got was NO.
At this point, I’m used to failing, I calmly faced it.
I remember someone had said “chance” is both a “risk” and an “opportunity”.
And it really was. Even after failing, my experience of waterproofing multiple constructions showed me that water permeation was a very common problem, especially in difficult tasks such as high-rise pools, high water-pressure basement, etc. And people keep failing to waterproof even after multiple attempts.
This information showed me a more daring way to approach large construction project: convincing them for me to waterproof those tasks that they had failed at for years, and it’s free if my products can not completely waterproof!
Some of the noticeable projects are: FORD Vietnam automobile factory’s technical pit (with multiple attempts with no success for 2 years, prior to our work), high-rise pool at REX Hotel, high-rise pool at Victory Hotel (with 4-5 attempts from different imported products previously), and with Barrette-wall basement technology becoming more popular, recently we have successfully waterproof GIGAMALL Center’s basement with flying success (where 4-5 other big brands have tried but to no success).
We were effective with those difficult tasks, yet all them have lasted for years, some even over 20 years with no reoccurring problem.
Therefore, INTOC has earned the trust and support from customers, and it is also why many expert and prestigious customers have spoken out to praise INTOC – something that you never see in the waterproofing field!
The list of INTOC’s success is expanding because the list of difficult waterproofing jobs is also expanding. And to be honest, at the time, I did not think that imported products were ineffective, maybe it was simply the wrong product choice for the task, or the execution was the problem, etc. Until around 5 years ago, we started doing research into this. And we’ve discovered many papers, studies, and surveys from the US and other developed countries stating:
- Waterproofing high-rise pools is to build a second concrete floor underneath to catch the water dripping down.
- Waterproofing basement is to let the water in + drain it to a pump + pump the water out + hide the system with fake wall layer + dehumidifier, which leads to the following 5 consequences:
1. Maintain the entire complicated system for the entire lifetime of the construction.
2. Constant damp environment with mold risk
3. Water constantly flowing through concrete, reducing the lifespan of the construction.
4. Reduces usable space.
5. High-cost, both upfront and long term.
Please read more here.
So as we are shining lights on the dark side of waterproofing, many customers have changed their way of thinking about waterproofing, and INTOC have gotten more opportunities.
What makes me happy the most is with every construction that uses INTOC, people have avoided all 5 consequences mentioned above, especially the health risk that comes with the mold risk, yet at 1/5 the cost of the current drainage system.
Changing a one-hundred-year-old way of thinking is not simple, many said it’s hard to believe, or even got mad when a Vietnamese brand can succeed while the world claims it’s not possible yet.
I would just do my job well, show the work what I’ve already done, and fortune will come.
I’ll be very happy if INTOC is used more and become popular in many countries, bringing huge benefits to people around the world.
Your support is very appreciated, so that we can benefit society together!