Making a Life Through What He Gives
Kevin Tung Nguyen, Eller Finance ’11
Junior Partner, Radius Online and Co-Founder, Ivylish
By Liz Warren-Pederson
Kevin Tung Nguyen started his college career at Ohio Wesleyan University, but he said, “I transferred to Arizona because it was the best place for me to unleash my entrepreneurial spirit.”
Many of his friends who were studying engineering and computer science were also launching technology startups. “These friends were also very inspiring entrepreneurs whom I highly respect. I thought being in the same environment would empower me.”
Nguyen was accepted into the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, where he connected with mentors in residence Basil Horner and Emre Toker. “Emre and Basil were important advisors to me as I developed my startup,” he said. “I still remember some of our conversations so clearly. In one, they talked to me about building a customer development process that compliments product development, and how metrics such as cost of acquisition and lifetime customer value are used to measure e-commerce business models.”
Even as he talked with experienced entrepreneurs in the McGuire Center, he was accruing his own new venture acumen. “During college, I launched an international commodity business that sells imported silk arts and refurbished electronics with offices in San Diego and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam,” he said.
After graduating with his finance degree, Nguyen accepted a role as a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch in Houston. “While I learned a lot from this job, I have to admit that the fancy lifestyle of golfing and dining with high-net-worth individuals didn’t motivate or excited me,” he said. “I found that I was much happier having instant noodle meals after late-night hacking sessions and startup discussions with my entrepreneur friends.”
Early in 2012, he joined Project Lana, a $10M enterprise funded by IDG Ventures Vietnam. “As a project manager, I worked to acquire and launch major educational and e-commerce sites including Webtretho (similar to babycenter.com), Lamdieu (Sephora.com), and Beyeu (diaper.com).”
During the same timeframe, he had the opportunity to invest and partners with the CEO of Radius Online Inc. on several software as a service projects. “After fulfilling my duties at Project Lana, I came back to the U.S. and officially started working fulltime at Radius Online Inc. as a junior partner,” he said.
But he was also working after hours on another passion project, Ivylish, cofounded with Phuong Pheebs Nguyen, a friend from Ohio Wesleyan University. “In early 2013, Phuong and I co-founded Ivylish because of our passion for fashion and social impact,” Nguyen said. Ivylish markets premium handmade jewelry from the developing world to support artisans and provide orphans with vocational training.
“I am now investing 70 percent of my time and efforts on Ivylish,” he said. “This endeavor is of extreme importance to me, as it doesn’t only fulfill my passion for fashion and entrepreneurship, but also form the foundation that I am building for my baby girl, Ivy, to learn from and be proud of the social impact that I hope to achieve.”
Ivylish is currently supporting about 250 kids at two orphanages in Vietnam. Nguyen said they are planning to scale up the business to increase its reach to support orphanages and artisans across Asia and other developing countries.
“As a kid, I believed in Superman and Ninja Turtles,” Nguyen said. “Now I realize that what I most valued about these childhood heroes was the power Superman had because of his knowledge, and the passionate team spirit from the Ninja Turtles. There’s a quote from Winston Churchill which has guided me along the way: ‘You make a living by what you get but you make a life by what you give.’ I’m very fortunate to be blessed with a world-class education from Eller College of Management and to be living the American dream. IVYLISH is my way of connecting business to social impact in the hope of making lasting change in the communities with which we work.”
Ivylish is running an Indigogo fundraising campaign now. “I would love to see more Eller Wildcat friends to join me in our Ivylish movement!” Nguyen said.
Top photo of Kevin Tung Nguyen and Phuong Pheebs Nguyen with children at one of the orphanages that Ivylish supports. Photo courtesy Kevin Tung Nguyen.