Last month week I met a pair of co-founders ready to launch an e-commerce startup. They were getting all their ducks lined up for the launch, but were struggling with the marketing side of things. To make things more complicated, someone handed them a list of emails from a database of potential customers. They also had issues figuring out where visitors and spikes of traffic were coming from, as they didn’t have a reliable way of measuring it.

I ended up taking them through some key metrics that should be measured to get a better idea of where to focus their time, money, and energy. Here’s a list that will get you started if you’re having the same problems figuring out what’s working, what isn’t, and where visitors are dropping off.


The Funnel (In Concept)

Whether it’s dating or deciding what cocktail to drink at the bar, everything has a sales funnel. For an e-commerce store, it starts from awareness – a friend’s suggestion, Google search, or display ad. From there folks move down and eventually make it to your checkout page. A large majority probably never end up here since the average conversion rate is 1-2%, and anything higher than that is great.


The Funnel (In Reality)

When it comes to IRL, people never move directly from the top to bottom in one motion. Sometimes they get distracted by Youtube videos, forget about you, only to be reminded again when someone mentions you at dinner.

You can’t spam folks telling them to buy your product all the time since you’ll just be ignored. You have to give first before you can ask. Interesting, useful, and high quality content (a.k.a. inbound marketing) is now a big part of this game. It’s the gateway drug that keeps you relevant in the customer’s mind. It’s why Red Bull is involved in the music, sports, and entertainment business even though they only sell sugar water.

You cannot wait until the customer is ready to buy to start engaging – it will already too late!


New E-Commerce Funnel

In reality, it’s much more complicated… (Photo Credit: Hubspot)


So What’s Going On In The Funnel?

Awareness: People are finding you in search engines, hearing about you from friends, or clicked a display ad. Visitors to your website come in three flavors – paid, earned, and owned. Do you know which one brings you the best customers? If no, you need to measure it in order to optimize every campaign and know the ROI.

Interest: Visitors start interacting with your site at this stage. Are they choosing to stay or leave? Do they join your email list? (If you need help with that, click here). The goal is to find out where the attention is spent, so that you can keep them on-site and move them into the next stage.

Consideration: Visitors are thinking about what it’s like to buy from you. They’re looking at product categories, product pages, shipping policies, guarantees, FAQs, contact pages, trust signals, and more. Your goal is to remove all purchasing friction so they take out their credit cards (or PayPal acocunt).

Action: Here’s where people are completing or abandoning checkout. For those that end up buying, you have a great opportunity to delight with the post-purchase experience so that they tell a friend, leave a review, or come back to buy again at later. Your goals at this stage are to recover abandoned carts, foster loyalty, and get reviews/referrals.


Measuring The Funnel

Now that you know how each stage works and where it corresponds with your store, we’ll go deeper into the metrics so that you know which area needs improvement.


When people say social media or content marketing has no ROI, it usually breaks down into a couple of reasons:

  1. Low Quality Content. If you’re getting no interactions (views, comments, like, shares, retweets, etc) over 3 months+, chances are what you’re producing is boring, irrelevant, and adds no value. Check out what’s already working from BuzzSumo, Pinterest, or Reddit and improve upon it.
  2. Impatience. Most content marketing campaigns take a few months to see any momentum. If you give up two weeks in, you’re not giving it enough time  to develop.
  3. Poor Value Proposition. For new stores it’s important to test your offering and figure out if what you’re selling is something people even want. No amount of marketing can fix a bad product/service. (Learned this the hard way!)
  4. No Metrics. If you don’t know your numbers you are flying blind. Is your monthly traffic increasing? Where is it coming from – direct, organic, social, referral, or outer space?

For paid traffic, it’s fairly easy to see what’s working because all ad platforms display your impressions, cost per clicks, click-through rates, and engagement. With negative keywords and the ability to turn off certain campaigns, you can quickly throw things at the wall, see what hits, and optimize from there. Blogs, videos, podcasts, and infographics all have this too – but it takes relatively much more time to measure as people discover, engage, and consume that content.

Hunter vs. Farmer

Hunter vs. Farmer

The comparison of paid ads and content marketing is like a hunter vs. farmer. A hunter always needs to go out and kill for food, much like a paid display ad campaign must always run ads for conversions. A farmer plants his seeds and hopes for a bigger harvest down the line. It’s a sacrifice in the short term for long term gains. In the end, there’s no right path to choose as it depends on various factors like your business model, budget, and more importantly lifetime value / cost of acquisition.

Organic search and content campaign take time to snowball...(SEO vs PPC)

Organic search and content campaign take time to snowball…

Spreading your efforts everywhere does not create much marketing leverage, so focus on three channels (maximum) that are getting you the results. In the awareness stage, here are the metrics that you should measure:

Paid Traffic:

  • Click-Through Rates
  • Cost Per Click
  • Impressions & Reach
  • Negative Social Signals (Unlike, Unfollow, etc)
  • Retargeting List Growth (Facebook and Google)

Organic & Search Traffic:

  • Unique Visitors
  • Search Rankings
  • Backlinks
  • Referral Traffic
  • Direct Traffic
  • Mentions
  • Positive Social Signals (Likes, Shares, etc)



This is where visitors decide if your site is relevant to them or not. Because every source of traffic has its own context, it’s difficult to measure and compare each source apples to apples. Someone browsing Facebook is in a different mindset than someone punching your keywords into Google.

To deal with that, we beleive average pageviews is a decent metric for comparison. It’s not an exact science, but it’s the least common denominator among all channels. The logic goes that if someone is on your site visiting multiple pages, it’s safe to assume that they’re more interested than someone who visits one page and leaves. Since we can’t measure context, we’re using average pageviews to guage intent.

Not to da hand.

Not interested…talk to da hand.

On your content pages, it’s a good idea to tag folks with a Facebook remarketing cookie (See: How To Setup A Custom Facebook Audience). Even if you don’t plan on buying remarketing ads now, it’s free to build your list. When the time comes, you’ll already have a big audience that has engaged at some level with your site.

You can also start tracking heat-maps and where visitors are clicking on your site. Menu items or other assets that get no clicks should be removed as it’s just visual clutter. Email optins should also be measured as these visitors have chosen to give you their contact information. In the interest stage, here are the metrics that you should be measuring:

On-Site Behavior:

  • Average Pageviews
  • Bounce Rate
  • Time On Site
  • Landing Pages
  • Exit Pages
  • Heatmaps


  • Opt-ins
  • Unsubscribes
  • Open Rates
  • Click Rates



This is where people are decideding whether or not to buy your product. Do you offer free shipping? What other options do I have? Where’s the best value? Can you be trusted? What guarantees do you have? What if I need to return it? Are you a real business? (OMG)

Philosraptor Meme

These are just a small number of questions that need to be addressed. The better you can empathize and handle them the less friction there is from making a purchase. If you take a minute to consider how Amazon has dealt with this friction, it’s very impressive.

With Amazon Prime you have free shipping for an entire year, great customer service, one-click checkout, hassle-free returns, and your address stored on file. Since they also discount heavily, it’s great for convenience and value.  In the consideration stage here are the metrics that you should measure:

Category & Product Pages:

  • Time On Site
  • Average Pageviews
  • Video Plays
  • Heatmaps (FAQ, About Us, Shipping, Contact Us)
  • Add To Cart
  • Trust Signals
  • Exit Pages
  • Landing Pages



This is where folks are taking the final steps to become a customer. They’ve come a long way from the top of the funnel at different times to discover your website, browse your content, and learn who you are. From there, a product piqued their interest and they moved further down the funnel to learn more about it. They scrolled through the images, read the descriptions, and maybe watched a video or two.

They’ve decided they want your product and added it to their cart ready for checkout. Will they get blindsided by extra taxes, handling fees, or shipping costs? These factors can make someone quickly abandon the cart. With the industry average cart abandonment rate at 60-70%, you want to avoid this by being upfront with all necessary information to avoid sticker shock at checkout.

Go through your own checkout and each payment gateway to get an idea of what it’s actually like to be a customer.

Tom Cruise Couch Jump Oprah GIF

Once they’ve purchased you have a golden opportunity to delight customers with the unboxing experience.  If you’ve ever owned an Apple product, you know the unboxing experience is unlike no other and very exciting. Apparently there’s some guy in California that just split tests hundreds of product boxes to get it right. In the action stage, here are the metrics that you should measure:

Shopping Cart:

  • Cart Abandonment Rate & Recovery
  • Average Order Size
  • Conversion Rate

Post Purchase:

  • Product Reviews
  • Referrals
  • Repeat Purchases
  • Social Signals
  • Return Rate
  • Chargebacks
  • Lifetime Value

Wrapping Up

Now you should have a very clear idea on how different elements of your site combine to form a sales funnel. By having a good grasp of the numbers in each stage and how it moves down the funnel, you’ll be able to make decisions with a higher level of confidence because everything is grounded in numbers. In case there are any metrics you track that aren’t included in here, please let us know in the comments and we’ll update the post and give you credit!

The Anatomy Of An E-Commerce Funnel

We are now accepting new members for the Jan 2015 round of mastermind calls. If you’d like to join this round of calls, reserve your tickets below and Terry will get in touch on the dates and arrangements. As a bonus, you will also get lifetime access to the membership forum, where we post the call notes and discuss other topics about your business.

There is also a special $25K/mo+ group for more established businesses.

We want this to be a place of pride, empowerment, and profit. A home where you feel like you belong – to talk business and get feedback, socialize and meet new people, or just hang out to blow some steam. It’s more than just a forum, community, or audience.

It’s a mafia.




How The E-Commerce Mafia Will Give You Insider Knowledge


At the heart of it is your mastermind calls. Two or more minds working openly together focused on solving a problem is much better than one. These calls take place every two weeks through Google Hangouts, hosted by either Terry or Travis.

We have four groups listed below, each named after a famous movie based in that timezone.

  • Goodfellas – USA Eastern Time: 7:00PM on Sundays (Hosted by Travis)
  • Snatch – EU London Time: 7:00PM on Mondays (Hosted by Travis)
  • Pulp Fiction – USA Pacific Time: 7:00PM on Wednesdays (Hosted by Terry)
  • Hard Boiled – APAC Tokyo Time: 7:00PM on Thursdays (Hosted by Terry)



Join A Private Meeting Of E-Commerce Dons After Every Call


There will also be a private, members only forum called The Bunker for follow-up discussions, meeting other members, and a place to review call notes that will have untold gems to help grow your business. You’ll be able to stay within our inner circle and hang out, organize future events, or get input on any business challenge you have down the road.

With a group of incredible people that will also help you grow as an entrepreneur, this is where you belong.

For a one-time investment of $99 USD (all inclusive) you will gain access to two months of mastermind calls, and lifetime access to our private forums with other e-commerce entrepreneurs.

Requirements To Join The Mafia


  • You have an online store up and running with monthly revenues of at least $2,500.
  • You own the brand, manufacturing, or inventory. No drop-shipping.
  • You are willing to have open and candid discussions about your business.




How Your Mafia Roundtable Will Be Run


On every call you will get twenty minutes in the hotseat, where other mafia members will act as your board of directors so that you get different perspectives on tackling your biggest business problems.

  • 10 Minutes – Welcome and Weekly Update
  • 20 Minutes – Hotseat #1
  • 20 Minutes – Hotseat #2
  • 20 Minutes – Hotseat #3
  • 20 Minutes – Hotseat #4
  • 20 Minutes – Hotseat #5
  • 10 Minutes – Accountability goals for next week

After each meeting call notes will be added to the restricted forums for further reference and discussion with other members.





Here’s How To Reserve A Spot


1) When you click the button below, you will be taken to a payment form to process your membership dues. This is a one-time fee at $99 USD – a steal when you consider people will be paying quarterly in the future.

2) After your payment has been completed, you’ll be redirected to a survey with some questions about your background, online store, and time zone. Please select which group works the best for you and we will confirm your attendance.

3) We are looking for e-commerce entrepreneurs with monthly revenues of at least $2,500 USD where they own the brand, manufacturing, and inventory. That means no drop-shippers.

Click the button below to purchase the one-time ticket price of $99 USD.This will take you to a checkout page where you can lock this in and get started.

If there are any questions not addressed here, please let us know via



With respect and honor,

Terry Lin
The Godfather

Travis Marziani
The Underboss

Subscribe to Build My Online Store in your favorite podcast player, or check out the episode list of our eCommerce podcast.



JunkyardIn 1980, a 34-year old man was broke and living in his car after a $500,000 investment deal to start a hair products business fell through.

Instead of purchasing the 100,000 units of shampoo and conditioner needed to launch the business, he opted for a sample run of only 10,000 bottles with a $700 loan.

The first task was to get the bottles made. He called up the supplier, downsized the order, and negotiated 45-day payment terms to get up and running. Once the bottles were made, he sent them to a screener where they printed the artwork in black and white at $0.02 per bottle instead of color at $0.07.

From there, he sent them to the filler for his first production run of shampoo and conditioner.

His product was unique in the beauty industry – instead of using two shampoos and more water to rinse your hair, they used a combined formula that saved people time and money. His conditioner could also be kept in the hair once applied, acting as a trifecta of moisture treatment, protein treatment, and hair protection.

ShampooHaving cleverly negotiated 45-day payment terms with every vendor, there was only two weeks until the first invoice was due. He then hit the streets, knocking door to door at every beauty salon he knew.

To save money on food, he would eat breakfast at a diner after 9:00AM where coffee, eggs, sausage, and a piece of toast was discounted at $0.99. In the afternoons, he would take advantage of happy hour margaritas also priced at $0.99, enjoying the free chicken wings and vegetables to feed himself.

At nights he would sleep in his car and use the public showers at Griffith Park in Los Angeles to stay clean. To make his business look legit, he had a British woman record an answering machine greeting at the company’s phone number, while renting a PO Box as the mailing address.

He then hit the streets going door-to-door pitching his product, asking salons to buy 12 bottles with a 30-day money back guarantee.

“Why do we need your product? We already use L’Oreal, Zotos, and plenty of other brands that work fine.”

“Yes, I understand your skepticism. But if it works the way it says it does and customers love it, you’re going to want to recommend it. What if I held little class that teaches your stylists on how to use our product, while placing just six bottles of shampoo and conditioner on display, with the offer to return your money after 30 days if you are not happy. Is that fair enough?”

Some would say yes, and some would say no.

Refusing to take no for an answer, he would change the offer from six bottles, down to four, and sometimes two.

In those two weeks, he eventually hustled up 12 orders worth $2,000.

PaulMitchellThirty years later, John Paul Mitchell Systems would grow into a $600 million business, and John Paul DeJoria would go on to found Patron Tequila, House of Blues nightclub, and multiple other businesses in the pet, diamond, and natural gas industry.

He does this without a computer or email by choice, instead choosing to give people the personal touch they deserve via telephone or an in-person meeting.

It made me reflect on how I ran #BALLER Leather, Build My Online Store, and this whole movement about making a living online. Many of my peers here in Saigon are relaunching businesses, redesigning websites, going through rebrands, or moving into new markets all together.

Where will everyone be in 30 years, and would we still be working in the same businesses? If John Paul DeJoria could stay in the same game for over three decades, what was the key?

This led me down the Youtube wormhole of digging through his old interviews, presentations, and trying to figure out how his mind worked.

So here are three difficult questions that every entrepreneur must ask themselves. They go way beyond table selection, business models, or self-improvement as they really put your inner compass to the test.

Question #1: Do I Like What I Do, Who I Do It With, And Who I Do It For?

ExitWhen most people start a business, it’s about getting away from an old life script, dead-end job, or doing something you’ve always dreamed about.

But business is dynamic and things never stay the same. As your lifestyle values change over time, is your work consistently aligned in the same direction?

Former podcast guest and exceptional writer Mark Manson has gone through multiple rebrands of his business over the years. His website originally started out as a blog about his dating life, which transitioned into coaching, e-books, and a membership site. A few years ago he made another switch, changing the focus of his efforts to psychology, modern life, and culture.

Often times it’s easy to get caught up in the details losing sight of the bigger picture.

“Long-Term entrepreneurship is liking what you do, who you do it with, and who you do it for. If you’re not having fun, then you’re only in the business to make some money.” – John Paul DeJoria

Question #2: Am I Getting Paid In Money, In Mastery, Or In Meaning?

PencilWhile backpacking around Southeast Asia in his early 20s, a young man asked a boy in the streets of India, “What do you want most in the world?” 

“A pencil,” he replied.

Over the next five years, Adam Braun would travel through more than 50 countries handing out stationary to children across every continent.

From there he started a foundation called Pencils Of Promise, eventually quitting his management consulting job at Bain & Co. in 2010 to work on this full time. Pencils of Promise has built well over 200 schools worldwide, trained hundreds of teachers, and given countless children a chance for a brighter future through education.

In a recent conversation about his new book, he said “People can get paid in money, in mastery, or in meaning –  and ideally you want to get paid in all three.”

The starving artist finds mastery and meaning in their work, but struggles to get by on a day to day basis. The banker might have money and mastery in their field of work, but can’t find meaning in being parked at an office all day. The dreamer that’s fortunate enough to have money and a noble cause may never succeed because they’re missing the mastery to execute and make things happen.

If you’re unhappy with what you do, chances are there’s something missing between money, mastery, and meaning.

Question #3: Am I In The Business Of Selling Or Reselling?

RoundaboutWith constant distractions, notifications, apps, and an endless amount of content being posted online – attention is now a very expensive thing to acquire.

In a recent conversation with another e-commerce entrepreneur, I asked him how his business gained traction during the first year.

“If you’re working hard to convince friends and family to buy your product or service, its an uphill battle. If they know you and won’t buy, how can you expect a stranger over the internet to hand over their hard-earned cash?”


The easy part is getting lost in the latest copywriting tricks, optimization tactics, or info product. The difficult part is being brutally honest with yourself and recognizing that your product or service isn’t good enough, didn’t have the right marketing message, or isn’t something people want.

As a service provider, are you getting referrals without soliciting previous clients? For an e-commerce store, are customers sending friends and family to check out your store?

MazeEvery business has a number that determines a customer’s lifetime value and cost to acquire them. These figures are dependent upon a variety of factors but in the end, you always want the lifetime value to be greater than cost of acquisition.

There’s no point spending $10 to get a new customer when they only spend $5 with you – it’s a loser’s game.

Word of mouth is the cheapest form of customer acquisition and serves as a good indicator if your product or service is exceptional.

Two months ago I got an order from a customer based in Europe for one of my products at #BALLER Leather. I didn’t think much of it at first, until a few weeks ago when he placed a repeat order worth over $600.

“You do not want to be in the business of selling, you want to be in the business of reselling.” – John Paul DeJoria

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

These questions won’t be easy to answer, but I think they’re critical for everyone to use as a sanity check whether you’re an entrepreneur or not.

The answers you get today might be very different in six months, a year, or decade from now and that’s fine – because it’s all about finding the right alignment and balance.

  • Question #1: Do I like what I do, who I do it with, and who I do it for?
  • Question #2: Am I getting paid in money, in mastery, or in meaning?
  • Question #3: Am I in the business of selling or reselling?

Subscribe to Build My Online Store in your favorite podcast player, or check out the episode list of our eCommerce podcast.

DCBKK 2013 Podcasting Panel

EDIT: I realize this article is ranking in Google with people looking for more information on living in Ho Chi Minh City. Since 2014, we’ve had a guide at to get folks quickly acquainted with the city, along with a private Facebook group called The Hoch Coach.

In late 2013, having quit my job after two years of saving up and getting my financials in order, I took a month off in Bali, hopped over to Chiang Mai, and wrapped it up by attending the annual Dynamite Circle meet up in Bangkok.

Coming off the high of a large conference with over 200 people, something was missing once I got back to Taiwan.

The energy of being around like-minded folks where we talked about business, random topics, and the latest books just wasn’t there.

It felt like an old rut.

After all, I had already thrown away the old life script and if you are the average of the five people you surround yourself with – it was time to find a new community of people doing the same thing.

The last thing I wanted was to build a location independent business…and stay in the same location.

No thanks!

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - DC Junto February 2014

Since 2012, tribes of of Internet entrepreneurs have been gathering around in Saigon (Vietnam), Chiang Mai (Thailand), and Medellin (Colombia) where people are on the ground bootstrapping their businesses from cafes and co-working spaces.

As my friend Jon Myers says, you need to place yourself in favorable situations for good things to happen and engineer your own serendipity. Good things do not come to those who wait, except what’s leftover by those who hustle.

With a number of friends already based here in Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon), getting a one-way ticket to Vietnam was a no-brainer.

This post is a complete breakdown of everything in case you are thinking about relocating here too.


Overview: Living In Ho Chi Minh City

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - CathedralHo Chi Minh city is the largest metropolitan city in Vietnam.

Under the name Saigon, it was originally a French colony until it was renamed in 1976 after the reunification.

During the 1970-1990s, economists coined the phrase “Four Asian Tigers” after Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore as the fastest growing economies.

By the 21st century, all four countries joined the ranks of high-income advanced economies.

In recent years, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines were coined as the “Tiger Cub Economies” since they’re on a similar growth trajectory as the original Asian Tigers.

But since this is my blog and I have an economics degree, I’ll go ahead and throw Vietnam in there too even though it’s considered a frontier market.

TigersIn 2013, Vietnam had a GDP of $181 billion USD.

There’s still a lot of room for growth and to give you some perspective – mutual fund companies like Fidelity, Blackrock, and Vanguard have combined investment assets north of $5 trillion USD. That’s about 27 times the GDP of Vietnam last year.

Half of the country’s population is under 30 and the local vibe is bustling with energy as the economy continues to grow.

With the prevalence of technology and information freely available now, I believe what took the Asian tigers 20-30 years to achieve will take the Tiger Cubs only 10-15 years. So what’s it like on the ground?



Star Trek - Teleportation1. Chores disappear

One of the greatest things here is not having to clean the house or do the chores I once hated as a child.

For $70 USD a month split between four roommates, we have a maid that comes in twice a week to clean the entire house, help out with laundry, and make the place completely spotless.

I then proceed to destroy it in the next few days with my experimental cooking since reading the 4-Hour Chef.

Serviced apartments take it even further by cleaning six times a week, ironing your clothes, and delivering groceries for you. It sounds frivolous at first, but freeing mental head-space off medial tasks can add a lot of productivity over time.

It’s like magic.

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Special Coffee #2 at id Cafe2. Café Culture

Coffee production has been a major source of income for Vietnam since the early 20th century. In 2009, coffee was second to rice in value of agricultural exports.

Because of that, there are a great number of established cafes around the city where you can work, chill out, read, or get some afternoon tea. Fellow Saigon resident James Clark from Nomadic Notes has a great list of cafes to check out here.

On a typical day, 5-8 people get together to co-work from the cafes here in Saigon. ID Café, M2C, Cosmos, and L’uisine are the most popular ones at the moment.

There are two main co-working spaces here in Saigon that I know of – Saigon Hub and Work Saigon.

While the facilities are decent and there is a good community, I’ve just been more productive working out of cafes as it also allows me to explore the city. A few folks here that have local developers usually have them work out of Saigon Hub.

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Street Food Outside Ben Thanh Market3. Cost Of Living

Compared to Western cities like London, New York, and Los Angeles, living in Vietnam is cheaper by a large extent.

Broadly speaking, an average meal from a local restaurant will cost you about $1.50 to $3.00 USD, with upwards of $10 US+ at nicer establishments in the city.

In the city center around District 1 and 3, a small room in a home-stay or apartment will cost anywhere from $250-$300, with high-end full service apartments starting at $800 USD. A typical studio with a kitchen will cost about $450-$600 depending on where you are.

A beer at a local joint will cost about $2-3. At a nicer nightclub or hotel, that same beer would cost you about $4-5 USD.

Prices on menus do not include VAT and service charge; so expect to pay an extra 15% at nicer establishments within the city.

Here are some commodities I purchase on a frequent basis to give you a better idea:

  • Bottle of Water (1.5 Liter): $0.50 USD
  • Bananas (8-10): $0.90 USD
  • Pineapple:  $1.25 USD
  • 3G Service (3.5GB Data Limit): $9.50 USD
  • Chicken Breast (4): $1.80 USD
  • Pork (4): $1.80 USD
  • Shrimp (12-15): $2.50 USD
  • Onions (5): $0.90 USD
  • Tomatoes (4-5): $0.50 USD
  • Strawberries (20-25): $1.50 USD

In a normal day, I try to eat at home once or twice as the local restaurants use a lot of MSG (monosodium glutamate) in the food as flavoring. Last month, I spent about $130 USD in groceries.

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Vinasun Taxis4. Walk-ability

Most of the people I know are based in District 1, which is the city center of Saigon. Headquarters of international corporations and high end retail shops are all based here.

For transportation, you’d be insane to drive a car here as the traffic, motorbikes, and smaller roads will make it a nightmare.

Everything is walkable if you don’t mind the sun and heat. If not, a short taxi ride will cost you anywhere from $2 USD within the city center, to $3-5 USD for rides across the entire city.

For those that hate walking, you can rent a motorbike for about $50-70 USD a month. It’s really the most convenient way to get around the city, although it has its risks due to traffic. Accidents happen on a daily basis here, so be careful if you decide to take one up.

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Prison Pho by 19A Nguyen Thi Minh Kai5. Food

Dishes in Vietnam vary by geographical region (north, central, south), and many of the same dishes have variations depending on where you go in the country.

Pho is obviously a big staple here, but there are plenty of other dishes inspired from rice to baguettes.

If you happen to be in town for the next few months, former lawyer turned soup-eater Jodi Ettenberg is hosting food walks to showcase some of the best Vietnamese dishes around town.

Meals on the budget side will cost around $1.50-$2.00 USD, with the higher end that starts at around $5-6 USD or more. You could go super local with street vendors for under $1.00 USD in small pockets of the city, but you’ll need to order in Vietnamese and know exactly what you want.

Here are photos from one I attended in January where I had to eat four dishes and a dessert within five hours:

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Clam & Bread Dish Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Bun Cha Ha Noi
Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Com Tam Broken Rice & Pork Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Mi Quang Noodles

Vietnam also has an abundant system of motorbike couriers that will deliver propane tanks, flowers, and virtually anything you can think of.

For a dollar, you can order food online delivered to your house from over 20-30 restaurants around the city. Most folks here use to order. Ben Style is a popular choice as the founder was a former bodybuilder that understands the need of eating clean food.

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - for online food ordering



1. Pollution and Traffic

Like many Southeast Asian countries, motorbike culture is a big part of life so traffic becomes an issue. Crossing the road becomes a game of human Frogger as seen below.

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Roundabout by Ben Thanh Market

2. Black Puddles Of Death

On the sidewalks, you’ll have to watch out for the black puddles of water that come from a wheel of fortune – dishwashing leftovers, rain, or who-kn0ws-what. Avoid these puddles of water like the plague and you’ll be fine.

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Street puddles in Saigon

3. Heat and Humidity

If you hate sweating while walking around on a hot summer day, you probably won’t like Southeast Asia very much.

Unlike Southern California, the humidity levels are much higher which makes the afternoons a 24/7 sauna. At night it cools down, but you’ll still need to sleep with an air conditioner on in most cases.

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Ben Thanh MarketBecause of the humidity, small cuts and bruises take longer to heal and are more prone to infection due to the pollution.

Make sure to bring first aid supplies with you just in case. Here is a good list of what to bring if it’s your first time out here.

In addition, a bottle of water becomes your best friend as many of the cafes that sell coffee and juices have plenty of sugar in the beverages.

The beaches are also not as accessible compared to Bali, and you’ll have to take a short flight away to escape the city and find the waters.

4. MSG

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Avoid MSG if you can!Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancing food additive that’s used in Asian dishes and commercially packaged foods such as chips, crackers, soups, canned foods, and salad dressings.

In Asian cuisines it’s used as a seasoning in stir-frys and other preparations. There’s an ongoing debate on what levels of MSG are acceptable to be safe, but personally I try to avoid it.

Most dishes at local restaurants will have some amount of MSG here and there, which is why I try to have 1 or 2 meals at home every day.

5. Petty Theft

I’ve heard stories of exquisite poker scams to get money out of unsuspecting tourists and drive-by motorbike thefts in tourist areas, but have never seen one for myself since I’ve been here.

Vietnam is still a developing countries and like many places, there is a large income gap between the tourists and locals who may be struggling to get by. It’s unfortunate that it happens but as long as you are careful with your valuables, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

As a general rule, I wouldn’t leave my laptop or phone out in the open at a local café. Also when taking photos with your smartphone, keep your guard up and use the death grip.


Monthly Expenses

Your mileage will vary depending on your quality of life and recreational habits, but generally speaking you can get by pretty comfortably with $1,200 a month. For a higher end budget, $2,500 USD a month will allow you to live like a king with maid services six times a week and have everything delivered to you.

I’ve spent an average of $1,100 USD per month when everything is tallied up.

  • Rent: $350
  • Utilities: $40
  • Taxis: $10
  • Groceries: $130
  • Eating Out/Drinks/Alcohol:  $450
  • iPhone 3G: $10
  • Misc: $50
  • 3-Month Visa: $45
  • Gym: $15

I currently live in a house with three roommates in a six-story building. We all have our own bathrooms and I have a disco light in my room. It was originally going to be a karaoke room, but the owners converted it to a regular room to rent out.

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - 96 Le Lai Kitchen Living In Ho Chi Minh City - 96 Le Lai Kitchen
Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Living Room Living In Ho Chi Minh City - Balcony

In the city center around District 1, a small room in a home-stay or apartment will cost anywhere from $250-$300, with high-end full service apartments starting at $800 USD. A typical studio with a kitchen will cost about $450-$600.

If you live outside the city it becomes significantly cheaper, but you’ll be disconnected from the community and end up spending more time getting around.

Recreational travel is not included in the breakdown as that’s up for you to budget for. Overall it’s just a fraction compared any major US city, so for any bootstrapped entrepreneur it’s a reasonable place to make your home base.


Should You Come To Saigon?

That depends on your profile. It’s hard to give a one-size fits all situation, but here are my general observations:

Bootstrapped Entrepreneurs

Yes. With the community on the ground, having like-minded people to hang out with is hard to beat.  There are other hubs around the world at the moment in Medellin (Colombia), Chiang Mai (Thailand), Bangkok (Thailand), and Ubud (Bali) – but the critical mass is really at Saigon where we’ve got 30-50 people on the ground.

Developer / Designers / Programmers

Yes. Kids in Vietnam now learn basic computer programming in second grade, with 11th graders knowing enough to pass the Google interview process. Plenty of folks here have hired developers here for projects that involve PHP, Rails, Objective C, or Magento. Jessie Lawler from Evil Genius Technologies has an apartment rented out as an office for 10-12 team members that code for him.


Maybe. If you’re into sourcing products, Vietnam does have a small edge against China with lower labor costs and more advanced factories in bags, luggage, and clothing niches.  If you’re looking to source over $50,000 USD in product, check out these guys from Sourcing In Vietnam to help you get started.

Hippie-Dippie Folks




Entrepreneur Couples With Kids

No. I don’t have any kids, but having seen what’s available in some areas within Southeast Asia, there are probably better locations to base your kids at the moment. The traffic situation can get a bit hectic, and medical facilities aren’t as developed as Bangkok if an emergency ever arises.

If sales, marketing, and growing the business is your main focus – then yes you should be here as we have plenty of folks in the same online space.


Planning On Visiting?

Living In Ho Chi Minh City - American Airlines DealI’ll be here until October 2014 and figure out where to go next after DCBKK 2014.

Medellin looks exciting at the moment but we’ll see what happens since most of us tend to have location ADD.

If you’re planning on checking out Saigon at some point this year, American Airlines has a great deal from Dallas to Saigon for $1,050 USD including taxes.

Valid for travel from April – May 20th or August 21st – November 30th for Monday through Thursday departures. Must purchase at least 3 days in advance of departure. American’s Hong Kong service starts in June. So if you travel in April or May, it will be via Tokyo and connecting to JAL service to Ho Chi Minh City.

When you get here, taxis should cost around 150,000 VND ($7-8 USD) from the airport to the city center in District 1. Just make sure to take a Vinasun taxi that’s based out on the domestic terminal and make sure they use the meter so you won’t get ripped off.

Hope to see you here one day and if you’re planning on hitting the road, pick up a travel wallet over at Cheers!

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