What’s in Your Backpack features members and guests of ClickSpace. Within our breezy cafe a creative energy inspires passionate, unique people from around the world. Often arriving with just a backpack, they’re letting us tell their stories.
Hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA, this entrepreneur turned artist is using his creativity for beautifying everyday objects in the streets of Hanoi.
Scott landed in Saigon a few weeks after a startup he worked on during university didn’t pan out. He wanted to travel not knowing the local language. With nothing booked, an airport taxi brought him to a random hotel tucked down an alley.
He traveled the whole country from the Mekong Delta to Ha Giang. Then he found Ga Hostel in Hanoi. He became a partner and helped develop the physical space. Most importantly, the alley outside their front door.
“The alley was gross. I needed to make it look nicer.”
He had an idea.
“I had to start late at night so the neighbors wouldn’t stop me. I knew if they saw it they would like it. I painted one wall white and immediately they knew.”
The next day he painted in daylight. He did the electrical boxes in different colors. The neighbors loved it. Soon they started bringing him beer, coke, and fruit. His goal was to imitate Bo Kaap, Capetown, South Africa, a neighborhood where the houses are all painted bright colors.
Then his friend started a rumor on a Vietnamese Facebook page. It started a debate about whether painting the alley was good or bad.
“Some people thought it was beautiful, some people were like ‘who does he think he is?'”
The news picked up the story.
“In the morning I’d wake up and there were 2-3 camera crews. It was all over news, magazines, radio…all media forms.”
Unknown to him, they framed him as a vigilante artist because it’s illegal to paint buildings in the Old Quarter. Scott looked at his visa and realized he overstayed by two weeks. This was a huge problem because of the police and camera crews constantly outside his door. His friend in the hostel pushed him to do a visa run. He knew the airport was too risky. Scott went to a tiny little town on the border of Laos, thinking it would be the most inconspicuous.
“People were snapping my picture on the bus ride. I got to the border. They looked at the number, at me, back and forth a bit then let me through. I got my stamp!”
After the visa adventure he was invited to meet with the Commissioner of Architecture for the Old Quarter. He was given invitation to create future projects with the warning to involve the government.
With a loss of career direction, Scott returned home to figure things out. He spent a lot of time thinking and the constant thought of “what do I want to do next?” was unanswered.
“I had the full ability and knowledge to start a company. But I didn’t have the idea. I decided to come back and capitalize on the attention and see where that took me.”
Scott went to create a Kickstarter campaign and realized that doesn’t operate in Vietnam. Then he got his big idea: to build a crowdfunding platform for Vietnam. Now he’s creating the platform and working with the government on his next public art project; his networking paid off.
He’ll be teaming up with art students from the industrial fine arts university to paint all the electrical boxes from Hang Bac to Hang Buom.
Scott tells me he’s been in the startup scene since he was 18, but had an entrepreneur spirit his whole life.
“I think a lot. I don’t agree with things. I’m rebellious. I could have been an A student. I’ve failed easy classes intentionally because I didn’t see the purpose. I break rules because I don’t respect them. Things need meaning, if not I need to explore a different way to do them.”
Scott’s first “adult job” was at an environmental tech company. He was 19 and the first person working on the business side. He explains his tasks of internal and external operations, working with businesses, governments, military, and stakeholders and developing a business from scratch.
“This was growing a business. High level career operations.”
In school he studied business and engineering. He didn’t like the education management software, Blackboard, his school used. He decided to build his own with a friend and turn it into a company. He gained a lot of connections in the city as well as attention from investors and other major universities.
Issues with his partner prevented the business from launching and the failure hit him hard while the spotlight was on him.
“I was depressed. I had always wanted to travel to a country that spoke little English. Vietnam had the cheapest flight.”
His story, despite being told slightly out of order, made sense when he laid it out from middle to beginning. I threw him my predictable zingers before wrapping up our meeting:
“What’s in your backpack and why ClickSpace?”
Scott carries a laptop, stretchy exercise bands, a lighter, art supplies, sketchbooks, sunglasses, an eye mask to sleep anywhere and plastic containers to avoid Styrofoam.
“I used to only work in cafes, but considered coworking spaces. I toured coworking spaces in Hanoi. Here the people greeted me and engaged me in conversation. They were interested in me. It is by far the most awesome place because of the people. I’ve been here ever since.”
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