Vietnamese software developer
creates successful company
His office has just enough space for seven people working on their computers and a couch behind them. But the size doesn’t matter to Harley Trung, because it is located in the One Cambridge Center, the epicenter of Boston-based tech startups.
A Yale graduate from Vietnam, Trung has worked tirelessly with his co-founder, Leon Noel, to make their company, SocialSci, part of the One Cambridge Center’s sixth floor, which is sponsored by Dogpatch Labs and home to more than 50 promising software companies.
SocialSci aims to make researchers’ lives easier and to engage the public in efforts to advance scientific research. It has developed the first platform that allows the full scientific process to be conducted online, allowing researchers to reach out to a global audience.
Trung and Noel founded SocialSci in 2009 at the start of their senior year at Yale University, where the former majored in computer science, and the latter majored in bio-anthropology. They devoted all of their weekends and their winter break to working on it, and decided to apply to TechStars, a Colorado-headquartered investment fund providing seed funding from more than 75 top venture capital firms.
As one of the world’s top startup accelerators, TechStars attracts thousands of companies to apply for its five annual programs in Cambridge, Mass., Boulder, New York City, Seattle and Cloud in San Antonio. But, it only takes about ten companies per program. SocialSci was selected in early 2010.
Trung and his partner left Yale for Cambridge early in their final semester for the three-month intensive mentorship program offered by TechStars. They shared an unfurnished apartment in Central Square and later a slightly better one in Davis Square.
“The fact that we clicked together so well definitely contributed to SocialSci getting as far as now,” said Trung, who had a four-month internship with the Microsoft’s Windows 7 team in Redmond, Wash in the summer of 2009.
Meanwhile, Noel, the company’s CEO, said: “I couldn’t have picked a better partner. He is by far the hardest working individual I have ever met and he continually blows me away with the sheer amount of thought, sweat and heartfelt desire he puts into each of his projects.”
Soon after completing the TechStars program in May 2010, Trung and Noel secured seed funding and hired a talented person in charge of operations and system administration for their company, which targets social science researchers in the academic world.
“Reaching out to this group takes time, but our customers are active and stay with us,” said Trung. “We now have researchers in top universities such as Yale, Harvard, MIT, NYU, and Stanford.”
SocialSci’s customers are also from universities in Australia, Canada, Germany and the U.K. Their goal, Trung said, is to have universities believe in their value and subscribe to them on the university level so everyone can benefit from using SocialSci to quickly conduct experiments and recruit human subjects.
“Individual researchers and departments are paying us, but we are working with universities to alleviate them from this responsibility to focus on the research process itself,” Trung, who is also SocialSci’s CTO, said.
Before entering Yale on a full scholarship in 2006, Trung attended a junior college in Singapore. He chose Yale over Cambridge University, one of the six universities in the United Kingdom to which he was admitted, because he believes the U.S. university system is more well-rounded and flexible.
Studying and working in America, however, is not his ultimate goal.
“My goal is to return to Vietnam and build a small but solid team of web developers to take advantage of the latest open source tools to build great products for clients who need to build quality web applications,” he said.
Trung said this goal will allow him and his partners to develop great libraries by building various sites that will contribute to the amazing open source community.
Harley Trung shares his commitment and his plan to go back to Vietnam
Though he lives a long way from Vietnam, Trung takes pride in contributing to the development of his mom’s bilingual kindergarten and primary school, the Blue Sky Academy (BSA), in his home city of Vinh in Central Vietnam. He has also played an active role in training the BSA’s staff and recruiting English teachers.
“One of the issues I helped resolve was to bridge the gap between English and Vietnamese teachers,” said Trung, who usually returns to Vietnam once a year.
Initially, BSA hired English teachers through an agency in Ho Chi Minh City but, Trung said, “that wasn’t enough for us to get quality teachers.” He said he has also used his own network; some of his friends from Yale have helped at the school.
“This made a great difference to the school. For example, my friend spent a summer at BSA after graduating from Yale, and she brought great changes to the school, including more library materials, solid syllabi, and helped hire another great English teacher,” Trung said.