Hien Nguyen Experience – How to balance your life in a start-up as a mom of two.


Published on Humans of Vietnamese Business Professionals in Tech (VBPT) – VOL.8 – Feb 14, 2021 – Editor by Hoai N Pham

It took Hien Nguyen three years to attend Fuqua. The first year she was waitlisted. In the 2nd year, she received the admission letter at the same time as the ultrasound and knew she had to defer one year to be a full-time mom. Hien started her MBA carrying a one-year-old to all her weekend team meetings and graduated holding a second infant with little help as her husband had to move to another city for his job. “My kids learned early that they should whisper in libraries and enjoy my classmates carrying them around campus. Super MBA mom was my brand identity during my time at Fuqua.”

As if that was not challenging enough, upon graduation, she chose to join a stealth mode startup as their 3rd business team member, where she wears many hats at the same time. Besides the main role as Head of Product Marketing, she also takes on Business Development, Product UX, and Customer Success. “My founder often jokes with the team that the only job Hien doesn’t do at Sentry AI is coding” 

Read on as she shared with us how she was able to get the most out of her MBA, and how to balance her job at an early-stage startup and a mom of two little monkeys at the same time.

Meet Hien Nguyen, Head of Product Marketing - Sentry AI

Q: How were you able to balance your time?

There is so much noise joining an MBA at Fuqua. During the first year, there are so many networking events, club activities, coffee chats, parties, and it is easy to feel missed out if you don’t join all of those. But I knew that no matter what, I had to get home by 5:30 PM sharp to pick up my kid. So I had to plan out my day to make sure I got everything done on time. 

Because of such constraints, I learned to prioritize and focus on what matters the most to me and cope with peer pressure. For example, I knew early that I wouldn’t be pursuing Management Consulting or Investment Banking due to how demanding those career paths are. This helped me focus more on recruiting for Product roles within the tech industry. I also received so much help from friends that I still stay connected with 3 years after graduation, especially from my circle of other 10 super MBA moms in my cohort (yes, pursuing an MBA while being a full-time mom was not a popular track so we all know each other).

Still, I am proud to reflect that I still got the most out of my MBA experience. I cooked and introduced Vietnamese food for 4 continuous years at Fuqua International Week. And I dressed up and went to prom once (with the support of my hubby). 

Q: Being a mother of two, you decided to join a stealth-mode startup. Can you tell us more about that?

I met Sentry AI’s founder when I checked out internship opportunities at startups founded by Duke Alum. Impressed by his passion and authentic engagement, I left my kid at home with my husband and headed to Silicon Valley for a 12 weeks summer internship. Different from my fantasy about fancy work at a startup, I started my summer running to buy the first internet router for our brand new office in Plug and Play incubator. That’s how it all started.

Being a founding team member at an early-stage startup is similar to raising my kids, there was the excitement of the first product launch, the first 1000 users, the first enterprise customer. But there was also the anxiety of the falls, of uncertainty, of the feeling you are not really sure what you are doing. And there was the rewarding moment when your brainchild was recognized by users and bringing fruitful hope about success in the future. 

After 3 years with Sentry AI, I am very happy that we had many achievements in developing the best-in-class AI solution for security and safety. Sentry AI is featured on Season 4 of the “Meet the Drapers” show and got really good attention in our crowdfunding on Republic. Please tune in and support us if you’d like! 

Q: What is something about early-stage startups that most people don’t know about?

There is so much hype in joining a start-up. It’s true that it is easy to learn new things, to take on more responsibilities, and that it is fast-moving. But it comes with a price. There is lower job security, especially if you join a very early-stage start-up. You also never know when you’ll make it, it always feels like you’re almost there. If tomorrow you sign a contract with a Fortune 500 company, you’ll be fine. If not, you will go out of business.

Startups also move fast but sometimes you don’t know where it is going. There are times you don’t know what you are doing. Will this work? Or will it not? Having great ideas are important, but implementation is the hardest part. Sure, you have an amazing and impressive strategy, but the challenging part is how to bring that to life. I found that my favorite class in Fuqua “Strategy Implementations” helped me a lot in defining the process on how to create a vision for our product and bring it to life

And you’ll have doubts. There are so many with great ideas; all start-ups start with a great idea. But sometimes you don’t know if it will work out. So it’s important that you have belief. That is what I admire a lot about my founder. He has a strong determination in the success of Sentry AI and his consistent devotion is contagious. That’s how he won my full commitment to the team. 

Q: For professionals interested in joining an early-stage startup, do you have any advice for them?

Be consistent. Stick to the reason why you joined the start-up in the first place. Mine was that I wanted to see how to build a company from scratch and that I can learn something new every day. 

My second piece of advice is to be adaptive. You may start the company with different ideas in mind but you need to adapt to the market. For example at Sentry AI, we started the company hoping to help a specific audience. But then we came to realize that the market is too small and the audiences won’t be able to afford our products. So then we switched to another one, and it worked better. And even now every day, we still keep exploring how to better refine our target audience to bring in more contracts. 

About Sentry AI
Sentry AI is the global pioneer of AI-powered video analytics solutions for physical security and public safety. Using the latest AI/ML technology, Sentry AI transforms any legacy security camera system into a proactive virtual guard that can detect people, vehicles, recognize faces, license plates and alert on security and safety threats. 

Sentry AI offers services around the globe with thousands of successful deployments worldwide across multiple industries including smart city, central monitoring station, education, enterprise, manufacturing, home, and hospitality. For more information, please visit www.smartsentry.ai. Sentry AI is featured in Season 4 of Meet the Drapers show on Sony Entertainment Network. You can invest as low as $200 in the Sentry AI crowdfunding campaign on Republic Rep.pub/sentry-ai