Hoang Dao

Hoang Dao

Bachelor of Engineering (2006)

Founder and CEO, Early Start

UTS International Alumni Award 2018

Tech entrepreneur Hoang Dao still remembers the challenges of his early days at UTS. In 2002, he left Ha Tinh, a small province in central Vietnam, to study software engineering on an Australian Development Scholarship. Though he and his roommate, Binh Nguyen, would go on to launch Vietnam’s most successful news aggregation site, Dao found the first few months in Sydney difficult. His English was so poor, he says, people struggled to understand him. He undertook the English program at UTS Insearch, which helped him to improve his conversation skills and develop the confidence he needed to complete his studies.

His three daughters will never know that particular challenge because Hoang has dedicated himself to helping them – and millions of children around the world – learn English. Now based in Hanoi, he’s behind two of Vietnam’s top five most-downloaded apps, including Monkey Stories, which offers gamified English lessons to young children.

Dao developed an interest in early-childhood education when his eldest daughter, Khanh Linh, was born in 2011. “All I wanted to do was play with her and make her laugh,” he says. “Then I stumbled on somebody talking about early education and how children’s brains develop massively in the first six years of their lives, so I started speaking to her in English and tried different methodologies to teach her to read. I was amazed by how fast she learned and how much she loved it.”

“We’re the leading early-education company in Vietnam. But we want to be world leaders.”

At 22 months Khanh Linh could read simple books in Vietnamese and English, “not because she’s a genius,” says Dao, “but because we were teaching her.” At the time, he was working at BH Media, the software company he and Nguyen started in 2007 with the website ViêtBáo, a similar service to Google News. Though it was doing well – the site has millions of daily users – Dao had set himself a new goal: he wanted parents around the world to give their children a head start.

He partnered with early-education specialists to create his flagship app, Monkey Junior. Catering to children as young as a few months old, it has reading materials in six languages and is the most downloaded learn-to-read app in the US. Monkey Junior relies on children’s natural learning processes – the same techniques they use to learn to walk and talk. The methodology is based on the work of brain-development specialists Glenn Doman and Dr Bob Titzer. It’s not about handing over the iPad, Dao says, but a tool parents can use to teach their kids more effectively.

In 2016, Dao beat more than 1000 entrants from 100 countries to win first place in Silicon Valley’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology Tech-I Competition, an initiative founded by former US President Barack Obama. But he’s not done yet: in the next couple of months, Dao will launch maths and phonics apps, and he has plans to increase his international reach. “We’re the leading early-education company in Vietnam,” he says. “But we want to be world leaders.”

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