Home Human Asia Peter Petracca – Vietnam’s City Insider

Peter Petracca – Vietnam’s City Insider

Peter Petracca is the founder of Chameleon City – an on-demand chat-based service in Vietnam providing travel and lifestyle answers from local experts, 24/7.

Human Asia spoke to Peter recently.

Please tell us more about Chameleon City, and who is it aimed at?

Peter: We built Chameleon City to help foreigners adapt to life in Vietnam. Through an app, it connects them to a team of “City Insiders,” who can assist with any needs in the city. From finding organic veggies in your neighborhood, to giving advice on motorcycle licenses, to recommending a weekend escape that’s dog-friendly, there isn’t a question that has stumped us yet!

Where did the idea for Chameleon City come from?

Peter: Chameleon was born out of pain. I moved to Hanoi from New York City, and encountered a steeper learning curve than I had ever imagined. Seemingly basic things, like buying a padlock for my gym locker, or simply finding good places to meet people, was very difficult, if not impossible.

There is a major lack of online information in Vietnam, and it takes a good amount of local expertise to find what you need or get local information. After half a year living in Hanoi, I had built a network of people whom I could ask anything: from business questions, to upcoming events for the weekend, or even where to find the best street Banh Mi.I wanted to give this to others.

I put together a small team, and we set out to build an app that the network of amazingly helpful locals I had put together – which we called “City Insiders – to users. On the user’s end, it is a simple messenger-style interface, where you ask a question, and within about five minutes, get a curated answer.

Internally, our City Insiders work as a team to help users. If there is anything our team can’t answer, we will know where to go, and will dig deeper until we find an answer.

Who are the City Insiders? Are they native Vietnamese or expatriates living there?

Peter: Our City Insiders are a diverse team of both long-term expats and English-speaking locals in Vietnam, and they’re split between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). This diversity ensures that we can answer to local needs, like finding a great laundry service, and Western ones, like finding a CrossFit class. Our Insiders are a contributor base which we recruit internally.

Is Chameleon City a subscription service?

Peter: At the moment, we’re just working with business users and select groups who we sell to directly, as a way to ensure we can scale with quality. We’ve realized that there is a huge opportunity to help the travel market, and are working hard to get Chameleon into the hands of independent travelers.

How big is your team and what are you currently struggling with?

Peter: We have a core team of six, who are split between Vietnam and the U.S., and a contributor base of 20 City Insiders, who are split between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. A big challenge is expansion, including new verticals like travel, and new markets outside of Vietnam. We’re looking for key partners to help with this expansion.

In the coming year, what would you like to achieve?

Peter: Within this year, I see Chameleon gaining significant traction in new markets, and being able to help not only business people, but individuals adapt to a new city.

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Peter, please tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

Peter: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in a family of small business owners. My parents had worked abroad, and my childhood was adorned with stories about them adapting to life in places like Nigeria. Stories like those, paired with those of running a family business, sparked my desire to live abroad, and served as the foundation for my entrepreneurship.

What was the biggest hurdle in becoming an entrepreneur for you?

Peter: Money is a huge barrier to entrepreneurship, and specifically, launching a startup. Chameleon required a good deal of technical and human resources, and with only a small amount of seed funding, sidestepping that barrier meant doing things slower and scrappier than I had planned.

How do you combine your busy life as an entrepreneur and your private life?

Peter: Balancing my work and personal life has definitely been a struggle, but after many years at it, I’ve managed to find an even keel. I set fairly traditional work hours for myself, and make sure to schedule a good amount of time to maintain both my health, and relationships with those close to me. I really enjoy discovering new places, and when on personal travels, I make sure to disconnect from work. Though in reality, I can’t seem to fully disconnect.

What has been your biggest failure and how did you overcome it?

Peter: My entrepreneurial journey has been a roller coaster, and while there have been some high highs, I’ve definitely seen the opposite in the form of royal failure.

Pitching was something that I really struggled with at first. It’s easy to get so wrapped into the business and its lingo that you forget that you have an audience who have never heard of your business.

I learned to relate with the audience, present shared pain points, and frame my pitch in a way that they feel and understand. I’m sure there will be more failures, but that’s how we learn best, right? If you don’t make mistakes you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.

What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Peter: If you have an idea, pursue it. Research your market; prove authentic demand for what you’re interested in building. Don’t be afraid to start small and scrappy. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to make mistakes – it’s all a part of the journey.


You can visit Chameleon City at https://chameleon.city/

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