In a statement, Google said it welcomed the competition Coc Coc represented and it hoped to bring more products and services to Vietnam in the future. It said that for the moment it had nothing to announce regarding the opening of an office in the country. Separately, it announced last week that it was launching AdSense, its popular advertising network, in Vietnam.
Google and Baidu were fighting over the search market in China until 2010, when Google shifted its search engine to Hong Kong after a reputation-bruising dispute with Beijing over censorship. Baidu is now the dominant search engine in China. Baidu has a language laboratory in Singapore and is believed to be looking to expand into other Asia markets, but it is not involved in the search market in Vietnam. Anti-Beijing sentiment has left Chinese web companies facing consumer boycotts in Vietnam that make it hard to launch products.
Ngoc's parents lived in Russia when he was growing up, and like the other two Vietnamese founders he studied in Moscow. The company's ethos reflects both countries, and in its relaxed office space something of the California-style tech startup: cutoff jeans, laptops on laps, fish tanks, and as per Vietnamese culture, shoes off before you go in.
Google dominates search across the globe, but there are a handful of markets in eastern Europe and Asia where it trails local companies, such as Yandex in Russia, Baidu in China and Naver in South Korea. In most cases, the local companies were entrenched before Google entered. Capturing existing market share from the American giant is a far more difficult task.
"I'm skeptical they can do it, but they are spending a ridiculous amount of money," said Minh Do, an editor at Tech Asia, an online publication that reports on the tech industry. "Vietnam as a country is a pretty hard place to do business unless you are here. There are a few things that Google can't keep up on."
Coc Coc's hopes lie in the distinctiveness of Vietnamese, which it believes Google doesn't do such a good job with because it hasn't invested in understanding its grammar and syntax. Search engines that can recognize nuanced and complex sentences can deliver better and potentially more valuable search results.
Coc Coc believes its large office means it is better placed for marketing, cutting deals with content providers and making its search results more localized. Its camera crews are already filming and photographing streets and logging shops, cafes and businesses — data that will makes search results far richer. Google can't deploy its 'street view' vehicles in the country as it has done elsewhere in Asia.
"Google is a foreign company, and they are not here," said Ngoc. "We can serve the interests of the local market better."
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