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String Nguyen
Portrait of String Nguyen
Interviewed in March 2023

String Nguyen is a proud Vietnamese-Australian. Her mum came to Australia as a refugee escaping the Vietnam War in the 1980s. String grew up in a low socioeconomic area in affordable housing in inner-Melbourne, as a child of five. She was the first in her family to graduate from university, and has now built a multi-million dollar brand with her Chubbiverse NFT collection. 

Starting out, String graduated as an interior designer. After realising that the nature of the 9-5 didn’t suit her, String switched into becoming an artist, then naturally shifted into becoming a subject matter expert in brand storytelling and content creation as her online following grew. This led to the creation of her first start up, The Trusted Voice, where she coached individuals in becoming the authoritative figure in their industry through content creation. Soon after, String started the Chubbiverse, an exceedingly successful NFT collection on Opensea which was initially composed of 250 derpy chubby unicorns - Chubbicorns. The Chubbiverse has now expanded into Chubbifrens. String also gives back to her Vietnamese community by volunteering her marketing expertise at the Vietnamese Museum Australia, set to be completed in 2025.
In her work, String has combined a lot of things that I’m personally interested in - technology, innovation, creativity, storytelling and entrepreneurship. She managed to forge her own path, and has done so successfully after many years of consistent hard-work, and twists and turns. Her LinkedIn About section very openly details her journey of how she got to where she is today. From just reading this section (evidence of her brilliant storytelling skills), I could see how her story was an inspiring testament of the importance of staying curious, being a life-long learner and sticking to what you are passionate about - values that I don’t think are valued enough in this world. As such, I was intrigued to learn more about the individual behind the story and amplify it for others to hear. 

I hope String’s story inspires you as much as it did, me.
What prompted you to leave your 9-5 as an interior designer and pursue a more creative path?
So I was actually the first in my family to graduate from university, and although I wanted to get paid a 9-5 salary, and make my mum happy, it just didn’t make sense for me at the time to stay in the 9-5. It was after my brother’s death, where I realised that it was important for me to pursue my passion and goals. Even though my family valued stability, I’ve always had quite a high risk tolerance, so I went and became an artist. Then I realised that, even after winning grants, I didn't necessarily have a sustainable income coming my way as an artist, which meant I couldn't look after my mom. Despite this, I continued to stack up skills and pursue my creative interests and passions, and developed real life skillsets that people wanted to pay for, like marketing or product development. And that's how I ended up in the startup space.
What do you think has been key to getting to where you are now?
Having a very strong sense of self awareness, coupled with being understanding and rational in accepting feedback. For example when I was starting out as an artist and applied for grants, their feedback to me was that I “didn’t understand marketing”. I acknowledged that gap in my own knowledge and used that feedback to close that gap. I applied this process to everything in life, and organically, I eventually built up a very entrepreneurial skill set, and was able to become a business owner.
Why do you think self-promotion and building your personal brand is important and how do you personally go about it?
This is an interesting topic because the way I self-promote and build my personal brand is by simply sharing my journey, lessons and learnings. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with self-promotion at first and in fact went through my own battle with imposter syndrome. What really was the turning point was when I had a mindset change about my ‘failures’ and framed them more as learnings that other people could learn from too. I have a growth mindset that allowed me to share my lessons on what worked and what didn't work. And I think people really appreciated that. What’s also important to keep in mind is that I constantly experiment; while one person does 1 experiment, I might do 100 experiments, which allowed me to learn more, and in term it seems like I achieved more.

I think I was comfortable with being vulnerable online because I simply had nothing to lose. I think most people are scared of judgement, whereas that has never fazed me. In anything, building my personal brand in such an open way has opened more doors for me to access more interesting and helpful people. I think pride often comes in the way, because everyone wants to be perceived as perfect. Whereas I simply didn’t and don’t care. I just want to iterate and get the best results.
What do you think led to the success of Chubbiverse?
Two things - the memes and the team that I pulled together to make it happen. I had the right artists who could generate these cute and beautiful artworks, but that’s meaningless in the NFT space if they’re not relevant and memeable, because memes are like another way of having in-jokes or understanding the language within the space. I had a crypto person who was able to tell us who the key influencers were, what the jokes at the time were and essentially decoded the language that we were able to put into the memes, which was how we were able to grow our brand. So even though Chubbiverse are very cute NFTs, they have a strong memeability behind it which helped with the virality and exponential growth. We were able to get 2 billion GIPHY views in less than nine months. GIPHY views aren’t too important, but it shows that the IP is strong and that non-crypto people are also resonating with the brand. That means there’s a potential for the product to go outside of crypto space, and for us to develop merchandise and products like toys - which we are currently doing. In the crypto space, this is just another data point of the popularity. And we’re not done with Chubbiverse from here! We’re developing other income streams to make sure that we continue to survive. At the end of the day, we’re going to be developing products around the IP, from animations, toys, merchandise to more content.
What’s the biggest challenge that you’re facing in making Chubbiverse sustainable?
Honestly - taxes. We’re quite fortunate because our crypto person has really good treasury management skills. The NFT and Web3 space is extremely volatile, so ETH (Ethereum) can lose its value extremely quickly. Since most people don't know how to manage funds, a lot of Web3 and crypto companies, especially NFTs, where the founders aren’t familiar with treasury management, don't have the resources that they had a year ago especially because they don't factor taxes. So some companies are operating in negative right now, so they can't run or fund the projects or roadmaps that they wanted. But Chubbiverse and our team have a two year runway so we're sweet.
What would you like people to take away from your story?
I think I’ve gotten to where I am by generally having good self-awareness and not taking things personally. Most people take things too personally, and get defensive. When someone is sharing something or constructive criticism, they typically want to help you even though it doesn't sound like it. For example, I used to get triggered whenever people corrected my typos. Then I shifted my mindset and realised that they were consuming my content, enjoyed my messaging and wanted to help me. It’s just that people don’t share the good things, they always share the bad things - that's just how humans are. But, I gained three editors along the way.

You have to actively change the way you think about certain situations and not take things too personally. If you are getting triggered or defensive by something, it’s important to take the time to assess why. Why am I getting defensive about this certain thing? Realising that there’s something about it that hurts you, and taking the time to analyse it and understand why. After, it stops hurting as much, or doesn't even hurt at all.
on culture and identity
What has your relationship with your Asian Australian identity been like, and how has it evolved?
I think everyone goes through the journey of questioning what it means to be Asian, and realising that it’s just a part of your personal development as a person. For example, I used to get triggered by being Asian and I felt like I used to always stand out. But then I realised that I really loved being an outlier, and embraced that side of me. Instead of taking things personally - when people would make a point about me being a “woman in tech”, or an Asian I would embrace these aspects of myself rather than want to shy away from it. For me, this journey understanding my cultural identity has just been a journey of learning to love myself.
When you were an artist, you started an art project and blog called Two Chairs, discussing racial issues present in Australia. What did this involve?
So Two Chairs was an installation I did (it was in various workshops and art festivals such as the Big West Festival) where I crafted two specially designed chairs for people to sit in and talk and have a non-judgemental conversation about race. I did this back in 2014 because I realised how lacking our racial conversation in Australia was at the time. I was craving American race politics. I find that POC people living in America are much more proud than us in Australia, where we assimilate much better and have less of a drive to speak up. At the time, I was also going through my understanding of what it means to be my own person, and be more comfortable in my skin as an Asian Australian.
What is a significant cultural memory of yours?
Honestly, eating is my way of enjoying my culture. I’m also really proud of how the general public are becoming more familiar with Vietnamese food, like when I see Roll’d at the airport. I think food is our way of showing love to each other and really embracing identity, so I just attach so much cultural significance with Vietnamese food in general.
What is your favourite food from your culture?
Definitely pho. My go to is Pho Chu The in Footscray. I also love Bò Kho, Vietnamese beef stew with lemongrass on top.
Who is an Asian Australian that inspires you, and why?
Diana Nguyen. She created Phi and Me. It was originally a live comedy show she made as a web series on YouTube, and now she’s turning it into a TV show with funding from Screen Australia! She’s so full of energy, really embraces her Vietnamese culture and is really spreading what it means to be Vietnamese Australian to the broader Australian public.