Habitat Pest Solutions owner makes dad proud

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May 16, 2024

Joseph Nguyen

Joseph Nguyen

Joseph Nguyen comes from a long line of people who have overcome all the odds to succeed. He is a second-generation Vietnamese American, and the owner and operator of Habitat Pest Solutions in Ramsey, Minn. The 33-year-old started out offering pest control part-time as a summer gig, but eventually fell in love with the industry.

“I am a tinkerer and problem-solver by nature,” he told me. “Pest control gives me a chance to solve clients’ problems.”

Joseph eventually worked for three companies over a four-year span before getting the itch to do his own thing. In April 2023, with the help of his brother Michael, Joseph started Habitat Pest Solutions.

Thus far, the start-up has been doing great, finishing its first full year at $120,000 and on pace to hit $175,000 in 2024. His “Big Hairy Audacious Goal,” or BHAG, is to finish at $225,000. I’m helping him work toward that by strategizing on his recurring revenue (140 regular clients at the start of 2024) and building traction through networking, low-cost marketing and social media. Joseph’s three-year goal is to punch through the half-million mark and maybe hire a couple of techs.

Inspiring journey

Joseph is married to Yie, a descendant of the Hmong people by way of Laos, and they have four children. His father, Nghia Nguyen, 64, lives with them and is Joseph’s role model: “Knowing what my dad went through to get to America, I’m very fortunate to have him as a father.”

Nghia grew up during the Vietnam War, living in Southern Vietnam. When the United States began to pull out of that country in 1973, he was just a teenager. As the Communist Army of the North Vietnamese marched South, Nghia and several family members attempted to flee the country. Through an incredible set of circumstances, Nghia ended up in Rochester, Minn., two years later.

The remarkable tale, however, actually begins with Joseph’s grandpa and Nghia’s father, Moi Van Nguyen. He was working with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), providing counterintelligence against the North Vietnamese. According to Joseph, Moi’s contact at the CIA was an agent named Robert Jones. After the South fell to the North, Nghia, his brother Tai and many other people made an escape through the jungles to get to a boat. Nghia was only 15 years old. It took them three days to get to the vessel, foraging for food as they went. Once on the boat, they departed for the Philippines, floating for seven days. Unfortunately, they ran out of food and water on the fourth day.

The group landed on an uninhabited island off the coast of the Philippines with no food or water. They resorted to eating insects, foraging for food and licking water off rocks. They were stuck on the island for 10 harrowing days. With the help of local fishermen, they eventually made it onto the mainland and were placed into an internment camp for more than 18 months. While living in the Philippines, they were able to get back in touch with Agent Jones, who secured safe passage to Rochester. All told, Jones was able to bring to the U.S. more than 30 people who either fought the North Vietnamese or had relatives who needed to leave the country. Unfortunately, Moi was not so lucky. He was captured by the communist regime and sent to a “brainwashing” camp.

Pete Schopen

Pete Schopen

Overcoming hurdles

Nghia eventually acclimated himself to life in Minnesota, learning the English language and graduating from John Marshall High School. He also got married and started a family. But his struggles didn’t end at the American border. He and his wife went through a divorce that split the family and left him penniless. Joseph, who was 15 at the time, chose to live with his father but the conditions were far from perfect. He told me there were times he had to sleep on the floor, and their water was shut off for a period. Joseph remembers hopping on his skateboard looking for loose change just to buy drinking water.

Life is much better now for the Nguyen men, however. Nghia was reunited with Moi in 1993, 20 years after escaping Vietnam. They saw each other for a short time before Moi eventually returned to Vietnam. These days, Nghia helps with the grandkids while Joseph continues to grow Habitat Pest Solutions.

Joseph told me Nghia doesn’t talk about Vietnam very much, but sometimes he’ll remind the grandkids, “Eat that food on your plate because Grandpa starved trying to get to freedom!”

When talking with Joseph, you can hear the pride in his voice when talking about his dad. I asked him what he thinks is the most important thing he’s learned from Nghia. He answered without hesitation: “To always be a decent person and he will always be proud of me.”


S.W.O.T. Analysis: Habitat Pest Solutions

STRENGTHS

  • Good communication
  • High customer satisfaction
  • Willingness to learn and apply what is learned
  • Perseverance

WEAKNESSES

  • Organization
  • Overthinking
  • Taking on more work than can be serviced
  • Lack of confidence

OPPORTUNITIES

  • Marketing
  • Prospecting
  • Community involvement
  • Continued industry growth and knowledge
  • Networking

THREATS

  • Economy/Inflation
  • Staying healthy
  • Competition
  • New state and federal laws/regulations

About the Author

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Schopen is owner of RV There Yet Pest Consulting and my email is rvthereyetpest@gmail.com.

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