Darren Dat Lu
CEO & President
Lunex Telecom embodies the classic immigrant tales of grit, hard work, and entrepreneurship of its founder.
Darren Dat Lu escaped communist Vietnam with his mother and five other siblings on a rickety wooden boat. They decided to escape as life was miserable and Lu's father was imprisoned in the re-education camp after the communist takeover.
The family had three unsuccessful escape attempts before they successfully landed in Thailand in 1980.
“I can still remember seeing the pirates off the coast of Thailand brutally attacked and robbed the Vietnamese refugees,” recalled Lu vividly.
“All the refugees were robbed of their gold and left with nothing. Many were killed,” added Lu.
After landed in the Thai refugee re-settlement camp, the family eventually made its way to the United States. They settled in an underprivileged neighborhood in Bronx, New York and began their new life in America.
“My family grew up on welfare and each one of us have a part-time job at home. We did outsourced odd jobs at home to supplement our family income to survive,” said Lu.
Darren is a gifted student and naturally excel in his studies. He attended the reputable Bronx Science High School and was enrolled in math and science clubs, and regularly earned honor student accolades.
“My older siblings did all the outdoor sports. As an asthmatic child, I stayed indoor and concentrate on the books!” chuckled Lu.
Darren decided to apply to Harvard University at the urging of his good friend and valedictorian at his high school. “We became good friends but stays competitive in our school work.”
Darren was offered a full scholarship to Harvard University's pre-med program. “When I received the acceptance news, my whole family was overjoy and jumping with excitement. I didn't understand the significant of the moment until much later.”
While at Harvard, Darren was introduced to the Vietnamese Student Association's community outreach program funded by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
He volunteered to teach and helped organized the “Refugees Youth Enrichment Program.” The summer program was designed to help Vietnamese refugees between the age of 16-24 years old in the Boston metropolitan area.
“I love the community outreach work and was intrigued by it. I soon realized that I do not have passion for a career in the medical field.” In the 4 years, Darren consistently raised over $40,000 annually for the program.
“You made an impact in the four years while in Harvard and I slept through it,” quoting a friend of Darren at Harvard.
Darren switched major to premed biology while in his junior year and he began to enroll in management and psychology classes. The decision proves useful towards latter part of Darren's professional career.
Upon graduating from Harvard, he applied for a Green Foundation scholarship and was awarded a one-year fellowship grant to work in a non-profit world. Darren relocated back to New York and he started a program to promote cultural heritage to young Vietnamese Americans in the poor neighborhoods.
Lu's path to the telecom's world of business when he joined an advertising agency as an account executive overseeing MCI's advertising work. “All the things I learned gave me the confidence to start Lunex,” adds Lu.
In a business trip to Vietnam, he stumbled upon a hot business venture at the time – phone card. “It was totally a cut-throat, scams, and ‘funny' business at the time.”
Darren's business instinct serves him right – he believes he could ‘revolutionize' the phone card business by being ‘honest and clean.'
On Dec 11, 2004, Darren founded and launched Lunex's first phone card to Vietnam. “Honest minute” phone card is worth 35-minutes duration and priced at $10.
“Our first phone card has 12-minutes less than industry average which is 47-minutes. The difference is our phone card is worth every minute of it. There are no drop calls, expiration dates, funny fees, or tricks involved to cheat the users prepaid minutes.”
After the initial 3-months launch, Lunex achieved its first millionth minutes to Vietnam. The name “Lunex” was derived with a combination of his last name and the word “exploration.” “It meant ‘lunar exploration',” said Daren jokingly.
By Lunex's first anniversary, the company hit another milestone of 5 millionth minutes to Vietnam.
With its successful growth, it comes with growing pains. Lunex's hosting company refuses to collaborate and has turned against Lunex by being an aggressive competitor.
In order to survive the competition, Lunex need its own direct telecom routes to Vietnam. With direct routes, the quality and service can be managed.
“We have grown leaps and bound. Our competitors took notice of our unique business strategy.”
Luck was on Darren side when he found ways to maintain competitive edge over his rivals. “We did something unheard of in the industry at the time. We prepaid for multiple routes to Vietnam.”
“Our philosophy has always been delivering quality service and value to our customers,” said Darren.
Lunex have moved operations from Darren's apartment in New York to Duluth area in 2007. They outgrew their small office condominium space due to staffs growth.
The company have over 120 staffs worldwide including 45 staff members in their new office in Duluth. They recently relocated to a new class-A office space in high rise building off Pleasant Hill Road.
Darren credits their business growths to technology innovations and successful business partnerships with over 90 major telecom carriers worldwide including giants like Tata and Hutchison.
Among the innovative services are “pin-less” phone cards and SMS text-activated prepaid phone cards.
Lunex Telecom started an innovative marketing by “branding” its phone card business by using popular local celebrities.
Angel Aquino, a popular model and actress in the Philippines was hired to market the Pin-less phone card for the Filipino market. Celebrities such as Diem Lien promoted Lunex products for the Vietnamese market and Gabriel Soto, model and actor was recruited to promote to the fast growing Latin American market.
“We cannot afford to be complacent and fall by the wayside to small players. These small competitors could possibly chip away the market share if they are not given the due respect,” said Lu.
Darren forecasted a booming growth in the coming months and he expects to tie-up with more major telecoms in the world.
“We have come a long way in Vietnam, the Philippines, India, and Latin American markets. I am excited about opportunities in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.” He travels frequently to attend conventions, to meet with clients and telecom partners worldwide.
“I enjoyed what I do and I am passionate about bringing out the best in my employees,” when asked about his motivation.
Darren looks forward to spending quality down time with his children of 4 years old, 2 1/2 years old, and 10-month old baby when he is not on the road.
Darren Lu's List of Favorites:
Favorite book/author: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
Favorite type/piece of music: Cha-Cha
Favorite place in Georgia: Stone Mountain
Favorite food: Korean
Favorite restaurant: Nori-Nori
Favorite hobby: Spending time with my kids. Playing Wii.
Favorite movie: Gladiators
Favorite website: cnn.com