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Inner Workings of Startups: Aneace Haddad – Vitamins, Painkillers, or Cocaine



(This is one in a series of articles and interviews about the inner workings of startups: what makes their leaders tick, what do they consider makes great leadership, what do startups do to attract investors, etc. )

Serial Entrepreneur, Executive Coach, Dream Interpreter, multiple Patent Holder, Ex-Software Engineer:  Aneace Haddad ( is a business leader  who is comfortable across different roles, industries, disciplines, and organizations. We recently had an opportunity to meet him in Singapore and discuss startups, leadership, creativity, and his analogy of startup offerings as Vitamins, Painkillers, or Cocaine.

Hi, I’m Marion Neubronner, and I’m reporting for Asian Entrepreneur. And today, we are interviewing Aneace Haddad, who has been in the startup arena for some time. And I wanted to see what he has to teach us about his startup leadership.

Tell us more about yourself and the current startup that you’re in.

So, real quick about myself. I’ve been in startups for 30 years. My last big one, I created in France in 1996. Grew that to 30 countries, over 130 people. It was credit card marketing software. We had a million merchants onboard. Sold that in 2007, just before the crash. And then created a new one, my latest startup, my more recent startup. Basically doing the same thing as before, but using social media and Amazon web services. So where I needed 130 people before, now, if it’s doing the same 30 countries, probably I could do it with 10 people. So it’s a lot faster, a lot simpler, a lot more modern with social media. Basically brings Facebook to the point of sale.

Alright. And the name of this lean startup?

Taggo. [] So that way, merchants can recognize their fans at the point of sale just by entering a mobile number, whereas usually you have to show your phone, which shows that you’ve liked the place, and it doesn’t capture any data.


Here, we give them a little access on the point of sale, where the cashier could say “Are you a fan?” The customer says “yeah” and then they enter the customer’s mobile number to check. And that’s how the, cashier registers that you are a fan, registers the transaction, and it creates a check-in on Facebook. So, they get word-of-mouth advertising.

So basically, you’re doing a new service that combines a lot of different technologies together, and really, you’re doing well, from what I’ve gathered. You don’t even need any more funding. You’re way ahead of the game.

Yes. We don’t need any funding right now. It’s great. I mean, it’s a very tight, small, lean operation. Right now, we are looking for resellers globally, channels to market. In the past, I worked with a bank, so that’s how my last company grew. This time around, I’m looking more for ad agencies.

You came into the startup industry like, 30 years ago. I think some of us never even heard of startups until last year, right? Why startup for you? What’s the difference in the leadership that you have to do, being a startup leader? Joys and challenges?

So, for me, it’s because nobody wants to hire me. Nobody has ever wanted to hire me. I wanted to do my own thing. I don’t like copying other stuff. I don’t like executing somebody else’s plan. I love to create my own. Originally, I was a writer when I was young. In my spirit – I am a creator, I am a writer, fiction writing. And I find that startups are very much like that. It’s because you’re creating something from scratch. You’re creating a vision, you’re painting a vision. And customers follow, or they don’t. Employees follow, or they don’t. Shareholders follow, or they don’t. So, it’s a very, very creative process. And that, to me, is much more. I need to express myself. For me, it’s art. Startup work is very, very much like an art to me.

So, as a leader, what will that entail the leadership to be like, to do this art?

I mean, crystal clear vision, for me, that’s a big one. Crystal clear vision on what your purpose is, what is problems you’re trying to fix, what’s exciting about it, where is it going to go, why is the market moving in that direction, why is the technology moving in that direction, why is what you’re doing important.

So, a lot of vision that to me, it’s the same space as writing, dreaming even. So people like, Larry Page, who said a number of times, when he was 23 years old, he had a dream at night of downloading the Internet into his PC, keeping only the links. So he woke up from that, and he starting coding furiously. And that became Google. So, to me, it’s the same kind of creative process.

So, I think, there are actually many different types of startup leaders. But some of them are execution people and sales people, so they will copy some other ideas to execute and solve, and do very well. Or improve on it. Usually, it’s a minor improvement. People, like Rocket Internet, have pretty much wiped out that market. So, Rocket Internet can do it much better than any other individual startup leader.

So, to me, really, the only choice for startups is to go into the much more creative side, much more intuitive, much more creative, so that they really come up with brand new ideas that nobody’s thought of. And you want people to say, “Where did you get this idea from?” “Why are you doing that?” “That’s so weird.” And that’s where the magic happens. So it’s really creative. That’s why I like it.

I’ve never thought of it like that.

It’s art!

It’s art!



Right, I do a lot of work with leadership development. And basically, I help inform leaders how to position themselves better as a leader for their team, but also for external people. Like clients, and in your case, most startup investors. So, knowing what you know now, how would you inform a startup leader to best position themselves so that investors will invest in them? What are investors looking for?

So, I have a little framework which took me many, many years to put together with three basic questions that need to be answered in, like, five minutes.

Are you willing to share it with my people?

Yes. I’ll put it out there right now. For free.

So three big questions that needs to be answered in a pitch, that can be in like two minutes.

“So what?” – So what my startup – what it’s doing.

“Who cares?”

So if you can answer “So what?”, why it’s important, and you can answer “Who cares?” – so you really know who your market is.

And “Why me?”

So if you can answer all three of these questions, then you have a much potential for success. And you know, it’s not about the technology. It’s not about the product. It’s more about the real gut feel on why what you’re doing is important.

So, these are three questions. And then, there are three product categories that I also use to form this. So, “So what?” “Who cares?” “Why me?” And then, on the other side, when you look at whatever product or service you’re selling, always fits into one of three categories:

You’re either selling vitamins, so that’s where something that I might see or may do you good in the future, you don’t’ want to pay a lot of money for this. It’s nice to have.

Or you’re selling painkillers – so if you have a headache, you need something to get rid of the pain.

Or you’re selling cocaine – where it doesn’t really matter – people are just addicted. So, cocaine is Facebook, Apple, all these things are good, and there’s more and more cocaine coming out now.

So, if you look at vitamins, if you’re someone that is selling on a spreadsheet, you have to use a spreadsheet for ROI to convince the customer, you’re probably selling vitamins. If you don’t need much of a spreadsheet, like a very small spreadsheet, might be painkiller. If you don’t need any spreadsheet at all, you’re probably selling cocaine. So, it’s also a different leadership style for each. And different categories of buyers. So that, to me, is a very powerful “So what?” “Who cares?” “Why me?” Vitamins, Painkillers, and Cocaine.

For more information about Taggo:

For more information about Aneace:


Women on Top in Tech – Dawn Dickson, Founder and CEO of PopCom, Inc. and Founder of Flat Out of Heels



(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Dawn Dickson is the Founder and CEO of PopCom, Inc. (formerly Solutions Vending, Inc.), the company behind PopCom Kiosks and the PopCom API, which provides a software solution to make vending machines more intelligent. She created the company after her own struggles to find vending machines that could sell her roll-up flat products, Flat Out of Heels, at high-traffic areas like airports.  She was awarded First place in the PowerMoves NOLA Big Break pitch Competition and second place in the 2016 SBA Innovate Her Challenge.

What makes you do what you do? 
I love solving big problems and working with amazing people to get it done.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
After working in the vending industry for three years selling Flat Out of Heels in vending machines in airports and nightclubs, I was frustrated with the lack of data I was able to collect from my hardware. I also wanted more engaging and interactive experiences for my customers and after speaking with several retailers they felt the same way. That is when I decided to focus on PopCom and developing a software solution to solve the data problem in self-service retail.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)? 
The fact that I am not the usual, leadership demographic is the main reason why I was up for the challenge. The industry is in need of a change and I believe someone with a unique and different perspective and experience is needed. I look forward to collaborating with the industry leaders and veterans to build a product that everyone loves and finds value in.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
I am involved in several different industries and sectors – retail, self-service retail, hardware, software…so I have to learn a lot of information quickly.  There are several people that I look up to, follow their career, and seek advice from. I was fortunate to be able to participate in some of the country’s top accelerator and entrepreneurship development programs, including Techstars, Canopy Boulder, and the BIxel Exchange – the mentorship and network I gained from these programs has been invaluable and very instrumental in our progress.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent? 
I have learned that spotting talent takes time, it takes patience, and building relationships with people and networks to meet new people, most of my connections come from introductions. I focus on finding the right fit for the company culture, there is a lot of great talent out there, but the culture is different, I want us to be on the same wavelength. I am fortunate to have met some great people through the programs I was in that came on as mentors, advisors, and eventually full time team members. I take time to get to know my team individually and understand what their personal goals and ambitions are, ask them what their dream job looks like, understand their needs so they can be happy at work and be fulfilled. I believe in self-care and making mental health a priority, if a person is good within themselves they radiate positivity and are more productive.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I am a black woman so I am diversity. Naturally, we attract people we can relate to and have things in common, so I found that my team was heavily female and my diversity initiative was finding more men…when I thought about it I found it funny. Now I have a balanced team of men and women from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives which is exciting.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb? 
To be a great leader you have to be a team player, my rule is I never ask someone to do something that I would not do myself. I also have a rule to give the team the freedom and flexibility to work when and how they are most productive. That means some of us working different hours and being in the office different days, but happy team builds the dream!

Advice for others?
My advice is never give up if you believe in it. I started my company selling shoes in vending machines in 2011, it took me 7 years, a few failed hardware attempts, and many people telling me it would not work because the market was not ready. I was patient and what I believed would happen is happening. In May PopCom is bringing the PopShop to market, a next gen smart vending machine to sell and sample products. Our API will be ready in July and for the first time vending machine and kiosk owners can understand their conversion rates and have the level of data and analytics available that eCommerce stores have, but better. It has been a long journey and I feel it is just getting started, but I am only here because I never gave up.

If you’d like to get in touch with Dawn Dickson, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about PopCom, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Elaine Zhou, Co-Founder of China Women Equipping Center



Elaine went on a journey of self discovery and once she knew her true self she could be successful in her own business.

What’s your story?
I am very proud of where I came from and I am grateful for where I am living and working today. Singapore is my adopted home and it is my aim to always contribute to and serve this country and its people.
Twelve years ago, I moved to Singapore for an internship opportunity. I was twenty one years old and I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t speak English, I didn’t understand the culture or the customs. Everything was new and strange to me. Everything was difficult, but my parents had tremendous faith in me.
My parents have worked diligently on the family farm to raise us and send us to college. My parents had a huge influence on me. The important things I learnt from them are to love, to never give up, to be a hard worker and to have a can-do attitude. These are the qualities that I embrace in my daily life.

What excites you most about your industry?
We offer more than just training. Our business is a resource to be leveraged for transformation, improved teamwork, leadership behaviours, communication skills, relationship skills, coaching skills and increased job satisfaction and productivity.
Our passion and purpose is to help people grow as leaders and to create tremendous results by serving others well. We take people to daring destinations, beyond their imagination.
My greatest joy is to see people grow, change and transform and live a purposeful life; this is what motivates me to do more and do it well.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in China and I have spent all my adult and professional life in Singapore.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore and China.
Singapore is a very sophisticated and systematic country. It is a structured and highly efficient business environment and people are generally nice and honest. Also, the convenience and diverse culture is a great advantage for people who want to settle down there, no matter if they are from the East or West. You always feel at home in Singapore.
I also like China because of its fast growth. The population and the market is here. However, it takes time to settle in because of the language barrier and the very different traditional culture. But you will also find it is very interesting and you’ll want to learn more about China. The people are nice if you know them well. It is always about relationship first and business second, and when you are in a business meeting, you really have to master the skill of “reading the air.” It is a skill to let people know and understand you; your values, your background, why you think in that way or why you do or do not do certain things. Doing business in China is like swimming in the ocean; it is an abundant ocean and it is full of risks. Always know your values and stay true to yourself and make decisions close to your heart. It will help you see things more clearly and get things done in a way that doesn’t violate your values.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Be yourself, Elaine.” That is the best advice I have ever received. It was a big ‘aha’ moment for me. It was also the moment I truly and honestly looked within myself. I realized that when I am being my true self, and not trying to be someone else, I am able to connect with people instantly in a genuine and authentic way. It is a great feeling.

Who inspires you?
There are so many people who encourage me, lift me up and challenge me everyday. My mentor, John Maxwell who helped me discover my purpose in life; Michael Griffin, for his passion for Christ which is contagious and Wayne Dyer, my spiritual mentor who passed away in 2016. Also, people who are living with a purpose and striving everyday for their dream, they really inspire me. My clients, mentees and students. When I see that joy and peace in them, that inspires me to do more and do well. My team inspire me, especially when they said, “Elaine, I joined the business because of you.” They inspire me to make it work for the team and the business because it is beyond my own self interest. I am grateful for having so many people in my life who inspire me.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
China is a big country, we all know that, and it is also an internet giant. Recently on a team meeting, one of the directors who manages a successful beauty business, shared with us, that everybody is on the internet, especially on WeChat. People are obsessed with online communities – for ordering food, getting taxis, forging relationships, connections and friends. Almost anything and everything can get done online. But right now, there is a new trend; more and more people want the “offline” experience. It usually takes one to two hours from one place to another in Beijing, but people want to make the effort to have a real connection with other people, to attend networks, seminars, workshops and business meetings.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I started my first business when I was 24 years old, it failed. One year later, I started my second business and after a year and a half, I closed down the operation. After several painful experiences and two failed businesses, I started to look within myself, and seriously and intentionally invested in my personal growth at the age of 28. If I could turn back time, I wish I could have grown a lot earlier. I strongly believe that the level of our success is determined by the level of our self growth and we are always learning, everyday. But I also understand it is not the only way to live. I also consciously and intentionally try to live in the now. It is a beautiful and great way to live. In fact, I am grateful for what I have gone through; the pains, setbacks and challenges in my earlier life.

How do you unwind?
I like to stay connected with nature. For example, taking a walk barefoot on the grass and smelling the roses on the street. Having a beer or coffee along the riverside with friends; reading a good book; hunting for nice restaurants; swimming or running.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand – nice beaches, food and people.
Bali – fantastic beaches and food, great people.
Malaysia – Nice food and people, particularly Langkawi, Penang and KK.
Of course Singapore, it is always a place dear to my heart. It’s my home.
There are a lot of other interesting places in China which I am still exploring.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill
The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Tao Te Ching: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Wayne Dyer
Developing the Leaders Within You by John C.Maxwell
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
These are some of the books that truly transformed my thinking and shaped my values.
I used to read a lot of different types of books, from sales, marketing, branding and management to different business models. I found it is really hard to master all of it and I was not optimizing my own strengths.
Entrepreneurship is a skill to be learnt. But it is really important to recognize what we are good at and what we are not so good at. We can not be everything.
Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-discovery and soul searching. It is all about learning and striving. We should try and always remember why we started our business in the first place.

Shameless plug for your business:
The China Women Equipping Center, is something both my team are I are very proud. We have put our hearts and souls into it, to help women in China grow and transform. As a developing country and with the rise of China, people are not lacking in money, everywhere is full of opportunity, but the challenge is the civilizations, values and faith. In fact the Chinese government puts a lot of effort into improving and shaping the international image to ensure it is making progress. But people are still facing a lot of pressure, especially women.
One of our business partners who is runs traditional Chinese medicine retail stores, shared that 80% of his patients are female, and the reason they are coming to see him are anxiety and depression.
Our China Women Equipping Center creates a safe and comfortable environment for women to help build their values and characters. My local team and I are very passionate about our mission and purpose. Beijing is our headquarters in China. We are planning to take three to six months to establish our business in Beijing and grow and expand to other major cities in China after that.

How can people connect with you?

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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