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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:

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef



Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!

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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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang



Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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