How Anna Haotanto battled pressure, self-doubt so she could help women become financially savvy

Yon Heong Tung
How Anna Haotanto battled pressure, self-doubt so she could help women become financially savvy

Anna Haotanto is the founder of a successful financial and career advice platform called The New Savvy

As a millennial working a salaried position and responsible for paying a good chunk of household bills every month (which are somehow getting higher), reading about Anna Vanessa Haotanto’s life is quite inspiring. By the age of 29, she had bought her family a flat and made her first million dollars — all thanks to her astute knowledge of investments and finances as well as her lucrative five-figure salary job.

But what is astounding is that although she has already achieved financial freedom at a young age, she chose to walk away from her comfort zone, and instead plunge herself deep into a venture known for its high rate of failures — a startup. But one can’t ignore the call of the heart, Haotanto had long desired to help women achieve the same financial independence she has. So with that in mind, she built a platform for women to seek out proper financial and career advice.

Now, while Haotanto is a financial expert, her knowledge of all things web development, marketing and other critical skills needed to launch an internet company was negligible. It was a far cry from being a senior client advisor at a large bank. Building the foundation of the platform was certainly no walk in the park, she had to pick up the required skills from scratch. There were many late nights, self-doubt and pressure — it was a humbling journey but it allowed her to fulfill her true calling.

Fortunately for Haotanto, giving it her all to her passion has proved to be a sound decision. The New Savvy now has operations in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines. The platform has also launched new features such as an e-learning platform, personal finance planning app and e-commerce store.

In an in-depth email interview with e27, Haotanto talks about her entrepreneurial journey, the struggles she faced and her thoughts on the ecosystem.

Here is the excerpt, edited for clarity:

What was the impetus for starting The New Savvy? Why a financial and career advice platform?

There are a few reasons for launching The New Savvy:

I couldn’t ignore the desire to do this. I’ve wanted to do it since 2010. It is an itch that cannot be ignored. I’ve always wanted to help people and finance is the best way I know how to. Women and children are my pet causes.

I’m passionate about financial literacy and how it can transform lives. This feeds my soul, and the rewards are probably intangible, I am happier than before.

There are 2 major inspirations for The New Savvy:

First, due to my family financial situation, I have always been fascinated with the intricacies of how money works. I understood that I have to take care of myself and my family and that realization sparked off my wealth-building path. The idea of making my money work harder for me really fascinated me, and I felt that was a way out for me from living pay cheque to pay cheque and feeling very stressed every month.

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As a result, I started learning to invest by reading Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham while in Junior College. I also read a lot of other finance books.

I am lucky to have the opportunity to study and work in Finance. I learnt financial management skills, picked up economic ideas and started investing since I was 21. While I am no expert, I am familiar with financial products and managed to build a comfortable portfolio for myself.

Second, when I was in Hwa Chong Junior College, I did some volunteer work and noticed how many women were stuck in unhappy situations or marriages as they were not working or have any earning capabilities. That motivated me always to protect myself financially and to prevent myself from being in similar situations.

If proper financial knowledge and planning worked for me, it would work for many women too – which was why I started The New Savvy.

You only founded The New Savvy two years ago. What did you do before that? And were the skills you picked up at your previous jobs relevant to your new company?

In the beginning, I struggled a lot. My background was pure Finance and Banking. I was clueless about developing a website, producing content, digital marketing, and publishing. But I knew it was something I wanted to do and HAD to do. It was a desire that couldn’t be ignored any longer.

I did everything from scratch myself. I looked around for website developers and researched on websites. I learnt about how websites are arranged and how they worked. I did a short market survey on what is lacking regarding women financial education and what women will like to learn more. Additionally, I took up a Digital Marketing course and learnt how to utilise tools like Google Analytics, Search console and understood the terms.

Till today, I am constantly learning in a humble manner while working towards my passion. I try to stay positive against all odds and trust myself for every decision I make for the company.

What other challenges (if any) did you face during your entrepreneurial journey. What mistakes did you make along the way?

There were a few difficulties when I first started The New Savvy as an entrepreneur:

One, when I shared the idea with people, most of them dismissed me thinking that it’s just another blog. Or, they think that I am limiting myself by focusing only on women. Many told me not to make it as broad to ensure that we get more website hits.

Second, coming from a finance background with very decent earning power, it’s difficult to turn into an entrepreneur. I was giving up a good five-figure income and some people told me not to be naïve and “get a real job”. That affected my morale.

For a long time, I was wondering if I am just impetuous or silly. Should I just continue earning money and be in banking? There’s a societal pressure, especially when you don’t know what’s going to happen and I am doing this mostly to help other women.

Third, I wasn’t trained for this. It was an uphill struggle for me. I ended up working till 4 am every day. Most of my close ones were concerned and told me not to overwork. I think I made every mistake that shouldn’t be made. But that’s life, isn’t it? You falter, but you pick yourself up.

Last, a good product is useless if there are no users. How do I get the word out? How do I market to ensure that more women are aware that my product exists?

Most importantly, this difficulty had been in my mind non-stop since I embarked on this journey — How do I make women more interested in financial literacy?

Were there things that you had to unlearn, pick up, or relearn?

Passion is NOT enough. I hate it when people say, “if you are passionate about something, do it”. No. That’s bad advice because starting your own startup, everything in your DNA gets questioned. You wonder what you are doing and why every day. The highs are high and nothing beats that feeling. But the lows are really low. You fee

I think what is more important is to combine the passion with a systematic process to ensure .that your idea is executed well. Sometimes, you also have to depend on timing and luck

Starting a business is extremely hard work. 90 per cent or more startups fail. You have to put in 120 per cent into your business. Even then, you might fail. When things get tough, and you are on the verge of failing, passion might not be enough.

Why is The New Savvy a ‘women-focused’ financial platform? How is it different from other financial advice sites?

THENEWSAVVY.COM is an online platform that focuses on financial and career issues for women in Asia. Despite advancing in our career and earning more, women lack confidence in financial matters. 41 per cent do not invest or manage their money. There is a lack of media outlets that engage women financially.

The New Savvy uses simplified, relevant language to help women make smarter decisions. We cover 35 topics ranging from investments vehicles, savings, buying property, marriage, fashion and health. We want to make money fun and promote better financial habits among women.

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Over the years, my female friends have approached me to share with them on how to invest, how to open a securities account, which loan makes sense, the difference between a bond and a bond fund. Truth be told, even as someone trained in Finance, I don’t want to read yet another stock picks or technical analysis.

As a woman, I want to know how smart financial management can impact my life and how relevant it is to my needs. I want something I can relate to, something that can inspire and motivate me.

That’s what The New Savvy has been to many women. I’ve met many strangers at different events who told me that they read and LOVE The New Savvy. Many women wrote to me, sharing with me their lives and financial situations. Most women I knew always tell me that they know financial knowledge is important and they have wanted to learn but kept procrastinating. So when they know about The New Savvy, they are more motivated to be in charge of their finances.

Every of this feedback and sharing is precious to me as they are my motivation when I am thinking of giving up. I hope to keep empowering women financially.

The tech ecosystem gets a lot of flak for giving lip service to inclusion and diversity (e.g. Uber, and the scandals in the VC circle). As a female founder, what obstacles did you think you faced that were solely based on your gender, and do you think the glass ceiling still exists (at least within Singapore)?

As the former Head of Women in FinTech for the Singapore FinTech Association, I hope to have more women in the Tech and lower the gender disparity! I believe the number now is around 15 per cent. I hope that in 2 years, we can raise it to 25-30 per cent.

I advocate gender equality in the sense of offering equal opportunities to both genders and rendering the same amount of respect to both genders in both professional and social contexts. Is it fair then to award women the same pay as men if there is a shortfall in performance? I believe gender equality should present equal opportunity not equal entitlement.

Women don’t want to be the same as men. They want to be treated as equals under the law, with the same rights and privileges as men. It’s about allowing people to be who they are without constraints.

What is your business philosophy and how do you impart that to your employees?

Being a leader means you carry a responsibility to be a good example and help others in the best way you can. It is extremely satisfying to see others improve and appreciate your work. In the same time, I am humbled every day and continuously learn from others.

Business Philosophy:

Flexible – We can be anything we want! All ideas are good ideas.
Focused – Pay attention to the needs and wants of users.
Fun – Have lots of fun and enjoy ourselves.

We focus on deadlines, not a fixed schedule or timing at work. I don’t micromanage or set a specific timing. I trust in my team completely. I expect discipline in handing up work. I expect my team to produce excellent work each and every time. I want them to put up 110 per cent in everything they do.

What is next for The New Savvy? Any interest in dabbling in new products in the financial industry such as ICOs, cryptocurrency?

Our bold vision is to empower 100 million women to achieve financial happiness. We deliver high-quality content through education, media and conferences. We just launched an e-learning platform, personal finance planning app and e-commerce store. We are currently in Singapore and Hong Kong and the Philippines.

We are focusing on these few verticals:

1. Conferences – Learning & Connections
The New Savvy flagship conference, The Future is Female, is an experiential carnival for women to learn, make meaningful connections and enjoy themselves.

Inspiring thought leaders, leading investment professionals, respected business leaders, and industry disruptors to share investment, financial and career insights. We will focus on being valuable resources, while at the same time pushing boundaries and igniting change.

2. Personal Finance app
A personalized financial management tool to set financial goals, master budgets & expenditure and gain a better understanding of investment styles.

3. eLearning PLatform
ur proprietary courses are clear, engaging and practical. They are designed by leading financial experts who are unbiased in their advice. Courses include easy-to-follow exercises and worksheets. They are intentionally modular to ensure that you pay for only what you need, in line with our ethos of providing maximum value to our community.

4. Merchandise
A haven for our community to share The New Savvy’s ideals. Collectables include posters, caps, notebooks, cards & more.

In several interviews, you have been described as a workaholic. How do you keep yourself from burning out and ensure that the company grows and sails smoothly?

What helped me was the fact that I was focused. I knew what I wanted to achieve and what I wanted to reach. I had a definite goal and I worked backwards on how I can reach it.

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A lot of goals, especially financially, will be daunting at first. The trick is to always divide it into smaller milestones. Have a step by step plan. Make sure you are on track. Be conscientious and accountable. But remember to also have fun and celebrate your wins.

I think you have the power to control your thoughts. You can have a good day or a bad day. What you can control is how you feel towards it. How you react to it. I tell myself, never to focus on negativity. The moment you focus on all the bad things, you lose power. Focus on your goals and dreams.

Have a good support system – I want to make people that believe in me proud.

However, when I’m sad or stressed, I try to exercise. Exercise helps to loosen you up. The release of endorphins makes you happier. And it’s good for you physically. The better you take care of your body, the further you can go.

What advice would you impart to budding entrepreneurs?

Working for your own startup can be exhausting, so it’s important to get support. And when things get too much, make it a point to care for yourself.

My favourite advice for budding entrepreneur, coming from a practical and less starry-eyed view, which I think needs to be said more:

Plan your finances. Financially, you might not be as well rewarded as working in a corporate. You may not have enough to invest or prepare for the future as you think of reinvesting your proceeds to the business. Also, you may not be able to afford the same lifestyle as your peers.

It’s better to have some money saved before you start. It’ll lessen the pain and worries.

Have resilience and grit to keep going when the world crashes. Always be humble and be willing to learn. Receive criticisms openly, constantly improve and pivot.

Don’t dwell on unconstructive thoughts or wallow in self-pity. Exercise often and take care of yourself. Be kind and have lots of fun! ;)

Want to hear more insights from Anna Haotanto and other rockstar entrepreneurs? Come to the Echelon Asia Summit 2018, which will be held at the Singapore Expo from the 28th to the 29th of June. Click here to get your tickets now. Enter the promo code e27-ROCKS to redeem a free pass! Due to popular demand, we at e27 have kindly extended it to 60 passes, but the code expires by the end of 24 June, so hurry now!

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