“It’s all worth it only because you believe in a mission that is bigger than yourself.”
To say that the start-up life is tough is an understatement. For Anna, it meant walking away from a high-flying/paying job (bye bye, stability). It meant starting all over again, from scratch, on terra incognita. It meant working until 4am every day building her new company — and a thick skin in the process to fortify herself against judgement, criticism, failure, rejection, unsolicited opinion and doubt both internal and external.
But it is all worth it. “I’ve always wanted to help people,” says the 30-year-old, as she recalls a poignant and perhaps an aha moment that struck her in her junior-college days. Volunteer work showed her teenaged self the harsh reality of many women who were trapped in unhappy situations and marriages which they literally cannot afford to get out of. That, and her own family’s financial setbacks — which she speaks candidly about — gave her her raison d’etre. “I strongly believe that financial literacy can
transform lives,” she says, the softness of her voice belying the strength of her conviction, one that has led her to hold her own in a male-dominated industry, and to become… let’s just say very comfortable, financially.
Anna’s home has “hustle” written all over it. And not just in a figurative manner. Posters on walls cheering her and her team on: “The Hustle Never Stops”, exclaims one. “Savvy girls do it better”, another choruses. Name cards strategically placed on the coffee table. TNS merch — slogan T-shirts and caps, and one of those posters on her walls in a tote bag — for guests at the ready. It is no surprise, too, that the avid reader’s shelf is full of power books such as Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans, A Woman In Charge, Purpose, Incorporated, and Dollars And Sense. But you’d be mistaken to think this girl is all business and no play. While she admires extraordinary women and game-changers like Sheryl Sandberg, Anna will be quick to tell you that she’d take a walk in the shoes of Jennifer Lawrence any day. “That should be fun!”
P.S. Dear Anna, thanks for spending half a day with us, for feeding our crew and for that life-saving bubble-tea break. You’re a hard-hustling sweetheart. 🖤
IN COLLABORATION WITH
“All I knew was it was something I wanted to do and had to do. It was a calling that couldn’t be ignored any longer.”
You’ve spoken of your family being in debt when you were growing up, so you made up your mind to be good with money. But you became more than just good, you’ve come a long way to where you are now. How you would define success at this moment?
Anna: Personally, success is living authentically and leading a balanced life. Interpersonally, relationships are very important to me, so I am always mindful of whether I am giving enough to my loved ones, and how I can help others. And financially, it means having the choice and security to live the life in which I seek meaning, and by extension, giving the people I love the lives they desire.
You founded The New Savvy three years ago. What was the intention or motivation behind it?
Anna: I have wanted to do this since 2010. I’ve always wanted to help people, especially women, and finance is the best way I know how. It’s a personal belief of mine that financial literacy can transform lives.
When I was in junior college, I did some volunteer work, which made me realise how many women were stuck in unhappy situations or marriages they couldn’t get out of because they didn’t work and therefore aren’t financially independent. That gave me the first spark of motivation to always to protect myself financially and to prevent myself from being in similar situations.
I started learning to invest by reading Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham and a lot of other finance books, and I started investing when I was 21. The idea of making my money work harder for me really fascinated me, and I thought it was a way out for me stop living from pay cheque to pay cheque and feeling very stressed every month.
If it worked for me, it will work for many women, too. That’s why I started The New Savvy.
Being a woman in a still male-dominated industry, you must get asked frequently what that is like…
Anna: I think being a woman in finance, tech, fintech
I don’t think you can really achieve anything great without feeling the fear and going for it anyway.
or any male-dominated industry can be empowering and advantageous. You get a chance to make history and push for initiatives that will benefit women and the industry as a whole. You get to meet amazing female mentors and role models. You get more attention and help as there are a number of movements to help elevate women in these industries.
What was the hardest thing about setting up The New Savvy?
Anna: Giving up a five-figure income to be an entrepreneur was difficult. When I first shared the idea of The New Savvy with people, most of them dismissed me. Some actually told me not to be naive and to “go back to a real job”. My morale took quite a hit, and for a long time, I wondered if I was indeed being silly and impetuous.
The other thing is, my background is in finance, so obviously, I was not trained for this — I was clueless about developing a website, producing content, digital marketing and publishing. All I knew was it was something I wanted to do and had to do. It was a calling that couldn’t be ignored any longer. So I learned and did everything by myself from scratch — from the tech stuff to researching what was lacking in financial education for women. I was working until 4am every day. I must have made every mistake I could have made. But that’s life, isn’t it? You fall, you pick yourself up.
The challenge was also in creating original content that are engaging, fun and relevant. I didn’t want to this to be just another financial site which teaches you to make 20 times more money a week. I wanted The New Savvy to be relatable to women so they won’t be intimidated by finance.
How do you pick yourself up when you fall, when you fail?
Anna: I found my answer in purpose. When you are chasing your dream and building something, the highs can be very high, but the lows are also extremely low. It’s all worth it only because you
I must have made every mistake I could have made. But that’s life, isn’t it? You fall, you pick yourself up.
believe in a mission that is bigger than yourself, bigger than the desire for stability, wealth or fame. The New Savvy has given me that purpose.
Three years in, what have been the best or hardest lessons learned so far?
Anna: Starting a business is extremely hard work — 90% or more of start-ups fail. You have to put in 120% in your business. Even then, you might fail. My two favourite pieces of advice for budding entrepreneurs, coming from a practical and less starry-eyed view, are:
1. Plan your finances. Financially, you may not be as well compensated as working in a corporate job. You may not have enough to invest or prepare for the future as you need to reinvesting your earnings into the business. Also, you may not be able to afford the same lifestyle as before or as your peers. It’s advisable to have some money saved before you start. It’ll mitigate the pain and stress.
I found my answer in PURPOSE.
2. Passion alone is not enough. I hate it when people say, “if you are passionate about something, do it”. No. That’s bad advice. I think what is more important is to combine your passion with a systematic process to make sure that your idea is well executed. Timing and luck play a part, too.
What do you think makes a woman extraordinary? And who is an extraordinary woman in your eyes?
Anna: Women who have faced adversity, who have triumphed over difficult times and their demons, and emerged more graceful, kind and
resilient than ever. My mother is my extraordinary woman. Our family has gone through a lot. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a bilateral mastectomy. It seemed like the end of the world for me, but she was always positive and strong, even when she was suffering and in pain.
What do you think it takes to be a woman disrupting a man’s world, as you have done?
Anna: I believe that women are equally capable as men. You just have to put your heart into it. Have resilience and grit to keep going when it gets tough. Always be humble and willing to learn. Be open to criticism, constantly improve and evolve. Man or woman, I don’t think you can really achieve anything great without feeling the fear and going for it anyway, without problems to solve, without rising from failures, and overcoming challenging times and self-doubt.
What motivates you?
Anna: During the first year of the business,
When you are chasing your DREAM and building something, the highs can be very HIGH, but the lows are also extremely low. It’s all worth it only because you BELIEVE in a mission that is bigger than yourself.
I was giving a talk, and this woman came up to me and said: “The New Savvy is exactly what I am looking for. My dad has been retrenched, my mum is sick, and my family is in dire financial situation. I needed to be better at my finances.” I literally teared in front of her. I’ve met many strangers at different events, and so many have written to me to share their experiences and situations regrading money. Every one of them is precious to me, as they are my motivation whenever I thought of giving up. I hope to keep empowering women financially.
Where do you find inspiration?
Anna: Everywhere. I have many interests and I read a lot. I love to travel, to experience new cultures and observe the different dynamics of society. It’s very humbling to realise how small you actually are.
We have all read at least one article or book about the habits of successful people. What are yours?
Anna: I always make it a point to set my goals and priorities every week — such as what I want to achieve, what I need to clear and who I want/need to meet. I meet a lot of people and sometimes, it gets overwhelming as I am highly introverted. Running a start-up can be exhausting, so it’s important to have a support system.
When things get too much, I take some time to sit alone and reflect. I enjoy the stillness. I always make it a point to exercise and read. Those are my indulgences. Exercising is an integral part of my routine. It’s my me-time where I clear my head and recalibrate. Never fails to lift my spirits.
How would you describe your style in three words?
Anna: Minimalist, feminine and fun.
What’s your idea of a power suit?
Anna: Currently, a leather jacket. Before, a great blazer with interesting details.
What never fails to give you a boost of confidence?
Anna: A simple dress with an excellent fit that hides all my flaws and makes me feel put together. I’ve a couple of those that I reach for when I’m feeling meh. A good workout, great skin and good-hair day also help.
There’s a shoe for every occasion. What is your choice of footwear for:
A regular work day: Pumps.
Brunch with the girls: Strappy sandals.
A date: Stilettos.
A very important meeting: Sensible and well made pumps.
A flight or vacation: Sneakers!
If you could take a walk in any woman’s shoes, who would she be? Why?
Anna: Sheryl Sandberg, because, woman in tech! Or Angela Merkel. I would love to know what it feels like to be solving problems that impact the world, to see how they think. But my fun and carefree side wants to take a walk in Jennifer Lawrence’s shoes. She just seems like a lot of fun, and cool to hang out with. Despite her immense talent and success, she seems relatable and a girl’s girl.