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Anne Cheng of Supercharge Lab: “Lack of differentiation”

I think the first thing that can help you get to success (and quickly) is understanding what your value proposition is — it sounds obvious, but many startups are “solutions looking for problems”. I know many large companies get successful without defining their value propositions first, but it sure is easier to start with your purpose being […]

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I think the first thing that can help you get to success (and quickly) is understanding what your value proposition is — it sounds obvious, but many startups are “solutions looking for problems”. I know many large companies get successful without defining their value propositions first, but it sure is easier to start with your purpose being something someone would part with money to acquire.


Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.

Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?

In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Cheng.

Anne is the founder of Supercharge Lab, a Cognitive Artificial Intelligence company that optimizes business outcomes through psychological profiling, helping companies reduce wastes of time, effort, and money. Anne is a serial entrepreneur who has exited multiple startups and has consulted for both large enterprises and startups through her previous work as the founder of Southeast Asian angel fund, Start Up Nation.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thank you for having me! I am Anne, the founder and CEO of Supercharge Lab, a Cognitive Artificial Intelligence company that helps companies optimize their businesses through the understanding of the psychology behind decision making behaviors. I was born into a working-class family and never felt particularly extraordinary.

I started my career in the financial industry, in the early 2000s. I had started and failed at a few startups by the time I left financial services, and by 2010, had sold two startups in the lifestyle space. In 2011, I started Start Up Nation, a Southeast Asian accelerator, which later became an angel fund, serving startups across Asia. I later spent time consulting with larger corporates through YPO before leaving to start Supercharge Lab.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

To be fair, I started Supercharge Lab without knowing what its value proposition was. I just knew that I was willing to do anything to help remove inefficiencies in organizations and processes. I read extensively across multiple subjects and Supercharge Lab is really a culmination of my viewpoints that I’ve formed through research, reading, forming a thesis, and applying some of the ideas I’ve had over the years.

I chanced upon some of Robert Sapolsky’s research and writings about “how thoughts form” and decided that if we could break down the motivations and thoughts behind decision making behavior, we might be able to help humans perform better. Along my journey, I’ve been lucky to meet some really smart people who have contributed to my thesis, and we’ve just been very disciplined about testing our assumptions in the marketplace quickly.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

I’ve had many mentors and advisors along the way, and I’d say my family and friends have been superbly supportive. The people who inspire me the most are the ones who work with me in the company, believing in our vision and dream, and working hard to get things going every day.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When we started the company, we decided early on that it was important to communicate our core values to everyone who worked with us. Our first and most important core value is excellence — where we believe in constantly raising the bar to the best that it can be, and then testing the limits of how much farther we can take it. It has been a guiding light for every single person that has come through our doors.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

It is in our mission to always help people act, think, and do better. While this statement is broad and generic, we have always created solutions that enables our clients to spend time connecting as human beings.

That said, I am an advocate for the ethical use of Artificial Intelligence, and a supporter of entrepreneurs and small businesses. Supercharge Lab has enabled me to explore the applications of technology to causes that I am passionate about, including mental health awareness and assistive/ rehabilitative technologies.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The first character trait that I highly value is excellence — I have highlighted it above, but it is something that I strive to embody every day. I believe in pushing the limits of excellence, being proud of the work that you do and being your absolute best; and having a dogged attention to details while not losing sight of overall objectives. One of the outcomes of this for me has been a sense of deliberate action, where I spend time understanding how every action impacts the overall strategy and what I want to achieve. This deliberation has enabled Supercharge Lab to achieve significant traction despite having only had its flagship solution in the market for just over half a year.

Another important attribute that I value is energy. I have always been fascinated by the vigor and vitality that high-performing entrepreneurs bring to their work and believe that the energy you bring to your daily work defines your propensity for success. I observed this fire in many of the personalities that inspire me, and it is something I hope to impart to the people who come after me. For inspiration, I often watch and/or read “A Day in the Life of” content on personalities like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and other high-functioning individuals.

If I had to choose one final quality that I value, it would be the ability to think beyond — whether to anticipate what is to come, or to see beyond oneself for the greater good. This quality has helped us prepare ahead for unseen risks, changes to external marketplace, and serve our stakeholders and customers better.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

One piece of hilariously bad advice I had growing up was “Speak Up”, or “The truth will set you free” — I will admit though, I can be quite direct and frank, but speaking up, and honestly even, can have its disadvantages. I now know that sometimes people do not want to hear the truth, and authenticity can work against you. I wish I learned to tread softly with people early on — it would have saved me so much grief and trouble!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

I think many entrepreneurs must like pain — apart from the psychological cost of being an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur has to do battle with everything from living in personal financial stress to managing competing stakeholders from colleagues to board members to building a product that works and getting it to market. I still face these challenges everyday and I believe much more must be done to support the mental health of startup entrepreneurs, who often have no where to turn while trying to stay above water.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?

One thing I have endeavored to apply to every thing I do is to be deliberate. Carefully planning, thinking through each action, thought, email, and word puts things in perspective for me, and enables me to perform as best as I can.

The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?

When I was CEO of Start Up Nation, I used to tell the startup entrepreneurs who I served “keep on keeping on”. I still use that phrase today, but every so often, it is important to completely check out, take a break, and leave work behind. Some other things I have done were — taking a long drive, or doing something I enjoy, like reading, meditating, or simply taking a dip in the pool. It is difficult to check out, as an entrepreneur, since that desire to keep on going, even on empty, often takes over.

Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?

There is not one right answer to this — fundraising can really suck the life out of you and divert important management resources away from important organic growth. That said, fundraising can really propel your startup to greater heights in a shorter amount of time. It is really a question of your company’s needs, stage, and particular (financial) situation that will help you get to your answer. Having a mentor who is a professional investor can help you cut through the noise and decide if fundraising is the right thing for you.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

I think the first thing that can help you get to success (and quickly) is understanding what your value proposition is — it sounds obvious, but many startups are “solutions looking for problems”. I know many large companies get successful without defining their value propositions first, but it sure is easier to start with your purpose being something someone would part with money to acquire.

Ensure that value generation can be repeated, scaled, and taught. I have seen several startups that have amazing technologies that are extremely valuable, but virtually impossible to be implemented by anyone except the founder. I also see startups that build companies around one or two customers, only to have the rug being pulled out from beneath them by the same people who requested the solution in the first place.

A chain is only as strong as the weakest link. You need to have a high-performing team if you want a high-performing company. Having the right people on board for the ride is an imperative. I have made bad decisions too many times thinking that I can train people to perform, and also not firing fast enough. The weakest link(s) often drag the performance of everyone else in the company, in terms of productivity, miscommunication, and other toxic behaviors that can become reputational risks for the company.

Keep learning and unlearning. I think it is not said enough, that letting go of our preconceived notions on the way things have always been done is just as important as acquiring new knowledge every day. Being a leader means knowing that your biggest source of inspiration will come from the people who are executing the work. Their frustrations are a significant fountain of insight.

Embrace the discomfort. This is something which I will admit that I do not do well. I wish I knew everything. I wish I knew what was next. I wish… But on the other side of discomfort is growth. Learning through neurodiversity, from pain and from our failures, we get better.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Supercharge Lab serves a lot of startup founders trying to get their first break into what they believe to be their target market. Our flagship solution has been used by many startup founders to test their product-market fit. I have personally observed a few common mistakes –

  • Lack of differentiation — with increasing growth in technology and automation, startups today are competing in crowded and fragmented markets. Without value-generating differentiation, startups often find themselves having little interest from potential customers.
  • Lack of understanding of their clients — I often see founders trying to sell solutions without understanding why their customers should buy them. Many founders are so enamored by their products/ solutions that they fail to see why no one else is as excited about it as they are.
  • Lacking internal competencies — I am guilty of this. It is important to make time to impart your knowledge, skills, and methodologies to the people around you. This prevents startup founders from scaling.

The first thing that we do when we work with our startup clients is to understand their key value proposition(s), understand their target market, and then help them discern the motivations behind their clients’ purchasing decisions. These are important steps for any startup that is going to market and can make or break the survivability of a company.

Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?

Check out. Doing a digital detox may seem impossible but get creative and guard your personal time and space fiercely. Turn your phone off for an hour, then two, and increase it marginally as you can.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That is a hard one, since I am passionate about many causes. I suppose the one thing that the human race needs more of is a deeper understanding of each other, so it may be a good idea to help people listen with more empathy and less judgment.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have a private breakfast with Michelle Obama. Her passion is with people, and it would be cool to collaborate with her about making the world a better place.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Supercharge Lab can be found at: www.superchargelab.com and www.linkedin.com/company/SuperchargeLab. My LinkedIn profile is www.linkedin.com/in/anne-cheng/ and you can always chat me up at www.calendly.com/annecheng.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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