Just before entering National Service in Singapore, Marcus Neo, then 19, broke up with his girlfriend, whom he was in a serious relationship with. This incident left him heartbroken and his self-confidence hit rock bottom.

Since he came from a martial arts background, he had a 9am to 5pm job as a self-defence instructor in the military during his national service. So he had a lot of free time. He decided to use this free time to read tons of books — on dating.

“For a typical Asian kid, sex, dating and relationships are important things in life. However, most of these things revolve around luck and fate. This is when I decided to learn how dating really works,” he tells me.

At the military, Neo had only one objective in mind — to impress and fall in love with good-looking girls. So during his breaks, he would go out and meet with different girls. He would study them and apply the tips he got from the books to impress them.

He would spend a lot of time getting numbers from girls then read and analyse their text messages to improve his communication skills.

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“So for the next few years, I invested most of my time in acquiring various social skills, and I successfully did. I thought to myself that if I could change my luck with girls, I could change my luck with anything — including my finances,” says Neo.

This is how MarcusNeo was born in 2017. MarcusNeo is a platform that publishes practical life and dating advice grounded in psychology. For paying customers, Neo offers live coaching programme.

The childhood

The son of a fishmonger father and clerk mother, Neo aspired to become an entrepreneur from an early age — not because he wanted to become a millionaire but because he wanted financial freedom. As a teenager, he grew up watching parents struggle to make a living. When he was just 12-13 years, his family went bankrupt.

“Problems back home affected my studies,” he shares his story. “Although I got decent grades in school, I started losing interest in academics. At one point in time, I became least interested in what was taught in the school. It never made sense for me to memorise periodic tables in chemistry classes.”

However, a Summer Programme at the University of Berkeley changed his destiny. “This was when I was 23 years. I borrowed some money from my parents, who were recovering from the financial challenges, to go and attend this programme. I opted for music and psychology. This changed my attitude toward academics. Since psychology was my favourite subject, I decided to continue my studies in this discipline.”

So, after obtaining a Diploma in Economics (distant programme) from the University of London, Neo went on to pursue a Bachelor Degree in Psychology at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). After graduation, as recommended by a mentor, he went on to consult a professional psychologist to help him manage his finances, relationships and all other areas of life.

“I have experienced failures in school, business and relationships, and have lost money in the stock market. I realise all these failures are rooted in one common denominator — psychology and behaviour. So this intrigued me. I furthered my knowledge and read more books on psychology and human behaviour. And then I went on to launch MarcusNeo,” he adds.

Neo, now 25, works with clients for six months for a price of S$4,000 (US$2,900).

Neo claims that his business gets one to two big-ticket customers per month from organic traffic of search engine optimisation. At present, he has more than 10 paid customers.

In his view, most people tend to sign up for expensive self-help seminars, paying hefty sums and then go home and then come back a year later with nothing much to show in their lives.

“Frankly, knowledge isn’t enough. You need to dig deep into your own psychology so that you can overcome your invisible scripts. A lot of people attempting to fix different areas of their lives that haunted them repeatedly — whether be it a strict upbringing or past trauma — aren’t looking at psychological roots. We at MarcusNeo are helping people do this,” he shares.

According to Neo, while online dating apps are quite popular in Singapore, the industry as a whole is facing some challenges. “It is hard to convince people in a conservative culture like Singapore that dating is learnable like a skillset. Trying to discuss and improve your dating life is not something you normally talk to your friends in the Singapore culture. So, instead of trying to convince people that learning social skillsets is a positive thing, I’m trying to put my product in front of people.”

He says it is easy to promise someone that by attending his coaching programme, one would be able to get a girlfriend. “Instead of trying to market the short-term results (get a girlfriend or get over ex-girlfriend), I’d like to change up the marketing message: you’ll need time and effort the get results. Yes, the immediate objective is to get a girlfriend, but the long-term goal is actually social competence and personality development. You are fixing the root of the problem, as opposed aone-offf quick fix,” he concludes.