Startup Feature: Ryan Lim & Lester Leong, Co-founders of gush

How far would you go to solve a problem that both you and a good friend have? Many of us could probably relate with sharing with your peers and then laughing it off. But that is certainly not the case for Ryan Lim and Lester Leong, co-founders of gush. The Singapore-based startup which produces sustainable paints has most recently raised $3m in pre-series A funding.

gush was born out of the pair’s childhood asthma and sinus issues, and with Singapore being vulnerable to thick hazes, they reckoned that air purifiers (Ryan had up to 8 at a time) and N95 masks just wouldn’t cut it. And in true entrepreneurship fashion, the pair quipped that with some “relationship arbitrage”, they took the plunge and set forth to create a patent-pending paint that purifies air and is anti-bacterial and anti-mould, all while leveraging walls as a “passive purifier”.

As with every startup, the humble early days were far from easy. For gush, their first weeks involved having to obtain multiple test reports and certifications to even be able to speak with larger customers, who did not take a prototype as an answer and requested for heaps of documentation.

Thankfully, the company applied for and was successfully awarded the Startup SG Founder Grant, which has helped in providing a longer runway for the certification process to happen. Ryan and Lester were thankful for the cash, but they concurred that being paired to a mentor, a key part of the grant process, is equally important, if not more so, than the cash.

“Mentorship support is very crucial to the survivability of our startup. We are fortunate to be paired with Mr. Paul Lim, Chairman, and CEO, Fidelium Group who has given us invaluable advice and an unbeatable network for us to excel in our journey.”

The pair also shared that Mr. Lim’s experience in commerce and industry has also helped them navigate pitfalls that, as entrepreneurs, they might unintentionally veer into. Today, Mr. Lim acts as the perfect sounding board for gush when it comes to making major decisions. In what is a fairytale mentor-startup relationship, he has also, over time, become a very close friend to Ryan and Lester.

Mentors, months, iterations, and 20 employees later, what is it that keeps Ryan and Lester up at night, we ask. Ryan shared that gush is “situated in a beautiful confluence between the construction and healthcare industries.” He also noted that they are fortunate to be aided by increasing societal awareness and effort towards sustainability, social enterprises, and public health – a calculated risk they have taken well as they consider themselves to have entered the market at the right time.

At the core of their motivation as founders is to remain as a socially and environmentally conscious company, creating triple-win products for customers, environment, and community. And there is no doubt they will follow through. With the funds from the funding round being will be used in part for R&D to explore new advanced building materials and branch out to other verticals beyond the building and construction industry. gush also plans to expand in the region where many countries such as Thailand, China, Indonesia and Malaysia are increasingly looking into ways to mitigate air pollution. In addition, the funds will be used to grow the team as gush’s business and operations expand.

Looking into the future, Ryan foresees winning the growing millennial market as a major hurdle to overcome, but their most important one yet. He shared – and we are all cognizant of the fact – that this group of consumers, empowered with connectivity and knowledge, look way beyond price and value in making purchasing decisions. They purchase solutions, which, according to Ryan, must enable them to do more and increase their productivity.

These solutions must surely be better and faster – but not necessarily cheaper – being a generation unsatisfied with the status quo, and willing to spend and try new things. To that end, the pair sense that a trend in sustainability and conscious capitalism, driven mainly by human purpose, is something they cannot ignore as well.

Today, gush products have been deployed across more than 600 residential and 60 commercial projects in Singapore and the region. It counts among its clients Thomson Medical, Singapore’s largest private healthcare group, which has coated most of its delivery rooms with gush in lieu of traditional paint.

Finally, we ask Ryan and Lester for some words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs! We’ve crystallized them and it boils down to the following:
• It will not be a 9 to 6 job – it’s akin to “sprinting a marathon”. You need a great team to rely on, so look for partners to complement you.
• Focus on 20% of effort that generates 80% of impact. If you use a to-do list, those tasks should top it. It’s better to create depth at early stage.
• Look for a mentor, but more importantly, a relevant one for the stage you are in. Tips from unicorns will not work if you’re getting your first $100k.
• Entrepreneurship is glamourized, so don’t expect to, with any certainty, to be a ‘disruptor’. Understand your ‘why’ and jump into it for only the right reasons.
• While it will be your hardest and most stressful journey ever, focus on your strength and give your all. Luck will come your way and the product will sell.
• Naysayers are everywhere so you must be adequately strong mentally, even if things are not going well. Support fellow entrepreneurs, not just your co-founders.
• The learning curve at the end of the day will be worth it, both for the company’s growth and your own – so don’t lose hope and keep moving forward.