A bad bout of haze in 2015 sparked the desire for two entrepreneurs to find a solution to indoor air pollution. Founders Mr Lester Leong and Mr Benny Jiao both suffered from childhood asthma, and recall their conditions being exacerbated by the annual haze season growing up. Their experiences inspired them to look for ways to improve the air quality indoors.
Together, they founded gush, a local company specialising in sustainable paints and advanced building materials.
“Research shows that traditional building materials and changing climate conditions drastically increase exposure to harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as aldehydes and benzenes, as well as mould,” the Co-founders explain.
“The long-term accumulation of air pollutants in confined spaces can pose a serious threat to physical and mental health. Research shows that the air indoors can be up to five times more polluted than air outside because of chemicals from cleaning products, aerosols and perfume,” adds Mr Leong, who is the Group Chief Executive Officer of gush.
Their objective was clear: “Since walls form the biggest surface in our densely constructed cities, we thought about innovating the most malleable solution possible: paints.”
Gush consulted professors from local polytechnics, universities and material scientists from the coating industry to develop prototypes. In 2017, after multiple rounds of fine-tuning its formula, gush officially launched its flagship product, ‘Cair’. Thanks to a proprietary catalyst, the paint breaks down VOCs into carbon dioxide and water vapour at the rate of 99 per cent in 21 hours.
In essence, the paint transforms walls into passive air purifiers to keep indoor spaces healthy for occupants. The odourless paint is also anti-mould, anti-bacterial, and has humidity-regulating properties.
Bringing healthy air to homes, offices and hospitals
Their air-purifying paint was a hit with consumers, both in the residential and corporate spaces. Since its launch, Cair paint has been used in more than 1,300 residential and 60 commercial projects in the medical, wellness and hospitality sectors, as well as in office and retail spaces in Singapore and Southeast Asia.
Gush’s clients include Thomson Medical Centre, Farrer Park Hospital, Modern Montessori International, Tanglin Trust School, Grab, and W Hotel.
Even when the first Circuit Breaker period in April 2020 put a halt to all its painting services and led to a 90 per cent drop in revenue from that channel, the strength of its product offering helped buoy the company through initial challenges.
“As people started working from home, they began to observe their interiors more. Many of them realised the need for an interior uplift with better building materials,” says Mr Leong.
“We saw a 45 per cent revenue increase in the DIY segment because our customers wanted to spruce up their home office, or simply because they wanted a different-coloured Zoom backdrop!”
During the circuit breaker, gush focused on improving online purchasing experiences by rectifying colour inconsistencies between the digital colour charts on its online store and the actual paint colours.
“Screen brightness, different display parameters, and even the lighting indoors can all make a difference in the perception of colour hues. This leads to customer dissatisfaction when the painted colour turns out differently from their carefully considered choices made online,” shares Mr Jiao.
The company now delivers a physical colour sample to customers so that they can see the actual hue in their own homes under varying lighting conditions before committing to a shade.
Beyond paint and numbers
But long-term plans for gush lie beyond just paint, say the founders, as it looks to provide other advanced building materials.
In October 2020, gush raised $4.7 million in a pre-Series A funding round to support its Research & Development (R&D), and local and overseas expansion efforts. Plans include commercialising an anti-thermal coating that it says can reflect more than 80 per cent of solar heat away from buildings when applied to surfaces, and relaunching ‘Clearcool’, a solar film for windows that absorbs heat energy. Both will greatly reduce the energy demand on indoor cooling units.
The company is also looking to expand to countries such as the US and Australia, where the founders have identified many eco-conscious consumers willing to invest in sustainable living.
As with many companies, the complexities of managing the business, particularly its accounting practices, increase as it grows. Upon various recommendations from business partners, the company adopted Xero to handle this. The founders credit the cloud accounting platform as being key to “unravelling those complexities”.
“Xero’s interface is easy to use, and it has many Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that allow for integration with payment gateways such as Stripe and WooCommerce. This eases the manual import of information.”
“The automated bank feeds provided by Xero, reconciliation suggestions, and its accessibility across devices also make it a breeze for us to access internal financial data whenever required so that we can make better informed decisions on next steps.”
More importantly, Xero’s simplification and automation of accounting processes allow gush to focus on its business and customers, and “spend more time changing the world, one surface at a time”.
“We are committed to innovating building materials to help people live healthier and better – as part of their communities and for the planet. We want to build a community that believes that their small individual actions can lead to big global change.”