Fengru Lin: TurtleTree Milk Precision Fermentation, Biotech Cofounder Serendipity & Balancing Commercial and Scientific Decisions - E348

· Women,Start-up,Founder,Singapore,Southeast Asia

”I fully recognize the importance of running a business like a business, because at the end of the day, a biotech business has a lot of focus, but we need to focus as well on the business model and how we get to revenue, how we get to profitability. One of the misconceptions is that we need to be very scientifically focused before we can start a biotech company. I don't think that is true. I truly see the importance of having business folks running a business, because this is not just about science. It's also about HR, finance, and the customers. Focusing on what the customers want and need, and then building different teams and different business units scientific focus to deliver that need is really the most important thing.” - Fengru Lin

“I wouldn't say there are bad investors, but I will say the investors that I work the best with are really those who connect us with the right people in their network when they hear what we're saying and what we need. We have a couple of investors who are very well-connected in different spaces that we want to explore. It's not just an investment but also a collaboration around product development. Investors who are listening to us and willing to open up the network and share them with us are where I see the most value.” - Fengru Lin

“It's all about price point, especially in the food space. We were very cognizant from day one that the product that we choose needed to be something that could get to gross margin positivity earlier rather than later. I mentioned a little bit about whey. Whey protein costs about $1 to $3 dollars per kilogram. Casein costs about $13 per kilogram, and we chose something that is a thousand dollars per kilogram. We are very eloquent in sharing that today, but a lot of startup founders need to be able to talk about that even in the early days because this is what sets them apart. TAM is important, and so is the team, but so is the unit economics of the product that we're selling. We need to be able to explain that, and that is what sets us apart from other startups in the space.” - Fengru Lin

Fengru Lin, Founder & CEO of TurtleTree, and Jeremy Au discussed three key topics:

1. TurtleTree's Biotech Approach: Fengru Lin highlighted TurtleTree's biotech advancements in the scientific formulation of milk and milk ingredients. She also shared that the company focuses on high-value proteins like lactoferrin, a bioactive protein essential for gut health, immunity, and iron regulation, which trades for $1000 per kilogram due to its short supply and the amount of milk required to produce it. She also shared TurtleTree's progress towards commercialization, including applying for FDA GRAS certification, a significant step in bringing their products to market.

2. Entrepreneurial Journey: Fengru talked about her leadership journey from leading the Girl Guides in Singapore to developing essential skills in business development at Salesforce and Google, and eventually co-founding TurtleTree. She recounted her serendipitous meeting with Max, her co-founder, over shared interests in transforming the food industry, a thesis ignited by her hobby in cheese-making and Max’s work in cell-based meat. She emphasized the importance of a unified vision in a co-founding team and discussed how the synergy of skills and attributes between her and her cofounder was instrumental in navigating the early stages of the company, setting the foundation for its future growth.

3. Bravery in Decision Making: Fengru shared the early hesitancy of her scientists in engaging with the media, highlighting her strategy to balance the need for publicity with confidentiality. She explained the importance of guiding her team through decision-making processes and ensuring collective understanding and buy-in for media communications. She also shared her bold approaches to connect with influential figures like Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever & former CFO of Nestle. She discussed how these interactions shaped her vision for TurtleTree, particularly in ensuring the company's presence is prominently displayed in collaboration with CPG brands. She stresses the significance of seeking wisdom from industry veterans and the courage it takes to reach out to high-profile individuals for guidance and collaboration.

They also talked about the fundraising dynamics for deep-tech startups, the FDA approval process, misconceptions about building a biotech company, and the alternative protein market.

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(02:16) Jeremy Au:

Hey, Fengru. Really excited to have you on the show. It's been amazing to see your journey over the years. I'm very happy to be one of the early small check investors in TurtleTree and really excited to have you share your story and also what you've learned over the years. For those who don't know you yet, could you introduce yourself real quick?

(02:34) Fengru Lin:

Yeah. Thanks for having me, Jeremy. My name is Feng Ru. I'm the CEO and cofounder of TurtleTree.

(02:39) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. So what is TurtleTree? .

(02:41) Fengru Lin:


Yeah we are a biotech company based out of Singapore, Boston, and California, and we're able to produce milk and milk ingredients without the animal. So we do that through a technology called precision fermentation, and our platform actually has the potential to produce a lot of other milk proteins, milk ingredients. But we're starting off with the high value, the most high value proteins leading with lactoferrin.

(03:04) Jeremy Au: Okay.

(03:05) Jeremy Au:

You got to explain what is Lactoferrin?

(03:07) Fengru Lin:

Yeah, I was expecting you to ask that. Lactoferrin is actually a bioactive protein that is found in milk. It has a lot of functional benefits around gut health, immunity, and iron regulation. Today, most of the lactoferrin goes into infant nutrition because there is a shortage across the entire market. Why is there a shortage? If you look at lactoferrin, it's actually a micronutrient that is found in milk. You need a hundred thousand liters of milk to get to one kilogram of lactoferrin. So as a result, there is very short supply across the world. We spoke to some of the biggest lactoferrin producers in the world, like Morinaga from Japan, and they are sold out for the next couple of years.

So we know there is a accessibility, a shortage issue for Lactoferrin, and that's why we're leading our first protein, our first product with Lactoferrin.

(03:54) Jeremy Au:

And what is Lactoferrin used for? Why is it valuable as an ingredient?

(03:59) Fengru Lin:

Good question. Well, Lactoferrin has a lot of functional benefits for human health. So I spoke a bit about immunity, gut health, iron regulation. So these benefits are really important for the growth of an infant, but we also see a lot of untapped potential for adult applications. For example, women's health supplements, even putting Lactoferrin into your average yogurts plant based milks, because plant based milks are nutritionally deficient compared to cow's milk when it comes to some of these functional proteins that you can't find in plant based milks. And even regular cow milk, right, during the pasteurization process the Lactoferrin does get denatured. So we do see dairy companies coming to us. Coming to us to ask for lactoferrin to refortify the dairy milk to get to the lactoferrin levels that was originally there.

(04:45) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. And you mentioned that this is your first product.

(04:47) Jeremy Au:

So I'm so curious, you know, what would your roadmap look like in the future? What's that big point of view?

(04:53) Fengru Lin:

Yeah. I think for Turtle Tree, we always wanna focus on the high value proteins and ingredients that are found in milk. we can zoom out a little bit and I'll talk through like where we started and how we got to lactoferrin. So when TurtleTree first started, we started the company in 2019. We really ideated around full milk, so using cell based methods. So what we were doing is we were harvesting memory cells, so breast cells, and culturing them in an environment where they would express, where they would produce all 2,000 different ingredients that are found in milk. So this is quite a complex process, and very quickly, we realized that it's going to take about 7 to 10 years out before we can get anything to commercialization. We were still excited about it. I mean, the potential to produce human milk is just immense. So we took this idea, we started talking to folks like Fonterra, folks like Abbott, telling them, Hey, we got this patent that we patented. We've shown early successes.

What do you think about us producing full milk in a lab? And they quickly told us, well, milk is $2 a gallon. I don't think you can get to price point anytime soon. You should really focus on the high value ingredients that are found in milk. So they gave us a list of about half a dozen ingredients to look at and top of the list is lactoferrin. The other ingredients are things like complex sugars things like osteopontin, things like alpha lactobulmin. So all of these are all pretty high value ingredients, all better for human health. Not just your whey protein for muscle building, you need 40 grams of it per serving. And on the market, because whey is a byproduct of cheesemaking, it's actually really cheap. It trades about at about one to three dollars. So we don't want to do that. We want to focus on high value stuff. So Lactoferrin trades on the market at about a thousand dollars per kg today. So this daily folks, they told us focus on Lactoferrin. That's what we need. That's what the market needs because it's a short supply and it's high value. So you can bring value to your shareholders.

(06:45) Jeremy Au:


(06:45) Jeremy Au:

And what's interesting is that obviously if you've gone through production methods, right, and experimentation as part of that process, could you share a little bit more about how that plays out because you're primarily a biotech company, right? And you know, the science is really fascinating to me.

(06:58) Fengru Lin:

We have a very good combination of both internal innovation and external innovation. So internal innovation is led by our chief scientist, Dr. Aletta Schnitzler. She drives a lot of the pregnant fermentation program here at TurtleTree, looking at how we can optimize our strains to produce the protein and optimize the downstream process where we purify the protein out of the output. Now, we combine that with external innovation. We have our Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Shou Wong, 28 years of experience doing tech scouting for companies like Merck KGaA, Dow Chemicals Life Technologies, ,and he is the one who goes to different universities, talk to different startups, talk to different research institutes and look at pieces of technology where he can plug into what Aletta is doing to accelerate our R& D.

So this combination of internal and external innovation allows us to expand beyond. What we know, but what a small company like us know and can do and work with these collaborators on their technologies to really optimize the whole process and get to where we are today. It's actually a really exciting month or period of time for us. We are applying for our FDA self grass looking to get it before the end of the year. So we will be able to commercialize this lactoferrin very soon.

(08:14) Jeremy Au:

And interesting because, you know, there's this dynamic of FDA certification. You know, Grass is generally recognized as safe, if I'm not wrong correct me if I am. So it's interesting because a lot of folks, obviously, you know, when they're building startups, they're not thinking about FDA certifications and so forth, could you share a little bit more about what that process looks like for a biotech company?

(08:32) Fengru Lin:

It's a very lengthy process and it really depends on what product you are launching. So for my team, we chose bovine cow Lactoferrin as our first product, mainly also because it's a shorter time to get approvals. We wanted this early win with a strong commercial angle. So bovine Lactoferrin was very apparent to us. There's some other companies working on human Lactoferrin but there is no precedence of humans consuming human lactoferrin outside of being an infant drinking mother's milk. So the FDA viewpoint on that would be a lot stricter. They would have to go through a lot more clinical studies, a lot more health studies before they can get an approval. Not to mention things like human Lactoferrin has a lot of immunomodulatory applications. It would take a longer time for the scientists to prove its safety and efficacy. For us, Bovine Cow Lactoferrin is a lower hanging fruit. Because it is existing in our food system, it's existing in regular milk. So as long as we can prove similarity to what occurs in nature it's a shorter path to, to get it approved.

(09:38) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. Amazing. How does that strategy work? Because I imagine this is brainstorming whiteboarding. How does that decision, right? Because you have your, what you want to build versus the science of what is buildable within a certain, and then you have the capital requirements of how much time you have to build. And then you have this, obviously, the regulatory dynamic and the consumer demand. How do you kind of go through that decision making process with the executive team?

(09:59) Fengru Lin:

We have a very strong team. So our executive team, Aletta, Shou, they are the scientific focus folks. But we have HR, finance marketing, sales. So you might think like these are business units that are, what do they have to do with regulatory? But the leaders of each of these business units are able to bring in the best within their team. For example, our HR, Chief People Officer, she's able to bring in a regulatory expert. Our scientific affairs liaison, Vanessa she has Immunology background. She has a PhD from UC Davis. So she interacts a lot with the protein that we're talking about, Lactoferrin, as well as other milk proteins. So she has a good idea about how it should function when it comes to the gut health and the immunity benefits. So when she speaks to some of these regulatory consultants she knows how to structure it. And find a path and weave a path for us that is the most straightforward. It's really a combination of having a strong team within TurtleTree and also finding the right consultants to work with us.

I think on a regulatory side. We have two types of consultants one type is the scientific side of things where they're helping us write the dossier and the other side is legal side of it because they have to help us to navigate FDA and the different regulatory rules.

(11:13) Jeremy Au:

What are some of the biggest myths or misconceptions about building biotech? Especially, from the perspective as well as an alternative protein.

(11:21) Fengru Lin:

I think for me, fast forward to today I fully recognized the importance of running a business like a business, because at the end of the day a biotech business has a lot of focus, but we need to focus as well on the business model and how we get to revenue, how we get to profitability. Some of the misconceptions is really. We need to be very scientifically focused before we can start a biotech company. And I don't think that is true. And I'll share a fun story. In the early days when Max, my co-founder and I started we were out and about in the Bay area, talking to different investors.

Max has a business background is a serial entrepreneur 15 years. And just before starting TurtleTree with me, he was CEO of a tech company and he left that company. for me, I have a tech background as well, used to work for Salesforce, Google. So we started a company about four years ago. So we went about the Bay Area, talking to different investors. And there was one investor I remember talking to him. He told us, well, it's interesting that you have this biotech idea. Great idea, great TAM, but you don't have a biotech background. What business do you have running a biotech startup? How about if you hire a Nobel laureate, then I will invest in you. I was quite taken aback. I wasn't sure what he meant. I wasn't sure what he was referring to, but fast forward to today. I truly see the importance of having business folks running a business, because this is not just about science. It's also about HR, finance, the customers, especially about the customers. Focusing on what the customer want and need, and then building different teams and different business units and different scientific focus to deliver that need is really the most important thing.

(13:03) Jeremy Au:

And what's interesting is that you've obviously fundraised a lot of capital over the years. I'm just kind of curious that was an experience that's relatively mixed right now. So what would you say differentiates from your perspective as founder, what is a good investor versus a bad investor?

(13:17) Fengru Lin:

I think I wouldn't say there are bad investors, but I will say the investors that I work the best with is really when they hear what we're saying and what need we have, and then connecting us to the right folks in their network. We have a couple of investors who are very well connected in different spaces that we want to explore. Cause right now we're focusing on commercializing soon. And there are some investors who can open up the network of CBC corporate venture capital with different maybe CBG food companies or different beverage companies so that we can start talking to them. So they can open up their customers or their different product teams to us as well. So it's not just an investment but also a collaboration around product development. So I feel like investors who are listening to us and willing to open up the network and share them with us is where I see the most value.

(14:08) Jeremy Au: And you've done this dynamic of also fundraising. What do you think is good advice that you wish you had received, or that you think is very important to pass on to founders as they go about fundraising in terms of either preparation or delivering the fundraising?

(14:22) Fengru Lin:

I think especially in the food space, it's all about price point. So we were very cognizant from day one that the product that we choose. Needed to be something that could get to gross margin positivity earlier rather than later. I think I mentioned a little bit about whey. Whey protein costing about one to three dollars per kg, or casein costing about thirteen dollars per kg, and us choosing something that is a thousand dollars per kg. We are very eloquent in sharing that today but I think a lot of startup founders need to be able to talk about that even in the early days because this is what sets them apart. TAM is important, so is the team, but so is the unit economics of the product that we're selling. And we need to be able to eloquently explain that. And that is what sets us apart from other people, other startups in the space.

(15:12) Jeremy Au:

I think what's interesting is that the alternative protein space was very hot, and then now it's kind of going through, I think, a rough patch, I would say. Some consolidations close closures. I think we've also seen some of the public companies as well, go through, you know, kind of like valuations, ups and downs. What do you think is your perspective on what has, is happening now versus what you think will happen in the future from your perspective?

(15:32) Fengru Lin:

I think it is not just the alternative protein industry. I feel like the whole industry with recent market conditions, it's not the tech industry is the same. So is the banking . So it's, it's just a difficult period of time, even the housing is challenging, right, the housing industry is challenging. But I think focusing on just alternative protein. I know there are a lot of plant base food companies that are really struggling. Share prices are going down without naming names. Like you said, a lot of consolidating. I think the plant based industry, the challenge is there isn't a lot of deep tech involved. So a lot of it is branding, marketing. And when it comes to branding and marketing consumers care about just mainly two things, right? Price point and taste. And as it gets more and more crowded it's difficult to set themselves apart from the rest of the group. Now for what we are doing, there's a lot of deep tech involved. So it's very difficult for someone to come in tomorrow and say, Hey, we're going to make lactoferrin as well. So for us, this... B2B angle from a deep tech is really what sets us apart and I think it's also really important to keep innovating. I find that it's difficult to innovate in different products with different flavors of say, plant based milks and so on, there's only so much so many flavors you can launch with.

For us, the deep tech angle is about different proteins that are beneficial to human health that we're able to widen our market with.

(16:56) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. Amazing. I think that's super underappreciated, which is about the defense, you know, from a consumption perspective, obviously, it's a food product, right? In that sense, right? So it's but it's beef, shrimp, so so forth. But I think what you said about the process and the technology needed to build it out is quite key. You know, switching tech a little bit here is, you mentioned earlier that the investor was very much saying you don't have a biotech experience. So let's actually go back in time a little bit.

(17:20) Jeremy Au:

Like growing up, were you like entrepreneurial or did you ever envision that? Because I know that you were in Nestle, you were an employee in terms of account management and so forth, but what were you like?

(17:31) Fengru Lin:

Yeah, I wouldn't say I was very entrepreneurial growing up, but I kind of have a sense that I have pretty decent leadership skills. I mean, growing up, I was in the Girl Guides and I was like the president Girl Guides in Singapore.

(17:42) Jeremy Au:

What? This is important, key information. You know that you should put it in your bio, right?

(17:47) Fengru Lin:

Yeah, maybe I should put that in my bio.

(17:48) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. I mean, there's no joke. That's not easy.

(17:50) Fengru Lin:

It was fun. It was fun. But, I guess I just love working with teams. I'm pretty well organized. I can organize teams. So I kind of have that growing up. But, it was really my working years that really honed my skills to where I am today. For example in Salesforce and Google, I was doing a lot of business development and it's all about talking to people that I don't know, reaching out to people cold and appealing to them to talk to me and share information with me. And that really translates to what I do every day, really talking to people, potential customers, talking to potential partners, candidates the best candidates. They don't apply on your website. They don't apply on your LinkedIn jobs. You hunt them down. So some of these early skills, I mean, we have a team doing that now, but some of the early employees, we had to do that by ourselves and the skills that I've honed over the years in my working years really helped me to kind of structure my message, present them that makes it appealing to that individual that I'm speaking to.

(18:50) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. And how did you know, start TurtleTree? Was it, you met your co founder first, started brainstorming first, or was it something that you had an idea first and you found somebody, how does that process go about?

(19:00) Fengru Lin:

It was it was just. Very chance upon. So backstory a few years ago, maybe five, six years ago, I was learning how to make cheese as a hobby. It was just a fun thing. I went up to Vermont upstate New York to couple of weeks to learn how to make cheese. And I wanted to make cheese back in Singapore, but obviously we have no cows in Singapore. So I had to go down to Indonesia, Thailand to look for raw, fresh milk. And in those places, there were a lot of challenges around contract farming, hormones, antibiotics come into the cows. And as a result the milk quality really suffers. Like the mozzarella cannot stretch I, I try to hack it a little bit at calcium chloride, not enough calcium in the milk.

So I gave up that whole cheese idea. And back then I was still working for Google, and was when I met my co founder, Max. He was in my office and on stage talking about different technologies, different technologies. And some of the technologies that he spoke about were companies making cell based meat. So this was like, five, six years ago, it blew my mind you could create meat and seafood without the animal. So we started talking about using similar methods to make milk. And that's where we started the memory, the cell based milk the one I spoke about just now. That was the idea that we started with and filed our first patents with. Over time, as door after door kept opening, after we spoke to scientists, nobody said we were crazy. They said it was plausible. And we spoke to the dairy folks, they say it was plausible as well, but you should focus on these other things. I felt yeah, I felt comfortable enough to leave my job and started this company.

(20:26) Jeremy Au:

How do you approach someone to build a company with? Was it like, Hey, you meet after the stage time and then you pass him a business card. Like, how does that relationship build up to the point where you feel like you can build a company together?

(20:39) Fengru Lin:

Yeah, I think for me, I never thought I was going to start a company just chatting. But Max is a serial entrepreneur. And one good thing about him is whenever he has an idea, he would start executing on it. So I, we started chatting about me and my milk challenges and he said, you know, maybe we can make cell based milk. And then we started to do a little bit of research on our own. We find scientists through our network or through LinkedIn did some like paper, like laptop research and reach out to some of the authors in certain publications we thought that were relevant so it was door after door that opened that helped us to build the confidence that there is something there.

This idea is something that's plausible scientifically and something we can execute on. So it was over a few months of understanding what is possible, what is not through daily players, through different scientists. bEfore we realized like this is possible.

(21:30) Jeremy Au:

How does that ladder of logic happen so that you feel certain enough to quit your job? Where was that moment? It was an aha moment. It was a tough decision. How did you go about making that decision?

(21:41) Fengru Lin:

It was definitely a tough decision Google was a nice place, but I think the decision came when we filed the patent. After we filed a patent we knew we needed to fundraise and in the fundraising process, investors don't want to see that you have a day job and you're still doing this part time. So I, yeah, I left the company. I felt comfortable enough that there was something there. We have an asset that we can fly with.

(22:02) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. And from your perspective, obviously you had experience, good experience meeting and working with your co founder. What do you think is some advice you would give for folks who are thinking about. Meeting or matching or working together with a co founder that you've just met on stage.

(22:15) Fengru Lin:

Wow. That's a deep question. I mean, I only have my experience to go by. And so it's, it's kind of lucky that he left his previous role. He sold his company and and I'm happy to leave mine once I gain enough confidence. But to find a co founder, I think there are ways of doing it. I know like Entrepreneur First in Singapore, they match scientific folks together with business folks as co founders but I know other folks in the space maybe a business person would like what I did read, like all these publications and reach out to a scientist, a PhD, who was part of writing that publication and co founder with that person. But for me, knowing that like we could be a good partnership is it's really the soft skills part of it.

Maybe a bit of background about about me versus Max. Max is an American. He has a lot of big ideas, a good storyteller. So he is the one who is in the early days, driving a lot of this storytelling, ideating and takes point on where the next step should be. Well, I'm really well organized, decently well organized, not compared to my scientists now. Decently well organized came from like tech companies. I know what scale looks like, right? Cause I was from Salesforce, Google, I know the different business units and the different structures that needs to happen for us to scale quickly. So I will be the one who takes this idea and try to organize with the team to execute on it. So these soft skills made us really compatible to get to where we are today.

(23:39) Jeremy Au:

And it sounds like you obviously had a long list of lessons that you've learned along the way. I mean, it's been a very busy four years for you, I'm sure. I mean, when you look back on this, what would you say are some of the big lessons that you learned?

(23:50) Fengru Lin:

I think one of them is really inspiring or leading a team. I think a lot of times, I mean, as a first time founder you tend to have a certain thought about how you want things to be done. But if we truly want to hire the best team, we got to give them the autonomy to make the decision so one early lesson I learned was, in the early days our first few scientists, they were pretty uncomfortable with us talking to media about anything at all because they don't want us to leak out any technology that we're building. But in my opinion if we don't talk to the media We cannot build a flywheel effect of better talent to want to come in to join us, better partners who want to partner with us as customers or as technology partners.

So PR is really important. And I said, how about if I just say this fixed script, I won't defer from this script. And they said, no it's, it's too much information. And then what I did was how about we all sit down, we all sat down in a room and I whiteboarded line by line, what could be said because we have to tell the media something. We're already gaining interest. We have to tell them something. And line by line, we all read out what could be shared. Lo and behold, it was exactly what I suggested that, that script. So I think it's really walking people through that thought process for them to get a buy in. And I think that's really important.

(25:08) Jeremy Au:

How do you think people should prepare to be a founder? So for yourself, you mentioned you know, going to Salesforce, Google, being the president of Girl Guides in Singapore. How should people get themselves ready?

(25:17) Fengru Lin:

I think it's, for me, the biggest learning is really talking to people because this is a whole new, food is a whole new industry for me, so is biotech but over the years I was able to connect the dots with different scientists, different folks so I know just enough to be able to connect person A and person B for them to communicate. So if anyone has any ideas, talk to as many people as possible and then as wide as wide reaching as possible, not just scientists, but business folks as well regulators you'd be surprised when you reach out on LinkedIn with the right messaging, folks are happy to share what they're doing, happy to share their life's work, especially scientists. Some of the patents that they wrote, the white papers that they wrote, they put so many years of sweat and tears into it. They love it. They love talking about it.

(26:04) Jeremy Au:

What would you say has been a journey of bravery for yourself? Any particular experiences?

(26:10) Fengru Lin:

A journey of bravery. Wow. I think in the early days, I reached out to three individuals that I was the most proud of and I'll just name one of them because the other two might be a little bit more sensitive. So one of them is Paul Polman. He is the ex CEO of Nestle, the ex CEO of Unilever. And I knew that he was speaking at a conference in Switzerland. So I actually attended the conference as one of the young leader representation and connected with him. One thing to learn about his way of doing business it was really fascinating. If you read up on Paul Polman he was the one who removed the quarterly financial reporting of Unilever and only do it every year so that they can focus on not just the financial reporting side of things, but also the ESG side of things.

And mind you, this was like 10, 15 years ago, ESG was not cool yet. It was not important yet. He really shook the boat with this move and following his move, a lot of other big corporations had to do the same because their stakeholders are also asking the same.

So I learned a lot from him that the whole conference that one to one conversation with him as well understood how big corporates like Unilever think. I think when they want to Innovate is always really challenging because it's a big, heavy corporations. So they do a lot of M& A. So the sweet spot for some of these big corporations is really when a company is probably valued at 200 million market cap where they would then sweep in and bring the brand under the umbrella. So this is one individual.

Another one is the, one of the founders of Arm Semiconductors. They had seven founders. I connected with one of them cause I was really fascinated with how to build a company with. Almost like the Intel Insight model, but a lot of people don't know about Arm, but they made sure that even though they're just a chip within the computer, within the laptop, but they had their names etched onto that chip because they want the computer makers or the consumers, when they open up the computer to recognize as an ARM chip, they don't want to just be a backend player. So for us at TurtleTree, I really want to model after that. We don't want to just be a unknown backend player. We want to enable these big CPG food brands with our branding as well, because we are all about ESG, we're all about sustainable, better for you nutrition. So I want to make sure that TurtleTree logo is also front and center. I'll also get some real estate in the packaging.

The third person I reached out to, which was really gutsy. So this was like year one, year two of our business. We, I reached out to one of the chief scientists of the biggest, one of the biggest daily producers and let's call it Australia, New Zealand and ask him if you want to join us. And he thought about it. But I think he's pretty comfortable where he is, but I think all of these experiences really make me feel like the world is our oyster. There's so much different opportunities, so much different resources we can tap on and people are willing to share the experiences with us.

(29:06) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. You know, that sounds so scary though, right? I mean, I can imagine most people are like, wow, that's really scary to email these big people and I'm so small. Why would they even pay attention? How do you think about that?

(29:18) Fengru Lin:

I think about how I can benefit them too, because I don't know where they are in the stage of their career. I don't know if at this pretty advanced stage of their career, what mark they want to leave on this world. And I mean, these are some of the bigger names I'm talking about, but even within TurtleTree, we have two or three individuals when they did join us. like 28 years of experience in the field. They told me, Hey, Fengru, this is going to be my last hurrah. I want to make an impact in this world. And this is why I'm joining Turtle Tree. And it's very heartening to know that they want to be part of this mission. They want to help make the world a better place. And we can all do it together with these experienced folks as well as younger folks. Yeah It's very, it's a bit heartwarming and I love working with my team.

(30:01) Jeremy Au:

What's your happiest memory from your perspective so far over the past four years working with TurtleTree?

(30:06) Fengru Lin:

I think some of the happiest memories is some of, probably some of the toughest times when my whole executive team, my whole team came together and supported me in some of the biggest, most difficult decisions that, that we had to make. That, that has to be my happiest time because these decisions are not easy but I know I have their backing.

(30:24) Jeremy Au:

I'm kind of curious if you're open to share, what's the context of those difficult decisions?

(30:29) Fengru Lin:

I think, some of them are communications with customers can't really share too much detail but by and large is, is really these folks telling me, Hey, I know it's a difficult decision but I'll do whatever it takes to make it happen for us. And I know the time zones are difficult, right?

We have East coast, West coast, Singapore, and all of these folks work really hard to make it happen. And. Not just the hours, but the, um, the commitment of helping to make this difficult decision. It's, it was really heartwarming for me.

(30:58) Jeremy Au:

Thank you so much for sharing. On that note, I'd love to kind of summarize the three big takeaways I got from this conversation. The first of all is thank you so much for walking me through the company. What is TurtleTree? What is TurtleTree producing? Lactoferrin the first product. What is Lactoferrin and why is it valuable? And also walking through, I think, that broader vision of biotech, alternative proteins and what that roadmap for your perspective or what you need to do and build in order to be successful and commercialized and approved by the FDA. Wonderful summary there.

Secondly, thank you so much for sharing about your early journey. I love the bit about being president of Girl Guides to Singapore as well as Salesforce and Google. But I was thinking it was interesting to hear that early journey about how you build up the skills over time in terms of leadership, management, and actually taking an opportunity to meet strangers as part of your job, to eventually meeting the stranger who would become your co founder and sharing about that early journey of how TurtleTree came together in terms of the co founding story, but also some of the reflections that you had about what makes a successful pairing, but also how to make a decision about when and how to make the jump into going full time on the company.

Lastly, thank you so much for sharing about what bravery means to you. I think you shared actually across the entire podcast about the multiple times that you had tough decisions, right? Tough decisions around communications. Also decisions about commercialization about what kind of messaging that you would like to do with the media, as well as decisions around what products build in the context of what's scientifically and commercially possible. I thought that was a wonderful insight into the window of an executive mind. So thank you so much for being so open and sharing your perspective, Fengru.

(32:26) Fengru Lin:

Thanks for having me, Jeremy. T his was a blast.