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Turning passion into your bread and butter, with student entrepreneur Earnest Lim

Written by Nicole Teo Published on 

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Earnest Lim created ‘Dirty Butter’, a food venture taking on a unique take on modernising butter.

Previous founder of Munch, Earnest Lim, recently embarked on his new venture, ‘Dirty Butter‘, selling a line of interesting flavoured compound butters, like honey yuzu lavender and garlic parmesan. The company’s mission is to make butter less boring by introducing novelty flavours that are so delicious you can put it on everything. Earnest also runs a brand marketing agency with his friend, Jeremy.

Last year in 2020, the circuit breaker in Singapore left us all bored and restless at home. That started a different kind of creative rebirth, bringing about an influx of aspiring chefs and bakers everywhere in Singapore. We’ve seen home based businesses springing up everywhere, and Earnest Lim began with butter.

Dirty Butter’s line of flavours, honey yuzu lavender. Photo courtesy of Dirty Butter.

With the novel idea of modernising the butter industry, Earnest and his childhood friend decided to utilise their culinary skills to create their own whipped butter company. Soon after, Jeremy joined the team to lend his prowess of F&B branding & design to the team.

Co-founder of Jeremy Toh. Photo courtesy of Earnest Lim

A while back, he decided to let go off his shares in Munch, a full-stack AI food discovery app, to an existing investor after coming to the conclusion that the startup was in too competitive a space. This almost 3 year venture of blood, sweat, and tears had huge potential, drawing in a mass amount of media coverage. But even with so much promise, the future is unforeseeable and the possibility of failure is unavoidable.

This is the user interface of Earnest’s previous app Munch. Photo Courtesy of Earnest Lim.

“I read all the entrepreneurial books, like ‘Zero to One’ and more. They’re helpful in theory, but it’s a different story entirely when you’re facing it in real time. In the actual world, it’s tricky to make those decisions,” he admits. He recognises that Munch’s failure stemmed from a mismatch in the product market fit. “In our early days, we were just so eager to build a product. Our product was great, but it was this mismatch that led to monetization issues.”

Sometimes, the failure of a business is not the only loss an entrepreneur has to cope with. Co-founding a company with someone you’re so close to can also go south very quickly. “The whole adage of not working with your friends–that can be true,” he confesses. Throughout his business ventures working with friends, it has brought about certain tension to friendships. But looking back, he’s learnt that when dealing with conflicts: “Don’t blame the person, blame the process.”

Earnest Lim finds time to work on his business. Photo Courtesy of Earnest Lim.

Earnest focuses on the importance of having an outlet in the times of stress. In his case, his family and friends are his true support system, who he confides in when buildup from work gets too much to bear. It’s never good to bottle up all your thoughts and feelings, no matter how strong you are, and doing so will only create a recipe for disaster.

After getting a glimpse into a personal reflection on his past failures, I had to know, where did he derive this motivation and grit from? He proceeds to explain the different factors that come into play. Superficially, it could stem from materialistic desires, like owning a nice car. “But intrinsically,” he says, “it can also be insecurity, and the fear of not being financially secure. So you work extremely hard, because entrepreneurship gives you that form of control over your life.”

For him, it’s a combination of all factors, “I mean, who doesn’t want a nice car? But I think after a while, that fades, and especially when life hits you in the face, wanting a nice car isn’t good enough a drive (pun unintended), to want to continue.” Overall, he stresses the importance of finding joy in the process. He doesn’t mean the process of whipping butter, but the aspect of creating a product and brand like Dirty Butter.

Samuel Ong, co-founder of Dirty Butter. Photo courtesy of Earnest Lim.

But a cynic may ask, how does one find excitement in such a tedious process, not forgetting the uncertainty of the rewards it draws? To that, Earnest brings up the philosophy of “solipsism.” Explained simply, it’s the idea that you cannot prove the conscience of anyone else besides yourself, and so no one else will ever know your own thoughts and views.

From that, you can draw two conclusions. For one, you can be a nihilist and view life to hold no actual meaning, because at the end of the day, nothing really matters. You can also take it one step further, and place an optimistic spin on it. Since nothing matters, you are allowed to do what you want with your life. So take it and enjoy it in any way you please. That is what Earnest has done and this has enabled him to cast away any previous demotivating feelings.

When we discuss intrinsic motivators, he explains, “I’m not one of those Youtube gurus who are hyper productive 24/7. I just find ways to fit important things in. There are technical things you can do like creating a to-do list, scheduling your time, and so on. But at the end of the way, you can’t do everything, so optimise what you choose to focus on. That’s the most important tip.”

In this competitive society today, where everyone seems to have their future 50 years planned ahead, it can be easy to feel lost and unable to catch up. Before the interview came to a close, Earnest shares that there are many who are still stuck in the conundrum of adulting.

Adulting can be difficult and tedious. Photo courtesy of Kat.

“I think the important thing is to understand that nothing is final, so be open to explore new ventures. If you are curious to know what working in a particular industry is like, you can try it out first and complete a 3 to 6 month internship. Even if it’s not right for you, you’ll always be able to take away something from the experience. You’ll at least take away one thing: the knowledge that the field is not for you. That’s still valuable insight that can shape your journey, and anyways, what’s six months compared to the rest of your life?”

Dirty Butter’s line of interesting flavours. Photo courtesy of Dirty Butter,

While Earnest has been dealt his fair share of previous failures, his optimism and sheer determination to keep at what he loves doing is truly something that deserves much reverence. What he’s definitely taught me is the importance of experience, and the fulfillment it brings. There’s nothing wrong with getting your hands dirty in the kitchen. It is simply part of the process in mastering the recipe.

WRITTEN BY

Nicole Teo

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