Fengru Lin is the co-founder and CEO of TurtleTree Labs. The Singaporean biotech startup creates cell-based milk to make dairy production more sustainable and reduce the carbon footprint of the milk industry. Fengru has eight years of corporate sales experience informed by her time working for global companies such as Google and Salesforce. With co-founder Max Rye, she has steadily cultivated the team and operations of TurtleTree Labs using her business background and corporate expertise.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
KrASIA (Kr): What was it like to jump from a corporate environment to co-founding TurtleTree Labs?
Fengru Lin (FL): Being in a big company means that you have a much narrower job scope. Having worked at Google and Salesforce, everyone is a well-placed cog that helps the bigger machine run. In the startup world, everyone wears multiple hats and we are constantly picking up different skill sets across the business.
Kr: Since your professional background is in sales—not scientific research—were there people who cast doubt on your vision for TurtleTree?
FL: The fundraising process was the most difficult in the initial stages. As Max and I have business backgrounds, a lot of investors questioned our ability to lead a science team. However, it was precisely because we come from very different backgrounds that we are confident in the diversity of thought and value we bring. There have been many instances where we were able to provide out-of-the-box thinking or activate the right resources to help the team move forward.
Kr: The team at TurtleTree sees you as a leader and mentor. What does that dynamic look like within the startup?
FL: I always encourage autonomy in the team and they determine their own KPIs. While I am always around to guide my team, it is important to strike a balance to give structure to the business but not restrict creativity within the team.
Kr: Many founders find themselves learning new skills as their business enters new phases. What is the most important leadership skill that you have picked up so far?
FL: I’m surrounded by people whose strengths complement mine, and it is the sheer breadth of opinions and experiences of my colleagues around me that uplift me both intellectually and culturally. At the same time, it ensures that I do not tackle any problems through an insular lens.
Kr: How have you changed since you first started TurtleTree Labs?
FL: I grew to be more emphatic. As the team is made of individuals with unique backgrounds, empathy is essential in fostering an inclusive working environment. It’s good to have everyone celebrate each other’s idiosyncrasies and take the time to understand differing viewpoints.
Kr: Who have been your biggest allies in your career? What imprint have they left on you?
FL: I’ve had several mentors throughout my career and one of them often reminded me to think about the audience of any message that goes out. Frame the message in a way that is well understood and accepted based on who is receiving it. This advice has helped me communicate better with my team, investors, and customers.
Kr: There is a significant lack of female founders. What would be your advice to women who are aspiring entrepreneurs looking to take the plunge but may have some doubts?
FL: Growing up in a melting pot like Singapore means that I was very fortunate to grow up with kids from all races and backgrounds. It was at an early age when I experienced the benefit that diversity brings to any environment, be it classrooms, workplaces, or social spaces. It’s through diversity that industries challenge the status quo and adopt more novel solutions instead. Greater gender diversity and greater female representation starts with us, so the question I have for other future female founders out there is this: What’s stopping you?