Why I founded Wynd, an air quality startup

Raymond Wu
Apr 1, 2016 · 3 min read

I was born in China in the 1980s. The country was still very poor — food was rationed, the local store had few goods to purchase (not that people had much to spend), almost no buildings were taller than a few stories, and most convenient way to get around was by bike. There were plenty of problems, but one thing no one worried about was the environment. Skies were blue and the only dust that bothered people resulted from the occasional sandstorm in Mongolia.

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Me in Beijing in the 80s. It was cold that day but the skies were clear and blue. Over time, my legs grew to be proportionally normal to my body.

In the 1990s I moved to the U.S., but I still visited China frequently. On every trip I noticed the country was evolving rapidly. The story of China’s dramatic growth has been told countless times in business journals, magazines, and documentaries. For me, personally, there was one inflection point that I distinctly remember.

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View from the airport in Beijing on a bad air quality day (courtesy of weather.com.cn).

It was winter of 2003, I had just finished my first semester of college and was on my way to visit relatives in China. When I deboarded in Beijing, I saw a dense layer of fog outside — so gray and thick that I could barely see the adjacent planes. I would’ve written this off as a foggy morning, but the air smelled… terrible. My dad is a smoker so I knew what ash smelled like, but this fog smelled far worse — faintly of car exhaust and scorched metal. Cars and trucks parked at the airport were covered in layers of gray dust, as if a volcano had erupted and rained basaltic debris on every surface.

Air is (typically) invisible. We take it for granted — every day we take over 20 thousand breaths involuntarily. We can control a lot of what our bodies take in — which supermarkets to purchase our produce, what brand of bottled water to drink if the tap is unsafe, which house paint to buy that doesn’t emit volatile organic compounds, and which path to walk in that avoids second-hand smoke.

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Air quality in various regions of the world, including Los Angeles, US; South Korea; India; and Japan (courtesy of Air Bubbles: Air Quality in Real Time on the iOS App Store).

However, when the danger is an entire atmosphere — and it’s filled with toxic particles that slowly destroy our lungs or inhibit our breathing — we can’t buy run away or buy another brand.

The air quality problem goes way beyond China. Invisible harmful particles in the air come in a lot of forms — from large particles (such as allergens, bacteria, and mold spores) to small ones (such as elemental carbon and metals from combustion in cars, factories, and power plants). These particles can trigger debilitating allergic reactions and can cause cancer, heart disease, and long-term damage to lung function. No matter what hemisphere we’re on, what we’re breathing matters. I’m trained as an engineer, and ever since my trip to China in 2003, I’ve been thinking about how to make people aware of what’s in their air and how to improve it.

In 2014 I quit my job in tech investing and co-founded Wynd with a talented team that’s very passionate about the air quality problem. Our long-term goal is that Wynd can free people from worrying about their environment, so that they can live a life less inhibited. We’re building an air quality product that’s in stealth mode right now, and I’m really excited about its debut soon.

I hope to enable healthy environments for everyone, similar to what I got to enjoy as a child.

Ray Wu

Cofounder and CEO of Wynd


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