Profiles in Design: Gush Mundae

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 06/22/2020 | 6 Minute Read

When Gush Mundae founded Bulletproof in 1998, it was just him and a dream. Today, the brand and packaging design agency has 220 employees with five locations around the world—London, New York, Singapore, and in the last eight months, Amsterdam and Sydney. From an outsider’s perspective, you might think that Gush has officially made it as a designer.

“Even now, with the business and the amount of people we've got and the locations we've got, it still doesn't feel like the job is done,” Gush said. “Coming from an immigrant background, I think gives you that kind of feeling where you never feel like you've made it, you know? And that's a good thing.”

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Gush moved to the United Kingdom from India when he was five years old. He and his family went from living in a five-bedroom house in Delhi to a single room for everyone in London. As a teenager, he became interested in art—specifically graffiti—and developed a particular style all his own. “I wasn’t very good at school,” he admitted, “but I had one teacher that was great, and he was my art teacher. He always encouraged me, whereas my other teachers didn't.”

“Even now, with the business and the amount of people we've got and the locations we've got, it still doesn't feel like the job is done,” Gush said. “Coming from an immigrant background, I think gives you that kind of feeling where you never feel like you've made it, you know? And that's a good thing.”

“Even now, with the business and the amount of people we've got and the locations we've got, it still doesn't feel like the job is done,” Gush said. “Coming from an immigrant background, I think gives you that kind of feeling where you never feel like you've made it, you know? And that's a good thing.”

At that age, he didn’t have an interest in pursuing any kind of education beyond high school, but his teacher convinced him otherwise. So Gush took a course after school and worked for a former student of his teacher, which is where his passion for art and design flourished.

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“She said, ‘Your work is really stylized. I really like it. It's very graphic.’ And I'd never heard that before,” he mentioned. When she explained that, with his skills, he could design record covers, he knew he was onto something. “I love music, and I always have. So I kind of thought, if I could use my abilities to create album covers, that would be amazing.”

As he dove deeper into the world of design, Gush decided it best to pursue his Higher National Diploma (HND) for good measure. It offered a rigorous schedule that ran the length of the day, one filled with all kinds of valuable skills (from typography to illustration, and beyond), and his work was seen and scrutinized by people in the industry. He wanted to make his ideas more robust, so he wanted his education to include tutors who were active in the design world that could give him the feedback he needed.

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He completed his degree at an inopportune time, right during a recession. It was tough, he said, but his goal was to get his folio in front of as many designers and design agencies as he could. The tenacity paid off. He landed his first job with a company called Shoot That Tiger!, designing what he’d always wanted to design—record covers.

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“I met the founder, a guy called David Richardson,” said Gush, “and I basically said to him, ‘Look, I want to work for you whether you want to pay me or not because I need to grow muscle.’ It ended up being fully paid, actually, but I just wanted to have a job and put my skills to use. That was my first break.” 

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He worked at Shoot That Tiger! and another design studio in the UK following graduation. Both were worthwhile experiences, but not entirely what he wanted—one was smaller and had a family feel but didn’t offer a large scale of work, and the other big company had global work but a culture that didn’t resonate with him. So, after two and a half years in the workforce, he decided it was time to pursue a dream he’d had for a while—to have his own agency. He joined forces with Jonny Stewart, a friend he met while studying graphic design, and Bulletproof became a reality. 

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“I started by myself in a room,” Gush said. “I got on the phone and called up businesses. I’d send mailers out in the post. I’d speak to bar owners about their brand identity and what I could do for them. I went on a charm offensive and tried to win work.”

About nine months in, Gush landed a significant client—Disney—and around that time, he was finally able to take a salary from the agency. Bulletproof also took on other employees at the end of its first year, and while they’ve grown to a global scale (have you seen their stellar redesign for Cadbury?), their focus has always been on big ideas and creativity first.

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“When I started, I just quite naively thought, ‘I'm going to do my own thing. It's going to be an amazing agency of ten people, and we're going to do global work, and we're going to have an amazing culture.’ So that was the idea.”

The culture of Bulletproof is crucial to Gush. Dispelling a lot of corporate organizational structures, the team can rest assured the focus is on doing the best work and not about industry or market politics. “It’s very much around tribe,” he said, explaining how it’s his own way of putting an immigrant lens on business infrastructure.

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One of the core features of the immigrant experience is that you often feel like you don’t’ belong, and Gush’s story was no different. Even after living in the UK for most of his life, he doesn’t feel fully British. But his mindset shifted a few years ago. “I used to think of it as a weakness,” he admitted, “but I think it’s actually very powerful because it gives you a different perspective. You never feel like you’re entitled. It creates a hunger and ambition and a strong work ethic that not everyone has. And when you look at the success behind any business, one of the defining factors will be that of hard work.”

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For Bulletproof, that hard work is leading them into the future with big ambitions. They’ve recently explored film and are diving into the digital space as well (all part of what they call the sensory brand world). Aside from growing their skillsets and expanding geographically, Bulletproof may even work on its own brands sometime soon.

“I always stay on my toes,” Gush added. “I’m always looking for the next opportunity with Bulletproof. And I never settle.”

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