StartLife has a large network of startups. All of these startups have powerful, inspiring founders who are willing to share their tips & tricks with other entrepreneurs. In order to give these founders a platform, we started the StartLife Founder Stories. In this first story, an interview with Paul van Ham, founder of Multi Tool Trac. This startup developed the first electric tractor. A development that will have a major impact on the current farming techniques.
Paul sees the foundation of Multi Tool Trac as a special story. ‘I graduated in Wageningen as an agricultural engineer. My major was about tillage combined with organic farming. Organic farming was so different from the conventional agriculture that I learned about at that time, which really fascinated me.’ Despite the great interest in organic farming, Paul did not immediately get to work on this by himself. ‘It wasn’t until 2009, when I was at work at a farm in Noordoostpolder, when I saw a real solution to soil compaction in practice. At that farm, they were driving around with tractors and machines across the same path with the wheels, very consistently. Truly a difference of day and night. At the spots where a machine never goes, all kinds of things come to life. Plant roots, fungi, earthworms: it’s alive! The farmers were obviously proud of their working method. But what they were less satisfied about was the machine that they used for their controlled traffic farming. They built it themselves and it was completely worn out because simply nothing else was available. When I was talking with the farmers, it was clear that they were frustrated about this, and I thought: this is my old major. I need to work with this!’
Dabbling in the mud
‘The first year, after I decided to help the farmers, we were truly fuelled by enthusiasm. At a certain moment, something else was added. It became a project and it had to be finished. Then it starts to become harder. Subjects and prototypes need to be created, which brings about the discussions. With two great partners, Eelco Osse and Henk Wissels, we eventually started building. We agreed that the farmers, who were going to buy the two machines, were to have the final say. So it would become their machine. Next, we were running out of both time and money and we simply had to dabble around in the mud. But then you enter into conversation again with your customers; this helps me realize what we’re doing it for. It keeps us going.’ In the same way, Paul got into conversation with Frans Kampers of StartLife. ‘I think he liked the project. And then things start to work out!’ StartLife visited the Multi Tool trac factory, tasted the enthusiasm and decided that it was time to help Multi Tool Trac on its way. ‘Initially I thought it was only about borrowing money so that we could start building our two prototypes. However, I soon found out that StartLife has so much more to offer. A workshop Marketing & Communication. A talk with investors. This really helps you in your way!’
‘All obstacles on the road? Yes, it’s true!’
After six years, Multi Tool Trac is now ready to finalize the building of the prototypes and at the same time, steps can be taken to start building the factory. Despite this being something completely different, Paul indicates that this is really something they have to do themselves. ‘It’s really our thing. You don’t put your child on the street when he’s only four or five years old.’ A development, which helps Multi Tool Trac, transform into a scale-up. When asked whether he has any tips for budding entrepreneurs, Paul does not hesitate for a second: ‘Start as early as possible! Don’t hesitate and realize that you would otherwise have to look at this twenty years down the road and explain to yourself why you didn’t do it.’