Together with his business partner, Arjan Huiting founded Hulotech in mid-2014. They have since become market leaders in additive manufacturing for the orthopedic world, a new way of 3D printing. How? By daring to take risks and make mistakes.
The challenge was no longer there. And if you then have to sit out years until retirement, you'd better come up with something else. "We were working at a production company, but we felt our ideas were being held back. And because my business partner Richt Loorbach and I had such a good click, we decided to start a company together."
An unexplored area
One with a background in mechanical engineering, the other in electronics. With that combination of knowledge and experience, they saw plenty of opportunities. "Richt has a lot of experience with 3D modeling. From there it was a logical step to 3D printing. A difficult market, because it was a completely new technology. But that also gave us the opportunity to be the first."
Quite a risk, to enter a market that hardly exists. Arjan himself admits this frankly. But if you don't dare to take a risk as an entrepreneur, you won't get anywhere: "The risk wasn't too bad in that respect, because we started setting up our business in the evenings and on weekends. So we did take a risk, but it wasn't totally irresponsible. But you do put every euro that comes in into your assets, when that business hasn't yet proven itself. So that you sleep a little worse from time to time is part of it. It helped me to ask myself what is the worst thing that could happen if things went wrong. Then you come to the conclusion that it's not all that bad."
Forget the long term
Not that it has never gone wrong. "If someone promises you something that seems too good to be true, it often is," Arjan says. "The first year we started working with Hulotech, we got 90% of our revenue from 1 customer. You know that's a risk, but we were enthusiastic and a tad inexperienced. We put maximum effort into the long-term relationship with this customer, which in retrospect was not smart. Long story short: the customer had payment problems and we could whistle for our money."
What did they learn from this mistake? That in the beginning you should not be concerned with the long term.
According to Arjan, especially when starting your business, you should only focus on sales. Those long-term relationships are nice, but left or right you still have to be able to pay the mortgage. "We were fortunately able to absorb that with our salary from employment. If you don't have that luxury, always make sure you have another financial cushion."
Don't forget to take off your blinders
The guys at Hulotech come from the manufacturing industry. So it was very logical for them to focus on that industry first. A clear focus helps in picking up or abandoning assignments. But not at any cost, because it is precisely with an open attitude that you come across the best things. Arjan: "The largest orthopedics institution knocked on our door at one point. Whether we could do something with an issue they had. It was about producing all kinds of medical devices in orthopedics, including prostheses."
It didn't fit in with their idea to serve only the industry, but that didn't stop Arjan and Richt from having a good time. After all, Hulotech was founded because the gentlemen wanted more of a challenge, so they didn't shy away from it. As an entrepreneur you should always be open to new opportunities, Arjan believes: "We never had the intention of entering the medical market. But if such an opportunity comes along, you have to dare to jump in. Blinkers are good for focusing, but don't hold on to them too stubbornly."
The biggest risk (so far)
After an investigation, Arjan and Richt knew what they had to do. To help the orthopedic institution, they had to take another risk. A big risk, even. After all, they needed a new type of 3D printer. One that has only been on the market for a very short time, so it could still suffer from teething problems. And it was by no means a small investment. Arjan: "There is a large gray area between 3D printing and injection molding. In that gray area, called additive manufacturing, we have now secured a unique place with the purchase of the HP MJF 3D printer. We can now cost-effectively produce up to 5,000 pieces, where with "regular" 3D printing you produce up to a maximum of 10 pieces. And now we are the global leader in this field!"
But that did not happen without a hitch. The new printer had some teething problems. Arjan and Richt did take this into account, so they made good arrangements with the manufacturer. Arjan: "Precisely because it is such an innovative way of producing, you have to take problems into account. Fortunately, we are technicians by birth, so we can take these kinds of risks a little easier."
"That's something I do want to impress on other entrepreneurs: taking risks is necessary, but always know what you're doing. And at the same time, the right attitude is perhaps even more important. Think in possibilities, know that you will make mistakes from which you can learn, and realize that problems are there to be solved."