Arthur Valkieser (Hydraloop) in MT/Sprout: 'I don't see problems as obstacles, but as favours'
Arthur Valkieser, Founder, CEO and CTO of Hydraloop, was featured in MT/Sprout in an interview written by Belinda Fallaux. You can read the original Dutch version of this article on the website of MT/Sprout. What you can read here, is a word-by-word translation of the article. The copyright lies with Belinda Fallaux and MT/Sprout.
He could have been lying by the pool at his second home in France with a good glass of rosé. Instead, Arthur Valkieser (67) works 80 hours a week in a sweat to help fight the global water crisis with his Hydraloop. 'We would sometimes sit in the garage at night having dinner because I wanted to continuously monitor the test results.' Based on an existing idea, entrepreneur Arthur Valkieser developed the Hydraloop, an innovative water recycler with the look of a luxury refrigerator. A product that can save about 45 percent of tap water in homes and buildings. Valkieser brought the first version to market with his partner Sabine Stuiver in 2017, after which Hydraloop gained a foothold across Europe and Africa. Hydraloop awarded at CES The global breakthrough came in 2020, when the startup won four awards at the US tech fair CES, including the 'Best of the Best' award. Today, Hydraloop has a large partner network on all continents and offices in the Netherlands, America, and the Middle East. The innovation is seen as one of the solutions to the global water problem. Over the next few years Hydraloop will be investing in projects and assembly lines on all continents. The Founder In the interview series The Founder, MT/Sprout talks to Dutch entrepreneurs about the ingenuity and perseverance with which they got their company off the ground. What are their thoughts, feelings and actions behind big decisions? They share their uncertainties, mistakes and key lessons. You started a startup at a stage in life when most are thinking about winding down. Did you want to pop one more time? 'No, why would I? When I sold my media production company United Broadcast Facilities twenty years ago, I was looking back on a brilliant career. I built up several companies before I turned fifty and garnered appreciation. I even became Broadcaster of the Year 2001.' 'Then followed a kind of long sabbatical. Not that I sat still; I advised companies, emigrated, got a professional pilot's license and studied philosophy. Starting a new company? That was totally out of the question. I didn't have to prove anything anymore and I didn't need a bigger sailboat. So what was your drive? Simple: I saw a solution to a global problem. As a minority shareholder in a water recycling company, I had been holding several prototypes of a water recycling system for a while. That company shut down.' 'I remember in 2015 looking out over the valley from the terrace of my French home and thinking: why isn't anyone picking up this challenge to use water smarter? And then I thought: maybe I should do it. It felt like an assignment, given the increasing global scarcity of water'. You spent a few years tinkering and testing those prototypes in your garage. How do you look back on that time? 'My ambition was to develop a compact, user-friendly and low-maintenance device with a small footprint. The system had to meet high international quality standards and be affordable. The research process into a new water purification technique was a process of trial and error. Then the water quality wasn't good enough, or something didn't work as I wanted. Sabine and I would sometimes have dinner in the garage next to the test rigs at night because I wanted to follow the test results.' Did you ever lie awake during that time? 'Of course. I had a couple of sleepless nights every week.' What did adversity do to you? It sometimes made me a little depressed. There were times when I thought: I quit. What held you back? "I know myself well by now. I know that when I'm out of it, I shouldn't make big decisions. The best thing to do is just wait. The solution usually presents itself then.' 'If things weren't going well, I went for a walk or slept on it overnight. Often I knew the next day what I could do best.' In that sense, I don't see problems as obstacles, but as favors. Every bump you take brings you step by step closer to your goal. For me, it has become a life skill to allow circumstances to develop favorably. And to learn to trust my own ingenuity and intuition.'
Give an example. 'Some investors with whom we were in talks in the early 2020s withdrew due to corona. Disappointing. But I didn't want to linger in that feeling and made it a new starting point.' 'It was our good fortune that at that time we were not dependent on external money. We financed ourselves. After a few months of patience, machine factory Niverplast and Rabobank came along as investors.' Do you generally take decisions easily? "Yes, doing nothing is always wrong. I would like to add, however, that a sense of certainty can also be a pitfall. After all, who is to say that something is really the way you think? Doubt ensures that you are constantly testing whether you are on the right track and therefore always thinking whether there is not a better solution. And then you have to be flexible enough to take that other route.'
Have you ever made a really bad choice? Particularly during the development phase of Hydraloop, I often had a technical idea that didn't work after all. But what is wrong? Every setback is a trigger for improvement. In the end, all the choices I made for Hydraloop worked out well.' But what if the whole idea had flopped? 'I could have resigned myself to failure if I knew I had done everything possible. I would have gone back to sailing my sailboat. I would have felt bad, though, if I hadn't responded to that calling I felt.' What decision was crucial to the current success? "The decision to start producing and to go to market, because just having a working technology doesn't get you there. You also have to create demand.' 'Sabine and I visited 27 trade shows worldwide in two years. Just the two of us, we didn't have a support team at the time. There we were, with a stand, two Hydraloop units and an important story. Almost like two missionaries. 'The big turnaround came in January 2020, when we won four awards at the CES tech fair in Las Vegas, including Best of The Best.'
How important is timing to Hydraloop's success? 'More and more parties are seeing the need for water recycling. A while back we got a call from the Australian water company Sydney Water: they were interested in our products. Only: their standard was unsuitable for Hydraloop. Within three months they published a new standard that was a match. The world turned upside down. In fact, it's now the case that in New South Wales you can't get planning permission if you don't install water-saving measures in your home.' As an entrepreneur, what is your dot on the horizon? "It's a real necessity to be smarter about water. It is our vision that in 10, 20 years a water recycling system in homes and businesses will be as common as a washing machine or solar panels. Hydraloop will then be one of the market leaders. We will be producing many hundreds of thousands of systems worldwide and working with many companies that use our patented technology.' I said to Sabine, "If this succeeds, we won't be sitting by the pool with that glass of rosé." Will you still be at the helm? "For the next few years I will continue to lead. I am young at heart and bursting with energy. But let's be realistic: in 30 years I won't be working there anymore. 'That's not a bad thing. If you do your job well as ceo, a company becomes completely autonomous. An independently operating unit that becomes separate from the person who started it. That's going to happen with Hydraloop, too.' We now have a team of 35 people and experienced managers who have won their spurs. I'll be able to let go of my baby soon.' What makes a ceo a good leader? 'Honestly? I don't know exactly. Of course you want people to share your mission and vision. You want it to be something collective and you want to inspire everyone to contribute to it. That is a core condition, yes.' Imagine if you had known in 2015, wrenching in your garage, that you would now have an 80-hour work week. 'You don't choose those 80 hours, it's an inextricable consequence of an ambition and pursuit of perfection. At the time I said to Sabine: if this succeeds, realize that it will have an enormous impact on our lives. Then we won't be sitting by the pool with that glass of rosé.' 'And yet I think it's brilliant to have started a startup at my age and to be putting my knowledge and experience to use. One of my heroes is the philosopher Spinoza. In his view, we are all part of a greater whole and life is a tremendous gift. That makes every human being indebted; we have to give something back. It is that thought that motivates me.'