UP logging goes back to 1832. An app brings you into the 21st century.
The logging history of the Upper Peninsula goes back nearly 200 years. Now there’s an app for that.
Leo Huhta, 47, grew up logging in UP Chassell, watching his father’s business humbly start with a single chainsaw. For the past 15 years, Huhta has been running his own business, Huhta Logging, with the help of his wife, Tina, and their 11 children.
Huhs running large households know a thing or two about logistics.
Whatever downtime Tina had in her career as a full-time nurse, connecting the dots was who and how much to pay for Huhta Logging services. However, payments were slowed down by field connection errors.
Huhta describes logging logistics as a puzzle. One company would have log trucks but no equipment, while another company down the road would have the equipment to cut the wood but no way to transport it.
Michael Anderson (37) has been delivering wood in the Chassell area for nearly 16 years. Your livelihood depends on your connections. Every day he calls individual lumberjacks to find his next job.
“He sits outside by the road and makes eight or 10 phone calls, calling different loggers to see if they have a road worth going in, if they have any trees and where they are,” he said. .
The game of the day is “Where’s Waldo?” it was a drag on the entire industry. This sparked the idea for an app.
Huhta, who doesn’t describe himself as a tech guy but more of a phone guy, partnered with MTEC SmartZone in Houghton.
There are 20 SmartZones statewide, funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation as technology business accelerators. According to David Rowe, CEO of MTEC SmartZone, the mission is not just to create technology jobs, but also careers.
“What we’re seeing in the community now is an ecosystem that’s growing from people who have ideas,” Rowe said.
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The next step is to create a concept, a product. SmartZone connected Huhta with Mark Halonen, a recent computer science graduate from Michigan Technological University in Houghton.
“I thought I had to understand the code, but really it’s just understanding the problem. There are people who can solve it,” Huhta said.
Together, Huhta and Halonen created the Waldo app — a nod to the man in the striped hat — that allows loggers to drop off loads, select a driver and monitor truck schedules.
Anderson was an early adopter of the app and found it made his work more efficient.
“You hit the app, find a load, and you’re off to work that day,” he said. “It used to be where you’d make a lot of phone calls to find a load or you’d go home for the day.”
The app, developed in 2019, was immediately adopted by the industry. It was a pleasant surprise for Huhta. He feared that introducing new technology into an age-old system would be a hard sell.
“I thought the younger, fourth-generation data collector would be much better equipped to use the technology to solve the problem, but it really wasn’t,” he said. “There has been a problem with the older generations for so long. They just want the problem solved.”
Waldo has already expanded into four other markets—farming, forestry, trucking and mills—to streamline the entire supply chain.
The application also digitized the paperwork. Traditionally, a trucker filled out a five-sheet copy of paper and submitted one ticket at the loading dock, one at the logging office, one at the landowner, one at the mill, and kept one copy.
Now everyone’s paperwork is on one interface.
“It has to provide value to everyone who uses it,” Huhta said. “You can’t have just one person using the value and many people providing the information.”
Midwestern investors are taking note. The app officially launched in 2022 and raised $300,000 in its first round of funding. Waldo is going through a second round of funding, reaching a $1.2 million investment.
Huhta said his wife is true to her word. He says he won’t consider selling the tech company until it revolutionizes the industry.
“I’ve been open with investors as far as that’s the goal,” he said. “I don’t want to get rich in the industry I love.”
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