Mark Halonen ’17 Creates Waldo App for Lumber Industry

U.P. logging dates back to 1832. An app brings it into the 21st century.

From mLlive, published: March 11, 2023. Read the original article.

The Upper Peninsula has a logging history dating back almost 200 years. Now, there’s an app for that.

Leo Huhta, 47, grew up in the logging business in the U.P.’s Chassell as he watched his dad’s business start humbly 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.

Running a large household, the Huhtas know a thing or two about logistics.

Whatever downtime Tina had from her career as a full-time nurse was spent connecting dots on who to pay and how much for Huhta Logging services. But payments were slowed by misconnections out in the field.

Huhta describes logging logistics like a riddle. One company would have log trucks but no equipment while another, down the road, would have the equipment to cut timber but no way to haul it.

Michael Anderson, 37, has been trucking loads of timber in the Chassell area for nearly 16 years. His livelihood depends on his contacts. Each day he calls individual loggers to find his next job.

“You’d sit outside the road and make eight to 10 phone calls, calling different loggers to find out if they have a road that is worthy of getting in, if they have wood there, and where they’re located,” he said.

The daily game of “Where’s Waldo?” was a drag for the whole industry. It sparked the idea for an app.

Huhta, who does not describe himself as a tech guy but more of a flip phone guy, partnered with the MTEC SmartZone in Houghton.

There are 20 SmartZones across the state funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation as technology business accelerators. The mission, said David Rowe, CEO of the MTEC SmartZone, is not just creating tech jobs, but careers.

“What we’re seeing in the community now is there’s this ecosystem that has been developing of people that have ideas,” Rowe said.

Related: Space, software innovation along Lake Superior: the U.P. ‘s $105M tech hub

The next step is making a concept, a product. The SmartZone connected Huhta with Mark Halonen, a recent computer science graduate from Michigan Technological University in Houghton.

“I thought I would have to understand code but really, it’s just understanding the problem. There’s people out there that can solve it,” Huhta said.

Together, Huhta and Halonen created the app Waldo – a nod to the man in the striped hat – which allows loggers to post loads for pick up, select a driver and monitor a trucking schedule.

Anderson was an early adopter of the app and found it made his work load more efficient.

“You can go on the app and find a load and you’re off to work that day,” he said. “Used to be where you’d be making a bunch of phone calls trying to find a load, or else you’d be going home for the day.”

The industry adopted the app, developed in 2019, right away. It came as a pleasant surprise to Huhta. He feared introducing new technology to an age-old system would be a hard sell.

“I thought the younger, fourth generation logger would be way more apt to use technology to solve the problem, but it really wasn’t,” he said. “It was the older generations that have had the problem for so long. They just want the problem solved.”

Waldo has already expanded to four other markets – land management, foresters, truckers and mills – to streamline the whole supply chain.

The app also digitized the paperwork. Traditionally, a trucker would fill out a five-sheet carbon copy paper and drop one ticket at the loading site, one at the logging office, one to the land company, one to the mill and one copy to keep.

Now everyone’s paperwork is on one interface.

“You have to provide value to everyone using it,” Huhta said. “You can’t just have one person using the value and many people entering information.”

Midwest 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 ramping up to a $1.2 million investment.

Huhta said his wife is keeping him true to his word. He says he won’t consider selling the tech company until he’s revolutionized the industry.

“I’ve been open with the investors as far as that’s the goal,” he said. “I don’t want to try getting rich on the backs of the industry that I love.”