With a wealth of experience, a dose of perseverance and a great passion for entrepreneurship, Gertjan Hoffer goes off the beaten path to realize his dream. Gertjan, director at EcoCabins, is this week's 'Master to Watch' and talks about his special journey through time and how he started his company. Text: Inge Dal
Image: EcoCabins

Sobriety, common sense and discipline

Hard work was taught to him by his father, who, like himself, comes from a large family. “My father comes from Blokker, a village in North Holland. He grew up in a large family. All down-to-earth, hard-working people. I also come from a large family with five siblings and am the eldest. My brother and my sister's ex have now also started working at EcoCabins, because they think it is such a great concept. It's nice to have people around me who I know what they can do," he says. When I ask what he learned from home, he doesn't have to think about it for long: “Sobriety, common sense and discipline.”

Mail deliverer to events

“I've had a lot of part-time jobs in the past. When I was 10 years old I went to work in my grandfather and grandmother's garden. Then a gardener, newspaper jobs, at recreational parks in the entertainment team, in the supermarket, and in the catering industry. I have even been a postal worker, a telemarketer and a football coach in America for six months,” he lists in succession. “During my student years I always worked and took many courses and training,” he says. “I first attended the sports academy (ALO) in Groningen and in my final year I already had my own event organization company, from partner events and team building activities to large events for 500 to 1.000 people. I then went on to study business administration at Nyenrode. I was then able to work at large companies such as Unilever, Shell, Akzo, Campina, etc., but I still couldn't settle in. After living in Buenos Aires for a year and a half and working for six years at an asset manager in Amsterdam, I had no choice but to start doing business again.”

Passion for entrepreneurship

“I am happy that I have had many jobs where I have learned and seen all kinds of things, but ultimately entrepreneurship is where my heart lies. I didn't expect to end up in residential construction, but I still find it a challenge every day," says Gertjan. “After selling my previous company (MKB Fonds, an investment company in Dutch SME companies) to my partner, I finally had time for my family with three young girls. But within a year I met Jeroen Metselaar, my current business partner, who was involved in the development of holiday homes. I saw potential and together we shifted the focus towards 'sustainable and affordable tiny houses' for permanent residence, which are equipped with every luxury. We have now participated in our own production location in Latvia, so that we can continue to grow to 500 sustainable (tiny) homes per year in the coming years.”

Mission: 100% electric

“No, we are not there yet, and there are still so many improvements to be made in the field of sustainability, from local energy storage and material use to transport and installation of a home... one wish is to no longer need a 60-ton crane for the placement of a home. It can also be done in a different way and 100% electrically, but that has to be developed. We are also working on that. There is still plenty of work to be done in the coming years to make the construction of small homes more sustainable in all areas.”

Best challenge

“The best challenge there is. Constantly busy with planning, your antennae are working overtime and you are always looking for the buttons you need to turn to make progress. Everything you do or don't do has an impact on the future. Fortunately, you start to recognize problems faster and faster, and you prevent the same problem from happening next time, but you still have new problems. Every day again. Or there is nothing else to do but stay on top of things, persevere, keep focus and work day and night. seven days a week,” he says. “So you really have to enjoy building something. Or to make an impact. I don't easily suffer from stress, because I'm too down-to-earth for that, but sometimes I think 'what are you getting into'.”

Future ambitions

“Our homes are already green, but our ultimate goal is to develop self-sufficient green neighborhoods and eco-resorts. We want to show that this is possible in an affordable manner and to come up with solutions to allow the homes to function independently based on locally 'captured' wind and solar energy,” he continues. “We now also run a resort of small houses in IJmuiden, BaseCamp IJmuiden. It is truly a passion of mine and my team to develop that further. Green neighborhoods, green resorts with beautiful, sustainable but also somewhat luxurious homes, where you can live yourself in five years if necessary or manage them in unique locations in Europe, that is our ambition. There is a good chance that these green neighborhoods and eco-resorts can actually be realized. The technology is already there. That makes me enthusiastic.”

family time

“I am quite enthusiastic about business, so to speak, and I therefore sometimes find it difficult to find a balance between business and private life,” he says. “That is why in recent years I have deliberately gone on holiday with the family for four weeks in the summer. Although I spend part of the time on the phone or behind the laptop, I am still together 24 hours a day.”

Bucket list: eco-resorts

“Self-sufficient green residential areas and eco-resorts with our sustainable tiny houses, everywhere in Europe. Starting in Croatia, for example. What a great country,” says Gertjan.