High risk leads to high rewards – start-up success
Former agricultural financier Alf Salter saw an opportunity when CSIRO forestry scientist Nick Malajczuk started talking to him about truffles in the late 1990s.
Malajczuk was certain that the Manjimup area could grow the prized fungi to world-class quality and quantity.
“I knew nothing about truffles, but we did a lot of planning, I produced a budget and found out what I could,” Salter says.
“I wrote a prospectus and we raised capital among a group of 20 investors. It was done on the basis that everybody knew it was a high-risk proposition.”
It was also a long-term proposition. The pair planted the first of their 13,000 truffle-friendly trees in 1997 and harvested the first truffle seven years later.
The next year they harvested four kilograms; the following year it was seven. In 2016 it was four tonnes of saleable truffles.
“We were looking at exports right from day one,” Salter says. “The Australian restaurant market had very little knowledge of truffles. We had to appoint a competent marketer and we spent $300,000 to $400,000 a year to support the marketing.
“What we got was access to a whole lot more markets. The world’s a big place and we’re delivering to more than 20 countries including France and Germany.”
“The company has diversified to include an on-site restaurant and winery, encouraging more people to develop a passion for truffles, as well as a research and development arm.
Salter’s advice: plan, do your due diligence, work on facts not emotion and talk to people who don’t have a vested interest.
“About 15 years ago a lot of people put in olive trees,” he says. “The only ones who made money were the people who sold them the trees.”