Perhaps Mate Rimac is just another geek who started world success out of his parents’ garage. But for Croatia he is more than that, he is the country’s first entrepreneur in the automotive industry. The creator of a record-breaking sports vehicle is just at the beginning of the racetrack, where the final goal is to make the best car in the world – for now.
Mate Rimac has a tight schedule these days. Actually he hasn’t come to rest in the last one and a half years. “Yesterday we were in Barcelona, tomorrow we are heading to Rome and Geneva, and after that to Abu Dhabi“. But, as we speak, Rimac doesn’t sound exhausted at all. It seems like the big race has only just started for him.
The 25-year-old founder of Rimac Automobili invented an electric sports car and he is the only person in Croatia who has ever produced a car in this country. The “Rimac Concept_One” is a dashing vehicle that suggests speed, innovation and on top of it all, also looks cool. It can speed up to 300 kilometres per hour.
“The idea is just two percent of the work.”
Rimac smirks. “Everybody is asking how I got the idea. And I say: It’s easy to imagine the fastest electric car in the world, but you have to do it. The idea is just two percent of the work.”
“After every race I tuned the car a bit more and after some time, I started winning with the electric motor,” Rimac said. Photo: Rimac Automobili“I had two passions. One was technology and the other was cars”, Rimac says. “I started to work on my ideas very early on and as soon as I turned 18 and had my drivers licence, I bought an old BMW and participated in racing competitions. At one moment I decided to connect the two things, my tachometer with my electronics. After every race I tuned the car a bit more and after some time, I started winning with the electric motor. This is how I created an electric racing car. The pollution, I didn’t have in mind. I just thought that an electric motor was more powerful in a racing car than a conventional motor. Besides, I wanted to show that electric cars don’t need to be boring but can look good, too”, Mate explains.
Rimac’s first invention was a glove that works as a computer mouse which he developed in school. His professor was impressed and so he sent his student to various competitions, first in Croatia, then around the world. Mate Rimac seems to be is in line with other successful entrepreneurs who fulfil the myth of the geek, who fiddled about problems and solutions in his parents’ garage.
Finding financing in Croatia
Now, after nearly four years out of the garage (the company was founded in 2009) and with a rented office space near the Croatian capital of Zagreb, Rimac Automobili has a positive balance. “Still, the biggest problem is how to finance the production”, Mate says. For the prototype, which was presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2011 and kicked off the international success of the then 23-year-old, Rimac’s parents helped out with a loan. Since then, one car has been produced for a Spanish costumer. Orders also came in from the Abu Dhabi royal family. “Five times I was about to close the company. But something would always turn up in the last moment to save it.”
“It is impossible to find financing in Croatia. I was lucky that my parents provided me some seed money.” Only the Croatian development bank HBOR recently offered to help, the entrepreneur says.
“That is the biggest stress, which results in me having less time for development,” Rimac says with regret in his voice. Circumstances in Croatia, which is about to enter the EU in July, are difficult, especially for entrepreneurs. In general, businesses, especially startups, face problems when trying to get loans. As a result of the massive decline in growth after the global economic crisis, banks are holding back money because big investments are missing in Croatia and without them the economy cannot recover over the next three years.
Rimac, born in Zagreb, had some good offers from investors too when he just started developing his car and stories about his winning BMW swirled through the media. “But the investment would have been under the condition that we moved abroad. I rejected it.” The Concept_One is worth 750.000 Euros, but the company also works for other firms and develops components for ships or solar panels.
Not the ecology and reducing pollution but technology is the aim of the company’s development. “We don’t just want to make electric cars. We don’t want to compete with another hundred companies who produce them, but with Bugatti, Pagani, Königsegg… producers of high-performing, expensive and exclusive cars.” Although he focuses on developing electric cars, Rimac is very sceptical about alternatives on the market. “It is like a balloon, where countries, obviously not Croatia, but the USA or China, are spending billions. There is an over-supply of electric cars on the market but the costumers have not accepted it, yet. They aren’t ready for it yet, nor is the technology. That is why we chose the niche of electric sports cars”, he explains.
Success at a price
“My family and my employees were and are my biggest supporters.” Photo: Rimac Automobili“Am I successful? I couldn’t tell because when we reach one goal, there is always something that comes next. The first one was to present the car in Frankfurt of which many people said that we would never make it. The next thing then was to break five world records, and so on. I have many more goals to achieve.” The success came with a price that Mate Rimac seems more than willing to pay at the moment, as he explains: “I let go of everything, first of all, my private life. I have sold everything I have and invested it in the firm. My family and my employees were and are my biggest supporters.” Probably that is the reason why Rimac never refers to himself when speaking about the company, but to “them” – “a family of enthusiasts, engineers and designers“ as he puts it on the company’s website.
Mate Rimac is proud that nearly everything in his car was made locally. “If my employees didn’t start working for me they could have worked for any other company in Canada or Germany.” Just recently Rimac hired four new tech-aficionados directly from university. “We offer young people a good working environment where they can improve and good pay. No one has left us so far,” Rimac says, satisfied.
“Maybe it would be a success to have more than 100 employees and have produced 100 cars. I cannot tell”. At least, the racing enthusiast has a modest goal: “To make the best car in the world”.