WEST FARGO, N.D. - Meet Matt Faul and his identical twin brother, Jesse.
The red-haired pair owns Red E LLC (also known as "Red Engineering) of West Fargo, N D., an engineering services and manufacturing support company - the success of which signifies that the region's storied agricultural equipment heritage will continue.
Red E is based in a rented building north of the Red River Valley fairgrounds. The company will take on any level of problem, from a concept design to converting a customer's napkin sketch into a three-dimensional geometric design. Typically they'll convert an idea into a 3-D computer-assisted design, and then into a plastic prototype that they take to a supplier or investor.
"A big difference of Red E is that we not only engineer components but we can be part of the whole process - manufacturing or sourcing the components," says Matt, the founder and company president. They have relationships with vendors in the area for prototyping, pilot-builds and full production, and they can source parts worldwide.
The Faul twins are a story in themselves.
At age 34 today, they were born in Fargo, N.D., on May 12, 1983. Jesse was born 9 minutes before Matt.
They grew up on a hobby farm near Horace, N.D., where they boarded horses and made hay.
Their mother, Kimberly Gunderson, was a red-headed single. She married Marvin Faul, whom she met at church. Together they raised five sons, including the twins.
Marvin grew up on a farm near Hurdsfield, N.D., where relatives still farm. He'd earned an agricultural engineering degree at North Dakota State University and went on to work 41 years at Mac's Hardware as corporate general manager.
Kimberly's father, Orville "O.C." Gunderson of Hendrum, Minn., custom-harvested and farmed near Hillsboro, N.D.
O.C. used older New Holland combines and bought old machines for spare parts. He paid the boys "a penny-a-bolt" to take the machines apart for salvage.
"He'd say, 'You see that part? It's $400 or $500 at the dealership,'" Jesse says. "He always reminded us why we were doing what we were doing, because it had value."
As high schoolers, the duo wanted money to buy used snowmobiles, motorcycles or trucks to fix up and sell.
They did grounds maintenance and inventory work at Mac's. They worked customer service at Mills Fleet Farm. Later in high school summers, they drove heavy equipment for Excavation, Inc and then Master Construction.
A high school career counselor set up a career day job shadow with engineers at Polaris Industries in Roseau, Minn. When they graduated from West Fargo High School in 2002, they knew they'd go for mechanical engineering at NDSU. Together.
They became members and officers in the collegiate chapter of SAE International. The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) group built mini race cars - manufacturing the parts from scratch - and competing in national and international contests.
As an NDSU junior, Matt worked at Loegering Manufacturing Inc., (later purchased by ASV LLC, a joint venture between Manitex International and Terex Corp.), then located in Casselton, N.D., famous for making over-the-tire steel and rubber tracks for skid-steer loaders. Jesse got a design engineering junior internship with Applied Engineering Inc. of Fargo.
While NDSU seniors, both interned at Amity Technology of Fargo, where they were among four interns on a team designing and building a "tracked, multi-terrain loader," an experimental skid-steer loader. They half-joked about going into business together.
The Fauls graduated from NDSU in December 2006.
After college, they initially lived together in Fargo. Matt continued full time at Amity on the skid-steer project. He soon was transferred to their ag product lines, where he traveled to Russia and Ukraine for work assignments.
Jesse went back to Applied Engineering, where he completed dozens of customer projects - working sometimes a month to years at a time for particular customers. Some of those included stints at the Case New Holland tractor factory in Fargo and the John Deere seeding and tillage factory in Valley City, N.D.
In 2011, Jesse was hired on with John Deere and married Hope Bulow originally from Williams, Minn., who had moved to Valley City. The two were married May 21, 2011.
Initially, Matt felt like he was losing his soul mate and potential business partner.
"I didn't handle it that well," Matt admits. "Thankfully, my sister-in-law was very forgiving."
He resigned his Amity job in June 2012 and went on a three-week church mission trip to Africa. Later, he went on a month-long motorcycle trip across the Southern Plains and Pacific Northwest, where he helped a friend harvest potatoes. As he turned for home, he was determined to launch his own business. Alone.
Matt incorporated Red E in December 2012. Initially he took on agricultural projects - an implement pin-puller and a disk leveler for a hoe drill air seeder - to start.
In 2013, friends at Bethel Evangelical Free church introduced Matt to Madeline Haas, an NDSU plant science student from north of Minneapolis. The two were married in October 2014.
Meanwhile he needed a partner he could trust.
Red E was growing fast. Matt sent Jesse a formal, business deal proposal on company letterhead. Jesse took it seriously. Conflicted over giving up a good job with Deere, Jesse asked his wife - several times - what she'd think if he joined Matt's fledgling company.
"I told her, 'We may fail. We're going to take a big cut in salary. We're going to have to invest in the company. We may lose everything,'" Jesse says. "We stepped out in faith and trusted the Lord that he's going to provide and he always has."
Red E - go!
The brothers became partners in October 2015. Red E always had an informal panel of farmer advisers.
"Farmers can appreciate the ups or downs of business," Matt says.
But Matt enrolled in an Emerging Leader class put on by the Small Business Administration. The program urged a more formal business "board of advisers." They assembled their father, Marvin, (now 69); Jim Ramstad, retired from Eide Bailly LLP; Dave Giles, who started out in grain marketing and went into communications with InvisiMax Inc.; Chuck Crary, former owner of Crary Industries; Howard Dahl, president and CEO, Amity Technology; and Duane Fast, vice president of Tri W-G Inc., Valley City.
The group was especially helpful in the farm economy downturn. The company's biggest account - an ag-related firm accounting for 75 percent of their business - started getting behind on payments.
The group supported their decision to cut staff and diversify to avoid insolvency. Today, they have five full-time project engineers and two part-timers. The group works on a half dozen projects at any given time, in varying waiting stages and with varying levels of time sensitivity and staffing.
"We diversified so no client accounted for more than 25 percent of our business," Jesse says, with confidence. "We've been really fortunate and blessed to have gained some very good customers," Matt says.
Of course they're always looking for more.