Innovation. Communication. Focus. Three words that mean so much to FourKites and its founder and CEO Matt Elenjickal.
“The growth happened pretty fast, not just in North America, but in Latin America and other countries,” Elenjickal told FreightWaves as the company passes its five-year milestone. “It’s been a fascinating journey, and we are learning new things every day.”
Founded in August/September 2014, FourKites has grown into a technology power in the freight world, with nearly 500 employees and claiming more than 260 of the world’s top shippers as customers, including AB InBev, Conagra Brands, Kraft Heinz, Land O’Lakes, Nestlé, Perdue Foods, Smithfield Foods, Unilever and Walmart Canada. Its customer base includes 18 of the top 20 food and beverage companies and nine of the top 10 CPG companies. FourKites now tracks more than 600,000 shipments every day.
“If you asked me, did we exceed or meet [expectations]. I’d say I’d have never thought we would be growing this fast,” Elenjickal said, reflecting on the past five years. The CEO noted that the company and its solution, first offered to shippers in the trucking industry, was “in the right place at the right time” as market pressures, the exploding e-commerce segment and increased pressure on truckers from shippers such as Walmart drove the need for a solution.
“They all had the same issue. They had no idea what was happening,” Elenjickal said, pointing to old-fashioned and inefficient communication methods as contributing to a lack of visibility within the supply chain.
Focus on core tasks
FourKites was born with the idea of developing a cloud-based SaaS platform that allows for seamless communication and real-time collaboration in the supply chain. As to the company’s key to growth, Elenjickal said it was due to the early goals that were set: “Focus on one thing and know who you are going after.”
“When startups have early success, they tend to get stretched in [a lot of directions],” Elenjickal said. “One customer can ask them to do a lot of things, and before you know it, you are solving 10 different pain points. We were very good early on at saying no.”
FourKites focused on creating what it considered the best solution in the visibility space, and “we stuck with that for the first three years of the company and didn’t do anything different. And that is very difficult for startups,” he added.
The growth, though, has been driven by innovation.
“At some point, you are going to capture the market, so where is the growth going to come from? You have to keep [investing] in new products,” Elenjickal said, noting that early products focused on solving the pain points for full truckload shipments, but as the customer base and the company grew, new opportunities eventually presented themselves. FourKites now offers visibility solutions for less-than-truckload, rail and intermodal operations.
The key has been ensuring the tracking solution provides end-to-end visibility. “When a company is looking for someone to track [freight], it makes sense for them to go to a provider that is already tracking part of that [shipment] for the entire tracking solution rather than going to another provider,” Elenjickal said.
The initial product underwent some changes as new datasets emerged, and FourKites’ 65-person product team and 200-person engineering team were tasked with interpreting that new data.
“When people think of visibility, it’s data on a map, but that is not going to tell you anything. What are you going to do with that data [to add context]?,” Elenjickal asked. “Clearly there is a lot of horsepower behind the scenes to make the product work.”
As far as FourKites has gone in five short years, Elenjickal believes there are more great things to come.
“If you look at the foundation, the platform we built, we are aggregating external data for any organization. Where we are taking the company is [whether] we can organize that external data,” he said, “…to build add-on modules to make [supply chain operations better].”
Elenjickal noted that it is relatively easy to track items from Point A to Point B, but “there are things that happen before Point A and things that happen after Point B for that product.”
Companies use different systems, “but we are the connective tissue, if you will. We are sitting on top of all these platforms,” he added. “We are building a network of shippers and carriers that allows us to build a better level of collaboration between companies.”
That collaboration has allowed customers like Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated to get a better handle on its inventory because of the real-time visibility FourKites’ platform offers.
“The ability to track SKU-level details across both managed and unmanaged freight with FourKites’ Network Visibility has enhanced our warehouse and labor productivity significantly,” said Brett Frankenberg, vice president of supply chain planning and inventory management of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated. “In addition, it has helped us improve our in-stock position and has also provided supply planners a self-service approach to find their loads.”
In keeping with its innovative background, FourKites recently launched Lane Connect, a “planning application” that is part of its Predictive Capacity Management (PCM) suite first announced last year. Lane Connect allows shippers to run an analysis on their own networks to identify wasted trailer space. With this information in hand, the shipper can then work with other organizations that may have freight running the same lanes and face a similar underutilized capacity situation.
“I don’t think companies are realizing how hard it is to build that shipping ecosystem, that network,” Elenjickal said. “What we have is something really unique, primarily because of the shipper network, and that is something nobody can claim. It’s one thing to say I have a dozen carriers in my network, but not everybody can say they have nine of the top 10 [shippers].”
And it is that depth of customer base that Elenjickal hopes will keep the FourKites story moving forward.