By Thomas Whaley, President, Level One Technologies, Inc
Developing a strategy to overcome the uncertainties in today’s economy, should be a key component of any company’s business plan, if they wish to remain in business.
This is an important point to consider, because according to Bloomberg News, 8 out of 10 new businesses fail within 18 months of being created. And there are other reports, that show 96% of all new businesses fail within 10 years of their formation.
Based on these statistics, the survival rate of opening a new business today, is the equivalent of being the only survivor, in the annual “fight to the death” ritual, depicted in the movie titled the “Hunger Games.”
But unlike the movie, where the contestant’s chances were dependent on their size, strength and speed, many new businesses fail, because their owners lack the education and experience necessary, to conduct the market research and product testing required, to validate the need for their new product or service.
Given the fact that not every entrepreneur possesses the analytical skills required to perform these tasks, it’s easy to understand why less experienced individuals fail, when they must compete against companies, who were created by more talented individuals.
Another contributing factor is that markets evolve, which makes it difficult for businesses to sustain their initial success over longer periods of time. This is especially true, for companies that fail to conduct on-going market research, to determine whether they need to modify their products or services.
I’ve introduced these business realities, because I want you to understand the evolutionary process that Level One Technologies adopted in 1999, when it was formed to develop software for the transportation industry.
That process included making a commitment, to build all of its applications on flexible platforms, so that new functionality could be added to them, whenever it was found to be lacking.
For the first ten years of its existence, Level One’s development team worked on a number of applications, until a decision was made to focus on developing electronic payment software for the transportation industry.
That decision culminated with the release of Epay Manager in 2009, when the development team was satisfied that Epay had the functionality required, to market the system as the transportation industry’s most complete web-based, invoice presentment and payment system.
Following Epay’s launch, Level One has added many new functional features and integrations to supplement Epay’s core technology. Many of them have become permanent additions to the application. Others, that are considered optional, are stored in a library of custom code, and are available to every broker who uses the system, free of charge.
One broker who took advantage of this “sharing” policy, after deciding to join Epay in 2016, is Live Logistics. Since becoming an Epay broker, our staff has worked closely with Adam Wakefield, one of Live’s owners, to make certain the system is properly configured to meet his company’s needs.
I’m pleased to report that after joining Epay, Live has grown every year; and in doing so, the company has earned the reputation of being one of Epay’s fastest growing and most successful brokers.
To highlight these achievements, we recently asked Adam to join Jason Kirkpatrick, Level One’s Director of Operations, to participate in a Freightwaves’ webinar, and discuss the steps he’s taken, to increase Live’s efficiency and control its costs.
When the webinar began, Jason introduced Adam, by saying he founded Live Logistics with his brother Chad in 2016, after they each spent 14 years working for other freight brokers and learning the business from them.
When they decided it was time to open their own company, Adam said, “they took a cautious approach, by deciding it was too risky to hire a staff, until the company was more established and had a solid base of income.”
That meant the two of them needed to perform all essential activities, which they divided by assigning all operational activities to Chad, and by assigning all accounting and marketing duties to Adam, which he accepted, even though he knew that traveling to meet new customers, would make it difficult for him to perform his back-office duties.
To make certain that Live never paid a carrier after an invoice was due, Adam began searching for software that would allow him to travel and perform his accounting duties remotely.
That search led him to discover Epay Manager, which he quickly identified as an application that had two immediate advantages. The first was the fact that Epay was “web-based,” which he knew would allow him to work remotely. The second was the fact that Epay “was fully integrated with Aljex,” which at that time was Live’s TMS. To Adam, this integration was a major advantage, because it meant if he selected Epay, he could begin using it without delay.
Looking back on their selection process, Adam said, “We were looking for something that would allow us to scale, because our vision was not to be two guys sitting in an office. Instead, we wanted to build a team to support operations. But to do that, we needed to find software that could vertically integrate with all of our systems.” However, “That was difficult to find in 2016, because many of the options we were considering, were either unproven or were not integrated with Aljex.”
He also said, “Their decision to use Epay was favorably influenced, by Epay’s reputation for being scalable,” which according to Adam, meant that when their company grew, they would need to hire fewer people.
But in addition to reducing staff he said, “They were impressed by Epay’s reputation for providing a high level of customer service;” and they liked the fact that “Epay was designed to manage both accounts payable and accounts receivable.”
From his perspective, “Performing both tasks were key features of the system.” He said, “A lot of people still use their TMS to invoice their customers; but with Epay, we were able to do everything in one system.” He then added, “I didn’t go to school for accounting, so I needed a system that would allow me to pay our carriers and bill our customers at the same time.”
And because Epay could perform both tasks, “The system would give him the checks and balances he needed, to make sure he completed all of his payment and billing responsibilities.”
He continued by saying, “I wasn’t about to put another accounting system into play, to bill our customers; and I wasn’t advanced enough to do that myself.” Since “Epay was already doing this, and was integrated with our TMS, we took a chance, but when we went live, we didn’t have any hiccups. As it turned out, selecting Epay was an excellent way for us to kick off our business.”
On the subject of customer support, Adam said, “For almost two- and one-half years, I was the one doing our payables and receivables, and it taught me a lot. During that time, I could call Jason, or a member of his team, and they would immediately help me out. At first, I didn’t understand a lot of what I was doing, but when I needed help, they were there to hold my hand.”
He continued by saying, “For nearly three years, I was able to manage all of the company’s back-office duties myself.” However, “That changed in the company’s third year, when our additional growth made me realize that I could no longer perform my marketing and accounting duties at the same time.”
Based on that assessment, Adam and Chad reached out to Tim Sullivan, another family member, and asked him to join the team. According to Adam, “From that point forward, Tim has used Epay, to single-handedly manage all of the company’s A/R and A/P duties.”
At that point, Jason re-entered the conversation and directed a comment to the webinar’s attendees, by saying, “We’ve watched Live grow from a small startup into a thriving logistics company. Each year they’ve been with us, we’ve seen the number of transactions they process, either double or triple. In our opinion, that accomplishment makes Live a model for all freight brokers to follow.”
Before taking questions, Jason asked Adam “to discuss what steps he and Chad took to prepare their company for growth.”
Adam responded, by saying, “When you’re planning to grow, selecting the right management software is very important. But what’s also important, is knowing which add-ons you’re able to use, with the TMS you’ve selected, because in my opinion, that’s what really makes the difference.”
He continued by saying, “Because Epay was already integrated with Aljex, I never had to worry about paying our carriers on time, because I knew Epay would do that for me.” He added, “Another system we use, that’s given us a similar benefit is RMIS, a carrier onboarding tool, that we discovered was also integrated with Aljex. Because of that, we were immediately able to use RMIS as our carrier onboarding tool; and that helped us, because we didn’t have the time to spend doing everything that was required to approve new carriers and monitor existing ones.”
He then added, “No one goes into business hoping they’ll break even, because if that’s their goal, they shouldn’t be in business in the first place.” He said, “My brother and I went into business, believing we could grow our company into something special. But before that could happen, we needed to find vendors who could help us support growth.”
He said, “Our search led us to find three or four vendors that really came through and supported us, but our relationship with Epay stands out, because it’s by far our longest and most productive one.”
He described his interactions with Jason and Epay’s staff, by saying, “They were truly interested in what we had to offer and what we had to say.” He said, “Jason’s very technical, and he would use that knowledge to get involved and collaborate with us. From the beginning, his relationship with us was a very hands-on one.”
Then he added, “But unlike other vendors we’ve encountered, Level One has never sent us an invoice, to charge us for any call or discussion we’ve had, trying to solve a problem.”
It’s been said that it takes a lifetime of good deeds to build your reputation, but it takes only one selfish act to destroy it. Although the expression may be too simplistic to apply to businesses operating in today’s economy, it establishes a benchmark of excellence that every business should aspire to achieve.
As the President of Level One Technologies, I’m proud to say that when we formed the company, our management team set a goal to continually evolve the applications we built for the transportation industry. I’m even prouder to say that we have never deviated from that goal, during the many years we’ve been in business.
Given our success in fulfilling that objective with the Epay Manager application, it is especially gratifying when one of your most valued customers, like Live Logistics, takes the time to recognize the contributions your company has made, to help them become one of the most successful freight brokers in the transportation industry.