What triggered Bitcoin’s meteoric rise up the cryptocurrency ladder and what it means for logistics

To an average investor, the phenomenon of Bitcoin is nothing short of inexplicable. Just a month back, a significant ripple was felt through the Bitcoin system after China cracked down on cryptocurrency and Wall Street echoed in appreciation with J.P. Morgan’s CEO calling the virtual currency fraudulent.

Though it led to a cascading effect with nearly 20% of its value being wiped out in a matter of a few days, the virtual currency is seeing bullish highs now – completely going against the tide, when analysts were predicting a drawn-out demise.

To understand the way Bitcoin’s market works, we would have to understand the macroeconomics behind it and the reason why traditional banking institutions are squeamish to the technology that drives it.

Bitcoin is a decentralized peer-to-peer form of currency, which means that no central bank or a government would have control over how the market functions – thereby placing them at great risk of getting their physical currencies destabilized.

Right from the nascent stages of Bitcoin back in the late 2000s, the market has been represented predominantly by the US dollar and then by the Chinese yuan. In fact, the yuan represented nearly 96% of all bitcoin tradings in 2016, until the clampdown by the authorities last month.

But post the Chinese debacle, Bitcoin investors have simply moved to the Japanese yen for transactions, with it accounting for 51% of the current market and having $30.3 billion in transactions last month. This is because the Japanese government has far friendlier legislation in place with regard to cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin’s liquidity helped it to shift to the yen quickly, with minimal flutter.

The virtual currency’s value has hit new highs, with it being expected to reach $6,000 soon. But investors are looking for red flags with two planned hard forks coming up within a month. Nonetheless, previous hard forks have been anything but a cause for worry, with Bitcoin Cash being a product of one such hard fork – which ended up helping the cause of Bitcoin as prices surged post-fork.

With Bitcoin showing the market that it can survive pitfalls and is not just a fair-weather investment, the interest on cryptocurrencies has multiplied ever since. Over the last year, various ICOs catering to specific niches have arisen, signaling the potential support for such projects.  

The challenge has been that many of the ICO use cases have been poorly designed or not viable in a real-world setting. At worst, they were downright scams. But the interest and enthusiasm shown by both investors and developers demonstrates the power of the technology. The technology has moved from crypto cult status to solving real-world problems.

According to CB Insights, 250 ICOs have taken place since 2016. In the US trucking market, only one ICO has been attempted (SLOGN) and one is in pre-ICO status (DOFT).

SLOGN failed to raise enough capital in its ICO to meet its threshold and returned the money back to the investors. DOFT has been trying to raise funds in a pre-ICO, but in the two weeks since the pre-ICO went live, the firm has only raised a few thousand dollars, far short of the millions it hopes to do.

Regardless of the successes, or lack there, blockchain is coming to the trucking industry.

In September, the Blockchain in Trucking Alliance (BiTA) was formed to develop standards for the freight industry. It describes itself as the “forum for the advancement of the blockchain in transportation.” The think tank is not floating an ICO and is not directly developing blockchain applications. It’s mission is to bring together commercial firms that are interested in doing so, develop standards and design applications.

Since announcing the launch, BiTA has received over 200 applications from across the industry. The firm says that 85% of the trucking transactions can be represented by at least one member.

Craig Fuller, co-founder of BiTA said one of the goals is to separate the speculative applications with ones that can achieve actual commercial outcomes. “We have some of the leading firms as members of BiTA and they understand the power of the technology. A successful blockchain implementation will require industry collaboration from a multitude of parties and getting endorsement from a number of large firms goes a long-way in achieving commercial success.”

The industry is very fragmented, sporting more than 200,000 firms. This makes it difficult to achieve scale from one-off acquisition, you need a lot of transactions and users to create a viable application. While the industry itself is fragmented, the power actually resides in the hands of a number of very large technology vendors in the space. Their acceptance and endorsement of a technology is much more likely to result in traction.

Trucking companies and 3PLs tend to use a lot of outsourced technology for their operations. They are dependent upon these vendors to help them innovate and create new business models. And some of these companies are massive in terms of scale and importance.

The Alliance lists a roster of who’s who in trucking technology. Going down the list, it is obvious to see how blockchain could be successful with the roster of power-players.

The bill of lading (BOL) is required for every shipment and essentially governs the terms of the shipment. To properly bill, a trucking company is required to submit a copy of the BOL and proof-of delivery (POD) to the shipper for settlement. The majority of these documents are imaged and indexed. Transflo is the power behind this. They have an estimated 55% of document imaging market-share.

Kleinschmidt is another name not many folks know, but its influence over the industry is massive. An estimated 75% of all trucking transactions hit its servers at some point in the life-cycle. TMW and McLeod, the two largest software vendors in the space, provide the core operating software for over 60% of the for-hire trucks in the market. BigRoad, a subsidiary of Fleet Complete has over 100,000 trucks in its ELD offering. And Triumph Business Capital is a monster. They are the largest factoring company in the space, financing billions of dollars worth of working capital.

“Trucking is not an industry that one can go-it-alone. Partners are critical. The space is massive, but the people in it are not naive. They won’t adopt a technology unless others in the industry agree to do so and they want these solutions to be integrated into their backend. Because of the scale of our members, they hold a lot of power to help innovative companies and applications take off,” Fuller stated.  

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Vishnu Rajamanickam, Staff Writer

Vishnu writes editorial commentary on cutting-edge technology within the freight industry, profiles startups, and brings in perspective from industry frontrunners and thought leaders in the freight space. In his spare time, he writes neo-noir poetry, blogs about travel & living, and loves to debate about international politics. He hopes to settle down in a village and grow his own food at some point in time. But for now, he is happy to live with his wife in the middle of a German metropolitan.