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Customer-centered startups attract Maersk Growth fund’s attention (with video)

Sune Stilling, head of Growth for Maersk, right, said the investment fund is focused on companies that keep the customer in mind when developing their solutions, and not only a billion-dollar valuation. (Photo: FreightWaves staff)

With 90% of its revenues coming from the movement of containers, Maersk (CSE: AMKBF) faced a challenge: How do you get closer to the end customer when your job is to move containers from port to port? The shipping giant is trying to answer this question with its Growth investment fund, started in 2017.

“I think historically, our industry has not been very focused on the customer,” said Sune Stilling, head of Growth for Maersk. Speaking with Laura Fava, executive vice president of global commercial development for FreightWaves at the FreightWaves LIVE Chicago conference Nov. 13, Stilling explained how Maersk is approaching its venture fund and what it looks for in a startup company.

“One of the areas we are looking at is e-commerce,” he said. “You certainly don’t want something arriving in eight weeks, so we are looking at how we can get closer to the end customer.”

The fund, which partners with and invests in “ventures with the potential of creating exponential growth within transport and logistics and defining the future of trade,” has 15 companies in its portfolio, with an additional four or five to be added before Christmas if things go well, Stilling said.

Maersk is most interested in companies with a strong balance between industry experience and technological expertise, he said. “We see a lot of companies (about 100 a month) that are strong on industry but not on tech, or strong on tech but not on industry. We like to see both.”

One company that Maersk has invested in is Loadsmart, a New York-based on-demand, full truckload freight matching service. Stilling said he likes them because 60% of the company is tech focused.

“They are not taking what people have done for 200 years and calling it tech,” he said. “They are transforming [the market].”

Stilling said Maersk also likes companies that are “not focused on billion-dollar valuations” and on those that grow smartly. Growth that occurs too quickly, he said, leads to a plateau where the company either needs to cut to gain efficiencies or raise prices.

Stilling did bemoan the rapid investment in FreightTech companies. “I think the space is very crowded,” he said. “There are a lot of companies coming in and getting funded based on a 10-page slide deck.”

Many of those companies, he said, are “focused on the valuations and not the customer.”


  1. DT

    There is way too much VC money chasing too many really poor ideas in our industry. Some of the best Freight Tech companies are private, quiet, self funded, and very profitable, like AscendTMS, Kleinschmidt, and Triumph Pay. These type of companies are growing and profitable because their services are useful, accessible, and solve real problems in a very focussed area of the industry. I love watching companies like these because they strike a nice balance between growth and profits. SPOILER ALERT – YOU NEED BOTH.

    Too many companies that are VC funded just don’t have the deep industry knowledge needed to actually understand the real day to day problems faced in logistics and freight movement. At the FreightWaves demos over the last 2 days in Chicago I saw that at least half of the products or services on stage were “half-baked solutions looking for problems to solve”. In several cases, existing market solutions already existed. Do these people not do market research? Somebody close to these people need to tell them the truth.

    Don’t get me wrong, some VC funded companies seem to have caught momentum (FourKites, Convoy, Flexport) and others already sold (Macropoint), but many are truly bad ideas run by the wrong people and hiring so many people nothing will ever get done.

    At the end of the day, those private, quiet, growing, profitable companies that are re-investing real profits from real customers will be the winners. In my humble opinion, this is where more investment is needed in order to get these solutions more widely used. I would encourage the private companies I mentioned above to do a better job of telling the market about their really useful products and services so wider adoption of their proven technology will crowd out all of the other bad ideas – usually VC funded – I see.

    But, until all this extra cash flowing around the world looking for yield dries up, or until some of these tech pretenders fail in spectacular fashion, I’m afraid that too many bad ideas will continue to get funded and spoil the party for those ideas that are really good and working well.

    Time will tell.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]