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Is disruption finally underway in the freight brokerage industry?

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FreightWaves is providing a forum – Market Voices – for a number of market experts.

Brian Laung Aoaeh writes about the reinvention of global supply chains, from the perspective of an early-stage technology venture capitalist. He is the co-founder of REFASHIOND Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund that is being built from the ground up to invest in startups creating innovations to refashion global supply chain networks. He is also the co-founder of The Worldwide Supply Chain Federation (The New York Supply Chain Meetup). His background covers the gamut from scientific research, data and statistical analysis, corporate development and investing for a single-family office, and then building an early-stage venture fund from scratch – immediately prior to REFASHIOND. He earned a BA with a double major in mathematics and physics. He holds an MBA. He also is a charter holding member of CFA Institute.

On April 25, Amazon announced that it was making an investment of $800 million to reduce delivery times, from two days to one, for members of Amazon Prime. The next day FreightWaves was the first to report that, without any fanfare, Amazon had also launched a digital freight brokerage website at Before that, on February 5, Convoy, a Seattle-based startup that operates a digital freight marketplace, announced that it can now automatically match 100 percent of loads to carriers, without human intervention.

These announcements have pushed us farther along a curve tracing the evolution of the freight brokerage market, one that has historically operated on personal relationships, trust and phone calls.

What is a market disruption?

A market disruption occurs when new entrants into a market supplant incumbent companies within that market in terms of market share and market power, leading to financial distress for some incumbents.

In his book The Disruption Dilemma, author Joshua Gans distills what we know about disruption into two major categories:

  • The Demand-Side Theory of Disruption (demand-side disruption) is the more popular and widely known version of disruption because it is the process described and explained in Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma. A demand-side disruption is driven by changing customer demands and expectations.
  • The Supply-Side Theory of Disruption (supply-side disruption) is much less well-known, and results from research by Rebecca Henderson and Kim Clark. A supply-side disruption is driven by a change in the architectural knowledge that forms the basis by which suppliers satisfy market demand for a service or product.

The freight brokerage market is being attacked on two fronts

Amazon’s entry into the freight brokerage business threatens to shift the basis on which the services of a freight broker are delivered to the market – from one reliant on personal relationships, trust and telephone calls – to one that relies on a combination of software, cloud computing, connected devices, stochastic optimization and automation. These platforms will automatically match carriers to only the most profitable loads, and they will minimize operating costs by automatically optimizing delivery routes. A relatively small number of people trained and licensed as freight brokers will be required to handle complex, unusual and exceptional situations on an ongoing basis. Such a platform will be tightly integrated through application programming interfaces with all the other supply chain management software that customers rely on, as well as other external sources of relevant data. These platforms will eventually surpass the performance thresholds achievable by the best human freight brokers, and they are already being tested by some of the world’s largest companies. If they pass the preliminary tests and become widely adopted by shippers and carriers, they will represent a supply-side disruption.

Simultaneously, there are already a sizeable number of startups building on-demand digital freight marketplaces with the goal of cutting freight brokers out of the picture. For now, these marketplaces mainly fulfill the function of automatically matching loads to carriers, and they typically target the 10 percent of the carrier market that is made up of owner-operators. Given the razor-thin profit margins that characterize the trucking market, and the reality that brokers can command fees as high as 40 percent or more of each transaction, it is not difficult to understand why such marketplaces could potentially win market share from some incumbent freight brokerages as time progresses. These marketplaces also compete directly with load boards. If these digital freight marketplaces succeed, they will represent a demand-side disruption.

There are two wildcards

There are two conditions that must be met before freight brokerage confronts disruption:

  • First, new entrants have to solve the trust problem. Shippers interests are aligned with those of their freight brokers, and freight brokers act as arbiters of trust between shippers and carriers. Conventional wisdom among industry professionals is that this trust relationship cannot be replicated with software.
  • Second, new entrants have to overcome the cognitive and psychological costs of switching that keep carriers and shippers firmly locked into the old way of doing things.

Even just a few years ago it might have been difficult to see how these problems could be solved systematically and satisfactorily with a software-centric approach. Conventional wisdom among industry professionals is that the trust relationship between shippers, carriers and brokers cannot be replicated through software. I am not so certain. Carriers and shippers have the fundamental need to increase throughput, increase efficiency and improve profit margins. The new entrants can gain market share by proving that they can satisfy those fundamental needs better than their incumbent counterparts on an ongoing basis.

To be clear, none of the innovations I am describing is a perfect replacement for the best freight brokers. Not yet. That said, venture capitalists have already invested $1.6 billion in FreightTech during the first quarter of 2019. This exceeds the $1.3 billion that was deployed in 2017 and is already 55 percent of the $2.9 billion invested over the course of 2018. Moreover, REFASHIOND Ventures’ analysis showed that Amazon had $31 billion of cash and marketable securities on its balance sheet as of August 26, 2018. That is more than enough capital to fund a sustained push to redefine the basis of competition in freight brokerage – the $800 million investment it announced is just a beginning.

No industry can escape turmoil if a supply-side disruption occurs within the same period as a demand-side disruption. Fasten your seat belts. We’re embarking on a long and bumpy ride.


  1. Deryl D Ware

    Lmao, yes it’s about time I am one of those Owner operators you were commenting about I have 6 trucks and I use convoy for most of my freight and I welcome any companies that wants to use technology to move freight… because the one thing you are wrong about is the trust thing no trucker trust freight brokers they are bloodsucking leeches on our industry and taking up to 40 % of the loads is a understatement they take a lot more they have basically broke independents like myself to our knees… we do all the work and the brokers make all the money because there is no laws that protect the truckers from this so brokers lie, cheat whatever they have to do to take the bigger share of the pie and give us Owner operators the scraps so if u want to comment about something Mr. Reporter get your damn facts right talk to some truckers to get the truth and the reason Amazon jumped into this market is because they caught one of these so called trusted freight brokers as u call them ripping them off they paid this freight broker $1500 dollars for a load and the broker only paid the owner operator who covered the load $500 out of that $1500 dollars and the big wings at Amazon found out about it and got pissed because the driver who ran the load was so pissed at the rate he was getting for it he didnt give a damn and showed up late to the customer and then raised hell with them.. as they say u get what you pay for right so now this is why Amazon got into the brokering business so if you’re gonna report on some do your research first and get the facts right because the way I see it shit I’m a better reporter than you and I’m just a truck driver now do your research on what I just told u and do some reporting on that sir and if you want to reach me my email is [email protected] and my number is 817 899 8900 im deryl and we can go back and forth on this all day and I can give the reality of what’s going on in this market and as for freightbrokers they can all go to hell I cant wait for Amazon and companies like convoy to put all there asses out in the pasture so we truckers who do all the work can start being profitable again

    1. Daniel Rosario

      To your response, I myself have been in the industry for the past 20 years, owned trucks and do agree with you to a certain extent on how bad the high profit margins brokers are making per load, but, where do you get that AMAZON is coming in to rescue the drivers, they see the opportunity to take that 40% margin that you spoke of rather than broker take it. AMAZON my friend is trying to figure out how to compete with brokers for that margin. Now to give you a little insight of why carriers are taking loads for less than what the shipper pays is due to not being able to factor the operating cost of their trucking operation for 60 – 90 days which is how long a shipper can take to pay the load. What these brokers do is invest in the cost and pay the driver in a 15 day period and wait the remaining 45-75 days to get paid. In this they have factoring companies charging them a % of that profit in order to allow the broker to continue booking loads. Could you imagine the following example:
      – taking 1 load per day of $1,500 and taking 30% ($450) paying out $1,050 to the driver
      – Driver gets paid in 15 days once load is delivered
      – Broker gets paid in 60-90 days once driver completes load and Invoice is received.
      – Factoring company gets % of that profit (Keep in mind that profit takes up to 90 days to be paid out)on a monthly basis that the balance remains.
      Now imagine a truck owner, the cost he would have to absorb for 60-90 days without getting paid and keeping drivers paid, fuel expenses, insurance expenses, maintenance schedules and miscellaneous expenses. The majority of owners would be out of business in half that time frame.

    2. Ryan Howard

      You are full of shit man. As a broker myself, the barrier to entry with clients is high. You have to come in at an extremely low rate that is dictated by you drivers via the Truckstop/Dat. we adhere to that and forecast with minimum acceptable margins ($50) all the time. Without us brokers, customers often have no idea where to get freight moved from, and small trucking companies do not have the man power or bank roll to move freight for big clients on credit. If you guys don’t like how much of the share you make on the freight, then “say no to cheap freight”. We do the same thing daily.

  2. Jason Burns

    Hey Brian,
    This is a really insightful article. I agree that disruption is around the corner, however most people in the industry are in denial (IMO). I’ve been a second generation owner of a last mile delivery business for the past 10+ years and recently created a startup that is focused on a digital marketplace for the last mile sector. This local/regional, fragmented network of 7,000+ US last mile is in prime position to take advantage of retailer shortening their supply chains to meet consumer demand. Our vision is to consolidate it, capture the available truck capacity and integrate with shipper aggregators (think Project44) to provide their clients more cost-effective shipping options for LTL freight. I’d love to connect with you to keep you abreast of our journey.

Comments are closed.

Brian Aoaeh

Brian Laung Aoaeh writes about the reinvention of global supply chains, from the perspective of an early-stage technology venture capitalist. He is the co-founder of REFASHIOND Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund that is being built to invest in startups creating innovations to refashion global supply chain networks. He is also the co-founder of The Worldwide Supply Chain Federation (The New York Supply Chain Meetup). His background covers the gamut from scientific research, data and statistical analysis, corporate development and investing for a single-family office, and then building an early stage venture fund from scratch - immediately prior to REFASHIOND. Brian holds an MBA in General Management, with a specialization in Financial Instruments and Markets, from NYU’s Stern School of Business. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics & Physics from Connecticut College. Brian is a charter holding member of the CFA Institute. He is also an adjunct professor of operations management in the Department of Technology Management and Innovation at the New York University School of Engineering.