Over the past two years, Lean Staffing Solutions has diversified its offerings beyond back-office logistics employees to include revenue-generating positions, sales, marketing and software development.
At the beginning of October, Lean announced that it had raised a $42.5 million growth equity minority investment from FTV Capital. In a press release, Lean founder and Chief Executive Officer Robert Cadena said the capital would help Lean “advance our product and services and launch into new verticals to further meet the needs of our clients.”
At the same time, Lean has built out four product lines staffed by 1,600 people to serve its core base of transportation and logistics clients: Lean Staffing, Lean Tech, Lean Marketing and Lean Sales.
The original premise of the company was based on cost savings, according to Cadena. Logistics companies, particularly freight brokerages, that wanted to grow but faced significant constraints on their working capital could add administrative employees for compliance, billing, and tracking and tracing in Colombia at a low cost. But the level of talent available in Colombia meant that Lean would be able to do much more for its clients. Lean was putting highly motivated bilingual college graduates to work and, after experience working for U.S.-based logistics companies, they were able to take on more complex, valuable jobs.
When U.S. trucking capacity tightened over the summer, Lean’s clients needed more carrier reps to find and book trucks. Lean took experienced track-and-trace personnel and transitioned them into carrier sales when they were ready.
“These guys have been doing track-and-trace,” Cadena said. “They have a relationship with the drivers and dispatchers, so it’s a natural course for them to become carrier reps. Our clients have to build these relationships now because logistics is all about how you treat your customers and carriers.”
Many top-tier freight brokerages use Lean Staffing, including a handful of publicly traded transportation companies. Mariane Brandao, head of continuous improvement at Maersk Line, said that Maersk needed Spanish-speaking truck dispatchers and found them at Lean Staffing. Now Maersk Line has 28 employees with Lean and plans to grow.
“Working with Lean Staffing has allowed us to centralize several tasks, creating efficiency in the processes,” Brandao said. “We have also been able to crosstrain employees with functions related to offices in different geographical locations, so when support is needed there is no need to hire additional temporary workers as we would have done in the past.”
But Lean is about more than just throwing bodies at a problem: Lean Tech helps clients with software development and robotic process automation, striking the right balance between human workers and automated technology. It’s been a natural evolution for Lean’s clients, who are growing their businesses and want to find some efficiency gains, and the employees in Colombia, who are skilled developers looking for a career with an American company.
“We have more than 250 developers in Colombia building portals and doing integrations from a full-blown TMS to robotic process automation,” said David Bell, managing director at Lean Staffing. “We have built a free RPA and simple automation tools for our clients that combine human elements with automation. That helps our clients understand the value of bringing additional process efficiencies, which helps them focus their best employees on more complex roles within the company.”
In September, FreightWaves reported on Edge Logistics’ release of the mobile version of CAPACITY, the digital freight-matching platform it built in collaboration with Lean Tech. Other Lean Tech clients include project44, The Tucker Co. and Truckstop.
“There are 12 or 13 customers who have dedicated Lean Tech teams in Colombia,” Bell said. “Three customers have 20 developers each and several have four to five developers. We manage the developers the same as in Lean Staffing. We’re doing project-based work, building platforms for LTL, customer and carrier web portals, and doing integrations. We’re the integration partner for Truckstop — we do all the integrations for Book It Now. We have pretty much every type of developer in-house now with a pretty good bench of 30 to 40 developers doing projects waiting to be placed full time. If our clients need front end, back end, Python, QA or production, we can put the whole team together pretty quickly, and being in the same time zone is a huge advantage over Eastern Europe and India.”
Lean has found that many clients also need marketing support, an area where transportation and logistics companies historically have been weak. Because of the nature of business-to-business sales, many transportation and logistics companies have focused on building relationships at the expense of brand, which can be valuable but is not scalable. Modern digital marketing, moreover, can address corporate buyers just as efficiently as the everyday consumer. Lean Marketing offers a full range of marketing services: social media management, digital content, search engine optimization, graphic design, video animation and any other marketing function that a client might need.
Some clients have relatively simple needs. ARL Network is a U.S. transportation and logistics company with a wide variety of service offerings under a number of brands: ARL assets run dry van, reefer, flatbed and intermodal drayage, and perform warehousing services and pick-and-pack; the company also has a large freight brokerage. Kenneth Thompson, a marketing specialist at ARL, ran all of ARL’s marketing efforts by himself, from meeting customers and taking photos to graphic design and social media. Thompson found his time consumed by quotidian tasks that were preventing him from engaging in the creative work he needed to do to feed ARL’s content machine.
“Once Lean Marketing was launched, it seemed like a good idea for us because we already had a relationship with Staffing on the logistics side,” Thompson said. “It took the load off some of my day-to-day things — some of the repetitive, mundane activities you have to do every single day — and helped me focus on creating content for ARL. Our team member in Colombia lets me be flexible to travel, see clients, meet face to face, and do video and photography.”
When it came time for Kurtis Tryber to scale his tech-forward freight brokerage Power Only Transit, he turned to Lean Sales to find high-quality customer sales talent at a low cost. Tryber said that when he interviewed brokerage salespeople in the U.S., he found applicants with two or three years of experience who wanted $80,000 to $120,000 in salary and 30% commissions; the risk was too great to hire someone before he knew if they’d work out.
Instead, Tryber found two salespeople in Colombia with Lean Sales: one had worked at a brokerage selling into U.S.-based truckload and LTL, and the other had been a freight forwarder. The higher quality and lower cost made it easier for Tryber to grow his company.
“The lower cost gives them plenty of runway to execute and takes the risk out,” Tryber said. “They bring the right level of knowledge and competence to the table. These people are MBA-educated; the quality of the people is not even on the same scale [as what he would find in the U.S. at the same cost]. The only thing we need to teach is our sales process, which makes it easy for them to transition.”
Bell said that Sales was born because it was the most frequently asked-about service from Lean’s customers. He said that Lean Sales uses several sales training programs, including Straight Line Sales, depending on the client’s company culture, so that new employees are ready to start selling on day one.
“We came up with 30 days of real training that takes the burden off the clients, so when new employees hit the office they’re ready to do sales — that fixes the attrition of the first 90 days,” Bell said. “We look at the client’s sales playbook to tee up CRM and lead generation. Our clients’ superstars in the U.S. are still closing the deals, but we organize the process of recruiting and qualifying leads with business development representatives based in Colombia.”
Lean’s partnership with FTV Capital will accelerate the rollout of Lean’s new products and enable the company to work even more closely with its clients.
“With our deeply collaborative customer success model, we have built a compelling value proposition across the logistics space and are experiencing rapid growth,” Cadena said.