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SmartHop gives small trucking companies seat at table — and above-market rates

Next frontier for SmartHop is self-service technology through Copilot platform

Image: Jim Allen (FreightWaves)

Chasing rates from one load board to another can leave you exhausted before you’ve even hit the highway. For over-the-road truckers, the long haul begins as a mental endeavor, persistently browsing the spot market for the best tender available.

The process is even more arduous for smaller carriers and owner-operators, as rates tend to favor the larger players. Those that aren’t well-connected with top shippers and brokers find themselves settling for rates at the bottom of the barrel.

Sure, smaller trucking firms enjoy good rates too, but seldom consistently. It’s nearly impossible to surf all the load boards when time is money; the trucks need to keep moving.

Over-the-road trucker Miguel Garcia grew frustrated with public load boards and their inconsistencies, wondering if there was a better way to find and book loads. As president of Expert Transportation Corp., a provider of vacuum trucks for the oilfields of New Mexico and Texas, Garcia saw his 30-truck fleet diminish to five amid the double onslaught of the oil price war and coronavirus pandemic.

While some Permian Basin tankers have switched to school milk deliveries amid oil market downturns in the past, Garcia found that this over-the-road backup plan had dried up too as schools closed indefinitely. After riding the ups and downs of power-only work with Amazon, Garcia strived for one thing — consistency.

Today, Garcia’s company lands competitive, above-market rates on a recurring basis. In addition, he has more time for trip planning than ever before — and doesn’t even bother paying much attention to the load boards. So what’s his strategy? 

It wasn’t his negotiating skills that changed, nor did he get ahead by acquainting himself with the largest players in the industry. Rather, he leaves negotiations, bookings and the back-office to SmartHop.

You see, SmartHop, a Florida-based startup, built an autonomous dispatcher that uses artificial intelligence to deliver smart load recommendations, full-service back-office support, performance tracking, and digital bookings at guaranteed above-market rates for small trucking companies.

SmartHop aims to overhaul small trucking outfits, as it firmly believes the sector to be the backbone of U.S. transportation. The company states that 90% of carriers are small fleets with less than six trucks. In addition, owner-operators make up 9% of the trucking industry — a segment of fleets at the mercy of the spot market to make a living.

Since joining the SmartHop network six months ago, Expert Transportation can compete with larger fleets as SmartHop’s cutting-edge freight dispatch services level the playing field.

“SmartHop knows where the market is good,” Garcia said. “The key to their technology is they put all of their loads into a database that identifies the hot spots. Once there, you’ll get a good load, but they’ll keep you moving from one hot spot to the next.”

By the time Garcia unloads at a receiver, SmartHop has already lined up another job for him. This subsequently ends his day as there’s nothing left to do but rest and plan for what lies ahead in the morning. 

“As I’m reaching my destination, SmartHop messages me saying, ‘Hey, I got this load paying this much going this way, I’ve got another load going that way’ and so on,” Garcia said. “While unloading, I’m already looking forward to arriving at the truck stop for a shower and to get some sleep, knowing I’ve already got something lined up tomorrow.”

But SmartHop is more than just a freight dispatch; its “business-in-a-box” tools distinguish it as a comprehensive solution for over-the-road-trucking. 

Carriers can easily discover the best and most profitable lanes and loads instantaneously through its intuitive dashboard. Plus, its carrier network provides above-market rates not found on public load boards.

SmartHop co-founder and CEO Guillermo Garcia begs the question, “Does your company have the capacity to scroll through thousands of load boards, websites and mobile apps in order to make good decisions on choosing the right loads or going to the right areas?

“We want to deliver economies of scale on top of the tools and technology that smaller trucking companies need to run their entire business,” he said. 

Although recent innovations in freight technology have vastly improved the trucking landscape as a whole, Guillermo Garcia argues that technological disparities still exist between big and small freight haulers, which is why SmartHop provides small carriers and owner-operators a variety of analytical tools for trip planning and dashboards to manage drivers efficiently.

Guillermo Garcia’s passion to elevate smaller fleets stems from his experience as a fleet owner himself. His trucking roots can be traced back to Venezuela, where his career began as a master production scheduler for Nestle before founding his own trucking company, ALCARIN, which amassed nearly 500 employees. After completing a master’s program at Columbia University, Guillermo Garcia relocated his business to South Florida in 2012. Five years later, he, alongside fellow Venezuelan immigrants Joaquin Brillembourg and Miguel Sucre, spearheaded the tech startup, SmartHop.

“I liked the fact that Guillermo started his career as a trucker,” Miguel Garcia said. “I’d rather work with someone that understands what us trucking companies go through because he’s been through it. He’s a guy like me; he understands things like wear and tear on the truck and hours of service. He knows how hard [trucking] can be on family life. For a small company like mine, I’d rather give someone like Guillermo my business.”

Along with its fuel card program and profit simulator service, SmartHop’s set of fleet dispatching tools facilitate sustainable fleet growth with its SmartPay feature, along with back-office automation and leasing plans designed specifically for smaller carriers.

SmartHop’s next frontier is autonomy. More specifically, it’s gearing toward self-service technology with its Copilot platform for finding hot lanes and instant above-market loads.

Guillermo Garcia described Copilot as an autonomous dispatcher that, on one hand, analyzes the market in real time while on the other hand studies the context of each driver — what they like, what they don’t like, where they go, where they don’t go — based on seasonalities and behavioral changes, all without having to run a full questionnaire. Copilot learns as it works alongside customers to fine-tune its booking suggestions. 

Users don’t even have to input their location; the connected software will recognize it, and in seconds, it showcases the hottest-performing lanes in the area. This, in turn, allows carriers to maximize their profit potential without having to browse a single public load board, as Copilot’s lane and load recommendation analytics does the searching for you and always has a load on deck. 

“SmartHop is looking forward to the release of our self-service technology, Copilot,” Guillermo said. “It’s in beta testing right now, but it’ll definitely change the way that our customers interact with us. Copilot will take the interaction between us, our customers and brokers to a whole new level.”

Guillermo Garcia plans for a piloted version of Copilot to be released in Q1 of this year. Curious users can sign up for an early access trial of Copilot from SmartHop’s website.

Investors have taken notice of SmartHop’s innovations. Most recently in July, the tech startup closed a $4.5 million seed round led by Equal Ventures, a New York-based seed stage venture fund, as reported earlier by FreightWaves. Additional investors in the round include Greycroft and Las Olas VC; however, SmartHop has also recruited industry veterans and strategic angel investors to pursue scaling strategies.

“The amazing technology that SmartHop provides our customers is also helping brokers interact in a more standardized and digital way with customers,” Guillermo Garcia said. “We don’t get in between the broker and the driver, we’re just their technology.”

One Comment

  1. Dave

    Isn’t smarthop just a freight broker? What makes this different than just taking all your loads from say CH Robinson or TQL? Doing all your loads with one broker will make you bankrupt fast. You need direct shippers as your main customers and use all the brokers you can and not just one to get the best paying loads wherever you find yourself. Don’t let one broker own you

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Jack Glenn

Jack Glenn is a sponsored content writer for FreightWaves and lives in Chattanooga, TN with his golden retriever, Beau. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business.