The ‘Amazon effect’ has created an opportunity for tech companies offering supply chain visibility solutions for B2B logistics. Amazon has proven that consumers will pay a premium for goods if they have an easy way to buy them and visibility into where their shipments are at—customers want to know if their package is going to be late so they can adjust their plans. Historically, retailers, suppliers, and manufacturers looked at transportation and logistics as a cost center, but they’re starting to realize it can be a point of differentiation.
Tech startups like MacroPoint, FourKites, project44, and 10-4 have answered that need with digital products promising enhanced, realtime supply chain visibility. The problem is that shippers, who are used to simply purchasing transportation, are now in a situation where they have to evaluate tech firms and try to peer behind slick user interfaces to see what they’re actually getting for their investment. It’s hard for a supply chain professional to tell if a digital platform’s visibility solution is powered by an API, an EDI, or even manual emails. XPO Logistics, for instance, just announced the launch of XPO Connect, a digital platform to help shippers manage shipments, but their PR team obfuscated what was meant by ‘visibility’ and it is still unclear whether XPO customers will be getting better information or just an app.
Jett McCandless, the CEO of project44, spoke to FreightWaves by phone about the confusion surrounding visibility solutions in the market. “For something to be ‘realtime’ for us,” said McCandless, “you’re getting an updated status with a new location every 15 minutes or less. The large majority of our loads are getting updated within 1 second. Some of our competitors say they get an update every 15 minutes, but they’re getting an email from, say, 10:13 AM saying the truck is in Knoxville, and they simply push that same status every 15 minutes until they get another email from that trucking company—it could be the next day. With us, you’re getting actually fresh, real locations.”
It’s more difficult to pull track-and-trace information in realtime, said McCandless, explaining that “everything that we connect to is an actual hardware device, and those updates are automated, whether it’s from the ELD or some other kind of telematics device.”
“When we talk to customers,” said McCandless, “we see really high churn from our competitors, because people think they’re buying realtime information from those companies but they don’t actually realize improvements. We’ve invested the majority of our capital into the product—realtime API connectivity—and we’re doing our go-to-market strategy a little bit later. At this point we have 40 engineers and 8 sales reps.”
project44 has a granular, instantaneous conception of what ‘realtime’ means, but the company also thinks of ‘visibility’ in a much broader way than its competitors. “Somehow the word ‘visibility’ has come to simply mean ‘track-and-trace,’” said McCandless, “but we think of visibility across the entire workflow, which includes planning, in transit, then we also think of it as post-delivery, with all of the documentation, the bills-of-lading, the proof of delivery, the invoice, etc. So we provide visibility into all of those three segments, all in realtime. If all you’re doing is just providing track-and-trace for three or four modes—your visibility is really just in the transit. You get a dot on a map, but you don’t get what you need to optimize trucks.”
Customers like Steelcase, GE, and RR Donnelley have substantially improved the efficiency of their supply chains with project44’s platform. “Steelcase, the office furniture company, was able to remove 20% of inefficiencies in administrative work—calling around, manual work,” said McCandless. “There’s a massive information asymmetry. Carriers have information about their trucks, and Steelcase wants that data so they can get it to their customers and contractors for office installations… when you have updates that happen once a day or suboptimal carriers selected, it creates a lot of waste.”
RR Donnelly was another project44 customer that dramatically improved their planning stage visibility and eliminated waste. “Because Donnelly only had access to carriers’ rates through an old-school, manual process, 80% of their invoices didn’t match the quote they received in the planning process… and they have tens of thousands of shipments a day, so they were wasting a ton of FTEs [full time equivalents] reconciling these discrepancies,” said McCandless.
McCandless said the strength of project44’s platform makes it easy to retain customers, and they don’t have to lock customers into long contracts or charge them upfront fees to break even. “We have one year contracts with a 30 day cancellation policy, and no upfront fees for installation. We have less than 1% customer churn and, in terms of SaaS metrics, we have triple-digit upsell. When our customers come back to us, they tend to want more,” said McCandless. The project44 founder and CEO said that the key to customer satisfaction was plowing their capital back into their product and being crystal-clear about what ‘visibility’ and ‘realtime’ actually mean.
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