On the morning of April 8, with little fanfare, the website of a new freight tech startup went live. Upon clicking through to the ‘Founders’ section, though, a visitor would immediately see a widely speculated-upon rumor in the transportation and logistics industry confirmed – Paul Loeb and Jeff Silver are back at it again.
Loeb founded American Backhaulers in 1981, a pioneering freight brokerage that Jeff Silver joined in 1984. In 1999, C.H. Robinson acquired American Backhaulers. In 2005, Loeb founded Command Transportation, which was sold to Echo Global Logistics in 2015, while in 2006, Silver and his wife Marianne founded Coyote Logistics, which UPS bought in 2015.
Now the two freight executives – whose exploits are now legendary – have teamed up to tackle the hard problems in freight that have persisted despite multiple waves of innovation in logistics over the past 20 years.
The new company, Mastery Logistics Systems, promises “to reduce waste across the entire freight logistics industry.” Waste is one of the ‘hard problems’ in logistics and transportation – fragmented supply chains, manual communications processes, poor asset utilization and inefficient facilities contribute to friction and waste at all points in the shipment cycle. Ultimately, waste in freight causes transportation and logistics costs to rise as a proportion of overall GDP and become a drag on economic growth.
Jeff Silver spoke to FreightWaves about Mastery by phone. FreightWaves wanted to know why Silver and Loeb decided to build a software company rather than a third-party logistics (3PL) company.
“The decision isn’t about getting into software, it’s more about trying to solve real problems in a different than anyone has attempted so far,” Silver said. “If you look at what Mastery’s trying to do, it’s very different than what other people are trying to do.”
Silver emphasized that both he and Loeb had deep experience in building technology to drive efficiencies in logistics processes.
“I’ve been involved in the industry since 1984, and Paul [Loeb] before that, and to the extent that technology was ready to do it, we were trying to eliminate waste out of every step we took,” Silver said.
Silver said that Mastery is now building technology to focus on three of the biggest issues in transportation and logistics that have not yet been solved– appointment-making, track-and-trace and paper bills-of-lading.
“Even some large customers have very little systemization of the appointment-making process,” Silver said. “Thousands and thousands of people are spending the vast majority of their time on the telephone or on a website making appointments. What we’d like to do is create a centralized and automated process so that as loads are being tendered, they’re tendered with appointments that are pre-set based on the needs of the customer, the preferences of the carrier or broker who’s involved, and also taking load attributes into consideration.”
While there are several well-known visibility solution start-ups working on track-and-trace, Silver pointed out that many of those products connect to the driver’s smart phone or the tractor itself. Visibility at the truckload level can be useful, of course, but has limited applications. A GPS ping received from a driver’s phone may be able to tell the 3PL and shipper that the truck will arrive on time, but it can’t verify that the shipment will arrive in full. In the less-than-truckload space, shippers care about the condition of individual pallets and whether or not they have made it off the truck.
“The right way is to track the freight, not the truck,” Silver said. Although he did not elaborate on the kind of hardware that Mastery would use, Silver said that artificially intelligent processes could connect the track-and-trace technology to automated appointments, and make adjustments to schedules based on real-time information without human intervention.
Paperwork transmitted by mail, fax and email attachment are still prevalent and subject to loss and mishandling. Manually processing these documents introduces human error and slows down transactions.
“People are still mailing, faxing and emailing bills-of-lading, and that again is a giant waste of time that we should be beyond at this point,” Silver said. Mastery’s solution would be to create a digitally native, automated bill of lading that could potentially self-execute once certain conditions were met. To what extent blockchain would be used to distribute and secure the information was an open question, Silver suggested. In many cases, closely collaborating partners’ systems can be tied together in a more efficient way.
Getting down to brass tacks, Silver said that Mastery expected its first product– the first release of what will turn out to be a complex suite of products covering all modes and all geographies for shippers, brokers, and carriers – to be ready for commercial deployment in the second quarter of 2020. Silver said that Mastery will target large-scale, enterprise-style organizations moving hundreds or thousands of loads per day, including truckload, less-than-truckload, intermodal, and private or dedicated fleet movements.