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Hurdles introduced — or exacerbated — by the pandemic have put a spotlight on the logistics and transportation industry. According to Statista, the majority of supply chain professionals are finding hiring workers more challenging than usual thanks to demand-side pressures like faster response times. In terms of biggest roadblocks for logistics providers, delivery expenses top the list. In another report, Statista found that over half of U.S. companies are struggling with the climbing costs in last-mile delivery.
Where companies see challenges, investors see opportunities. According to PitchBook, supply chain technology startups raised $24.3 billion in venture funding in the first three quarters of 2021 — 58% more than in 2020. The Wall Street Journal recently spotlighted several newly minted unicorns — or companies that exceed $1 billion valuations — in the logistics sector, including ecommerce fulfillment firm ShipBob, Flock Freight, and distribution provider Stord.
Today, another company — Loadsmart — joins the list. A freight technology company that leverages automation to help customers price, book, and ship goods, Loadsmart today announced that it raised $200 million in series D financing at a $1.3 billion valuation.
Automation for logistics
Chicago, Illinois-based Loadsmart was launched in 2014 by Felipe Capella and Ricardo Salgado. Salgado was previously at Goldman Sachs, where he worked his way up to the role of principal investing managing director. Capella, an attorney by trade, is the founder of Duelus.com, a promotional marketing platform focused on online contests and challenges.
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“Today, motor carriers are running their trucks empty 20% to 30% of the time and the news is full of headlines about unprecedented delays at ports and warehouses. These are deep rooted inefficiencies that exist in logistics because of barriers between shippers and carriers,” Salgado, who serves as co-CEO at Loadsmart, told VentureBeat via email. “The key to unlocking efficiency in the supply chain, which is also the company’s major challenge, is leveraging technology to create solutions that remove these barriers, bringing carriers, shippers, and warehouses together so we can move freight in the most efficient, transparent and automated way.”
Loadsmart’s algorithms attempt to keep carriers within its network of over 680,000 trucks full and minimize empty miles — trips during which they aren’t carrying anything — by matching loads with available transport lanes. Freight shippers on the platform can request quotes that factor in the estimated time of loading, the commodity, and the overall size of the load. Loadsmart also offers GPS-guided cargo tracking and screens carriers to ensure what it claims are among “the highest safety standards” in the industry. And the company uses machine learning to automate the task of classifying shipping documents, including bills of materials and invoices.
“The pricing [AI] model is fundamental for our growth strategy, taking into account over 400 different parameters to calculate prices for virtually all lanes in the U.S., even when we have little historical data on specific lanes,” Capella told VentureBeat. “In addition to our machine learning pricing algorithm that estimates Loadsmart’s expected cost in the freight market, we have dynamic pricing models that ensure we take into account variables that shift at high frequencies such as customer elasticities, Loadsmart’s internal operational capacity, shifts in conversion and shipper momentum, and future market movements.”
Loadsmart isn’t the only player in the digital freight broker business. Seattle-based Convoy optimizes routing guides from real-time prices for freight. Transfix, which operates in New York, has an online marketplace that finds drivers for loads. And Uber’s growing Uber Freight fleet management platform services small and mid-sized businesses.
But Loadsmart had an active 2021, acquiring freight technology startup Kamion and Opendock, a firm that offers warehouse dock scheduling software. Loadsmart — which in October announced a new 35,000-square-foot headquarters in Chicago — also rolled out a mode optimization capability to offer multiple bookable rates for a single full truckload shipment. And earlier in the year, the company launched a marketplace that combines its algorithms with carriers from The Home Depot to help shippers find flatbed truck capacity.
“Believe it or not, most of Fortune 1000 companies still operate with on-premise systems, in which decision-making is far from optimal given its natural limitations. There’s an important real-time data angle for better operational decision-making,” Capella said. “By building the digital pipes linking supply and demand in the freight marketplace, Loadsmart is uniquely positioned to offer a macro- and micro-level perspective. It allows companies to dig deeper to identify points of action, so they can take real steps to beat third-party benchmarks and focus their attention on fixing problems at the source where it will have the greatest impact.”
Technologies like Loadsmart’s aren’t a cure-all, despite the vendor’s success. According to a Capgemini report, implementation challenges and complexities frequently stymie the adoption of supply chain software in organizations. As of 2020, only 35% of companies were monitoring their operations in real-time while just 38% were giving employees the tools they need to collaborate digitally with one another, Capgemini analysts found.
A 2021 survey from Cleo puts the problems into sharp relief. It found that over 90% of manufacturers struggle with software integration issues and that one-fifth experience losses of over $1,000,000 annually due to these issues.
McKinsey says that new solutions need to be “smartly designed and adapted to specific business cases” to manage the challenges of today’s supply chain. They also need to fit well with an organization’s strategy — a factor that is often overlooked. “This alignment enables companies to tackle key decision-making points with an adequate level of insight while avoiding unnecessary complexity,” a report from the firm reads. “However, implementation can require significant time and investments in both technology and people — meaning the stakes are high to get it right.”
Still, companies haven’t lost faith in the potential for technology to streamline their logistics operations. In a 2020 report, Gartner found that 87% of respondents are planning investments in supply chain resiliency solutions within the next two years.
“In Q2 2021, a year after the onset of the pandemic, Loadsmart reported a 232% Q2 2021 year-over-year and a 32% quarter-over-quarter revenue growth driven by continued technology adoption by shippers and carriers,” Salgado said. “Throughout the pandemic, Loadsmart has continued to combine new technology with deep industry expertise to fundamentally change how freight is priced, booked and shipped. As a result, Loadsmart reported 114% third quarter 2021 year-over-year revenue growth … Gross revenues are north of $250 million, projecting to double in the next 12 months. Gross margin profile is double that of direct competitors.”
SoftBank Latin America Fund, part of the SoftBank Group, led the latest funding round in 581-employee Loadsmart with participation from BlackRock, CSX Corporation, and Janus Henderson Group. Loadsmart plans to use the funds to expand its service offerings.
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