Rippling launches computer inventory management as more workers remain remote

Rippling, a startup building a platform to manage all aspects of employee data, from payroll and benefits through to device management, launched Rippling Inventory Management, what founder and CEO Parker Conrad is touting as the “world’s first cloud IT closet.”

The dashboard enables businesses to automatically store, ship and retrieve employee computers in a way that is remote and hands-free. Rippling stores and monitors company devices so they no longer need an “IT closet” on-site or utilize an employee’s home. Rippling also manages the logistics related to the devices, including wiping and assigning devices and issuing prepaid mailers for machines that need to be returned.

Customers pay a per employee, per month fee to use the dashboard to hire, or fire employees, and set up all of the apps (and access) that the employee will need on their computer. In addition, the user can see all of the outstanding shipments and where they are in the process of being delivered or returned.

The product launch is buoyed by a massive $145 million Series B round in 2020 that gave the company a valuation of $1.35 billion.

Rippling inventory management gif. Image Credits: Rippling

The inventory management platform stems from a problem Rippling saw as remote work became more prevalent over the past 18 months, Conrad told TechCrunch. The company itself used to have an IT closet, which he considers “the last physical part about managing employees.”

“What this does is kill the IT closet,” he added. “If you don’t work in an office and decide to leave, some companies don’t have a process on how to get the former employee’s device back. We had a situation ourselves where employees would ship computers back to one person, and she had them stacked up in her apartment.”

The leadership team spent a long time looking for an inventory management service, and also saw customers posting about it on social media. However, Conrad considers this a problem that didn’t really exist until March 2020.

He explained that with the exception of a few outlier companies, most were not remote and physically handed a computer to new employees or gathered them from the desk of someone who left. Once they were remote, it was difficult to keep track of who had which device and how to get them back if needed.

“Everyone can be done online now, and you don’t have to come into the office to sign paperwork,” Conrad said. “This is the last piece that companies need and works to solve the last-mile problem.”

 

#enterprise, #funding, #hiring, #it, #logistics, #mobile-device-management, #parker-conrad, #personnel, #rippling, #saas, #social-media, #startups, #tc, #telecommuting

SOSV is building a New Jersey HAX facility for industrial, healthcare and climate startups

SOSV this morning announced work on a $50 million HAX facility in Newark, New Jersey focused on growing industrial, healthcare and climate startups. The five-year development plan utilizes $25 million from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

The facility is set to open in June of 2022, with an eye on early-stage U.S. companies working toward their seed round. SOSV notes that, while HAX’s earliest focus was on wearables, in more recent years, the accelerator has largely shifted to industrial and healthcare, which currently comprise 70- and 20% of its portfolio, respectively.

“Since 2015, HAX started investing in more industrial & health startups and today make up 90% of our new investments,” HAX Partner Garrett Winther told TechCrunch. “These hard tech startups, at their earliest stages, tend to rely on more deep science R&D, high precision prototyping, and only require one to two of their first product before raising funding. These companies also take up a lot of space, easily filling a room with their equipment and prototypes.”

Newark was chosen for myriad reasons, including proximity to New York City and universities like Princeton and Rutgers. It also, frankly, has more space than, say, Manhattan – which is a clear necessity for industrial startups. That’s a big part of the reason companies like AeroFarms and Bowery have looked toward to the area to host their massive vertical farming facilities.

The fact that the state was willing to put up around half the cost of the project likely didn’t hurt, either. New Jersey no doubt has a vested interest in welcoming hardware startups with open arms. It will be interesting to see what sort of incentives the local governments can offer to help keep them there to avoid the allure of nearby NYC.

“Growing New Jersey’s innovation economy both creates high-quality jobs today and generates opportunities for exponential returns in the future,” NJEDA CEO Tim Sullivan said in a release. “As startups become successful and scale-up in New Jersey, they build buildings, hire more employees, and become anchors for vibrant communities and small-business supply-chains.”

SOSV says the Newark location will effectively operate as a U.S. equivalent to its offices in Shenzhen, China, which afford easy access to the global supply chain. HAX also operates satellites in San Francisco, Tokyo and New York.

#hardware, #hax, #health, #logistics, #newark, #sosv

Index leads $12.2M seed in Sourceful, a data play to make supply chains greener

Supply chains can be a complex logistical challenge. But they pose an even greater environmental challenge. And it’s that latter problem — global supply-chain sustainability — where UK startup Sourceful is fully focused, although it argues its approach can boost efficiency as well as shrink environmental impact. So it’s a win-win, per the pitch.

Early investors look impressed: Sourceful is announcing a $12.2 million seed funding round today, led by Europe’s Index Ventures (partner, Danny Rimer, is joining the board). Eka Ventures, Venrex and Dylan Field (Figma founder), also participated in the chunky raise.

The June 2020-founded startup says it will use the new funding to scale its operations and build out its platform for sustainable sourcing, with a plan to hire more staff across technology, sustainability, marketing and ops.

Its team has already grown fivefold since the start of 2021 — and it’s now aiming to reach 60 employees by the end of the year.

And all this is ahead of a public launch that’s programmed for early next year.

Sourceful’s platform is in pre-launch beta for now, with around 20 customers across a number of categories — such as food & beverages (Foundation Coffee House), fashion and accessories (Fenton), healthcare (Elder), and online marketplaces (Floom and Stitched) — kicking the tyres in the hopes of making better supply chain decisions.

Startup watchers will know that supply chain logistics and freight forwarding has been a hotbed of activity — with entrepreneurs making waves for years now, promising efficiency gains by digitizing legacy (and often still pretty manual) legacy processes.

Sustainability-focused supply chain startups are a bit more of a recent development (with some category-pioneering exceptions) but could be set for major uplift as the world’s attention spins toward decarbonizing. (Just this month we’ve also covered Portcast and Responsibly, for example.)

Sourceful joins the fray with a dual-sided promise to tackle sustainability and efficiency by mapping client requirements to vetted suppliers on its marketplace — handling the buying and shipping logistics piece (including a little warehousing) — and taking a commission on the overall price as its cut of the action.

At first glance it’s a curious choice of name for a sustainability startup, given the fact that sourcing (a whole lot) less is what’s ultimately going to be needed for humanity to cut its global carbon emissions enough to avert climate disaster. But maybe the intended wordplay here is ‘full’ — in the sense of ‘fully optimized’.

The UK startup is attacking the supply chain sustainability problem from the perspective of doing something right now, arguing that making a dent in consumer-driven environmental impacts of sourcing stuff (packaging, merchansize, components etc) is a lot better than letting the same old polluting status quo roll on. 

However, given all the unverifiable ‘eco’ marketing claims being attached to products nowadays — or, indeed, other forms of flagrant ‘greenwashing’ (like bogus carbon offsets) that are cynically trying to convince consumers it’s okay to keep consuming as much as ever — there are clearly pitfalls to avoid too.

If you’re talking about packaging — which is one of the products that Sourceful is deeply focused on, with a forthcoming design capability offering that will help businesses to customize packaging designs, pick materials, size etc based on real-time data, all with the goal of encouraging ‘greener’ choices — less really is more.

Ideally, zero packaging is what your business should be aiming for (where practical, ofc). Yet Sourceful’s service will, inevitably, support demand for packaging supply and manufacture. At least in the first blush. So there’s a bit of a conundrum.

“You can put a carbon footprint score on packaging in general. So you could say packaging overall is this amount so the best thing you could do is not use any packaging. But the reality is, for most brands right now, especially for ecommerce, if you’re trying to deliver your product to the customer there needs to be some packaging — and so if packaging is unavoidable in its current form or in another form then the best thing you can then do is optimize that packaging,” argues CEO and co-founder Wing Chan, when we make the point that zero packaging is the most sustainable option.

“Right now we think the best solution is to help you optimize your packaging — the next wave will be around circular forms of packaging. Packaging that you can return back to your courier, packaging that you can reuse in another form. But we wanted to start with what is the current pain point. And the pain point is: I’m buying packaging, it’s very expensive, it’s very time-consuming and if I try and get it to be ‘green’ I either put a marketing spin on it or I don’t know how to actually make it more sustainable.

“But I definitely agree with you that long term we’ve got to think about how do I get the supply chain number as close to zero and then offset whatever’s remaining.”

For now, then, Sourceful is using data — combined with its marketplace of vetted suppliers (~40 at this stage) in the UK and China — to help companies optimize sourcing logistics and shrink their supply chains’ environmental impact.

It does this by putting a “carbon footprint score” on the product choices its brand clients are making.

This means that instead of only being able to claim “qualitative things” — such as that a product uses less plastic or a different type of plastic — Sourceful’s customers can display an actual benchmarked carbon footprint score (in the form of a number), based on its lifecycle assessment of the stuff involved in making up the finished product.

“It’s a lifecycle view,” says Chan. “For example if you take packaging we look at the box, we look at what is the cardboard material, where does it come from, how far has it travelled, what type of material is it, how much material gets used, how is then transported — for example is it a manufacturer in Asia all the way to the UK — so we get an overall score. So rather than it just being comparing paper and plastic we actually help the brands to see an overall quantitive outcome.”

“We’ve built the [software] engine that allows you to make choices and see the actual output — so, for example, if you make your box bigger what does that actually do to your carbon footprint score?” he adds.

Sourceful has an internal climate science team to do this work. It is also building on publicly available data sources, per Chan — such as ecoinvent (“the market standard based data”) — but he says the public data available isn’t up-to-date, saying it’s also therefore working with researchers to update these key sources with the last five years of data.

It wants the protocol it’s devised for scoring carbon footprint via this lifecycle assessment to become a universal standard. Hence it’s currently going through an ISO certification process — hoping to have that in place before the planned public launch of its platform in Q1 next year.

“There’s two ISO standards for doing a lifecycle assessment and normally you’d get ISO approval for a specific product but we’re getting ISO approval for the whole methodology — essentially the platform that we’ve built,” explains Chan. “There’s an independent panel of people, from universities, from other consultancies, who will be reviewing this as part of that ISO review — that’s why it’s so important to us that we’re doing that.”

The vetting of the suppliers on its marketplace is something Sourceful is doing entirely by itself, though — without any outside help. So its customers still need to trust that it’s doing a proper job of monitoring all the third parties on its marketplace.

But, on this, Chan argues that’s since sustainability is core to its value proposition it is incentivized to do the vetting in a more thorough and comprehensive way than any other individual player would be.

“The key thing for us is we combine both the data capture you would do when you’re understanding a supplier — asking all the questions about how their supply chain works and all of the laws entered by the new country — but we’re coupling that with a human visit as well. So we have a team in the UK as well as a team in Asia who actually go and visit the manufacturers. So it’s an extra layer of comfort for the brands that we’ve actually spent the time to go and meet them,” he suggests.

“The second thing is, as part of our marketplace build, we’re understanding how their supply chain works — in order to build the lifecycle assessment we actually understand each stage of their manufacturing process. So we have a much deeper understanding of their way of operating than all of the other platforms would have. So, yes it’s more involved, but we think that gives better accountability and a more accurate outcome.”

“We’re taking [the vetting process] to another level,” he adds. “We didn’t find anyone that was going into the same level of depth as us — so that’s why we’ve done it ourselves.”

Pressed a little more, Chan also tells TechCrunch: “Supply chain risks never disappear but the thing is how much investment are you making to learn more about it? And for us because we’re capturing this data on lifecycle assessment it’s part of that process of understanding the supplier. So rather than it being another cost that we pay to go visit the manufacturer, we see it as part of our data gathering — a key part of the platform.

“So rather than it being a cost to minimize, which is why a lot of companies end up in trouble because they don’t visit [their suppliers] enough, we’re invested in making sure that data is as accurate and up-to-date as possible. And the manufacturers see that because they want to have a score that’s good, they also want to understand where their footprint could be improved. So it’s a partnership, rather than it just being a bunch of tick boxes to check — which is what a lot of the audits are… We’re here to try and understand their process better.”

Zooming out to look at the driving forces pressing for supply chain sustainability, Chan suggests demand for greener sourcing by businesses is being driven by consumers themselves — who are certainly more aware than ever of environmental concerns. And can, to a degree, vote with their wallet by choosing more eco products (and/or by putting direct reputational pressure on businesses, such as via social media channels).

There is some regulatory pressure, too — such as existing sustainability and carbon reporting requirements (typically for larger businesses). Along with the overarching ‘net zero’ targets which governments in Europe and elsewhere have signed up for. So there should be increasing ‘top down’ pressure on businesses to decarbonize.

Chan also points to another swathe of environmental laws coming in — such as those banning things like single use plastics — which he says are creating further momentum for businesses to re-evaluate their supply chains.

Nonetheless, he believes the biggest source of pressure for companies to decarbonize is coming from consumers themselves. So — the premise is — brands that can present the strongest story to people about what they’re doing to reduce their environmental impact — backed up by a certified lifecycle assessment (assuming Sourceful gets its ISO stamp) — stand to win the business of growing numbers of eco-minded buyers, at the same time as netting cost efficiencies by optimizing their supply chains.

(And, indeed, part of the team’s inspiration for Sourceful’s business was to challenge the idea that consumers are to blame for the world’s environmental problems — given the lack of choice people so often have over what they can buy, not to mention the paucity of information to inform purchasing choices.)

“In the absence of government regulation on [lifecycle assessment] we’re actually saying to the brand, you’ve got existing products, we’ve measured the material, production, transport, all of these things — given you a carbon footprint score, and actually when you go and look at alternatives we can quantitatively assess the difference between those options. So rather than just pandering to the latest marketing buzzword you get a quantitive view on that,” he says.

“So what we’ve been showing is you can move to a more sustainable outcome — from a quantitative point of view — but also save money. So we’re tackling both problems. The supply chain itself is not very efficient so we can save money and the supply chain is not very transparent so we can give them better visibility into their actual carbon footprint.”

“Every brand that we’ve met that has been started in the last two years, their founder or their premise of the brand had sustainability involved — it’s such a hot topic that if you start a fashion brand or a beauty brand or food brand you have to have somewhere in your mission statement/founder story about your commitment to sustainability. So we thought that’s where the market is going to be. But actually we saw more established companies had the same view — that their consumers are also asking for there to be change in how they talk about their products, how they understand their lifecycle journey. So actually I think the government drive on regulation is of course important but it’s still far behind and actually consumers are driving more of a change,” he adds.

Sourceful’s offering includes a warehousing ‘managed service’ component — where it’s using a predictive algorithm to power auto-stocking so that brands can store (non-current) inventory in its warehouses (to save space etc) and have the goods shipped to them as they need them.

Being able to source supplies like components or packaging in bulk obviously reduces purchasing costs. But depending on how it’s done, it may also mean you can optimize things like transportation requirements, which could limit shipping emissions, so there are potentially efficiency and sustainability strands here too.

“Sea freight is several times more energy efficient than air freight so if we can organize more shipments to go via sea freight than air then that’s a major win. The[n] if we can fill the container up with different client orders so that you end up with one very full container, rather than lots of containers with half of it empty, you’re also going to save a lot of energy too. And so that’s another part of the journey that we do,” says Chan. “The other thing is because were aggregating orders with the manufacturer — they actually have better utilization as well, which is more efficient for them. So all of these things are really important to driving the overall cost as well sustainability score down.”

“The more we thought about it, the more there are so many parts of the supply chain which haven’t been optimzied,” he adds. “So many times you order 2,000 boxes it comes in these air freight shipments and someone has to courier it to you in one trip — there’s so many places where aggregating and being smarter about data you can save so much footprint.”

 

#carbon-footprint, #carbon-offset, #danny-rimer, #e-commerce, #eka-ventures, #environmentalism, #europe, #fundings-exits, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #logistics, #product-management, #sourceful, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #sustainability

Logistics startup Stord raises $90M in Kleiner Perkins-led round, becomes a unicorn and acquires another company

When Kleiner Perkins led Stord’s $12.4 million Series A in 2019, its founders were in their early 20s and so passionate about their startup that they each dropped out of their respective schools to focus on growing the business.

Fast-forward two years and Stord — an Atlanta-based company that has developed a cloud supply chain — is raising more capital in a round again led by Kleiner Perkins.

This time, Stord has raised $90 million in a Series D round of funding at a post-money valuation of $1.125 billion — more than double the $510 million that the company was valued at when raising $65 million in a Series C financing just six months ago.

In fact, today’s funding marks Stord’s third since early December of 2020, when it raised its Series B led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and brings the company’s total raised since its 2015 inception to $205 million.

Besides Kleiner Perkins, Lux Capital, D1 Capital, Palm Tree Crew, BOND, Dynamo Ventures, Founders Fund, Lineage Logistics and Susa Ventures also participated in the Series D financing. In addition, Michael Rubin, Fanatics founder and founder of GSI Commerce; Carlos Cashman, CEO of Thrasio; Max Mullen, co-founder of Instacart; and Will Gaybrick, CPO at Stripe, put money in the round.

Founders Sean Henry, 24, and Jacob Boudreau, 23, met while Henry was at Georgia Tech and Boudreau was in online classes at Arizona State (ASU) but running his own business, a software development firm, in Atlanta.

Over time, Stord has evolved into a cloud supply chain that can give companies a way to compete and grow with logistics, and provides an integrated platform “that’s available exactly when and where they need it,” Henry said. Stord combines physical logistics services such as freight, warehousing and fulfillment in that platform, which aims to provide “complete visibility, rapid optimization and elastic scale” for its users.

About two months ago, Stord announced the opening of its first fulfillment center, a 386,000-square-foot facility, in Atlanta, which features warehouse robotics and automation technologies. “It was the first time we were in a building ourselves running it end to end,” Henry said.

And today, the company is announcing it has acquired Connecticut-based Fulfillment Works, a 22-year-old company with direct-to-consumer (DTC) experience and warehouses in Nevada and in its home state.

With FulfillmentWorks, the company says it has increased its first-party warehouses, coupled with its network of over 400 warehouse partners and 15,000 carriers.

While Stord would not disclose the amount it paid for Fulfillment Works, Henry did share some of Stord’s impressive financial metrics. The company, he said, in 2020 delivered its third consecutive year of 300+% growth, and is on track to do so again in 2021. Stord also achieved more than $100 million in revenue in the first two quarters of 2021, according to Henry, and grew its headcount from 160 people last year to over 450 so far in 2021 (including about 150 Fulfillment Works employees). And since the fourth quarter is often when people do the most online shopping, Henry expects the three-month period to be Stord’s heaviest revenue quarter.

For some context, Stord’s new sales were up “7x” in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year. So far in the third quarter, sales are up almost 10x, according to Henry.

Put simply, Stord aims to give brands a way to compete with the likes of Amazon, which has set expectations of fast fulfillment and delivery. The company guarantees two-day shipping to anywhere in the country.

“The supply chain is the new competitive battleground,” Henry said. “Today’s buying expectations set by Amazon and the rise of the omni-channel shopper have placed immense pressure on companies to maintain more nimble and efficient supply chains… We want every company to have world-class, Prime-like supply chains.”

What makes Stord unique, according to Henry, is the fact that it has built what it believes to be the only end-to-end logistics network that combines the physical infrastructure with software.

That too is one of the reasons that Kleiner Perkins doubled down on its investment in the company.

Ilya Fushman, Stord board director and partner at Kleiner Perkins, said even at the time of his firm’s investment in 2019, that Henry displayed “amazing maturity and vision.”

At a high level, the firm was also just drawn to what he described as the “incredibly large market opportunity.”

“It’s trillions of dollars of products moving around with consumer expectation that these products will get to them the same day or next day, wherever they are,” Fushman told TechCrunch. “And while companies like Amazon have built amazing infrastructure to do that themselves, the rest of the world hasn’t really caught up… So there’s just amazing opportunity to build software and services to modernize this multitrillion-dollar market.”

In other words, Fushman explained, Stord is serving as a “plug and play” or “one stop shop” for retailers and merchants so they don’t have to spend resources on their own warehouses or building their own logistics platforms.

Stord launched the software part of its business in January 2020, and it grew 900% during the year, and is today one of the fastest-growing parts of its business.

“We built software to run our logistics and network of hundreds of warehouses,” Henry told TechCrunch. “But if companies want to use the same system for existing logistics, they can buy our software to get that kind of visibility.”

#atlanta, #cloud, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ilya-fushman, #kleiner-perkins, #logistics, #ma, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #stord, #supply-chain, #venture-capital

Locus Robotics just raised another $50M

Seems Locus Robotics is striking while the iron is hot. Seven months after raising a sizable $150 million Series E, Tiger Global is investing another $50 million in the Massachusetts firm. The last round made Locus a unicorn, and this one brings the company’s total funding to around $300 million.

Locus specializes in warehouse and fulfillment robotics, making a more modular solution that doesn’t require the sort of “ground-up build” of a Berkshire Grey. The company’s approach is closer to that of Fetch, which was acquired by Zebra Technologies back in July. Locus seems prime for an acquisition from a logistics firm or retailer grappling to compete with the monolith of Amazon.

The continued funding rounds, on the other hand, seem to point to a company looking to continue to go it alone.


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CEO Rick Faulk confirmed as much with me back in February, stating, “We have no interest in being acquired. We think we can build the most and greatest value by operating independently. There are investors that want to invest in helping everyone that’s not named ‘Amazon’ compete.”

Faulk adds this morning that the new funds are a kind of validation for Locus. Certainly they’re yet another sign in accelerated interest in automation amid the pandemic. “At a time of increasing volumes and ongoing labor shortages, this new round of funding underscores how critical flexible, scalable, intelligent robotics automation has become to the warehouse and the supply chain,” the executive says. “Locus is uniquely positioned to drive digital transformation in this enormous global market.”

Funding will be used to further expand Locus’ global operations.

#funding, #locus-robotics, #logistics, #recent-funding, #robotics, #startups, #tiger-global

Logistics robotics startup Ambi raises $26M

Five months ago, Ambi Robotics emerged from stealth with a $6 million raise. Today the Bay Area-based firm is back with several times that, announcing a $26 million Series A, led by Tiger Global. The new round also features participation from existing investors, including Bow Capital, Vertex Ventures US and The House Fund.

The startup first hit our radar through the involvement of UC Berkeley (and frequent TC Sessions: Robotics guest Ken Goldberg). Ambi operates in the pick and place robotics space — it’s a crowded category, but one with an intense level of interest, as more warehouse and fulfillment centers are accelerating toward automation after the shutdowns of the past year.

Ambi has already enlisted some high-profile partners, including Pitney Bowes. In spite of only coming out of stealth in April, the robotics startup began deploying its first systems — including the AmbiSort and AmbiKit — in October of last year, ahead of the massive holiday rush.


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The company’s primary differentiation is in the AI that powers its picking robotics system.

“Ambi Robotics combines cutting-edge AI technology with engaging user interfaces to transform the role of ‘item handlers’ to ‘robot handlers,’ ” CEO Jim Liefer said in a release. “With our Series A funding, we will be able to empower more companies to help their associates work harmoniously alongside robots.”

This latest round will go toward scaling both the systems and the team of humans that build them, and deploying additional units.

#ambi-robotics, #logistics, #recent-funding, #robotics, #startups, #tiger-global

Digital freight marketplace BridgeLinx raises $10 million in Pakistan’s largest seed funding

BridgeLinx, a 9-month-old Lahore-headquartered startup that operates a digital freight marketplace, said on Tuesday it has raised $10 million in what is the largest seed financing round in Pakistan.

Harry Stebbings’ 20 VC, Josh Buckley’s Buckley Ventures and Indus Valley Capital co-led the startup’s financing round, which Salman Gul, co-founder and chief executive of BridgeLinx, told TechCrunch completed within weeks.

This is 20 VC and Buckley Ventures’ second lead investment in Pakistan in recent weeks following an $85 million round in quick-commerce startup Airlift. Indus Valley Capital, which recently also backed business-to-business marketplace Bazaar, has invested in all three of the recent high-profile investments in the South Asian country.

Wavemaker Partners, Quiet Capital, TrueSight Ventures, Soma Capital, Flexport, Magnus Rausing’s UNTITLED and founders of Convoy and Bazaar also participated in the round.

BridgeLinx is building an asset-lite digital freight marketplace. The platform connects shippers — such as manufacturing companies, cement factories, textile companies — with truckers and private fleets.

The platform provides its tech solutions to ensure documents validation on both ends, timely pickups, port operations and safety of cargo, said Gul, who previously worked at consultancy firm KPMG in Canada.

BridgeLinx has already onboarded thousands of carriers and is moving thousands of freight-loads each week for many large customers, he said.

As is true in India, Pakistan’s trucking system has a big inefficiency problem that continues to drag the economy. One of the biggest problems faced by truckers is that they are unable to find any use of their vehicles once they have made a delivery. So a truck delivering something to Karachi from Lahore is likely traveling empty on its return journey, which wastes both time and money.

Startups like BridgeLinx are attempting to find ways to make this system more efficient, said Gul, who added that he has closely studied how Convoy, and India’s BlackBuck and Rivigo have expanded their businesses.

BridgeLinx, like BlackBuck, currently operates on an asset-lite model — that is, it doesn’t own any vehicles. But Gul said there is benefit in replicating something from Rivigo, which owns its fleets. By having some trucks of its own, BridgeLinx will be able to ensure that vehicles on its platform are operating round the clock by having multiple drivers working in shifts.

“We will eventually have a hybrid of what BlackBuck and Rivigo offer,” he said.

BridgeLinx will deploy the fresh capital to expand to more verticals and broaden its tech offerings. The startup is also working on hiring more talent, he said.

“BridgeLinx has cracked the code for making end-to-end freight work in a hassle free manner and therefore signed up some of the top businesses in Pakistan. We believe this team is well on its way to bring unprecedented efficiencies to the country’s economy and are really excited to partner with them,” said Aatif Awan, Managing Partner at Indus Valley Capital, in a statement.


On a side note, it’s interesting to see Stebbings and Buckley being the earliest investors to back startups in Pakistan at a time when several high-profile venture funds in Asia — including Sequoia Capital India, Accel, and Lightspeed — are yet to make any move in the country. Arguably, it’s the best time to back startups in Pakistan. The internet penetration has grown considerably in the country in the past decade and scores of startups are beginning to build the railroads for commerce, logistics, and payments.

Prosus has backed one startup in Pakistan — Bykea — and it recently made its first investment Bangladesh — ShopUp, which counts Sequoia as one of its earliest backers.

#asia, #bazaar, #blackbuck, #buckley-ventures, #convoy, #funding, #harry-stebbings, #josh-buckley, #logistics, #pakistan

Vector.ai’s productivity platform for freight forwarders raises $15M A round led by Bessemer

With supply chains under constant stress because of the pandemic, freight forwarding has become one of the hottest startup sectors in the last two years. Indeed, International freight forwarding is now a $199 billion market. And the evidence is mounting.

In November last year, digital freight forwarder Forto raises another $50M in a round led by Inven Capital. In April this year, Nuvocargo raised $12M to digitize the freight logistics industry. In May, Zencargo, with a freight forwarding platform, raised $42 million. In June, freight forwarder sennder raised $80M at a $1B+ valuation. In July Freightify landed $2.5M to make rate management easier for freight forwarders.

And today, Vector.ai, which says it helps freight forwarders improve productivity via its AI platform, has raised $15 million in a Series A led by US VC Bessemer Venture Partners. It was joined by existing investors Dynamo Ventures and Episode 1. Bessemer’s investment is yet another sign that US VC continues to make incursions into the UK and European tech scene.

Vector now plans to accelerate its international expansion plans as an automated system for freight forwarders.

The problem it’s tackling is this: Freight forwarders lose time to repetitive administrative tasks as they execute shipments, such as hunting through customer emails etc, rather than concentrating on higher-value activities. Vector.ai says it’s machine learning platform can automate these tasks.

Its customers now include Fracht, EFL, NNR Global Logistics, The Scarbrough Group, Steam Logistics and Navia Freight, as well as other top-10 freight forwarders.

James Coombes, Co-Founder, and CEO of Vector.ai, commented: “Most employees within freight forwarders spend the majority of their time communicating with the 10-25 different entities that might be associated with a given shipment and coordinating freight movement and documentation. Communication usually runs through email and attachments… The volume of freight continues to rise globally – and with the added burden of Brexit and pandemic disruptions such as the recent port closure in China – freight forwarders are facing staffing shortages, steep wage increases, and shipping delays that continue to cost companies money in lost revenue and spoiled goods. They cannot afford to keep wasting time on low-level processing, which is why we created the technology to automate basic tasks.”

Mike Droesch, Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, said: “Vector.ai is one of the early leaders in an emerging category of freight forwarding workflow automation and digitization tools. It has built an intuitive and industry-focused product – which is already winning over some of the largest freight forwarders.”

Vector competes with Shipamax out of the UK which has raised $9.5M, RPA Labs out of the US which has raised $1.2M and slync.io also in the US which has raised $75.9M.

#articles, #bessemer-venture-partners, #china, #europe, #goods, #inven-capital, #logistics, #machine-learning, #mike-droesch, #partner, #tc, #transport, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vector

China’s WeRide unveils Robovan, its first electric, autonomous cargo van

Chinese autonomous driving company WeRide has unveiled its first cargo van, the vessel upon which it will self-drive into the world of urban logistics. WeRide will work with Chinese automobile manufacturer Jiangling Motors (JMC) and Chinese express delivery company ZTO Express to commercialize its first self-driving van at scale.

The deal was signed on Wednesday by Tony Han, founder and CEO of WeRide, Wenhui Jin, executive vice president of JMC, and Renqun Jin, vice president of ZTO, during WeRide’s latest online press conference dubbed “The Next.” As part of the agreement, WeRide and JMC will jointly design purpose-built models of the Robovan for mass production on JMC’s assembly lines, and ZTO will put the Robovans to good use in their urban logistics service, according to a statement released by the company. A WeRide spokesperson told TechCrunch that the Robovans will be based on JMC’s battery electric vehicle model with a fully-redundant vehicle platform, combined with WeRide’s full-stack software and hardware autonomous driving (AD) solutions.

WeRide has been raking in cash over the past year on its route to commercialization, with over $600 million raised from Series B and C rounds in the span of five months and a current $3.3 billion valuation. In June, the company acquired MoonX.AI, a Guangzhou-based autonomous trucking company, although it hasn’t yet committed to developing a commercial product in that space yet. Either way, having ride-hailing, autonomous busing, urban logistics and even just a hint of self-driving trucks in the pipeline means WeRide’s moves to diversify its autonomous portfolio are edging it ahead of the competition.

Chinese search engine Baidu’s self-driving unit mainly focuses on robotaxi and, as of April this year, buses. Alongside its robotaxis, Pony.AI has at least piloted last-mile logistics and just recently got the go-ahead to test its trucks out in China, but so far no buses. Waymo Via knocks both last-mile and trucking off the list, and its autonomous taxis make for a very long feather in the company’s cap, but Waymo hasn’t yet released any news about self-driving buses. GM-backed Cruise seems to be sticking with small vehicles and all they can provide, which includes rideshare and delivery.

WeRide says its van already has Level 4 autonomous capabilities, which the Society of Automotive Engineers defines as a car that takes the wheel and doesn’t require human interaction in most cases, although a human still has the option to manually override. Level 4 vehicles can only operate in limited areas, which is why they have most recently catered to ridesharing, but delivery vehicles could conceivably operate within a geofence, as well.

Because WeRide already has two years of experience testing out its Robotaxi service with the public, the company says it’s confident that the Robovan will be able to handle itself in a variety of different traffic scenarios, from innercity to tunnels to highways, across ZTO’s network, which covers over 99% of China’s cities and counties, according to ZTO.

A WeRide spokesperson said the Robovan has already been built and has been quietly tested in China for some time now. It’s still too early in the process to provide a detailed timeline on when WeRide and JMC will begin mass production, but the spokesperson said the next step for WeRide will be to pick one to three locations to conduct pilot testing to verify the vehicles and the system’s stability.

“Right after that, we aim for being true driverless in a few areas and build up our know-how of operating Robovans in urban logistics application,” the spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Considering both Robovan and Robotaxi are operating in urban cities, Robovan shares similar regulatory support as Robotaxi. Regulation in China is progressing step by step to catch up with the development of self-driving technology. You will see the application of true driverless Robovan in three to five years.”

#automotive, #logistics, #tc, #transportation

Lee Fixel’s Addition invests over $75 million in Delhivery

Indian logistics firm Delhivery has courted one more high-profile investor before its expected IPO in the next two quarters: Lee Fixel’s Addition.

The Gurgaon-headquartered firm has disclosed in a regulatory filing that Addition has invested $76.4 million in the startup. The new investment is part of a Series I round, according to the filing, provided by market intelligence firm Tofler. So far Delhivery has disclosed only Addition’s investment. 

The 10-year-old startup began its life as a food delivery firm, but has since shifted to a full suite of logistics services in over 2,300 Indian cities and more than 17,500 zip codes. It is among a handful of startups attempting to digitize the demand and supply system of the logistics market through a freight exchange platform.

The new investment comes months after a subsidiary of FedEx invested $100 million in Delhivery, and the startup separately closed a $277 million financing round. The startup has said earlier this year that it was looking to file for an IPO within the next six to nine months.

A look at Delhivery’s network. (Bernstein)

Delhivery is one of the largest logistics firms in India. Its platform connects consigners, agents and truckers offering road transport solutions. The startup says the platform reduces the role of brokers, makes some of its assets such as trucking — the most popular transportation mode for Delhivery — more efficient, and ensures round the clock operations.

This digitization is crucial to address the inefficiencies in the Indian logistics industry that has long stunted the national economy. Poor planning and forecasting of demand and supply increases carrying costs, theft, damages and delays, analysts at Bernstein wrote in a report last month about India’s logistics market.

Delhivery, which says it has delivered over 1 billion orders, works with “all of India’s largest e-commerce companies and leading enterprises,” according to its website, where it also says the startup has worked with over 10,000 customers. For the last leg of the delivery, its couriers are assigned an area that never exceeds 2 square kilometers, allowing them to make several delivery runs a day to save time.

Indian logistics market’s TAM (total addressable market) is over $200 billion, Bernstein analysts said. The startup said late last year that it was planning to invest over $40 million within two years to expand and increase its fleet size to meet the growing demand of orders as more people shop online amid the pandemic.

#asia, #delhivery, #funding, #india, #lee-fixel, #logistics, #tc

Extra Crunch roundup: cohort analysis, YC Demo Day recaps, building your supply chain

The ongoing fintech revolution continues to level the playing field where legacy companies have historically dominated startups.

To compete with retail banks, many newcomers are offering customers credit and debit cards; developer-friendly APIs make issuance relatively easy, and tools for managing processes like KYC are available off the shelf.

To learn more about the low barriers to entry — and the inherent challenges of creating a unique card offering — reporter Ryan Lawler interviewed:

  • Michael Spelfogel, founder, Cardless
  • Anu Muralidharan, COO, Expensify
  • Peter Hazlehurst, founder and CEO, Synctera
  • Salman Syed, SVP and GM of North America, Marqeta

Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


We’re off on Monday, September 6 to celebrate America’s Labor Day holiday, but we’ll be back with new stories (and a very brief newsletter) on Tuesday morning.

Thanks very much for reading,

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

 

6 tips for establishing your startup’s global supply chain

Image Credits: Suriyapong Thongsawang (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The barrier to entry for launching hardware startups has fallen; if you can pull off a successful crowdfunding campaign, you’re likely savvy enough to find a factory overseas that can build your widgets to spec.

But global supply chains are fragile: No one expected an off-course container ship to block the Suez Canal for six days. Due to the pandemic, importers are paying almost $18,000 for shipping containers from China today that cost $3,300 a year ago.

After spending a career spinning up supply chains on three continents, Liteboxer CEO Jeff Morin authored a guide for Extra Crunch for hardware founders.

“If you’re clear-eyed about the challenges and apply some rigor and forethought to the process, the end result can be hard to match,” Morin says.

Our favorite startups from YC’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 1

Y Combinator’s Summer 21 Demo Day, Part 1

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Twice each year, we turn our attention to Y Combinator’s latest class of aspiring startups as they hold their public debuts.

For YC Summer 2021 Demo Day, the accelerator’s fourth virtual gathering, Natasha Mascarenhas, Alex Wilhelm, Devin Coldewey, Lucas Matney and Greg Kumparak selected 14 favorites from the first day of one of the world’s top pitch competitions.

Virtual events startups have high hopes for after the pandemic

Image Credits: Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

Few people thought about virtual events before the pandemic struck, but this format has fulfilled a unique and important need for organizations large and small since early 2020. But what will virtual events’ value be as more of the world attempts a return to “normal”?

To find out, we caught up with top executives and investors in the sector to learn about the big trends they’re seeing — as the sequel to a survey we did in March 2020.

We surveyed:

  • Xiaoyin Qu, founder and CEO, Run The World
  • Rosie Roca, chief customer officer, Hopin
  • Hemant Mohapatra, partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners India
  • Paul Murphy, former investor in Hopin with Northzone (currently co-founder of Katch)

Tracking startup focus in the latest Y Combinator cohort

Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim wrapped up TechCrunch’s coverage of the summer cohort from Y Combinator’s Demo Day with an evaluation of how the group fared in comparison to their expectations.

They were surprised by the number of startups focusing on no-and low-code software, and pleased by the unanticipated quantity of new companies focusing on space.

“It seems only fair to note that some categories of startup activity simply met our expectations in terms of popularity,” noting delivery-focused startups including dark stores and kitchens.

Popping up less than expected? Crypto and insurtech.

Read on for the whole list of startups that caught the eye of The Exchange.

Use cohort analysis to drive smarter startup growth

Image Credits: erhui1979 / Getty Images

Cohort analysis is what it sounds like: evaluating your startup’s customers by grouping them into “cohorts” and observing their behavior over time.

In a guest column, Jonathan Metrick, the chief growth officer at Sagard & Portage Ventures, offers a detailed example explaining the value of this type of analysis.

Questions? ​​Join us for a Twitter Spaces chat with Metrick on Tuesday, September 7, at 3 p.m. PT/6 p.m. ET. For details and a reminder, follow @TechCrunch on Twitter.

#debit-card, #ec-roundup, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch-roundup, #finance, #growth-marketing, #logistics, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #virtual-events, #y-combinator

AxleHire to scale Tortoise and URB-E zero-emissions delivery solutions nationally

Last-mile logistics supplier AxleHire provides same-day and next-day delivery through a network that includes gig economy, couriers and traditional carriers. Over the past year, it has been quietly piloting automated repositioning startup Tortoise’s remote controlled delivery robots in Los Angeles and compact container delivery service URB-E’s e-bike container delivery in New York City. On Thursday, it announced plans to scale the two very different zero-emissions pilot programs nationally over the next 12 months.

AxleHire, which is known for parcel delivery and restaurant meal kit delivery like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, plans to bring over 100 Tortoise robots across the country. During URB-E’s summer deployment with AxleHire in NYC, it deployed 10 vehicles moving 100 containers per week. Now it will deploy 50 URB-E vehicles moving anywhere from 300 to 500 containers per week in NYC, LA and San Francisco, as well as other launch cities. The company, which raised a $20 million round in April, didn’t specify every city it would be entering with these new programs, but Tortoise and URB-E said we can look to the cities AxleHire already operates in: Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Phoenix, Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

AxleHire’s style is to establish delivery hubs in or near dense metro areas, which makes for easier trips and less miles traveled in total. The partnerships with Tortoise and URB-E are a part of AxleHire’s mission to create more sustainable and cheaper last-mile delivery. The company says its partnerships with the two startups have also lowered its emissions by 95%. AxleHire is providing an example of one company trialing two very different greener and tech-focused forms of transporting goods, so it will likely serve as an interesting case study for other last-mile logistics providers.

Image Credits: URB-E

In New York, AxleHire and URB-E have been working together on a microcontainer delivery system between Brooklyn and Manhattan. URB-E’s vehicles are specifically designed to be able to ride in the bike lanes, despite their ability to haul over 800 pounds. AxleHire says its pilot with URB-E resulted in a six times reduction in traffic and a model that is three times cheaper than EV delivery vans, largely based on the avoidance of parking tickets.

Over the past year in Los Angeles, AxleHire stationed Tortoise’s electric, 4-mph remote-piloted carts, which carried up to 120 pounds worth of goods, in its delivery microhubs in cities, allowing the little bots with friendly smiley faces to go back and forth, making about 15 deliveries per day within a three-mile radius. In addition, AxleHire loaded a large truck with multiple packages and a Tortoise robot, which would then drive into a dense residential area. This truck would serve as a mobile delivery hub, doing its own deliveries while the bot goes back and forth delivering parcels and being reloaded all day long.

“It’s basically the hive model, where we’re augmenting the existing van or truck in terms of how many deliveries they could do in a two-hour stretch,” Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder of Tortoise, told TechCrunch. “There’s communication happening with our subject confirming they’ll be home to receive it. If so, they get notified that the robot’s on the way when it’s about 10 minutes away, and then when it arrives, the customer will come out and get it from the containers in the robot.”

The Tortoise bots, which can ride on sidewalks or bike lanes, have both swappable batteries and can be plugged and charged, according to Shevelenko. On a single charge, they can get around 10 to 15 miles of range.

While Tortoise’s bots will be operated 100% remotely over the next year, remote positioning is not Tortoise’s end goal at all. Autonomy is the goal, and doing partnerships like this, as well as with shared e-scooter operators like Spin, allows Tortoise not only to get into markets that currently don’t have regulation for self-driving vehicles, but also to just get into the market now, rather than spending multiple years mapping it first. The only real infrastructure the bots need is 4G connectivity.

“The beauty is that we can ship the robot to a new location and because we have the benefit of human judgment oversight every inch of the journey,” said Shevelenko. “We don’t need perfect routing or perfect mapping. We’re filling in the maps over time, and that gives us a big data advantage.”

By slowly collecting routing data over the course of the next year, Tortoise will be giving its system more data to learn on and create the most optimal route for the specific use case of low-speed and lightweight delivery vehicles. Shevelenko says the long-term vision of Tortoise is to have its tech on any light electric vehicle, whether it be a delivery robot, a scooter, a cleaning robot, security robot or construction robot. Delivery is a great place to start, given the massive demand in the COVID marketplace.

“The more vehicles we have with Tortoise eyes on them, the more data we’re collecting, which means we’re doing trips with higher autonomy and lower costs,” said Shevelenko.

Aside from allowing for max data collection, remote controlled delivery bots over the next year also give Tortoise the advantage of getting the community used to this new tech.

“We think the right way to enter a community is first to reassure people that this is safe and get them comfortable with it,” said Shevelenko. “Once it’s part of daily life, then slowly over time, we can turn on more autonomy, but there’s no need to rush into that right now. The practical reality is, everybody’s claiming they’re doing autonomy but they aren’t. They always have a fallback like safety drivers or remote monitors. Nobody actually trusts their economy system, and so we’re kind of leaning into that and not trying to do something that is impossible.”

#axlehire, #delivery, #logistics, #robotics, #tc, #tortoise, #transportation, #urb-e

6 tips for establishing your startup’s global supply chain

Startups are hard work, but the complexities of global supply chains can make running hardware companies especially difficult. Instead of existing within a codebase behind a screen, the key components of your hardware product can be scattered around the world, subject to the volatility of the global economy.

I’ve spent most of my career establishing global supply chains, setting up manufacturing lines for 3D printers, electric bicycles and home fitness equipment on the ground in Mexico, Hungary, Taiwan and China. I’ve learned the hard way that Murphy’s law is a constant companion in the hardware business.

But after more than a decade of work on three different continents, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that will help you avoid unnecessary mistakes.

Expect cost fluctuations, especially in currency and shipping

Shipping physical products is quite different from “shipping” code — you have to pay a considerable amount of money to transport products around the world. Of course, shipping costs become a line item like any other as they get baked into the overall business plan. The issue is that those costs can change monthly — sometimes drastically.

At this time last year, a shipping container from China cost $3,300. Today, it’s almost $18,000 — a more than fivefold increase in 12 months. It’s safe to assume that most 2020 business plans did not account for such a cost increase for a key line item.

Shipping a buggy hardware product can be exponentially costlier than shipping buggy software. Recalls, angry customers, return shipping and other issues can become existential problems.

Similar issues also arise with currency exchange rates. Contract manufacturers often allow you to maintain cost agreements for any fluctuations below 5%, but the dollar has dropped much more than 5% against the yuan compared to a year ago, and hardware companies have been forced to renegotiate their manufacturing contracts.

As exchange rates become less favorable and shipping costs increase, you have two options: Operate with lower margins, or pass along the cost to the end customer. Neither choice is ideal, but both are better than going bankrupt.

The takeaway is that when you set up your business, you need to prepare for these possibilities. That means operating with enough margin to handle increased costs, or with the confidence that your end customer will be able to handle a higher price.

Overorder critical parts

Over the past year, many businesses have lost billions of dollars in market value because they didn’t order enough semiconductors. As the owner of a hardware company, you will encounter similar risks.

The supply for certain components, like computer chips, can be limited, and shortages can arise quickly if demand increases or supply chains get disrupted. It’s your job to analyze potential choke points in your supply chain and create redundancies around them.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-hardware, #ec-how-to, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #hardware, #logistics, #manufacturing, #semiconductors, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management

Wing approaches 100,000 drone deliveries two years after Logan, Australia launch

In a blog post this morning, Alphabet drone delivery company Wing announced that it is set to hit 100,000 customer deliveries over the weekend. The news comes on the second anniversary of the service’s pilot launch in Logan, Australia, a city of roughly 300,000 people in the Brisbane metropolitan area.

It also, notably, arrives a few weeks after Wired reported that Amazon’s own drone delivery efforts are “collapsing inwards.” Wing comms head Jonathan Bass told TechCrunch that the service is set to enter additional markets in the coming months.

“I think we’ll expand quite a bit,” Bass told TechCrunch. “I think we’ll launch new services in Australia, Finland and the United States in the next six months. The capabilities of the technology are probably ahead of the regulatory permissions right now.”

Of the existing deliveries, more than half were completed in Logan over the course of the last eight months. The first week of August, for instance, found customers place orders for 4,500 deliveries, which works out to one every 30 seconds during Wing’s delivery window.

The numbers include:

  • 10,000 cups of coffee
  • 1,700 children’s snack packs
  • 1,200 hot chooks (roasted chicken, in Australian)
  • 2,700 sushi rolls
  • 1,000 loaves of bread

Image Credits: Wing

The drones have a range of six miles — limited by their battery life. That means the trips are fairly short, so there’s not a lot of issue with foodstuffs staying hot or cold, in spite of the package (which resembles a Happy Meal) being transported outside the drone. The primarily limitation, the company says, is weight, with capacity to carry up to three pounds. Apparently the system has had no issues carrying extremely fragile objects like eggs.

The drones cruise at around 100 to 150 feet in the air and lower down to about 23 feet when they reach their destination. From there, a tether lowers the package to the ground and unhooks it. No one is required to receive the package.

Image Credits: Wing

“If you combine the test flights with deliveries, it’s close to half-a-million flights over the past four or five years,” says Bass. “We’ve gradually moved into dense environments and listen to communities.” That last bit includes community feedback to reduce the drone’s noise levels.

#alphabet, #drone, #drone-delivery, #google, #hardware, #logistics, #wing

Communication software startup Channels takes on event management with text workflow

Three University of Michigan students are building Channels Inc., a communication software tailored for physical workers, and already racking up some big customers in the event management industry.

Siddharth Kaul, 18, Elan Rosen, 20, and Ibrahim Mohammed, 20, started the company after finding some common ground in retail and events. The company’s customer list boasts names like Marriott Hotels, and it announced a $520,000 seed round, led by Sahra Growth Capital, to give it nearly $570,000 in total funding.

Kaul grew up going to a lot of events in Kuwait and Dubai, but started noticing there was a delay in things that should happen and many processes were being done on pen and paper.

“The technology that was available was inharmonious and made it hard for physical workers to fulfill tasks,” Kaul told TechCrunch. “We saw it happening in the event management space, forcing workers to coordinate across technologies.”

Legacy communication platforms like Slack are aggregating communications, but are better for remote workers; for physical workers, they rely more on text communication, he said. However, the disadvantage with texting is that you have to keep scrolling to get to the new message, and old communication is lost amid all of the replies.

They began developing a platform for small hotels to help them transition to digital and provide communication in a non-chronological order that is easier to access, enables discussion and can be searched. Users of the SaaS platform can build live personnel maps to see where employees are and what the event floor looks like, prioritize alerts and automate tasks while monitoring progress.

Marriott became a customer after one of its employees saw the Channels platform was being tested at an event. He saw employees pulling out their phones and asked the manager why they were doing that, and was told they were testing out the product and referred him to Kaul.

“What they thought was helpful was that it was communication, and though the employees were checking their phones, it was quick and they remained attentive,” Kaul said.

Channels provides a solid platform in terms of analytics and graphical representation, which is a major selling point for customers, leading to initial traction and revenue for the company that Rosen said he expects can occur at the convention level the company is striving for.

The new funding will be used to grow in development and bring additional engineering talent to the team. In addition, it will allow Kaul and Rosen to continue with their studies, while Mohammed will be doing more full-time work. They want to increase their recurring revenue in the Middle East while building up operations in the United States.

Jamal Al-Barrak, managing partner of Sahra Growth Capital, said Channels was on his firm’s radar ever since they won the 2020 Dubai X-Series competition it sponsors. As a result of winning the competition, he was able to see the founders on multiple occasions and hear their growth.

Sahra doesn’t typically invest in companies like Channels, but the firm started a “seed sourcing effort” to make investments of between $200,000 and $800,000 into early-stage companies, Al-Barrak said. Channels is one of the first investments with that effort.

“Channels is one of our first investments in this initiative and they look very promising so far even compared to our investments before we started this initiative,” Al-Barrak said. He liked the founders’ work ethic and their focus on the event industry, which he called, “historically outdated and bereft of technological innovation.”

“Sid, Elan and Ibrahim are some of the youngest yet brightest entrepreneurs I have come across to this day and I have invested in over 25 technology startups,” he said. “Additionally, I enjoyed that they had proof of concept with a prior customer base and revenue. I was most impressed by their vision past their current industry and bounds as they want to encapsulate communication for all physical workers, whether it is events, retail or more.”

 

#artificial-intelligence, #channels-inc, #cloud, #communication, #elan-rosen, #enterprise, #event-management, #funding, #ibrahim-mohammed, #jamal-al-barrak, #logistics, #middle-east, #recent-funding, #sahra-growth-capital, #siddharth-kaul, #startups, #tc, #university-of-michigan

Medical supply marketplace startup bttn. sews up additional $5M seed

Coming off a $1.5 million seed round in June, bttn. announced Thursday that it secured another $5 million extension, led by FUSE, to the round to give it a $26.5 million post-money valuation.

The Seattle-based company was founded in March 2021 by JT Garwood and Jack Miller after seeing the challenges medical organizations had during the global pandemic to not only find supplies, but also get fair prices for them.

“We went into this building on the pain points customers had dealing with a system that is so archaic and outdated — most were still faxing in order forms and keeping closets full of supplies, but not knowing what was there,” Garwood, CEO, told TechCrunch.

Bttn. is going after the U.S. wholesale medical supply market, which is predicted to be valued at $243.3 billion by the end of 2021, according to IBISWorld. The company created a business-to-business e-commerce platform with a variety of high-quality medical supplies, saving customers an average of between 20% and 40%, while providing a better ordering and shipping experience, Garwood said.

It now boasts more than 300 customers, including individual practices and surgical centers, and multiple government contracts. It is also currently the preferred supplier for over 17 healthcare associations across the country, Garwood said. In addition to expanding into dental supplies, bttn. is also attracting customers like senior living facilities and home and hospice care.

Garwood intends to use the funds to expand bttn.’s technology, sales and operations teams, and increase its partnerships. The company is also adding new features like a portal to track shipments more easily, better order automation and improve the ability to control when supplies will get to them.

Bttn. is also analyzing more of the data coming in from its marketplace to recognize where the trends are coming from, including hospitalization rates, to share with customers. For example, if hospitals are overcrowded, supply shortages will follow, Garwood said.

“The medical supply industry was built on inequity, and we have a sense of duty to build a product that enables a better future for our customers,” he added. “We can proactively let customers know that spikes are expected, provide them with correct information and give that power back to the consumers and healthcare providers in ways they never had before.”

Whereas bttn.’s first seed round was “about pouring gas on the fire,” partnering with FUSE this time around was an easy decision for Garwood, who said the firm is bringing new assets to the table.

Brendan Wales, general partner at FUSE, said via email that his firm backs promising entrepreneurs building businesses in the Pacific Northwest and discovered bttn. before they announced any funding.

He said there is massive consumerization of healthcare, most evident on the patient side for years, but now becoming so on the provider side. Medical office employees are looking for the same type of customer experience they get from online businesses they frequently shop at, and bttn. “has a relentless drive to provide the same type of experiences and interactions to health providers.”

“We fell in love with the idea of providing a transparent and delightful customer experience to health providers, something that has been sorely lacking,” Wales added. “That, tied in with a young and ambitious team, made it so that our entire partnership worked tirelessly to partner with them.”

 

#brendan-wales, #bttn, #customer-experience, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #funding, #fuse, #health, #healthcare, #jt-garwood, #logistics, #recent-funding, #seattle, #startups, #tc

Waymo Via is scaling up autonomous trucking operations in Texas, Arizona, California

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving arm, is building a dedicated trucking hub in Dallas and partnering with Ryder for fleet management services in a two-pronged move to seriously scale up its autonomous trucking operations across Texas, Arizona and California.

This news comes just a couple of months after Waymo announced a $2.5 billion raise that it would use to continue growing its autonomous driving platform, the Waymo Driver, as well as its team. Waymo has been ramping up testing on the fifth generation of the Driver on Class 8 trucks, hauling freight for carriers like J.B. Hunt along Interstate 45 between Houston and Fort Worth, Texas and working with Daimler Trucks to develop a robust level 4 redundant vehicle platform, according to a spokesperson for the company. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, level 4 autonomy means the vehicle can drive itself without a human but only in predefined areas.

Waymo has already broken ground on the new 9-acre trucking hub, which will be built specifically for Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous trucking operations, in Dallas-Forth Worth to service one of the busiest corridors in the country. Designed for commercial use, the hub is expected to accommodate hundreds of trucks as the company scales in the region and amplifies larger and more complex autonomous testing. Waymo says it will help the company spread out operations in Texas beyond the I-45 and across the I-10 and I-20. The location is well situated to support long-haul routes across state borders and connect with Waymo’s Phoenix operations center. Waymo said it plans to move into the facility during the first half of next year.

This is where the Ryder partnership comes in. The Dallas hub will be a central launch point for testing not only the Waymo Driver, but also its transfer hub model, which is a mix of automated and manual trucking that optimizes transfer hubs near highways to ensure the Waymo Driver is sticking to main thoroughfares and human drivers are handling first and last mile deliveries. Scaling this model will require a high level of organization, and Ryder’s fleet management services and standardized fleet maintenance across over 500 facilities should be up to the job.

The partnership includes fleet maintenance, inspections and roadside assistance across all of the Waymo Via hubs and testing sites, including the new Dallas facility. Given Ryder’s size and influence and Waymo’s access to AV fleet data, the two companies will also work on a blueprint for autonomous truck maintenance and optimized performance.

“While this partnership initially focuses on fleet maintenance, we see many opportunities to collaborate on autonomous trucking operations in order to successfully deploy these trucks at scale,” said Karen Jones, chief marketing officer and head of new product development for Ryder, in a statement. “Already, we’ve collaborated on the layout and design of Waymo’s new Dallas facility to ensure it’s optimized for serviceability of trucks and for the transfer hub model they plan to pursue in the near future. Autonomous Class 8 technology is quickly taking hold, and Ryder is poised to become a leader — not only in servicing trucks but also in managing the unique logistics of autonomous operations.”

#automotive, #autonomous-trucking, #logistics, #tc, #transportation, #waymo, #waymo-driver, #waymo-via

RaRa Delivery gets $3.25M for its ambitious on-demand delivery plans in Indonesia

RaRa Delivery’s ambitious goal is to offer same-day deliveries in Indonesia without burning cash like many on-demand logistics providers. The company announced today it has raised $3.25 million in seed funding led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program and East Ventures. Other participants included 500 Startups, Angel Central, GK Plug and Play and angel investors Royston Tay and Yang Bin Kwok.

Launched in 2019, RaRa Delivery relies on a proprietary engine that batches orders and optimizes delivery routes based on data like real-time traffic information. It currently operates in Greater Jakarta and is getting ready to expand into five other Indonesian cities this year.

RaRa Delivery’s goal is to integrate with all major marketplaces in Indonesia, so sellers can offer it as a delivery option to customers. It also partners with brands, small e-commerce businesses and seller aggregators. Some notable clients include e-commerce platform Blibli, coffee delivery startup Kopi Kenangan, Grab Merchant, healthcare platform Alodokter and grocery store Sayurbox. RaRa Delivery says its daily order volume has grown 15 times over the past year, due in part to increased demand for grocery and medical supply deliveries during the pandemic.

Before launching RaRa Delivery, co-founder and chief executive officer Karan Bhardwaj worked at Unilever, managing its e-commerce supply chain in Southeast Asia and Australasia. During that time, he dealt with many kinds of distribution channels, including marketplaces, e-commerce aggregators and last-mile delivery providers.

Over the past few years, Bhardwaj watched customer expectations for deliveries change. Many are no longer satisfied with even next-day delivery. They want their orders delivered the same day, often within a few hours.

“A good experience over time becomes a need rather than a luxury,” said Bhardwaj. The United States has Amazon Prime, China has courier service SF Express and South Korea has Coupang, but “same-day delivery adoption has not reached its true potential in Indonesia because of the lack of the right supply solution, and that’s exactly what we are trying to crack.”

Bhardwaj added that people are willing to pay two to three times more for same-day delivery versus next day delivery, and even higher fees for deliveries within an hour.

But many traditional logistics players, with their hub-and-spoke distribution models, are not designed for on-demand deliveries, while on-demand providers have high operational costs because their drivers fulfill one order per trip.

“If a business has 10 orders, they are going to send 10 drivers and everyone is going to pick up one order,” said Bhardwaj. “They can do a three-hour delivery service, but there is no consolidation, no optimization, the cost per order is very high, there distance limits, weight limits and they don’t offer cash on delivery.”

RaRa Delivery’s real-time batching engine was created as a more scalable and sustainable alternative. The company’s driver fleet fulfills orders for many different types of businesses—food and beverage, grocery, healthcare and e-commerce—which all have different time requirements for their deliveries. For example, a restaurant needs deliveries to happen within an hour, but for grocery stores that timeframe can be three hours, and for e-commerce stores, up to eight hours.

Once orders are made, RaRa Delivery’s system groups them into batches, optimizing capacity, distance, time slots and driving routes based on real-time traffic data. A batch can have between two to 15 orders, and their composition is flexible. For example, some batches might entail a series of pick-ups followed by deliveries, while others might have pick-ups interspersed with deliveries, depending on what creates the most efficient route.

Bhardwaj said this increases how much RaRa Delivery’s drivers can earn because they perform multiple deliveries per trip, and reduce their downtime. Each RaRa Delivery batch takes about two to six hours to complete.

“In a normal on-demand scenario, a driver takes an order, finishes that order and waits for another order. That waiting time is what reduces the potential earnings of a driver,” he said.

RaRa Delivery also enables cash on delivery. Typically, when a delivery service offers COD, that means drivers need to go back to a hub to drop off the money. RaRa Delivery’s reconciliation product shows drivers how much cash to collect for each order. Once they are done, it generates a code that the driver can use a convenience store to deposit the cash, instead of a hub.

The startup’s plans for its seed funding include expanding its product ecosystem, which currently includes the batching engine, a seller portal, real-time order tracking, a chatbot for customers and the COD reconciliation.

It’s focused on Tier 1 cities in Indonesia for its initial rollout, before expanding into smaller cities and covering all of Indonesia within a couple of years. Then RaRa Delivery plans to expand into other countries. Bhardwaj said its batching engine is geography-agnostic, so it requires minimal localization for new markets.

 

#asia, #e-commerce, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #logistics, #on-demand, #on-demand-delivery, #rara-delivery, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

Amazon’s $1.5 billion U.S. air cargo hub is open for business

Amazon’s $1.5 billion air cargo hub in Northern Kentucky opened Wednesday, the latest effort by the e-commerce giant to connect a network of 40 sites and control all aspects of delivery as demand for speed and convenience accelerates.

The Amazon Air Hub operations, located at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, will be the center of its U.S. cargo network. The hub opened after more than four years of planning and construction. Amazon said the U.S. hub will eventually operate a dozen flights per day and process millions of packages every week.

The hub is comprised of a 800,000-square-foot sortation building located on a 600-acre campus that includes seven buildings, a new ramp for aircraft parking and a multi-story vehicle parking structure.

Amazon said that eventually more than 2,000 people will be employed there. The air hub will also rely on robotics technology, specifically to robotics arms to move and sort packages and mobile drive units to transport packages across the building.

Amazon Air launched in 2016 and has grown into a network of more than 40 locations. Last year, Amazon Air launched its European air hub at Germany’s Leipzig/Halle Airport, a 215,000-square-foot facility that hosts two Amazon-branded Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Amazon Air also has regional air hubs at airports in Texas, Puerto Rico and Florida in the U.S., and plans to expand to San Bernardino International Airport in California and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 2021.

#air-cargo, #amazon, #amazon-air, #delivery, #logistics, #robotics, #transportation

Singapore’s logistics tech startup Parcel Perform raises $20 million

Singapore-headquartered Parcel Perform, which connects merchants with e-commerce carriers and provides shipment tracking features, said on Wednesday it has raised $20 million in a new financing round as it scales its business in several parts of the world.

Cambridge Capital led the logistics tech startup’s Series A financing round, while SoftBank Ventures Asia and existing investors including Wavemaker Partners and Investible participated in it.

The SaaS startup helps improve the experience of e-commerce merchants and their customers when engaging with carriers, explained Dr. Arne Jeroschewski, co-founder and chief executive of Parcel Perform, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Nespresso, which sells home coffee machines, capsules and accessories, relies on Parcel Perform to gain access to logistics data, for instance. Based on this data, said Jeroschewski, tracking experience — such as a web page for tracking, a system for authentication — is charted for the firm and the startup also provides tools for customer support.

Parcel Perform also provides these merchants with tools to create additional touchpoints after the checkout to create higher brand loyalty with customers, opportunities to move more inventories, and it has also developed a system to support more than 30 languages to offer the most personalized experience to customers. It says businesses on its platform have increased their customer lifetime value by up to 40%. 

The startup — which is already profitable and has grown its revenue by 5x since the onset of the pandemic — also uses its AI stack to make predictions on things such as when a customer will get their parcel. Parcel Perform, which integrates with over 700 carriers, has courted clients globally and executes more than 100 million parcel updates each day.

“Visibility is a vital market in this age of e-commerce. After evaluating many companies worldwide, we believe that Parcel Perform simply offers the best visibility and experience solution. They have built a unique value proposition for brands, marketplaces and carriers, with the most complete solution for end-to-end shipment tracking,” said Benjamin Gordon, Managing Partner of Cambridge Capital, in a statement. Cambridge focuses exclusively on global logistics and supply chain technology.

Jeroschewski founded the startup with Dana von der Heide. Jeroschewski previously co-founded e-tail unicorn Zalora, and held senior roles in Singapore Post and DHL, where he worked together with Dana. Dana is also an advisory member of the German Logistics Association and part of the distinguished eFounder Fellowship program by Alibaba.

Parcel Perform will deploy the fresh funds to scale further in Asia and Europe and also set up a regional office in North America, said Jeroschewski. The startup is also looking to increase its headcount.

#asia, #cambridge-capital, #ecommerce, #funding, #logistics, #singapore, #softbank-ventures-asia, #tc, #wavemaker-partners

Omnibiz gets $3M to digitize Nigeria’s informal B2B supply chain

Despite the prevalence of shopping malls and the emergence of VC-backed e-commerce companies like Jumia, informal retail in Africa is still king.

A 2016 study by PwC states that 90% of sales in Africa’s major economies come through informal channels — markets and kiosks.

This presents a large market ripe for digitization, and over the past five years, African startups have risen to the challenge, raising millions of dollars in the process. Today, Omnibiz, a Lagos-based startup, joins the fray and has raised a seed round of $3 million to expand into new markets.

Omnibiz is a B2B e-commerce platform that connects fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) manufacturers to retailers by digitizing the supply chain stakeholders.

The platform offers a mobile app, WhatsApp channel and a phone number that retailers can use to stock their shops. Omnibiz says in a statement that retailers “can place orders at their convenience and have goods delivered to their doorstep at no cost.”

Omnibiz was launched in 2019 by Deepankar Rustagi. The Indian founder and CEO who has stayed in Nigeria for over two decades started his first startup, VConnect, in 2011 as an online marketplace and search engine to find local professionals for service needs.

The platform connected individuals with more than 100 services and over 500,000 listed businesses across the country before shutting down in 2017, Rustagi claims.

Post-VConnect, Rustagi consulted for multiple FMCG brands. He figured a need existed for manufacturers and retailers of goods to digitize their processes leading to the launch of Omnibiz in late 2019.

Omnibiz operates an asset-light retail distribution model. When a retailer makes an order on the Omnibiz platform, it is requested from partner distributors who store goods on behalf of manufacturers and are traditionally known to help out with warehousing and transportation.

With Omnibiz, these distributors can focus solely on warehousing and pass on the responsibility of transporting goods to Omnibiz’s third-party logistics providers. The drivers of these logistics providers use Omnibiz to efficiently distribute the orders to the retailers within 24 hours.

“We work with manufacturers to provide visibility. Then buy goods from them and keep them in partner hubs that act as warehouses and distributors. Then, use the services of drivers that work with third-party logistics drivers who get paid on every delivery made,” Rustagi told TechCrunch.

Omnibiz

Image Credits: Omnibiz

Digitizing this value chain helps retailers save working capital while Omnibiz connects them with more than 20 brands, including Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark.

The B2B e-commerce retail company is currently in four cities across Nigeria — Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kaduna. The company will add two more cities, Ibadan and Kano, before the end of August, Rustagi adds.

By Rustagi’s account, Omnibiz will feed off his experience at VConnect, his prior business that struggled to monetize and scale despite the huge traction it got as a popular local marketplace. 

“We knew about small businesses and what sort of technology they like. That was our specialization, but our business model didn’t work. But in this case [Omnibiz], the monetization happens on our platform, and there’s money to be made for the small business. We’ve been growing 30% month-on-month for the last 12 months,” he said.

The B2B informal e-commerce market has seen a resurgence in the last couple of years. Kenya’s Sokowatch and Twiga, Nigeria’s TradeDepot and Egypt’s MaxAB have longed vied for market-leader positions in their respective markets.

The pandemic spiked more interest in their activities as all the aforementioned startups have raised money this past year, including newcomers Kenya’s MarketForce and now Omnibiz.

Some operate asset-light models, while others take up the responsibility of managing the end-to-end digitization process. Rustagi believes the former is perfect for the company because it helps distributors expand their reach rather than eliminate them.

I think scaling in one city with assets is not that difficult. But if you have to scale in 20, 24 cities in a country like Nigeria or Ghana, or Ivory Coast or East Africa, the investment required will be very high.” Rustagi continued. “So we think without significant investment in assets, we will be able to scale much faster. And since we took the tech-first approach, we have good control over the business. I believe we’re in the right space and the right time with the right model.”

Omnibiz’s seed round was led by V&R Africa, Timon Capital and Tangerine Insurance. The round also included Lofty Inc., Musha Ventures, Sunu Capital, Launch Africa, and Rising Tide Africa. It takes the company’s total investment to $4 million. Rustagi also disclosed that the company also got funding from Seedstars and will participate in the accelerator’s growth program.

I think Omnibiz will be the role model for B2B retail in Africa and can scale well into other emerging markets. We are excited and happy to be supporting Omnibiz in all ways beyond just providing capital,” Raj Kulasingam and Vishal Agarwal of V&R Africa said in a statement. 

Over the next few months, Omnibiz will use the investment to expand in other West African cities outside Nigeria —  Abidjan, Takoradi, Kumasi and Accra. Food, non-alcoholic beverages, personal care, and baby care products are the top categories on the Omnibiz platform. The company is planning to expand into new categories like alcoholic beverages and OTC pharmaceutical products.

Omnibiz will also use the investment to create new tech products that will enhance value for the retailers. The company will work with partners to increase the working capital availability for the retailers and digital tools to manage their business more efficiently.

“One of the key things we intend to do is to bring on medium-scale manufacturers who find it difficult to get the last-mile delivery to reach customers. We want to scale them so they can reach a large number of retailers. That’s something we are rolling out so we can onboard more and more manufacturers,” said the CEO on Omnibiz’s next plans.

#africa, #e-commerce, #east-africa, #ecommerce, #logistics, #nigeria, #omnibiz, #supply-chain-management, #tc

5 ways AI can help mitigate the global shipping crisis

With the fourth quarter now upon us, every industry faces a challenge in managing a holiday production calendar that will deliver the goods. The key for startups looking to defend the quarter from disruptions is to adopt a proactive, data-driven approach to inventory management.

Here are five methods we’ve been counseling clients to adopt:

  • Use data and analytics to identify and map out the inventory being affected by the global shipping crisis. If you don’t have the data about what is on a ship transporting your materials, then use this crisis as an opportunity to justify prioritizing supply chain digital transformation with data, IoT and advanced analytics (e.g., machine learning and simulation). You need to know the location of your goods all times if you are going to successfully gauge what impact a shortage will have on your operation.

    Ultimately, AI will help startups understand how myriad disruptions affect their supply chain so they can better respond with a Plan B when the unthinkable happens.

  • If you don’t have the data readily available, then you need to partner with a vendor and use a secure environment to share second-party data to deliver AI-driven actionable insights on the business impact on all parties involved, from startup to retailer to the consumer.
  • Simulate and forecast the impact of these supply-side issues on the demand side. Conduct scenario planning exercises and inform critical business decisions. If this ability is not in place, an emergency like a pandemic, civil unrest or an uncontrollable rate hike will wreak havoc on your business plan. Use this situation as an opportunity to put a disaster management program in place to prepare for the potential risks.

    #analytics, #artificial-intelligence, #business-intelligence, #column, #ec-column, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #internet-of-things, #logistics, #machine-learning, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management

Nigerian digital freight provider MVX lands $1.3M to help shippers move cargoes faster

In Africa, chartering vessels and processing ocean freight can be challenging. The sector is largely inefficient and fragmented. Merchants also struggle to access finance to perform cross-border trade in the continent. A couple of digital freight companies are tackling this problem, like Nigerian-based MVX. The company today is announcing its $1.3 million seed round to bolster its efforts.

Tonye Membere-Otaji thought about the idea for MVX in 2016. Having worked in the maritime industry (running his family business and in a professional capacity building apps and websites for companies), Membere-Otaji was intrigued by how no online marketplace for vessels existed. 

“I decided to figure out how to solve that problem of finding vessels because there were too many intermediaries, which made processes difficult,” he told TechCrunch. However, a few issues relating to not having the right team to build out the product stalled the company’s progress. In 2019, Membere-Otaji finally launched the company with CTO Tobi Amusan after securing a $100,000 pre-seed investment from Oui Capital, a pan-African VC firm.

The company was called MVXchange at first. Its business model revolved around providing a support vessel booking platform that matched vessel chartering requests made by operators with available Offshore Support Vessels (OSVs). 

But in March 2020, the company made a sharp pivot and tweaked its model. CEO Membere-Otaji cites uncertainty of oil prices and the pandemic as reasons behind the decision

“We couldn’t see ourselves doing vessel chartering for the long term because the demand for fossil fuels will definitely reduce over the next few decades. We wanted to do something scalable, something that was impactful, and something that we could be proud of in the next 20 years,” he added.

What followed was the launch of MVXtransit, a digital freight booking platform, helping cargo owners find deals on moving containers across Nigeria. This April, the company launched MVXpay, a finance and payment solution to provide trade finance for freight operators. However, both offerings are now rolled into one: MVX.

According to the CEO, MVX wants to make freight shipping and trade finance easier for African businesses by bringing booking and deployment processes online. The startup has expanded beyond Nigeria and claims that merchants from the West African country, as well as Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and Rwanda, can use its platform to move freight in and out of their countries.

MVX charges a commission for the services provided, including trucking, warehousing, shipping, and cargo stuffing.

“We make it easy and convenient for businesses. Instead of trying to do everything themselves, which can be chaotic and cause distraction from their core businesses, we handle everything because we have all these service providers in one platform. So as shippers work with us, MVX works with like seven to 10 other service providers,” said Membere-Otaji.

The market for cross-border logistics services is said to hit revenues of $32 billion by 2025. Multiple companies are needed for the market to reach its full potential. That has been the case, and investors are noticing too. For instance, Ghana’s Jetstream offers a similar service and raised $3 million two months ago. SEND is another example; YC backs the startup.

However, what stands out for MVX, according to Membere-Otaji, is that the company also sees itself as a trade finance company.

The concept brings together the best of both worlds of fintech and trade. So the way it works is that with merchants looking to move shipments from Africa to the U.S. or China, some lack adequate capital to pay for freight or supply. With MVX, they can proceed to request credit. MVX passes it over to its financial partners, who lend to the consumers if they meet the minimum requirement. Next, MVX takes care of the shipment and delivers it abroad. Once the transaction is done, the merchant pays back, with all partners taking commissions.

“Our job really is to empower trade in Africa, and freight is a means to that. From every step involved in that process, from providing trade and finance to warehousing to payments processing, we want to play in all that space. There aren’t a lot of companies with that trading finance element doing that like us. And also, we see a huge potential in the offline market. Right now, the reason why we have this problem is that transactions are offline. Our strategy in capturing offline markets is also key.”

The pan-African freight company has already recorded more than 300 shipments this year but plans to end with 1,500. Per revenue and traction, the CEO claims the company has surpassed its 2020 numbers.

MVX raised money for its seed round from Africa-focused firms Kepple Africa, The Continent Venture Partners, Founders Factory, Launch Africa, and Capital Oak. Some angel investors in the U.S., Japan, Nigeria, and South Africa also participated. The two-year-old startup will use the investment to scale its operations, hire staff and improve its technology. MVX is also talking to investors to raise more money, most likely debt, for its trade financing product.

In a statement, Satoshi Shinada, general partner at Kepple Africa, said, “The trade sector in Africa is one that we believe is ripe for disruption. MVX is building a game-changing technology and platform to revolutionize how businesses in Africa move shipment and trade around the world.”

#africa, #freight, #logistics, #mvx, #nigeria, #recent-funding, #shipping, #startups, #tc

Kodiak Robotics’ founder says tight focus on autonomous trucks is working

Kodiak Robotics is one of the last private autonomous vehicles companies focused on trucking that is still standing. Nearly all the rest have been wooed by the public marketplace and the capital it can provide. But co-founder and CEO Don Burnette says the three-year-old company’s strategy of staying focused and small(er) is paying off.

It will be able to deploy a commercial-scale operation for about $500 million in funding, he says in the interview below. To put those go-to-market costs in perspective, that’s 10% of what Waymo has raised in external fundraising and less than 25% of newly publicly traded company TuSimple’s total fundraise.

Kodiak’s strategy is to take a specialized, hyperfocused approach to autonomous trucking that outsources a lot of tech, like data labeling, lidar, radar and mapping, to existing companies. Burnette, who was one of four founders of the self-driving truck startup Otto that Uber acquired, thinks this is a faster, cheaper and more efficient path to commercialization versus building out your own systems and teams.

The company is moving freight for commercial customers, dipping its toes in the market by working with technology partners within the existing ecosystem. Burnette says Kodiak’s Driver technology has achieved a level of maturity where it can handle anything the highway throws at it. In December, the startup achieved “disengagement-free deliveries” between Dallas and Houston, meaning the autonomous system didn’t have to be switched off for safety reasons.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity. 

You previously told me that Kodiak would need about $500 million in total funding to get to commercial driverless. You also said you’ve had some undisclosed funding rounds, but publicly, you’ve only raised $40 million. Can you still execute on your vision this far off?

Absolutely. We are always, as startups are, in fundraising mode. We’re always talking to investors. And there’s a lot of great things happening behind the scenes currently that we haven’t yet announced. We are growing, we’re hiring, if you can look to that as an indicator of the health of a company.

Our tech and our plan is really sound, and we are building up our commercialization efforts in a way that I think is going to be very exciting to the overall industry and to the market. We will need to raise more money, as you pointed out, that’s certainly no secret, but I think that we have multiple options to do that.

“Kodiak is one of the only remaining serious AV trucking companies still in the private sector, and so I think that gives us some advantages in a lot of ways.”

How do you intend to close that gap? Are you looking at venture capital, or maybe going for an IPO or SPAC?

We’re considering all of the above. It’s a constant conversation internally on what is the best path for Kodiak, what is the appetite of the various forms of investors and strategic relationships. Nothing is excluded.

The stock market is obviously very attractive and exciting. I think TuSimple has demonstrated that an IPO with the right set of metrics and the right set of momentum and partners is possible and can be successful. I think there’s also lots of opportunity within the VCs and the private markets. Kodiak is one of the only remaining serious AV trucking companies still in the private sector, and so I think that gives us some advantages in a lot of ways.

What’s your sense of the venture funding environment right now in autonomous? Is it harder now than it was, say, four years ago?

The appetite has changed. In particular, investors are more skeptical of timelines and promises. There is not this sense of Wild West excitement like there was four or five years ago, and that was the Golden Age of raising capital, certainly for earlier stage companies.

Kodiak was at the tail end of that age, and now the goalposts have changed, and the target investors have changed. It’s no longer the early-stage VCs that companies like Kodiak and others are talking to. It’s more of the growth-stage funds, and growth-stage funds look for different types of metrics. They look for commercial traction, product-market fit, users, efficiencies, etc.

#adas, #artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #av, #don-burnette, #electric-vehicles, #kodiak-robotics, #logistics, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-truck, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #waymo

Freightify lands $2.5M to make rate management easier for freight forwarders

Freight forwarders often keep track of rates on spreadsheets they email to customers, but the pandemic has made that difficult because prices are constantly fluctuating. Freightify, a startup that refers to itself as the “Shopify for maritime freight,” provides white-label rate management and e-booking tools that freight forwarders can use to set up online stores, reducing the time they need to spend on administrative work.

The startup announced today it has raised $2.5 million in pre-Series A funding led by Nordic Eye Venture Capital, with participation from Tradeworks VC, Venture Catalysts, 9Unicorns and Blume Funders Fund. The round also included returning investor Vinod Kumar Talreja.

Freightify currently serves customers in 10 countries and plans to use part of its funding to expand into the United States and Europe. Its customers are freight forwarders who range in size from handling 250 shipments a year to more than 100,000.

The company was founded in 2016 by Raghavendran Viswanathan, its chief executive officer. Freightify started out as FreightBro, a freight marketplace, before its technology evolved into Freightify’s automated rate management system.

Freightify says the platform has handled more than $400 million in freight revenue for customers and corresponding gross merchandise volume of $2 billion.

Freightify can be integrated with freight forwarders’ existing transport management systems, which track the movement of cargo. Once freight forwarders set up an online store with Freightify, their customers use it to compare rates, ask for quotes, book online and track shipments. Freightify draws pricing data from the APIs of ocean carriers like Maersk, CMA-CGM and Evergreen or automates the entry of offline contract rates from carriers without APIs.

Viswanathan told TechCrunch that before the COVID-19 pandemic, freight rates were relatively static, so freight forwarders were able to share them with customers through spreadsheets. But the pandemic created a host of new challenges.

“The ocean freight transportation industry is going through a flux right now,” Viswanathan said. “The industry went into a downward spiral since the start of the pandemic. Freight rates have been hitting record numbers for four straight quarters,” with rates up 500% since the beginning of 2020.

Furthermore, other factors, like the Suez Canal blockage by the Ever Given and pandemic-related port delays, have made supply chains even less predictable.

Freightify solves some of these challenges by giving freight forwarders and their customers a live pricing platform like the ones used by travelers to compare airfares, showing real-time rates on a single screen.

“Freight forwarders are like the travel agents for the global trade,” Viswanathan said. “However, air travel is not as complicated as global trade. Supply chains require experts to manage cargo throughout the entire lifecycle and freight forwarders play a vital role in greasing the wheels.”

Freightify is working on a new product where its customers can share data with one another, making it easier to communicate across timezones while reducing the amount of emails they need to send. A closed group product pilot is expected to happen at the end of this year.

In a statement about the funding, Nordic Eye investment manager Ib Drachmann said it’s “exciting to follow a dynamic and ambitious organization that has great chances of making a huge digital impact in international freight forwarding.”

#freight-forwarders, #freightify, #fundings-exits, #logistics, #maritime, #ocean-freight, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc

Data-driven iteration helped China’s Genki Forest become a $6B beverage giant in 5 years

China’s e-commerce and industrial ecosystem is as different from the Western world as its culture. The country took decades to earn its reputation as the Factory of the World, but it now boasts a supply chain and manufacturing ability that few countries can match.

Creative use of the country’s networked manufacturing and logistics hubs make mass production both cheap and easy. Clothing, electronics, toys, automobiles, musical instruments, furniture — you name it and you’ll find a manufacturer in China who can turn your intangible concept into mass-manufacturable reality in mere days. And they’ll do it for cheaper than anywhere else in the world.

It was just a matter of time until an intrepid Chinese entrepreneur with a tech background decided to take on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

China is also home to one of the world’s largest e-commerce and tech ecosystems. Hundreds of startups dot the landscape, and the amount of money being raised and spent on innovating around the country’s industrial heft is mind-boggling.

So it was just a matter of time until an intrepid Chinese entrepreneur with a tech background decided to take on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. The tech revolution hasn’t yet affected the bottled beverage industry quite as much as it has others. Incumbent giants therefore could lose a sizable chunk of market share if a company could just manage to weave together China’s manufacturing proficiency and agility with the modern tech startup philosophy of “moving fast and breaking stuff.”

Genki Forest, a Chinese direct-to-consumer (D2C) bottled beverage startup, is one such contender. A philosophy centered around iteration informed by data, quick turnarounds and a laser focus on taking advantage of China’s huge e-commerce ecosystem has helped this company’s revenues rise rapidly since it started five years ago. Its sugar-free sodas, milk teas and energy drinks sell in 40 countries and generated revenue of about $450 million in 2020. The company aims to reach $1.2 billion this year.

If anything, Genki Forest’s valuation has shot up even faster. It recently completed its fourth VC round that values it at a whopping $6 billion, triple the price it fetched a year earlier, and it has so far raised at least half a billion dollars.

It’s striking how closely Genki Forest’s operations resemble that of a tech startup. So we thought we should take a closer look and see what this company’s graph can tell us about the new wave of Chinese D2C entrepreneurship looking to take over the globe.

Finding a bigger wave to ride

The bottled beverage industry wasn’t what Genki Forest’s founder, Binsen Tang, initially set out to tackle. His first startup was a successful casual, mostly mobile gaming outfit known as ELEX Technology. It was nowhere near record-breaking, though — some 50 million users logged on to a few popular games in over 40 countries worldwide, including one of the first versions of Happy Farm, a predecessor to Zynga’s Farmville. But Tang wasn’t satisfied and eventually sold ELEX Technology to a publicly listed company for about $400 million in 2014.

Tang would walk away with a few important lessons. He’d learned by now that Chinese products were already competitive globally, whether people realized it or not, and that and geographic arbitrage was real, Happy Farm being the perfect example of this. Lastly, he now knew that it was far more important to choose the right “racetrack” (as Chinese investors and entrepreneurs like to put it) than to have a great product.

Picking the right race to win was perhaps the most important takeaway. It’s also an idea that sets Chinese entrepreneurs apart from their Western counterparts — the most worthwhile endeavors are in identifying the largest and most rewarding market at hand, regardless of one’s previous expertise. It was what led Zhang Yiming to create ByteDance, and Lei Jun to found Xiaomi.

That very philosophy led Tang to build Genki Forest. After selling ELEX Technology, Tang didn’t go back to the business that netted him his first pot of gold. As much as he had benefited from the rise of the mobile internet, he thought there was a far bigger opportunity building a consumer brand and applying the lessons he learned from programming to the manufacture of tangible products.

He soon set up his own investment fund, Challenjers Capital, convinced that the next big tech opportunity in China was in tech’s application to everyday consumer products. He soon began to invest in everything from ramen and hotpots to bottled beverages.

China’s quickly expanding e-commerce ecosystem and the plethora of D2C businesses flourishing on Alibaba and JD.com would also influence his decision to sell directly to his target audience rather than take the traditional route. But to truly understand his motivations, we need to take a look at the extremely unique D2C environment in China and how it has changed over the years.

What’s different about Chinese D2C?

“China doesn’t need any more good platforms,” Tang told his team in an internal email in 2015, “but it does need good products.” Tang was talking about how the age of building infrastructure for e-commerce in China was largely over; it was now time to create brands that could take advantage of the advanced distribution network that had been laid out.

Other investors noticed as well. Albus Yu, principal at China Growth Capital, told me that his fund had stopped making investments in independent consumer-facing platforms or marketplaces for a while. “2014 might have been the last year it was economically feasible to start such a business due to the soaring cost of acquiring customers and the strength of incumbents,” he said.

Indeed, 2015 was the year when CACs began to exceed or at least rival ARPUs for Alibaba and JD.com.

In China, that distribution network was present across the digital and physical worlds. Online, there was immense market power concentrated in the hands of just two players: Alibaba and JD.com, which used to have, and still maintain, 80% or above in market share.

In fact, the dominance of Alibaba, in particular, was so overwhelming that for years, VCs invested not in D2C, but in “Taobao brands,” since that was the only channel one needed to conquer in order to make it.

Customer acquisition was therefore straightforward — throw everything into advertising on Alibaba’s Tmall platform, especially during its annual flagship shopping festival, Singles’ Day. Even today, garnering a top spot in one of the category leaderboards remains a surefire way to build brand awareness, investor interest, as well as sales records.

Physically, the Chinese market also differs greatly from much of the developed West. Years of heavy investment in logistics by the private sector, accelerated by government support and infrastructure buildout, means that delivery costs have come down significantly over the years, even dipping below $0.40 per package wholesale as of this year. Innovations such as return insurance have also sped up customer adoption.

By 2016, China was shipping 30 billion packages a year, already accounting for 44% of global shipments. That number has been doubling every three years and is expected to exceed 100 billion this year. And the low cost of delivery is one of the biggest reasons for China’s outsized e-commerce market — the largest globally and estimated to reach $2.8 trillion in 2021, more than triple that of the No. 2, the U.S.

Express parcels sit stacked at a logistic base of e-commerce giant Suning before the 618 Shopping Festival

Express parcels sit stacked at a logistic base of e-commerce giant Suning before the 618 Shopping Festival. Image Credits: VCG

Present-day China also presents another edge: Proximity to an advanced, flexible manufacturing network and supply chain for the vast majority of consumer products, and the ability to outsource almost everything to them.

The original equipment manufacturers of years past have long since evolved into original design manufacturers. An expected consequence of being “the Factory of the World” for so many years, making goods for some of the best brands in the world, is that some of the knowledge was bound to transfer.

It may be difficult for outsiders to understand just how strong China’s networked manufacturing hubs are these days. What used to take weeks now takes mere days, the lead times shortened drastically by software, robots and other advancements. For example, Chinese cross-border ultra-fast-fashion company Shein has compressed design-to-ship timelines to as little as seven days.

And it’s definitely not just for making crop tops. The turnaround can be astonishingly fast even when manufacturing completely unfamiliar goods, such as when electric vehicle maker BYD turned its factory into the world’s largest face mask plant in just two weeks when the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year.

Companies leverage this manufacturing flexibility and agility for more than just speed. Chinese cosmetics upstart Perfect Diary uses it to launch twice as many SKUs as foreign competitors. In addition, the quick turnaround allows agile brands to take advantage of that most ephemeral of IP, memes.

It’s not to say that the Chinese supply chain is inaccessible to foreign entrepreneurs. Best-selling mattress maker Zinus, for example, is founded by a South Korean, but its products are manufactured in China and sold mostly on Amazon to U.S. customers.

It’s just that very few non-Chinese companies have figured out how to tap as deeply into the supply chain as this new crop of Chinese D2C brands, which can require years of working not just alongside but physically inside the factories, building trust and know-how. Shein, for example, watches carefully what other brands are making by staying close to the factories.

The China opportunity

Before global sensations such as TikTok weakened the mantra, “copy to China” used to be a dominant characterization of Chinese startups. In December 2015, when Tang registered the Genki Forest trademark, that was still very much a relevant strategy.

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Last-mile delivery in Latin America is ready to take off

In the United States, same-day and next-day Amazon Prime deliveries have become the de facto standard in e-commerce. People want convenience and instant gratification, evidenced by the fact that an astonishing ~45% of U.S. consumers are Amazon Prime members.

Most major retailers are scrambling to catch up to Amazon by partnering with last-mile delivery startups. Walmart has become a major investor in Cruise for autonomous-vehicle deliveries, and Target acquired Shipt and Deliv last-mile delivery startups to increase its delivery speed. Costco partnered with Instacart for same-day deliveries, and even Domino’s Pizza has jumped in by partnering with Nuro for last-mile delivery using autonomous vehicles.

E-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

The holdout: Latin America

Venture capitalists have been investing heavily in last-mile delivery over the past five years on a global scale, but Latin America (LatAm) has lagged behind. Over $11 billion has been invested globally in last-mile logistics over the past decade, but Latin America only saw about $1 billion over the same period (Source: PitchBook and WIND Ventures research).

Within this, only about $300 million was in Spanish-speaking Latin America — a surprisingly small amount for a region that has 110 million more consumers than in the U.S.

Brazil-based Loggi accounts for about 60% of last-mile VC investment in Latin America, but it only operates in Brazil. That leaves major Spanish countries like Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina without a leading independent last-mile logistics company.

In these countries, about 60% of the last-mile delivery market is dominated by small, informal companies or independent drivers using their own trucks. This results in inefficiencies due to a lack of technologies such as route optimization as well as a lack of operating scale. These issues are quickly becoming more pronounced as e-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

Retailers are missing an opportunity to give customers what they want. Customers today expect free, reliable same- or next-day delivery — on-time, all the time, and without damage or theft. All of these are challenging in LatAm. Theft, in particular, is a significant problem, because unprofessional drivers often steal products out for delivery and then sell them for a profit. Cost is a problem, too, because free same- and next-day deliveries are simply not available in many places.

Operational and technological roadblocks abound

Why does Latin America lag when it comes to the last mile? First, traditional LatAm e-commerce delivery involves multiple time-consuming steps: Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, distributed to a warehouse, delivered to a second cross-dock, and then finally delivered to the customer.

By comparison, modern delivery operations are much simpler. Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, and then delivered directly to the customer. There’s no need for warehousing and an extra pre-warehouse cross-dock.

And those are just the operational challenges. Lack of technology also plays a significant role. Most delivery coordination and routing in LatAm are still done via a spreadsheet or pen and paper.

Dispatchers have to manually pick up a phone to call drivers and dispatch them. In the U.S., computerized optimization algorithms dramatically cut both delivery cost and time by automatically finding the most efficient route (e.g., packing the most deliveries possible on a truck along the route) and automatically dispatching the driver that can most efficiently complete the route based on current location, capacity and experience with the route. These algorithms are almost unheard of in the Latin America retail logistics sector.

Major retail brands are the last-mile catalyst

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