As a high school entrepreneur, Lock started his own brand of ice cream in the Philadelphia area. He quickly learned that sourcing the plastic and paper goods that his ice cream business needed was a more lucrative field, so he started a paper and plastic manufacturer and distributor focusing on the frozen yogurt and dessert industry.
But he also learned that logistics was an incredibly resource-demanding part of the business.
“Eighty percent of my time as a small business owner was spent making sure goods got from there to here,” Lock said.
And as a small business owner, Lock ran into a situation common to many other small shippers: no way to delineate between freight forwarders beyond a Google search.
So Lock decided to develop a review platform for shippers to evaluate forwarders. His platform, called Fleet, has been described in the tech community as Yelp for shipping, but the company has expanded beyond simple reviews and star ratings.
The company recently launched a quoting system that allows users to vie for forwarding services. They input the parameters of their shipments (origin, destination, commodity, dimensions, and mode), and receive bids from up to five forwarders. The shipper can then select which of the five bids best suits their needs based on the forwarder’s rating, price, transit time, or some combination of those criteria.
Lock’s goal is to empower small and medium-sized shippers, not necessarily to disrupt the entire forwarding space.
“The problem we’re trying to solve with quoting is that (small and medium enterprises) spend a lot of time chasing a low rate,” he said. “We’re a marketplace business, so we save them and forwarders time. By adding rating and reviews, that provides a differentiation and lowers the costs of sales and services for the forwarders.”
On Tuesday, the company announced seed funding of $4 million from a basket of investors headlined by Hunt Technology Ventures, its second round of funding.
Fleet said it will use the funding to Fleet will use the funding “to continue developing the Fleet platform, grow its team, and expand its user base of both shippers and freight forwarders. The platform will further enhance the customer experience for shippers by providing price quoting ability, financial transactions, and shipment status visibility.”
“Fleet is expediting world trade by enabling millions of small and mid-sized businesses to easily move their goods,” said David S. Hunt, managing partner of Hunt Technology Ventures. “Fleet is the disruption that the international shipping industry has sorely needed for a long time.”
Portland, Ore.-based Fleet isn’t the only one addressing the market. Last year, Boston-based Simpliship launched with a similar mindset – simplifying the way occasional shippers procure forwarding services, albeit with a more curated roster of 10 forwarders.
“We have been selective in adding forwarders to the platform and remain laser focused on ensuring that shippers using SimpliShip can get the best combination of price and service for their shipments,” CEO Cory Margand said.
SimpliShip has 1,000 shippers using its platform and also offers reviewing capability to help users decide which forwarder best fits their needs. Margand said that although his company’s initial target was SMEs, it has also attracted larger, enterprise shippers.
“It's clear that there is a huge need to create the future of international freight procurement regardless of the company size,” he said. “SMEs need a platform to procure all of their freight while Enterprise customers need to become more agile and less reliant on long term contracts.”
Lock, meanwhile, said funding and business model are going to be the determining factors as to which forwarder-technology-focused startups ultimately succeed.
American Shipper covered the development of the startup logistics IT environment in its November 2015 cover story and in its October 2015 issue.