Earlier this week, Chicago-based Loadsmart, the provider of a logistics technology platform that enables shippers, carriers, and brokers to efficiently manage an automated supply chain, said it has secured $200 million in Series D financing.
The company said it this financing was spearheaded by lead investor SoftBank Latin America Fund, which is part of the Softbank Group, as well as participation from Series C investor BlackRock, Class I railroad CSX, and global active asset manager Janus Henderson Group. Loadsmart officials said that with this round of financing, the company is now valued at $1.3 billion, a sum that more than triples its Series C valuation compared to a year ago at this time. To date, the company has raised $346.4 million through these four rounds and other forms of financing, according to a company spokesman.
What’s more, in addition to CSX, some of Loadsmart’s backers are comprised of other brand name freight transportation investors, including: Maersk, the largest ocean carrier in the world; Ports America, the largest port terminal operator in the U.S.; and TFI International, one of the largest transportation and logistics companies in North America.
Logistics Management (LM) Group News Editor Jeff Berman recently spoke with Loadsmart Co-Founder and Co-CEO Felipe Capella about the company’s Series D financing. Their conversation follows below.
LM: What are the main goals through this most recent round of financing for Loadsmart?
Capella: Our plan with the Series D is to keep growing the same way we have been growing in the past few years, with a lot of discipline and a lot of pragmatism. We have never jumped onto the bandwagon of subsidizing freight for Fortune 100 companies and trying to build volume. We always grew with a lot of measured discipline and also to build products our customers are willing to pay for. What we want to do with this new round is two-folded. First, we want to expand our service lines in logistics. We have historically focused on full truckload (FTL) and then more recently we expanded to LTL (less-than truckload) and now with CSX [as an investor partner]…we are probably going to have more, or stronger, expansion into rail. Expanding service lines is something we want to keep on doing.
LM: In what ways?
Capella: Our vision is to be a one-stop shop for logistics execution. That is one of our goals. The second goal is that we also want to keep expanding our technology offerings. In the past two years, we have launched a bunch of new tech-focused products. We have Kamion, which is a trucking management [ERP] platform that helps carriers manage their own fleets. We have an RFP guide that helps shippers run the RFP process directly with their carriers. And we have OpenDock, which is probably the largest standalone dock appointment solution for warehouses in the U.S. We want to keep on going in offering and expanding the services we offer to shippers and other players and to build an ecosystem of products and services that combine the technology and logistics offerings into one thing and really benefitting our customers.
LM: Can you talk a little bit about how you plan to work with CSX?
Capella: First and foremost, it will be an intermodal approach. We already offer drayage services currently so as we do FTL and drayage, it will make sense for us to offer an intermodal option. Something that we led with, from back in the beginning in 2015, was really to create this instant pricing offering for truckload, and people thought we were crazy back then because we were taking the risk of the transaction. We did not have the supply side price. We were running our own algorithm, trying to predict the supply side…but nowadays everyone is going towards that direction. What we want to do is not only offer an instant truckload rate for every single load we see in a TMS for a specific shipper but we also want to offer a rail option.
LM: What drove that decision for Loadsmart?
Capella: Two years ago, we were seeing freight opportunities of around $100 million per quarter via API connections, and a year ago we were seeing around $400 million per quarter in freight opportunity. And more recently we have seen more than $2 billion in freight opportunity via API, meaning that we have all of this freight opportunity coming via API, with thousands of loads a specific shipper needs to move that we could have…and we run our algorithm and run all of these rates back to shippers in milliseconds to shippers, and then they make their own decisions. Now, instead of sending a truckload rate, we are telling them they can move a shipment via truckload, and you can also move it via rail for, say, 16% less and arriving one day later, if you have the flexibility. What we have been hearing a lot is this concern about companies making commitments towards CO2 reduction. CSX and ourselves want to help companies trying to achieve their public commitments to becoming net neutral and moving a load via rail has substantially less environmental impact, which is something that shippers can take into account and make their own decision on. With a truckload rate and a rail rate, you can look at the timing of the freight and the rate, with rail prices sometimes being substantially lower, even up to 50%, or sometimes slightly lower. They can make their own decision in adding up the CO2 variable as well and give shippers the option.
LM: How do you view things, in terms of the competitive advantages this deal provides for Loadsmart, given how crowded and competitive the market is?
Capella: Looking at our primary freight brokerage service, there are 16,000-to-17,000 brokers out there in the market. I would say that probably 98% of those brokers do not have the engineering and technology firepower that a company like ours does. We currently have more than 250 people on our tech team, including software developers, data scientists, and UX and UI designers. If you think about trucking in the U.S. being an industry at around $800 billion-to-$900 billion and freight brokerage at about $100 billion, very few companies can compete in the technology realm, which we believe is the future in this industry. It has already happened in other industries, like food delivery and travel bookings. With travel, you never really knew what the price was, to, say, get a hotel room in Europe, and there was zero transparency. You never knew what the price really was and that changed a lot. Now you see there are these travel technology companies, if you sum them up, they are worth $200 billion, if you disregard Airbnb. Our industry is one of the last ones for it to happen with the exception of healthcare maybe, and we think it is happening. It is going to take a while. Food delivery took 12 years, and travel bookings took 15 years. We are probably within the first three years, I would say, going back to 2017 or 2018, when all of the TMS players started to create their cloud-based versions. That was kind of the start of the digital transition. We probably have a good six or seven years ahead of us, in terms of transitioning from analog to digital. And I think we are very well positioned just by the sheer size of our engineering capabilities. We are not starting doing this right now. This our eighth year of building technology in this industry. Some people make the mistake of believing that if they hire 100 or 200 engineers today that they will have a product next week. That is not the case. Technology is built layer upon layer, and it takes time. We have the advantage that we started, for good or bad, almost eight years ago.
LM: Along with CSX, some of your other investors are well known for their logistics and transportation services. How do you work with them?
Capella: It is really for things that are really difficult to replicate. Nobody can really go out there and spend $20 million or $30 million on an ocean vessel or bid for a port operating license or build out a railroad infrastructure. We are really well-positioned, because we have these hard to replicate infrastructure and asset-heavy partners with us, and we look forward to the future.
LM: Looking ahead, is M&A activity part of your future plans, given the heavy activity there has been in that respect, especially going back to the beginning of the pandemic?
Capella: Our next steps are expanding services in logistics and expanding our technology. If we see an acquisition opportunity that is going to help us achieve either of them, we are going to engage. It is kind of a means to an end and not an end in itself. Doing an acquisition just to grow our top line does not make sense. But if there is a company that provides a service that either we do not provide today or we are at the very beginning of, that could make sense for us…like technology that is adjacent to what we currently have or adds value to one of our customers, we will look at that as well.
LM: What are you hearing from your shipper customers, in terms of things they need help with, as well as what their biggest “pain points” are?
Capella: It is an interesting question, because they are facing so many problems and inefficiencies. That is why I believe our approach is a bit different, in that we do not create a product ourselves and try to push it into the market. We don’t have this platform where we have large enterprise shippers come in and log into it and use it. Most often we sit with them and have long brainstorming sessions about everything they are seeing and every inefficiency and pain point that they have. There are not a few of them, there are a lot of them. Sometimes they are unique to some shippers and sometimes priorities change. What we are really trying to do with them is have an open mind and take a consultative approach try to really build things together with them instead of assuming all of them have the same issues or problems. A lot of providers will push lots of data, in their products and services, on shippers, but a lot of times shippers tell us they have too much data and don’t know what to do with all of it. They may have all of this data but lack the execution part and need to focus on just how to fix something. I think the benefit our company has is that we have both sides of the aisle covered. We have the technology for data insights and running analysis, but we also execute logistics and can provide the solution ourselves. And we do not mind inviting even other competitors and players to help the shipper, because, at the end of the day, we are there to add value to the shipper. A lot of companies preach automation, but they are really talking about automation from their own perspective. That does not truly add value to the shipper. The shipper does not care how automated you are inside your own company. What the shipper cares about is “what is the value you are providing to me?”
LM: Taking a look ahead at, say, the next one-to-two years, what are your plans for continuing to grow the company?
Capella: We do want to keep growing our volume. I am mindful that we are still a relatively small player in the industry, but that is for a reason, as we have been super-disciplined and grown with positive and pretty healthy margins from 2014 to today, doubling our margins compared to our competitors. But, again, our volumes are relatively small compared to the largest players in the industry, and we want to keep growing our volume substantially over the next two years. And we also want to dramatically expand our technology offerings…and launch a solution together with many shippers. We want to launch one-to-two solutions per quarter and address shippers’ pain points and try to add technology and better efficiency. Iteration and innovation together with shippers is something I am really obsessed about.
About the Author
Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman
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