By Robbie Whelan, Staff Writer, Wall Street Journal / Transfix, Trucker Path and others are generating growing valuations in new funding rounds from venture capital firms
A pack of technology startups seeking to upend the business of booking freight shipments for trucks is drawing rich new funding from investors.
Transfix, a New York-based mobile app developer that has emerged as the leader in new fundraising, is expected to announce in the next few days $22 million in Series B funding, in a round led by venture-capital firm New Enterprise Associates and including Canvas Ventures, Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Corigin Ventures. The round brings its total funds raised to $36 million and values Transfix at more than $75 million, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Transfix was co-founded in 2013 by Drew McElroy, who joined his parents’ family-run truck brokerage in northern New Jersey after attending business school. The company is one of several startups that have received significant venture capital funding as they look to challenge established, old-line freight brokerages.
These new entrants—including Los Angeles-based Cargomatic Inc., San Francisco’s Trucker Path Inc., Austin, Tex.-based uShip and Seattle-based Convoy—offer smartphone apps that connect companies looking to ship goods to truck drivers. Many describe themselves as the “Uber of trucking,” a reference to how Uber Technologies Inc. has upended the traditional process of hailing a taxi.
Traditionally, truckers relied on lists of shipments posted at truck stops known as “load boards” and networks of freight brokers reached by phone to find shipments. More recently, load boards have migrated online. C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc., with nearly $12 billion in transportation revenue last year, is the largest freight broker in the U.S., but the business includes countless small freight brokers with widely varying technology.
Armstrong & Associates, a logistics industry research group, estimated the U.S, domestic transportation management market at about $57 billion in 2014, the last year for which full figures were available.
“We are not just a load board,” Mr. McElroy of Transfix said. Beyond matching loads to truckers, the company ranks drivers according to various performance measures, including safety and timeliness, and processes payments for shipments. “We’re a full service logistics solution,” he said.
Mobile apps are the latest development in the shipping field, and tech investors have jumped on board. Convoy has raised $16 million from the founders of Amazon.com, Salesforce.com, eBay Inc. and Uber, according to Venture Source, while uShip has raised $25 million in three funding rounds from high-profile venture funds including Kleiner Perkins Caulfied & Byers and DAG Ventures.
Trucker Path raised $20 million in June 2015 from investors led by Chicago-based Wicklow Capital. Recent funding rounds have valued Trucker Path and uShip at more than $100 million each, according to people familiar with the matter.
“There are more companies focusing on mobile today,” said Ivan Tsybaev, Trucker Path’s chief executive. “I think the segment was heavily ignored before, but people are paying more attention to mobile technology. They realize it’s something the truckers are using more.”
Still, some in the freight shipping business question whether the startups can reach the sort of scale they would need to compete with bigger, more established brokers.
“The larger brokers today are not overly concerned about Uber-for-trucking models,” said Tommy Barnes, president of project44, a Chicago-based logistics technology provider.
Mr. Barnes said mobile apps for trucking make sense for local trucking, where deliveries are short and relatively routine, but that they would need larger scale to compete with established brokerages for national business. “There are a lot of tactical things that accompany shipments. It’s not just as simple as, you pick something up, drop it off, and the driver leaves,” he said.
Some of the trucker apps are scaling up in the hopes of going public or selling their technology to larger firms.
In an interview, Matt Chasen, founder and chief executive of uShip, said the company has at any given moment about 100,000 truck drivers using its app and is about two years away from considering an initial public offering. The company scored a big win last month when German logistics firm DB Schenker announced it would use uShip’s technology to help pair shippers with trucking companies in Europe.
Cargomatic, meanwhile, recently expanded into the San Francisco Bay area and the truck-heavy area around the Port of New York and New Jersey.
“It’s definitely a goal to scale up, but when we say scale up, we mean expanding to new markets, and applying our local and regional model,” said Brett Parker, co-founder and president of Cargomatic.
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