Freight trucking startup Shipwell gets a $10 million boost | Industry
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A booming American economy coupled with failing infrastructure and a low-margin business reluctant to adopt new technologies have put stress on domestic logistics companies in the $900 billion market for U.S. trucking services.
Shipwell combines a marketplace for shippers to connect with freight companies and online tools to manage those shipments. In effect, the company is pitching a version of the proprietary logistics management toolkit that has made Amazon so successful, to any retailer or outlet.
“We coordinate the freight, we pay the truckers, we help optimize the fleets,” says Shipwell president and co-founder, Jason Traff.
Those services — and the company’s growing business among small and medium-sized suppliers to the construction industry — brought the Austin-based company to the attention of Fifth Wall Ventures, the Los Angeles based investment firm whose limited partners are among the biggest construction companies in the world.
For Fifth Wall the opportunity was clear. “Shipwell’s full-service, digitized brokerage platform can streamline the way many of our Anchor LPs and portfolio companies approach large-scale freight shipping,” the firm’s principal — and newest Shipwell board member — Vik Chawla wrote in a blog post announcing its most recent deal.
Fifth Wall led the company’s Series A round, which also included the new investor Global Founders Capital and previous investors First Round Capital, Base 10 Ventures, Capital Theory and Village Global .
The company’s business isn’t for big shippers that deal with thousands of shipments per-day, but rather the small and medium sized businesses that spend $100 million or less per-year on freight. And the small-fleet shipping companies that make up the bulk of the industry.
“In addition to the obvious use case for Shipwell customers who own warehousing, landlords can use Shipwell to become effective facilitators for their tenants,” according to Chawla. “Some Anchor LPs [the limited partners that provide capital for Fifth Wall to invest] are already engaged in this shipping ecosystem on behalf of their tenants, while others act as transport hubs. Beyond these, however, there are easy tie-ins within a number of key categories of Fifth Wall Anchors [sic] that regularly ship or receive freight—developers, of course, but also retail, office, homebuilding anchors.”
“We focus on the longer tail. If you are doing $50 million in freight per-year then you’re doing dozens of shipments per week,” said Traff. “Most of our freight is less than a truckload or a full truckload freight and it’s more long-haul.”
It hasn’t been a straight road for Traff and his co-founder Gregory Price. Traff originally got the startup bug in Asia, where he launched a company that would sell low-cost copies of old masters paintings. When he sold that business he moved back to the U.S. and pitched an idea to Y Combinator that eventually became Leaky, a car insurance company.
When Leaky shut down and its business was acquired by Navion in 2013, Traff moved to Austin to figure out his next move.I t was there that he ran into a fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumnus named Greg Price and the two began hatching schemes for the company that would become Shipwell.
The two men began planning the business in 2016 and only launched the service in the beginning of this year. “Supply chains were very complex and there was a lot of building to do,” Traff said.
Shipwell makes money by charging a commission on freight services and fees for its freight management software platform.
Ultimately this could create a new model to unify a fragmented industry. “This connective approach makes all of the difference in an industry with so many small companies at play,” Chawla wrote. “A surprising 89% of freight trucks in the U.S. are owned by carriers with fewer than five total trucks, and 99% of freight carriers possess fewer than 10 total trucks in their fleet. Despite the big business of freight shipping in the U.S., it’s actually a fragmented market of small businesses.”