South African startups are out to disrupt the logistics industry, this includes Benji Coetzee, founder of the online logistics platform, EmptyTrips, which launched in April this year.
EmptyTrips launched an open marketplace and uses smart algorithms to match and connect spare capacity on delivery vehicles with users who need goods transported.
The benefit for transporters is they are able to recover costs on return leg trips when their vehicles are typically empty, while shippers are able to have their goods shipped at a discounted and competitive fee.
”I had noticed the empty trucks and rail wagons running between Johannesburg and Durban and listened to consulting client complaints about expensive transport costs eating into their profit margins,” Coetzee says.
Coetzee, who has a background in management consulting and project management across a range of industries including transportation, says her motivation was providing an affordable alternative to her clients.
“When applying economic theory, the oversupply and high costs simply didn’t make sense; excess supply leads to lower prices, not higher,” she says.
EmptyTrips clients are domestic and international shippers, brokers, and transporters. The Johannesburg-based startup operates across the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region.
The startup has been operating since April this year, and is already gaining some traction.
“EmptyTrips was well received in the market. There is great growth month on month. We currently have 95 plus transport companies registered with a total fleet of 2800 plus trucks.”
EmptyTrips has also been recognised for its ingenuity. Coetzee was recently selected to represent South Africa at the 2018 Startup World Cup in San Francisco, and will stand a chance to win $1 million to grow her business.
Coetzee says they will soon be expanding to rail. “We be rolling out the first digital rail exchange across the North South Corridor early next month if all goes according to plan,” says Coetzee. The North South Corridor is the route from Durban to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and is one of four significant trade routes on the continent.
In an interview earlier this year Coetzee revealed their goals going forward. “We also aim to partner with SOE Transnet on supporting industry growth and we want to have a joint venture with the World Food Programme on a pilot to move aid into African countries. Big things will come as we are determined.”
Coetzee shares with SME South Africa how she is bringing the transport and logistics sector out of the dark ages.
Credibility Supercedes Gender
Women are considered less technical than men and often get excluded from the conversation around technology. This, paired with trying to pitch a disruptive platform in the logistics industry (male dominated), is difficult. This exclusion often leads women to not pursue this ambition.
However, I consistently focus on mastering this area; to earn my seat at the table. Credibility and perseverance supercedes gender in my belief.
You Should Pitch A Good Product, Not Just A Good Idea
We didn’t go knocking on investor doors before we had a product that is worth pitching about, not just an idea. We worked and waited for the first paying customers. It was tough in the beginning, as South African investors are risk averse.
Tech In The Transport And Logistics Industry Is Still Relatively New
Logistics is a very traditional industry and it will take some time before everyone moves out of the dark ages. There is progression and people will soon realize that they have to adapt or they won’t survive the next 10 years.
All The Elements Need To Work Together
Creating a digital market, where none existed before, in essence means we are building two businesses at once: a database of vetted transporters and operators, and a database of cargo owners/brokers.
The marketplace does not function without both, and we first have to build transport capacity online before we can offer good rates and proper matching to cargo owners/brokers – but we will get there.
The Industry Is Still Dominated By Corporates
It [the industry] is dominated by corporates, large players and their in-house tech divisions that are prone to want to “build it themselves”. This defeats the network and scale effect that an open marketplace can have.
The Imperials, Grindrod’s, Unitrans, Aramex’s and Bidvests need to see the value in an industry aggregator. Unfortunately, the industry is very protective and fragmented. Fortunately, that means it is ripe for disruption.