How Technology is Infiltrating the Old-School Shipping Industry
President Trump’s protectionist rhetoric may have some real benefits — especially if you’re a shipping and logistics company.
“Our revenue doubled as soon as he won the election,” says Matt Tillman, founder and CEO of Haven, a hi-tech logistics platform for shippers.
With everyone worried about the threat of tariffs, taxes and quotas on imports, companies are shipping as much as they can right now. Natural resource traders like Louis Dreyfus and Glencore, in particular, are stocking up on metals to make sure they are on the right side of the trade.
And Haven is benefitting. The company has created a private marketplace where shippers can compare and purchase shipment capacity without a middle man, all thanks to its online booking platform.
As a result, Haven surpassed $3.4 billion a year in cargo value last year, says Tillman.
More importantly, Tillman is keenly aware that the benefits of efficient shipping help more than his bottom line. Keeping shipping costs down in turn keeps the price of goods down.
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Keep On Truckin’
While Tillman grew up in a trucking family, he certainly didn’t expect to end up in the transportation business. He started at art school, but soon fell in love with programming and dropped out to become a serial tech entrepreneur. And, when he personally tried to ship a container to Singapore, he realized how arcane the industry was.
Then, he set out to make global shipping more efficient.
Haven was born in 2014 after receiving venture capital funds from the likes of Spark, AITV, DataCollective, First Round and OATV. As a result, the company now offers commodity traders, food producers and shippers lower prices through Haven’s logistics platform, which uses some 1,500 ports, and by collaborating with the best in the business — Haven works with 20 of the 25 top ocean carriers, every major freight forwarder and tons of service providers.
“When trade is transparent, deals close faster, ships sail at capacity and the entire supply chain benefits,” says Tillman. This is very progressive concept for the logistics industry, which in general, has been slow to react to technological trends.
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Shipping Is Sexy
Or, at least, it’s certainly necessary.
“My father is still so proud that I made it on the cover of a logistics magazine,” says Tillman, referring to his American Shipper magazine cover shot. (That’s pretty sexy, though.)
Thanks to our president, business is booming. The president reiterated his stance on protectionism in his first address to Congress and even quoted President Abraham Lincoln, referring to a tariff discussion from the 1800s.
Around the world, the threat of tariffs and quotas abound, making commodity firms who trade metals nervous.
“We have seen a huge spike in the shipping of metal, nickel and aluminum coming from Korea and going to China,” says Tillman, whose company is based both in Singapore and San Francisco.
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But, while Tillman and Haven are benefitting from the rhetoric right now, the company founder clearly is worried about the future. “All trade is mutually beneficial or they wouldn’t have engaged in the transaction in the first place,” he says, pointing to a protectionism piece written in 1986 by Murray Rothbard of the Mises Institute, a libertarian organization of Austrian economics.
“Protectionist policies hurt countries that can’t afford to produce their own goods,” he says. In a world where nearly everything we eat, wear, or use daily comes from somewhere else (and probably arrives on a shipping container), the cost of freight matters.
“Freight is the largest variable cost for many shippers, and technology has the power to smooth that volatility,” says Tillman, who wants to ensure that products can be delivered faster, cheaper and free from corruption leading to his long-term goal: “One-click technology to do an honest trade anywhere in the world, so you can open up new markets at moment’s notice.”