One of Australia's oldest industries that is vital to keeping trade moving is on the road to being totally digitised thanks to an innovative idea from entrepreneur Geoffroy Henry, the founder of logistics startup Ofload.
The Sydney-based company, which uses technology to optimise trucking fleets, is accelerating its mission following a $3.8 million funding round that saw Maersk Growth, Global Founders Capital, Flash Ventures and Foundamental join the raise.
Speaking to Business News Australia on a Zoom call from a remote island in France called Île de Noirmoutier where the founder and CEO was meeting his investors, Henry says the funds will give the startup more capital to expand its operations.
Henry's tech platform Ofload, founded in 2019 and formerly known as Loadsmile, hopes to solve a major pain point for the Australian trucking industry: the problem of empty trucks.
"It's the second biggest industry in Australia and essential for the economy," says Henry, who previously worked as head of operations for Australia at Berlin-headquartered HelloFresh.
"And it's one of the most inefficient and analogue industries."
This play to digitise Australia's trucking space is what sets Ofload apart from the many similar companies in the space, according to the founder.
As a result, Henry is confident enough to claim he has no direct competitors in the space.
"There are a lot of players, most of them are all analogue," he says.
"There are also some very small digital players with a very different angle, but in reality, we are kind of the first mover in this industry.
"So our competitors are whoever provide freight services, but in reality, none have the digital tools we provide our clients with."
Essentially, Ofload's technology matches fleet and route coverage with appropriate loads, enabling more orders and less empty backloads.
"We continue to experience rapid growth as shippers and carriers are resonating with our approach that's rooted in empowering Australia's road freight industry and reducing wastage," says the French-born, Australia-based entrepreneur.
"The industry is fragmented and riddled with inefficiencies - trucks are rarely entirely full and millions of empty kilometres are driven every year, while overheads have increased. This has made it harder for the long tail of owner/operators and small to medium businesses to compete against the industry powerhouses.
"By tackling wastage, reducing empty miles and idle time, we can make road freight more sustainable and ultimately level the playing field."
Over its first 18 months of operations, the startup amassed an aggregated fleet of more than 1,400 carriers and 15,000-plus trucks nationwide, all while competing against industry heavyweights to win contracts with clients like Marley Spoon, FedEx and Doehler.
Maersk Growth's investment has also led parent company, A.P. Moller Maersk, to engage with Ofload's services.
The company's success to date is no strike of lightning either; the founder's experience at HelloFresh and role as general manager for Be Cool Refrigerated Couriers Group (which was sold to HelloFresh) opened his eyes to the myriad challenges faced by small- and medium-sized trucking companies.
"That gave me a very good perspective and understanding of how people that need to move their freight around the country deal with freight companies," says Henry, who was also previously the managing director of ed-tech startup Zookal for just over a year.
While Henry's focus is on the Australian market, he says once some momentum is built up here Ofload's goal is to push into other parts of the Asia Pacific region.
The raise comes after a strong start to 2021 for Ofload, where the company indexed double-figure growth.
Henry attributes this boom to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw new customers flood in as e-commerce sparked massive demand for the services of freight carriers.
"We had the first few months of the COVID crisis being a challenge for the business because people didn't have bandwidth to onboard projects," he says.
"But then we entered the second phase where they had an urge for tools, they had an urge for scalable startups, and from there we've just seen crazy growth."
In addition, Henry says Ofload is well equipped to handle the influx of goods being shipped around Australia thanks to its digital spin on the traditionally-analogue industry.
"The market is tight in the sense that there's a lot of freight moving, and so, for example, when our clients used to rely on one trucking company they were very quickly at capacity, so they had no way of offering solutions.
"What the pandemic forced us to do is even further broaden the breadth of carriers that we have in the platform. The amount of carriers that we use almost tripled throughout the time because we needed to leverage more and more trucking companies to tap into capacity.
"That forced us to tap into the long tail, to really go and reach out to the entire market."
As for the future for the industry more broadly, Henry anticipates shipping problems will really increase come Christmas time, a period that already sees 4x levels of demand, putting pressure on shipping prices.
"We'll see major delays and we will see congestion at ports, which is going to put a lot of pressure on trucking companies to get freight out of the ports," he says.
"So I foresee a lot of challenges coming up. I do think that it's an opportunity for us, right? I don't wish it to happen, because it's putting a lot of pressure on anyone in freight, but for us, it helps us to position our value."
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