It is Fleet’s Week. The startup, a Disrupt 2014 San Francisco Battlefield finalist, is launching a new platform for finding and rating freight forwarders. Formerly called Shipstr, Fleet’s mission is to make logistics easier for small- to medium-sized companies.
Founder Max Lock found out how difficult international cargo shipping can be while sourcing packaging for Schoolboy Ice Cream, a company he founded in high school whose frozen treats were carried by Whole Foods and other major distributors.
Eventually, Lock began importing tens of thousands of cups from manufacturers in China for other businesses, too. Lock quickly discovered that international shipping often eats into an SMB’s bottomline because many freight forwarders add high markups to the prices of third-party service providers, like warehouses, custom brokers, and trucking firms, but don’t always break down the costs.
Since Disrupt, Fleet has changed the way it approaches the logistics market by splitting its platform into two products. Its new rating and review platform lists 6,000 freight forwarders and lets shippers sort them by ratings, price, location, and shipment lanes.
“Currently there is about a 60 percent churn rate among small- to medium-sized businesses in the freight forwarding space,” Lock tells TechCrunch. “If a shipper has a bad experience with a forwarder, the only place they can go to find a new one is through Google.”
The second product is Fleet’s booking and payment platform, which will go live by the end of this year. If the site’s review section is the “Yelp of the commercial shipping world,” then this will be its answer to Expedia and Kayak.
Once shippers enter the origin and destination of their goods, Fleet matches them with several freight forwarders. Then they book, pay for, and track shipments directly on the site.
“This changed slightly from our original idea of working directly with the service providers,” says Lock, who received a Thiel Fellowship for his work on Fleet. “Instead we want to focus on the technology and leave the operational execution up to the freight forwarders that exist today.”
Fleet’s alternatives not only include traditional freight forwarders, but also new online platforms like Flexport and Haven. Lock says that the two latter companies “ultimately are still traditional freight forwarders that are using technology to assist in the quoting and tracking process.”
Lock believes, however, that these companies can also use Fleet to improve their business. By providing information from thousands of freight forwarders, the platform can help freight forwarders and companies such as Flexport and Haven reach new clients and build their brand recognition.