Monday, December 2, 2019 Threads

Did Flexport Make The 'World Better' - A Linkedin Discussion Threadpermalink

www.linkedin.com

RE: How Flexport is Transforming Shipping to Create a Better World / PODCAST
Thread Participants: Bill Paul  Cory Margand Imran Jafri

Bill Paul

“Creating a better world?” Flexport have made some outlandish claims along the way but this one tops the lot. They are just a Freight Forwarder for goodness sake. Freight Forwarders don’t make the world worse but they certainly don’t make it better. Who writes this stuff?

Imran Jafri

Bill, They have not only made the world better for their own customers, but also for everyone else too, as most of the traditional freight forwarders are now following their footsteps. They actually triggered a ‘digital’ revolution, that ultimately forced the traditional freight forwarders to move out of their comfort zone, and provide the better customer experience that everyone deserves, which is more or less the replica of their own portal.

Most FFs didn’t even know the word ‘visibility’ had existed in the dictionary, until they enlightened them. So as a whole, since now everyone is following their footsteps in digitalization, they did make the world better .. as they set the new standards, which took the customer service and experience to a whole new level in our industry.

Bill Paul

Imran, We will have to agree to disagree on this one, Imran. CHR, Expeditors, K + N, DSV, DBS and countless others had spent billions of dollars on tech solutions long before Flexport came into being. They have continued to spend billions since Flexport arrived on the scene but they just haven’t spent millions on the kind of marketing campaign that Flexport has been throwing VC and PE money at.

But the real issue here is that “creating a better world” bullshit. Are there less starving people; less homeless people; less pollution of the planet; cures for cancer; no more wars etc. etc. because of Flexport? The answer is a resounding no so they should refrain from spewing such hyperbole and stick to trying to compete with the traditional forwarwaders on whose collective asses they are still just an irritating pimple.

Imran Jafri

Bill, I am sure when they said ‘better world’ it meant in terms of global trade.. not about every problem faced by humanity, and it’s beyond the scope of a freight forwarder even a trillionaire to solve all of them … Yes I do agree the forwarders you named have had advanced tech, but still I guess, they had lacked the advanced customer facing web interface, anyhow how many those were 2-3-10 that you could easily count on your fingertips, now even medium sized FFs are focusing on digitalization and improving the customer service., based on the data and visibility and the credit must go to flexport for making it ‘mainstream’ though I don’t think it was their intended goal, because they inadvertently kicked off this revolution, and they are gonna face more competition because of this.

Bill Paul

Imran, I’m not so sure about that Imran. We are talking about a company who regularly blows everything out of all proportion.

Imran Jafri

Bill, But if you do look at the marketing campaigns then just about every company regardless of the industry, exaggerates the value they offer, it’s just not unique to freight forwarding. Look at Apple Inc for example, and I love it so much, and I own almost every product they made since 2007, but still i guess they bit exeggarate the value they offer. however fundamentally I still believe they are the best consumer electronics company.

Bill Paul

Imran, Don’t compare an Apple to a lemon. They didn’t kick off a revolution. They came along with their technology and claimed it was better than everyone else’s without knowing what everyone else was doing in that space.

Imran Jafri

Bill, and I am entitled to make a counter-claim that most people don’t know what they are doing (in 2019). And too bad I can’t even share the details due to the NDA limitation.

Cory Margand

Imran – C’mon man! Please for the love of Logistics stop with the outrageous comments. I only try to respond like this when I can’t let incorrect statements be made for the sake of those that are reading it. Flexport did not kick off a digital revolution. It’s completely inaccurate. In fact, their entire tech stack can be replicated in a month or so using SaaS offerings. What they did do is create a lot of investor interest in Logistics that’s for sure. You mentioned visibility…it wasn’t even their product and still isn’t completely post the Crux acquisition. They have access to the same data that every other Forwarder has. Why? Because it comes from the same limited data sources. Customer facing? Well, you can literally take our API(SimpliShip), Kontainers, Qwyk, etc etc and now you have a customer facing portal. Lastly, they set no standards whatsoever.

Those that made the industry better are the countless SaaS offerings that barely get accolades than what the digital forwarders get. Think about companies like Catapult.

Imran Jafri

Cory, hmm, pardon me, But I never saw the word ‘visibility’ in my entire 2 decades long career, until flexport came into existence. and why my comment was outrageous? it was merely a remark based on my judgement, without offending anyone?

Bill Paul

Imran, Don’t go there. We were talking about visibility decades ago when EDI came into the world of Freight Forwarding.

Cory Margand

Imran, I think this is just a language barrier. Lost in translation. It’s not offensive I dont think but its inaccurate. I’m not sure how you never heard the word visibility in 20 yrs though that’s mind boggling. The industry has been talking about visibility long before EDI came out.

Imran Jafri

Bill, EDI that friggin’ excel sheet to fill in the data? Yep it was great until 2010. whereas the rest of industries already had moved beyond that and had adopted web-based ‘digitalization’ long before than Freight Forwarding did?

Imran Jafri

Cory, I hope you are not comparing courier companies such as DHL to ‘freight forwarding’ companies?

Bill Paul

Imran, No my friend, I’m not. I’m talking about visibility solutions created and/or used by pretty much every traditional Freight Forwarder on the planet long before Flexport came into existence. The difference was that the traditional players didn’t use it as their best punch from a marketing perspective because they had way more substance than the new digital kids on the block. I’m talking about infrastructure, global footprint, facilities, employees, etc. etc

Cory Margand

Imran, no Imran I’m not and I’m not sure what made you think that. If you haven’t heard of visibility in the last 20 yrs I’m not sure what to say to you because it’s been nearly impossible to avoid that word since I started my career.

Imran Jafri

Bill, every traditional freight forwarder? you sir, keep making your judgment based on huge multi-billionaire FFs., which are just about the number of fingers on my hands. even so all I know as a consumer, they offered ‘ tracking ‘ of their own, which would often lag behind the airlines tracking data.

Imran Jafri

Cory, apparently you started your career in this industry since 2014 as per your linkedin profile. and I wasn’t wrong, as I said EDI or other solutions had existed and were good enough till the 2010… whereas I started my career in this industry in 1998 fyi.

Cory Margand

Imran, I started my career prior in industrial engineering but that is irrelevant. Your career experience has nothing to do with understanding the tech stack used in supply chain. But, yes your statements are incorrect and misleading. It’s more than ok to take accountability. Anyway I have to run its tday here but I enjoyed the conversation. Btw I bet flexport uses EDI…ironic.

Imran Jafri

Cory, funny, I was learning C, autocad, foxpro and had mastered Qbasic by the age of 14 fyi. few years earlier than I had joined FF as my career at 16/17 yo… And I did tell you that, they were an ‘ordinary’ digital FF few years ago in another discussion, and now they are the beast.

Cory Margand

Imran, please stop this is getting embarrassing. There’s nothing worse than someone not learning from their mistakes. You are again making comments that are inaccurate. If they are such a beast they are still using EDI in some shape or form. Please stop making comments that are substantiated. Comments like these and the above are what causes confusion in our industry. Believe me us SaaS providers spend a ton of time with bcos and forwarders trying to educate them on tech.

Imran Jafri

Cory, mistakes? and I guess you did mention your SaaS startup few times [1] … and I appreciate it. But it’s not gonna help you to make speculative statements based on your prejudice and bias.

[1] And btw, your SaaS startup has a very outdated UI/UX .. I guess you should take some time off the internet, and focus on improving its UI/UX it was so 2005., when I visited it last week, it’s a sincere advice no sarcasm intended.

Cory Margand

Imran, thanks for the advice! We are self funded so we put all of our resources into back end work mostly integration. We are an api company so UI right now is not our top priority. Functionality and tech is more important to us.

Imran Jafri

Cory, Ah right .. but as a marketer myself, I put as much attention on UI/UX as on the backend API work. you may scare away the potential customers with that UI/UX .. or website design… a sincere advice again.

Cory Margand

Imran, In case you don’t understand what I’m talking about our goal is for a customer to never even see our UI if possible.

Bill Paul

Imran, No my friend. Even the Mom and Pop’s and local heroes have the technology because it’s readily available off the shelf. All data is from the same sources.

Imran Jafri

Cory, as a marketer, i hate to tell you, people normally do judge the book by its cover.

Cory Margand

Imran, you sir are ignorant and arrogant. Learn to only speak up when you have an educated response. The majority of our customers never even see a ui or know it’s even simpliship providing the data or tech infrastructure. This is my last comment on this.

Imran Jafri

Cory, when you run out of rationality, one only can resort to personal attacks. However I didn’t expect it from you, since I guess, you were an ‘engineer’ and more qualified and intellect than most of us. And for the record, I never respond to personal attacks and tend not to engage with them any further.

Lastly, why and what do you even have a website for? And you are actually on boarding partners through a form on your website, that basically gave me the creeps ‘caz it was so outdated., and I offered you sincere advices, so you may not scare away the potential customers, partners etc.

Imran Jafri

Bill, gotcha! Yep no one is using typewriters these days .. everyone is using a software of some sort. But it’s not what we were talking about. We were talking about data, visibility and advanced customer facing web interface based upon it.

Imran Jafri

Cory, Since you kept making speculative claims and splitting hairs over EDI, I had to look up further. Anyhow see their API docs, beast? https://apidocs.flexport.com/ (v1.0)
https://apibeta.flexport.com/ (v2.0 beta)

Cory Margand

Imran, You have no concept of how they get the data. The concept of edi to api or any technology in general. . And further no understanding of how bcos connect with their supply chain partners. Please stop tagging me in these types of discussions.

Imran Jafri

Cory, I had NOT invited you to this discussion, instead you had jumped into it, with your ‘arrogant’ tone and a limited set of vocabulary, that you use as your basic technique to baffle or intimidate others. Also I have noticed a common trend in your posts, when trying to intimidate or baffle someone, the use of overly technical wording, and then asking others, you don’t know it.

Last time, you had asked me similarly … ‘You don’t know how VC funding Works’ and I have been an HN (Y Combinator) addict since the days of when I used to wear diapers.

I have a good understanding of API as a web developer myself, even though it’s not my profession. As for EDI, they may be getting the data through EDI from other ‘old-fashioned’ sources [1] … but anyhow they are offering RESTful API (modern standard) to their partners, vendors, customers.

[1] Though I highly doubt it. see below :
“Every step of the process is integrated into one supply chain with modern software like web apps and APIs instead of Excel, email, and antiquated EDI formats”
https://getputpost.co/how-the-flexport-api-enables-global-trade-92b9131d4bd4

Saturday, November 23, 2019 General

Leveraging Low Freight Pricing

In 1998 when I first began my career, can you imagine, I first had to explain FOB and EXW terms to importers here. Since 99% import was on CNF basis.

Then, they would tell me, alright little boy, we got it what it means, but it’s too much of a hassle for us. So I’d simply ask them., you have 10 x 40HC per month, and your vendor is charging you $1500 x 40HC whereas we can easily bring that cost down to $1200 x 40HC saving you;

$300 x 10 x 40HC = $3000 x 12 Months = $36000 a Year.

They would jump out of their chair and instantly arrange my meeting with their import managers. And we will leverage our low priced freight rates to secure their customs clearance.. as it earned a little more since it’s bit complex.

Thursday, November 21, 2019 General

Client Retention And Turning Them Into A Gross Profit Is A Black Art

In our freight forwarding industry client acquisition especially SMBs, isn’t actually very hard1. However retaining them and then turning them into a gross profit in the balance sheet, require magical skills.

[1] It’s the result of both growth marketing and lowering the price a bit, offering credit, and Boom! SMBs would be flocking after you. Growth marketing is a very vast subject that hardly can be summarized in this short post. For instance having a digital platform is the first step in the growth marketing., and of course it involves spending a great sum of money too, depending on the size of market you are targeting. Client retention and turning them into a gross profit, is however an entirely different sorcery. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019 General

Always Stay Relevant And Above The Curve

Successful people always stay relevant, even when they were 16 yo just starting out their career, and now when they’re in their 70s, despite the huge technological advances during this period. From a typewriter, telex to fax and, then email to web applications and Cloud SaaS etc.

They quickly adapt to changes than resist. In fact the exceptionally successful people always keep themselves above the curve.

Saturday, November 2, 2019 General

WeWork's Failed IPO, Ouster Of the Founder and Softbank's First $6.5 Billion Quarterly Loss

I don’t’ think Softbank made a mistake by investing in WeWork1, If you are sitting on top of a $100 billion VC Fund, and you want to shop for startups., suddenly you would realize, that all of the ‘tech-startups niches’ are either too much saturated or dominated by very big players, leaving a little room for any disruption.

So where would you invest then., you have to look for startups, that are still looking promising and going through hyper-growth, so it made a perfect sense (as a late stage VC). And I guess it’s the very reason Softbank bought them out, It’s a great idea with too much growth.

However it ended up being a way more expensive deal for the Softbank than they would have anticipated and nearly lost $4.6 Billion as shown in their recent quarterly results, that reported a total loss of $6.5 Billion (Wework + Uber) www.bloomberg.com for the first time in 14 years, that’s a major setback to their aggressive investing strategy., and raising the successor to their first mega VisionFund.

Edited following the quarterly results posted by the SoftBank.


1. The only mistake Son made was, he invested in the startup not its founder. Always invest in founders first then their startup. This would serve as a great lesson for the VC community.

Saturday, November 2, 2019 Threads

A Linkedin Thread: Discussion With Bill Paul Regarding The Fate Of Flexportpermalink

www.linkedin.com

Bill Paul is the industry veteran, who has been critical of the freight forwarding tech-startup Flexport since their inception. We both had a chance to converse regarding the fate of Flexport as below.

Bill Paul

We know that Logistics technology works. That’s why CH Robinson, DSV, Expeditors, Kuehne + Nagel and pretty much every other Freight Forwarder on the planet has been so successful for decades using it in conjunction with their own global network and talented employees. However, just having technology won’t help the next upstart (yes, I said upstart and meant upstart) achieve global domination regardless of how much money their VC backers are pumping into their marketing and hype.

Imran Jafri

Yes, couldn’t agree more, our industry is tough. Tech alone isn’t going to help you succeed, and you need a lot of talented people with the knowledge of freight and customs too. But VC funding does provide a ‘head start’. If they keep a fair balance between their burn-rate and revenue they can keep the head-start for a very long time, or even becoming the leader in their niche ultimately.

Bill Paul

If you’re referring to Flexport, they aren’t going to become a leader in their niche ever. They’ve already discovered that Freight Forwarding and Customs Brokerage is a low-margin business which is why they cruised Google looking for competitors who might be interested in handling their Customs Brokerage. How long before they get out of Freight Forwarding, too and just become a tech company trying to sell their Operating System to other Forwarders and compete with CargoWise?

Imran Jafri

The only problem I see in your comment is that, it’s extremely ‘speculative’ what you said may and may not be true, and it’s valid for any wild statement that we may make. For instance look at Google, Yahoo refused to buy it for a fraction of the price what they are worth today. And who had guessed it, they would become a nearly trillion dollar company later. And even Paul Krugman had dismissed Internet in the beginning as nothing more than a replacement for a Fax machine. 

So the point I am trying to make, Flexport is the first VC funded startup of its kind, and making a firm statement about their fate, would be too premature. But at least they’ve already established themselves as the leader in the ‘tech-freight’ scene. They may be lagging behind the traditional behemoth freight forwarders, and only time would tell, if they catch up or not. Even by the traditional freight forwarders standards, it’s my educated guess they would be into top 100, if not top 25. Which is still very remarkable in the face of, how competitive and tough our industry is.

Bill Paul

Of course my comment is speculative. It’s an opinion based on historical data and their most recent PR flop when they randomly messaged competitors they found through a Google search to see if they wanted to handle their Customs clearances. If heads don’t roll after that clanger, they never will.

Imran Jafri

I would agree it wasn’t a wise move however calling it a blunder is little too harsh. I haven’t seen the content of that email and even not sure at what staff level it was broadcasted. Nevertheless subcontracting local brokers doesn’t seem to me a bad idea. But definitely an unsolicited bulk email isn’t the right way to do so.

Sunday, October 27, 2019 General

Getting I.T. Right: What forwarders can learn from DHL’s strugglepermalink

aircargoworld.com

An 800 pound gorilla (DHL) tried to use SAP for digital transformation, and lost $1 Billion in the process. When in IMO they could have achieved all this under $10-$20 Million, only if they had hired 50-100 full stack Rails developers. 😐

But neither do they know what is a full stack developer nor Rails. They just know SAP and Oracle. That their teachers taught them in the 90s. On a serious note, scaling is the major issue for a company of that size, But I guess Rails could have handled it easily. For instance most probably twitter runs on Rails too.

Saturday, October 26, 2019 General

Bangladesh looks at flying boxes to alleviate congestionpermalink

splash247.com

That’s brilliant, never been to Bangladesh though, but everyone who did, tells the same, too much traffic congestion. It’s the most densely populated country in the world1. However I cant’ appreciate enough how their Govt is involved in developing the export sector and its infrastructure. In particular their garment export industry that was kicked off, a decade or so ago, by the Pakistani garment exporters who were facing at the time, crippling electricity shortage 8-10 hrs per day (now 1 or 2 hrs per day).

Bangladesh took advantage of the situation, offered them lavish terms to move there. But as soon as their own exporters caught up, they were left hanging in the middle, even the land/properties they had purchased won’t get sold, because everyone knew they are going back. A little brutal on the part of Bangladesh Govt., but very smart for their own good.


[1] Of the larger countries, Bangladesh is the most densely-populated with 1,252 people per square kilometer; this is almost three times as dense as its neighbour, India. It’s followed by Lebanon (595), South Korea (528), the Netherlands (508) and Rwanda (495 per km2) completing the top five. Source

Saturday, October 26, 2019 Informative

What is the difference between a Freight Forwarder and Customs Broker

So let’s first begin with customs broker. A customs broker is licensed by the Government to handle the customs clearance of goods for their customers, it involves preparing goods declaration, paying duties and taxes according to tariff of that product on behalf of their customers, and finally getting it released from the customs and delivering the shipment to the customer.

On the other hand a freight forwarder or more precisely an international freight forwarder undertakes the job of handling international transportation of the goods from one country to another, using various modes of transport such as by land, by sea and by air. They are also responsible for preparing shipping documents such as Bill of Lading or Airway bill. Moreover, when requested by the customer, they also arrange the cargo insurance of the goods.

Normally both of these services are offered by a single company, nevertheless both are very different and specialised jobs, so therefore, some companies may only be offering either of these services.

Hope this would explain you the basic difference between a freight forwarder and customs broker.