Another win for robots! Locus Robotics, based in Massachusetts, has made a name for itself in the thriving warehousing robotics industry. This week Locus announced a $117 million Series F led by Goldman Sachs, G2 Venture Partners and Stack per TechCrunch. The company’s total funding is now around $400 million bringing Locus’s valuation close to $2 billion.
Locus is a standout among others in the industry like…
6 River Systems (acquired by Shopify)
Amazon Robotics (formerly Kiva Systems)
We can only expect ventures like Locus to boom…
…considering the accelerated growth of the eCommerce sector and rumors of names like TikTok pushing into the US market. In recent days, we’ve seen digital orders set records this Black Friday. In order to stay competitive, you’ve gotta bring in the bots.
Of course, industry giant Amazon still dominates. They were one of the early adopters of automation, acquiring Kiva Systems for their fulfilment centers back in 2012. Amazon sets the standards and goals that smaller retailers have to catch up to. Because of that, robotics startups have cropped up everywhere to bridge the gap.
Like others, Locus assures the public that no, our robots won’t run you out of a job.
They say they “understand the importance of having robots that work collaboratively with workers, not replace them.” They illustrate the point with digital line art showing an at-ease worker leaning against one of their robots. See? Total harmony.
For the future…
Locus looks towards further solidifying its place as a leader in the warehouse robotics space.
Powered Trailers Coming Soon Thanks to Range
Based in Mountain View, California, Range has created a powered trailer to “accelerate the electrification of commercial transportation” according to their website. Range was founded in 2021 by Ali Javidan, a former head of prototypes at Tesla.
How do They work? Range explains on its site:
An “integrated sensor and powertrain system” power the trailer.
A smart kingpin unit measures the load the trailer places on the truck.
The smart kingpin, sensor, and system communicate with one another, reducing the load on the engine under acceleration and recapturing kinetic energy using regenerative braking.
The trailers use standard interfaces and are compatible with both diesel and electric trucks. Even if the trailers weren’t plugged in, they can still safely haul cargo.
Who’s interested and why?
It makes sense that smaller trucking companies might be interested in this more cost-efficient alternative. The Tesla Semi, which reportedly completed a 500-mile haul, costs $180,000 or $150,000 for the 300-mile-range option.
The FMCSA has made its environmental priorities clear, wanting to curb engine emissions and pushing towards the adoption of zero-emission trucks. California leads the way in electric vehicle initiatives with goals to phase out diesel trucks in the next 20 years.
Range’s powered trailers could really help the little guys…
…stay relevant in this fast-changing industry. Their audience is clear to them. Range markets the powered trailers as a “practical, compliant, near-term solution to emissions mandates.”
According to Range, their trailers “reduce diesel consumption and tailpipe emissions by 41% in combined city/highway driving, with no increase to cost-per-mile.” And for those companies that may already have electric vehicles, the powered trailers extend the miles driven before the EV trucks need their next charge-up.
The company recently raised $8 million in Seed funding led by Up Partners, R7, and Yamaha Motor Ventures.
Latest and Greatest From Around the Freight Web
Somebody Help!:On Monday night, Biden called on Congress to take action to avoid a freight rail strike. On Tuesday, Congressional leaders spoke up, expressing support for legislation on the issue. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “Tomorrow morning we will have a bill on the floor.”
Drug Bust: A truck driver was stopped at the US-Mexico border where his load of “surgical kits” turned out to be hiding 22.97 pounds of cocaine (an estimated street value of $291,760). In a statement, the driver said he was “obligated” to move the drugs.
Korean Wave: South Korea’s trucker strike, the second one this year, rippled through the supply chain. The disruption blocked access to two of the country’s busiest container ports. Following a 6-day strike, the truckers have now been ordered back to work.
Final Battle: In the battle of the brokers, many see 2023 as the time to prove yourself or sink. Legacy brokers like C.H. Robinson and RXO have expanded their own automated systems to compete with native digital brokerages like Uberfreight and Convoy. For smaller firms without AI tech…things will get pretty rocky.
Fast Friends: Turvo and DAT have formally announced their partnership bringing efficiency in the form of a “one-stop shop” for freight matching. DAT VP of Sales says their load board network will host more than 535 million load and truck posts.
Elon Musk tweeted over the weekend that a fully loaded Tesla Semi truck completed a 500-mile trip at a total weight of 81,000 lbs.
The Tesla Semi is the first to meet the 500-mile target out of all its competitors.
Nikola, Mercedes, Daimler, and Volvo have not reached that milestone yet. Tesla’s achievement comes just a few weeks after Volvo’s Renault Trucks taunted Musk and his company for failing to deliver on past promises. Tesla’s pushed back its deal to deliver the first fleet of long-haul electric vehicles to PepsiCo by 2019 multiple times. The delivery of 15 Tesla Semi trucks is now set for December 1. It looks like it’ll finally happen.
Renault delivered its first electric trucks to Pepsi’s rival Coke in Belgium on Nov 26.
That means they beat out Tesla by just a week. It’s great to see a little friendly competition because it helps drive innovation in the sector.
Once Pepsi receives its promised first delivery, there are hundreds more Tesla Semis on order. Companies like UPS and Walmart are waiting for their fleets, too.
Check out our latest roundup of the top headlines from around the freight and logistics world. We gather news related to brokers, carriers, shippers, logistics startups, freight tech, and more.
Big Things:Supply chain visibility platforms, project44 and FreightWaves were named two of the fastest-growing and biggest tech companies to watch by Fast Company and Deloitte respectively.
Breaking the Ice: President Biden’s visit with China’s leader Xi Jinping signals to US Trade Rep that the relationship may be headed in a more positive direction, but other economists say not so fast.
Company Goes Bust: Freon Logistics, a trucking company based in Bakersfield, CA, filed for bankruptcy triggering employee protests demanding unpaid wages.
Silver Theif: A judge recently refused to move a 3-year-old case of a missing $10 million haul of silver to Korea, where it was loaded. Traces of stolen silver have turned up in Massachusetts and British Columbia, CN.
Controlled Blowout: Kodiak becomes the first self-driving truck company to showcase how their autonomous tech can maintain control in the event of a catastrophic tire blowout.
You can watch this interview on YouTube or listen to the podcast on Spotify.
Entrepreneurship runs deep in the blood of Daniel Stoychev. He started his first business at the age of 19 and is now the co-owner of Danieli Inc., a hazmat carrier with around 50 trucks based in Rolling Meadows, IL. In a recent podcast, FreightCaviar spoke with Daniel about the biggest lessons he’s learned in business, his advice for those trying to grow a company, and the approach he takes when dealing with some off-the-wall situations on the job.
Take us over your journey in entrepreneurship from when you started at 19 until now.
“I’ve always been inspired by business owners. My parents have been in trucking since we came to America in ‘07. They started as drivers and little by little they kind of built a fleet that really put us on the map.” This is the company Daniel would later take over alongside his sister.
Daniel didn’t want to waste any time, though. He found a partner and started his own company while still in school. “I knew certain parts of trucking, but I didn’t know others. So [my partner] was more of the dispatch side.” After growing the fleet for around 3-4 years, the two decided to go their separate ways.
After that ended, Daniel took over Danieli Inc. and has been running the business with his sister for the past year and a half.
What are some of the key takeaways from that first trucking company that you apply to the work you do now?
“The biggest thing I learned is always be paranoid.” Daniel rattles off the list of everything that can go wrong in the trucking business, from unpredictable drivers, lawsuit chasers, insurance problems, and funding. “Today you might have a successful business tomorrow that business might come crashing down.”
So what have you done to kind of safeguard yourself to be more secure?
“Obviously being prepared for the worst-case situation because if anything can happen, it’s gonna happen in this business.” Being prepared for every scenario is another lesson he got from that first company. This sort of doomsday prep mindset seems to have allowed him to weather the current market storm with a bit more ease.
With the current market that we’re in, what kind of steps are you taking to manage your business and continue to grow it?
“So the biggest thing is that you gotta keep the drivers happy, alright? That’s number one. Without the drivers being happy…there’s nothing,” he says. It’s this strong focus on driver retention that is going to save money in the current environment. They want to make sure they keep their drivers on the road, and that comes from establishing strong relationships from the very beginning.
He states his mantra again: “When things are good, you gotta prepare for the bad.” It’s clear that Daniel has had some run-ins with people who have tried to get a piece of the pie when things were good, only to now be sorely disappointed by the downturn.
“I hate to say it, but many companies are going out of business and will go outta business because they enter during the good time thinking this is the reality of trucking, and it’s not like that.” So his other piece of advice is to keep a nice little nest egg to fall back on and be careful with spending even when things are going well. “Having funds is huge… We’re gonna ride this wave of downfall.”
Let’s talk Hazmat. Can you tell us more about the pros and cons of hauling hazmat? How profitable is it? How do you deal with all the regulations?
“Hazmat is profitable… hazmat right now is keeping a lot of guys afloat.” He explains further that for hazmat runs they can bring in around $2.90-3.50 a mile compared to $2.30-2.60 on regular loads.
However, he says there are some unique aspects to be aware of. You’re going to need the proper insurance to be totally covered if anything goes wrong. You have to make sure the drivers have special certifications.
“The biggest thing is the safety portion of it… The easiest thing to do is to book a load, right? But are you prepared to haul that load?” he warns.
So you really need to stay on top of tracking everything, keeping track of all the costs. How do you manage that?
Daniel sorts through the information and data that the company has to keep tabs on. From internal KPIs, diesel rates, most convenient fueling locations, general freight analytics and statistics. It’s a lot to keep up with, but when it comes to managing the company’s numbers, he prefers to keep things in-house.
“Never will I use outside services like that that get to control such an important aspect of the business, the finances…I don’t believe in outsourcing things like that anymore.” He admits that there are benefits to it, but for him, it’s gotta stay in the family. “There’s no way that these companies care about the business and look after it the way we would,” he states.
We’ve got some questions coming from followers on Instagram. “What is the worst issue that you had on a hazmat load?
That one is more of a funny story. One night, he gets a call from a driver whose truck is leaking a mysterious red liquid.
When they fail to reach the broker they decide to go on and cut the seal, and turned out a barrel had turned over. The load wasn’t flammable or a bio-hazard so the driver decided it was safe enough for him to clean it up himself.
When he goes inside a truck stop to wash the red stains from his clothes and hands, folks were a little freaked out. A trucker, covered in red splatter, in the middle of the night…yeah, the optics weren’t great. He ended up having to explain to security that no, he hadn’t just slaughtered anyone.
All’s well that ends well. The next user asks how you scaled your business.
“It’s obviously easier the second time around but, vision, right? I mean, it kind of sounds cliche, but you have to have a vision.”
After there’s a clear vision, Daniel says that’s when you can start to put the pieces together: recruiting the right people, marketing, taking everything one day at a time, but always being prepared. “Gotta have that cushion for when things get rough.”
Do you ever have the thought of leaving the trucking business given this current market?
“Quit and leave. I just don’t like those two words. No, we’re not quitting. We’re not leaving. We’re not shutting down…I have a vision for where I need to be, where the company needs to be.” He understands that for those who are just in it for the money, getting out now would be the best decision, but that’s just not him. He’s planning for the long road ahead.
On the topic of recruiting, our follower asks what is the most important quality you look for in employees.
When it comes to hiring the right staff, Daniel says he always asks: Where do you see yourself in the next 1-3 years? It may sound obvious, but you can always tell a lot about a person based on their answer to that question.
“You want to see people get excited about what they’re doing. This is a tough industry. Not everyone loves to be in it. But you gotta have some sense of dedication and vision to the industry.”
It might be a good idea to know what you’re not looking for in terms of employees. Any funny stories about that?
“Listen, there are more crazy stories than funny stories, I’ll tell you that,” he laughs. He tells us about a guy they hired who shows up dripped out in a Louis Vuitton bag, Gucci flip-flops, and a set of gold teeth—looking like money. One of the first things the new guy asks is if he can get a $7000 cash advance to cover credit card bills and the rent on his penthouse.
Daniel tells him, “You’re crazy, man. Like, you know, we can’t do that. $7,000! You haven’t even started,” and tells him to get on the road. Somehow the guy accidentally ends up in Canada, and while being escorted back by Canadian Border Patrol he blows a tire.
The next day they found the trailer truck left in the parking lot with keys on the ignition cleaned out, and a book on the passenger seat titled ‘God, Save Us All.’ Thanks for the enlightenment on exactly what not to do.
Finally, what’s the best way for people to reach out to you?
You can reach him by visiting Danieliusa.com or visiting his profile on LinkedIn. But he’s happy to connect face-to-face, too. “Stop by the office, check us out, have a coffee, have an espresso in Rolling Meadows,” he says.
FreightCaviar hopped on a call with Hunter Yaw, the Co-founder and CEO of LogRock, a company that helps uses automation to handle the unexciting business of all things compliance for trucking companies. We picked his brain over how he got his start in freight tech, what it takes to secure investments in this sector, and how LogRock shields its users against DoT violations and keeps them off the scent of trial lawyers.
Yaw got his start in freight tech before it was cool. He began working in New York with Loadsmart in 2017 when the company hadn’t yet caught the eye of those in the tech space–before this boom we’re seeing now.
He’d tell friends, “I’m working for a trucking startup,’ and people would be like, “you’re doing what?'” But “Now you tell someone you work in supply chain tech, and it’s like, ‘where can I invest?'”
His work with Loadsmart connected him with João Bosco, now co-founder and COO of LogRock. It was Bosco who suggested the two start a company together.
After both had already left Loadsmart, Bosco called up Yaw with the proposal.
“What’s the idea?” Yaw asked him.
“Listen, man; I don’t have an idea.”
What Bosco had was a vision. He saw what was happening in the supply chain space and knew the right timing to make a move. While at Loadsmart, Yaw learned that to be successful in this space, you have to be aware of what you bring to the table–and what you don’t.
He explained that for someone coming from a tech background, you couldn’t overlook that a large part of this industry needs people. So, you have to be careful that you’re not creating something that will further complicate things.
“We had to find a problem that could be attacked purely with technology, with software.” The two came to the issue of compliance, which is fundamentally a data problem. “And data problems are problems that technology is really good at addressing.”
Bosco and Yaw got an even clearer picture of the trouble by spending a lot of time with trucking company owners and safety managers. They got a deeper understanding of what needed fixing directly from the horse’s mouth.
With an idea and research in hand, the two needed funding. After pitching the idea to investors, LogRock landed $3.5 million in a seed round led by Dynamo Ventures. After scoring the investment, the team set out to make their product a reality.
Yaw and his team wanted to be sure they surpassed expectations. “It can’t just be about the money… once you take the money, then like you owe something to these people… You should feel like they’ve bet on you. And now you’ve gotta…live up to that promise,” he says.
The forecasts look promising. From what Yaw reports, LogRock has been getting plenty of love from those in safety and compliance.
“When we’re talking to safety managers like they get it immediately, and they love LogRock… they’ll tell you it makes their life a lot easier.”
And even the owners, who take a bit more convincing, come to realize the savings that are being brought to their companies through the use of LogRock. They save on liability insurance, reducing time spent out of service and cutting the risk of litigations that can appear from improperly managed compliance.