Trucking is a difficult and vital job. It’s not only the long, often-lonely hours, but the anxiety — as well as the lost time and money — that comes from inefficient dispatching and last-minute (perhaps unwanted) loads, among other points. Stress can run high for both drivers and trucking companies, especially those still stuck in the analog era, or those with digital capabilities that haven’t advanced in a decade or more.
However, in a new PYMNTS discussion, Lidia Yan, CEO of NEXT Trucking, spoke about how digital technology and the marketplace model can ease those burdens — and do so for an industry that is not only highly important to the larger economy, but undergoing massive disruption, and facing a driver shortage. PYMNTS caught up with Yan as her company raised $97 million in Series C funding, money that will help the firm, founded in 2015, to expand its business model and offerings.
Basically, NEXT Trucking uses digital technology to connect shippers with drivers and trucking companies (many drivers work for themselves, of course). It’s a marketplace model designed to reduce down time and other inefficiencies common in the industry, as well as help companies make more money, and allow drivers to better control their work lives and personal time. As Yan told PYMNTS, trucking is a complex industry with many different players — not only drivers, but freight forwarders and other participants, each with a stake in getting retail products to consumers, as well as industrial and other equipment to businesses and factories. Digital technology can help cut through all that complexity and clutter.
One of the company’s general goals, according to what Yan told PYMNTS, is that “we want drivers to make over $1,000 a day while [being able to] go home for dinner.”
The basics of getting to that goal are this: Drivers use the NEXT Trucking app to set their personal preferences pertaining to their work. Such information can include the routes they are willing to drive, the loads they are willing to take and how much they want to earn for such tasks. The technology from NEXT Trucking — using such tools as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), according to Yan — then works to match those drivers with appropriate shippers.
“AI and machine learning are no longer buzzwords,” she said.
Such data analysis serves to not only match the various players, but to optimize loads and routes, and perform other tasks that are important for the trucking industry. Some of the fuel driving this trend comes not only from the desire of drivers to make their time more lucrative, but the push for more transparency in all parts of life, including logistics.
The “eCommerce consumers nowadays expect to see where their shipments are,” Yan said, adding that the same general desire is also present in the world of trucking. “Providing visibility and transparency are extremely important.”
NEXT Trucking operates in an area of the economy that, at least in general, is becoming much more competitive, thanks in large part to other digital disruptions, including companies that have achieved veteran status.
Take Uber, for instance.
News recently emerged that Uber might finally turn a profit — not through its ridesharing program, but due to its trucking division. The trucking industry generated $796 billion in revenue last year, while the global ride-hailing market was valued at just $36 billion in 2017. Since its launch in 2017, Uber Freight now has a team of hundreds, with offices in San Francisco, Chicago and Amsterdam.
In July, the company announced it was going after its second European market with the launch of its trucking platform in Germany. The move puts Uber in direct competition with local startups, like Berlin-based Sennder, and the U.K.’s Zencargo and FreightHub.
For her part, Yan sees enough room in trucking for her company and Uber Freight — enough complexity that is not necessarily competing against that player. Yet, the story of NEXT Trucking serves to demonstrate how digital is disrupting, and even growing, this massive, important industry.