project44 Expands Its Visibility Network Across North America and Europe
Chicago, Illinois USA Site Visit
February 8, 2019
Jett McCandless – Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Tommy Barnes – President
Michael Reed – Chief Strategy Officer
Andy Grygiel – Chief Marketing & Sales Officer
Michael Bruns – Chief Financial Officer
A lot has changed since we first visited advanced visibility platform project44 in late 2016. For a start, company growth has necessitated a new, 42,000 square foot office in Chicago’s historic Merchandise Mart.
In addition to the new office, project44 drastically expanded its international presence. In December 2018, project44 finalized its first acquisition, Denmark-based GateHouse Logistics, giving the company broad visibility coverage. project44 now provides one of the largest visibility networks across North America and Europe. Many shippers and third-party logistics (3PL) providers are active in either North America or Europe, but have difficulty expanding across both regions due to divergent industry characteristics, technology options and carrier needs. project44’s GateHouse Logistics acquisition forms a truly global visibility platform, providing deep integrations throughout the North American and European markets and driving efficiencies and customer satisfaction across global supply chains. The acquisition also offers full General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance, a key factor for shippers and 3PL providers doing business throughout the European Union.
Beyond expanding its geographic footprint, project44’s product development has been focused on building its end-to-end capabilities across modes to provide advanced visibility. To offer end-to-end visibility, the range of supported modes has evolved from less-than-truckload (LTL) and truckload to span parcel, volume LTL, rail, and ocean to include port and vessel automation.
Something else has changed since our last visit—the market’s understanding of the benefits of application program interfaces (APIs). project44’s solutions take advantage of APIs for near-instantaneous transmission of data. In 2016, although awareness of the benefits was growing, the idea was still relatively new in the logistics industry. Using APIs to replace a technology as deeply entrenched and widespread as electronic data interchange (EDI) seemed improbable to some, despite the shortcomings of EDI. During our last visit, we focused on defining API technology and its merits as compared to traditional EDI data exchanges, but now knowledge of the benefits is much more mainstream. As a result, demand has grown. project44 has increased its enterprise customer roster 290% since 2016. Leading carriers, such as J.B. Hunt, use APIs to separate themselves from the competition by providing customers with real-time, seamless access to shipment information regardless of carrier, eliminating the need for multiple carrier data integrations. project44 now has over 175,000 global carrier connections.
When we visited in 2016, project44 had recently raised a Series A round of venture capital totaling $10.5 million. Since then, the company has raised $80 million more—$35 million in April 2018 and $45 million in October 2018 to fund global expansion.
project44’s interest in global expansion makes sense. As more visibility providers enter the market, going global is the next challenge. Many lack cohesive North American and European visibility due to differing industry characteristics and technologies.
A partnership with GateHouse Logistics prior to the acquisition marked project44’s expansion in the European market. GateHouse’s European capacity provider network, European market expertise, data quality standards, and customer focus proved to be a good fit, making the acquisition a strong strategic investment.
The increasing popularity of e-commerce—with 2018 global e-commerce logistics costs expected to hit $572 billion, including cross-border e-commerce—means shippers and 3PLs have an increasing need for visibility into global parcel shipments. And beyond tracking, a platform that offers predictive analytics to provide accurate estimated time of arrivals, reduce dwell times, and curb fines is key to achieving a competitive advantage abroad or at home. In mid-2018, project44 began offering international and domestic parcel tracking and address validation integrated with parcel carriers including FedEx, UPS, USPS, and DHL.
To help support growth, both internationally and domestically, project44 plans to continue hiring top talent. project44 currently employs 200 team members and plans to reach over 250 before the end of 2019. Job functions are fairly evenly divided between the engineering/product side and sales, partner, and customer-facing roles.
project44’s solutions are grouped into four categories: planning, tracking, documents, and analytics.
Planning solutions automate costly time- and labor-intensive manual activities. Real-time pricing streamlines multi-carrier rate comparisons, precluding the need for rate bureaus or batched rate uploads. Routing provides live transit time visibility. Scheduling automates dispatch or tender requests and carrier pickup confirmations.
The tracking solution provides multimodal tracking (domestic parcel, LTL, volume LTL, truckload, rail, and ocean) and predictive arrival times on inventory down to the SKU level. Exception management enables users to take action on any disruptions. Customized alerts notify users when a shipment is delayed or at risk. All of this information can be accessed via APIs or a portal (a user interface that provides visualization of tracking across modes and has been continually enhanced over the last two years).
The documents solution collects digital documents (paper invoices, bills of lading, weight and inspections, and proofs of deliveries), pulling them into a user’s transportation management system (TMS). The payments solution cross-checks rates against invoices and makes invoices available across an organization to shorten the cash cycle.
In addition to using data for real-time tracking, management, and more efficient business processes, the data can be used to identify trends. Predictive analytics include estimated arrival times, lane and location performance analytics, tracking quality, and carrier performance analytics.
Most solutions are available across LTL, volume LTL, and truckload modes in North America, with more rail, intermodal, and air freight solutions coming in 2019. project44 is focused on providing parcel, LTL/groupage, and truckload solutions in Europe.
project44’s Role in the Digital Landscape
The need for accurate, clean, and normalized data updated instantly continues to grow. High-quality data empowers shippers and 3PL providers to act rapidly and proactively address issues, whereas poor-quality data forces shippers and 3PL providers into a reactionary spiral. We too often see customers operating in that reactionary space despite the desire for enhanced technology. A frequently cited industry statistic illustrates the reason: eighty percent of information required to manage a supply chain comes from outside the organization. Investment in innovation is a challenge if the building blocks are broken.
One of the most important differentiators in project44’s network model is the ability to normalize various data sets, delivering complex data in a standardized, secure way. project44’s machine-to-machine data ensures higher quality insights, compared to other companies that routinely intake data from email, CSV, and other batch approaches.
At the same time, project44 is not making any claim to the TMS, Digital Freight Matching, or 3PL space. Instead, it maintains its role as a facilitator, making communications and processes more efficient among these players.
This agnostic approach has served the company well. Carriers push project44 because it helps them automate; meanwhile, project44 does not charge for carrier services, which has helped lead to 175,000 global carrier connections.
project44 charges customers per shipment, rather than per tracking request, for example, to avoid burdensome pricing structures. The company also enables the wave of new technologies hitting the market. Two dozen startups leverage project44’s APIs. TMS providers, too, can get started without building up their own integrations. With TMS and electronic logging device (ELD) providers, project44 has found that transparency works best to set up long-term relationships with no surprises, leading to over 75 global TMS integrations and more than 550 ELD integrations.
Right Balance of Technology
The question for 3PL providers, shippers, and carriers alike is how to strike the right balance between proprietary technology with external solutions. Veering toward an all-proprietary solution can deplete resources and requires upkeep, while an out-of-the-box solution can make a company feel like a commodity. We’ve been hearing feedback from 3PL executives and investors that customizable third-party technology solutions are especially desirable. project44 fits that model, betting on its integrations being part of the customizable piece wrapped around technology. The company offers white labeling for the user interface portal and alerts/notifications, and allows customers to build their own user interfaces around carrier data transmitted with project44’s APIs.
Scalability of technology investments plays an equally large role as customers consider visibility solutions. From project44’s beginning, shippers have had an urgent need for track and trace, and the company’s tracking APIs have been in high demand. As customers adopt these solutions, see the benefits, and prove a return on investment, additional solutions with documents, pricing, and more can be added as modular expansions.
Again, we view this as a good strategy. As more tracking providers enter the market, tracking will soon become commoditized. In just a few years, it’s become increasingly more convenient and less expensive for shippers, carriers, and 3PL providers to access this data. The next step in the digitization of the logistics industry is to automate and digitize beyond tracking, across the supply chain. As an early leader, project44 has sustained momentum by diversifying solutions beyond tracking.
Customers and Partnerships
project44 has helped numerous customers gain notable efficiencies and reduced costs by taking advantage of the advanced visibility platform. Univar, a leading chemical and ingredient distributor, embarked on a project to improve deliveries and cut transportation costs. Univar needed high-quality, real-time data to achieve objectives. Using project44’s Oracle Transportation Management (OTM) system integration, Univar implemented tracking and exception management for truckload and LTL operations, while also fully automating LTL dispatch and LTL digital document retrieval. Univar has saved time and money, eliminated manual processes, and has successfully executed customer-centric transportation and logistics initiatives.
Office furniture manufacturing heavyweight Steelcase needed real-time visibility to eliminate the manual processes and costly errors associated with traditional methods of sharing data, scheduling pickups, and handling exceptions. With an integration into SAP TMS, project44 enabled Steelcase to provide visibility into and automation of transportation operations including LTL tracking, rating, dispatch, transit time, and digital document retrieval. The new processes reduced overall spending and resulted in a 20% efficiency increase for internal operations teams.
project44’s customers are able to tap into the company’s large network of partners. These relationships include J.B. Hunt, Omnitracs, and Old Dominion Freight Line. project44 provides the visibility data in J.B. Hunt 360, the carrier’s full-service “360-degree” visibility platform, the “Virtual Load View” load tracking app for Omnitracs, and an API integrator program for Old Dominion Freight Line. An integration with FedEx Freight, part of FedEx’s API Integration Program, provides shippers with instant, secure LTL carrier rate quotes without costly information technology and software licensing.
To help shape the platform’s future, project44 set up an executive advisory board composed of supply chain and logistics executives across major shipper customers and 3PL providers to ensure representation from this vital constituency.
Adding more capabilities to each mode, adding new modes, and widening project44’s geographic footprint are top priorities moving forward. Asia, beyond the current parcel and ocean solutions, will include a wide range of features, including pricing, scheduling, and routing.
project44’s 2019 roadmap matches—if not exceeds—the ambition we’ve witnessed since 2016. All modes spanning all geographies, including intermodal and air, will include tracking and event management capabilities. European coverage in parcel and LTL will expand substantially, as will North America’s intermodal and air capabilities.