The worst global pandemic in a century may not be the most opportune time to launch a digital start-up, but Amit Hasak has found opportunities to secure new partners and customers for his company, Tranship, as it seeks to automate international refrigerated container shipping. He’s now aggressively looking for investment in Transship’s seed round of fundraising.
The Chicago-based company on Tuesday partnered with Loadsure, a London-based company providing a digital solution for cargo insurance. Loadsure will connect with Transship’s other partners — TradeLens, Future Tech Transport, and Ceres Technologies — on Transship’s digital platform. The goal is to create an end-to-end cold chain forwarding and shipping solution.
“This is probably the most inopportune time to launch a startup, but I told my team if we can make it now, we can make it anytime,” Hasak said in an interview Tuesday. “As terrible as economies are around the world right now, people still need to eat. Volumes are rising.” And the need for a digitally connected refrigerated container shipping platform, he believes, is growing.
Hasak launched Transship last year after a career in the cold storage business in Chicago. His goal was to automate “the whole process” of international refrigerated ocean shipping, linking drayage and ocean transport with equipment tracking and now cargo insurance, reducing the time it takes to process shipments to minutes rather than days.
The service is focused on “door-to-port” exports of perishable goods. Communications and tracking issues are legion in global supply chains, but risks are higher when it comes to moving perishables. Hasak saw these issues during his years as the owner of Hasak Cold Storage in Chicago, and the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened some of those risks.
“Our business model is based on remote working, so customers can rely on us for consistent service without the risk of work stoppages,” he said.
Although there’s no evidence of a risk of contracting the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) through touching food or food packaging, the pandemic is drawing attention to potential health risks within the refrigerated supply chain.
The ability to monitor shipments from door-to-door is increasingly important to exporters and their customers. This is where Transship wants to close gaps through digitization, replacing e-mails, phone calls, and faxed documents with application programming interfaces (APIs). Those APIs will connect Transship, its partners, and its customers, Hasak said.
“We’re both harnessing automation to drive obsolete, tech-challenged industries into the digital age,” Loadsure CEO Johnny McCord said in a statement.
Loadsure is attempting to disrupt the cargo insurance business by bypassing traditional underwriters through a digital platform. That enables Loadsure to provide coverage to exporters at lower-than-average rates, Hasak said.
“We’re going to be offering an international policy for cargo insurance through Loadsure in about two months,” he said. “We’ll be offering quotes with or without insurance, but people shipping perishables internationally, their margins are quite thin. This will provide huge savings.”
Insurance savings could reach double-digit percentages, he said, quoting one example.
Taking the platform live
Transship took its platform live in May, handling a door-to-door shipment of refrigerated poultry from North Carolina to the port of Savannah and then by container ship to Cartagena, Colombia, and then to a customer in that country. Drayage was provided by Future Tech Transport, while the shipment was monitored using tracking equipment from Ceres Technologies.
“I was ready to have a lot of bugs, but it all went smoothly,” said Hasak. The customer and partners communicated by Zoom at the start of the transaction, when a tracking device was placed in the refrigerated container. Transship was able to monitor the container’s temperature from door-to-port and then port-to-door, he said.
“They say you have to crawl before you can walk. I’ll say the crawling went really well,” Hasak said. “We’ve gotten good feedback from the customer and their trading partner. We’re going to walk next, and then knock this out of the ballpark. We want to scale quickly.” He hopes having actual freight management experience will help attract investment to the start-up.
His biggest challenge, however, may be getting customers set in their ways to embrace change. Many of the exporters he’s hoping to draw to Transship may be reluctant to abandon old processes that work, even if they are inefficient. “The obstacle we have to overcome is convincing potential customers to change the way they do business in this terrible time,” Hasak said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, exporters and other shippers are either looking for ways to reduce costs and risk by adopting new technology, or they’re doubling down on what they know — using their phones, e-mail, and fax machines. The need for greater visibility, and near real-time visibility, will drive more businesses to innovate. “We’re reaching out,” Hasak said.