For a select group of venture capitalists, the lure of joining the logistics sector has proved stronger than merely investing in the industry.
Lily Shen is a perfect example, having been named president of New York-based digital freight brokerage Transfix last week. Shen has spent the last two years with Transfix after moving over from one of the early stage venture capital (VC) funds — Canvas Ventures — that was an initial investor in the brokerage. She initially came in as an advisor, then joined to head the sales team. Prior to that, she spent 20 years at various Silicon Valley companies, including eBay, IDEO, and Wealthfront.
“Why freight?” she said during a briefing with JOC.com about what drove her to move from VC. “There are real challenges, and a phenomenal opportunity for real impact. I saw the team had the right approach in terms of working to improve mobility of freight.”
Transfix has raised $78.5 million over four funding rounds, according to Crunchbase, which tracks venture capital funding.
Shen’s new role will see her head corporate development, product, engineering, finance, legal, and human resources.
“It’s a marketplace, but the way we’re approaching it is it’s way more of a platform play,” she said. “We’re not just thinking about connecting shippers and carriers — we’re thinking about the broader ecosystem and the applications and products that sit on top of that. When you think about brokerage and marketplaces, we’re thinking about the additional products to add to the marketplace to make it stickier.”
Data to improve customer experience
Shen said her role is to amplify the company’s customer first, tech-enabled focus.
“I’ve seen various approaches, but it’s all about improving the customer experience. For me, it was not about choosing brokerage versus a [software-as-a-service provider]. There are a few more important dimensions,” she said. “How big is the opportunity, how big is the market, and within that how big is the role Transfix can play? What I love about this company is we start with the execution. Because it’s operationally focused, you’re able to quickly understand the technology that’s needed.”
Above all, Shen said her responsibility is to develop a growing team that’s focused on its shipper customers first and foremost.
“This has been the case, it’s at the core of everything we do, underpinned by the data,” she said. “That allows us to move faster and be more efficient. The benefits go to the shippers and carriers. At the core of that is the platform we’re developing, building out the right experiences that will evolve the business. It’s not adding tons and tons of people, but building the underlying platform and continue to level up. Some companies have the data but are not developing it to build the customer-first experience. We’re not just building another app, we’re looking at this all holistically.”
Transfix is competing not only in a hyper-competitive US freight brokerage market, but also competing for notoriety and customer attention among direct competitors in the digital brokerage space, including Uber Freight, Convoy, and Loadsmart. All three of those companies have recently announced direct integrations into widely used transportation management system (TMS) providers, including Convoy tying up such a deal with BluJay Solutions this week.
“Every company has their own vision and secret sauce,” Shen said. “When I think about Transfix, it comes back to the impact. Whether you talk to someone in ops, or compliance, or accounting, they’re all thinking about how they can draw the most impact. What are we doing for the customers and how do we make it better and easier for them. We’re all here to add value, to co-create how the space is evolving. And we’re doing it with the shippers and the carriers.”