The State of the Supply Chain Visibility Industry Today

Charley Dehoney
19 min readFeb 26, 2021

February 2021

A glimpse into the global battle for positioning in the end-to-end supply chain visibility space

Transportation Visibility — Overview and Current State

Visibility is the application of real-time data connectivity and enablement throughout the supply chain lifecycle. The importance of visibility has grown from consumer demand, increasing need for just-in-time inventory, and access to measurable data. In a nutshell, modern visibility platforms have been brought about by the “Amazon Effect” which in logistics and supply chain refers to the forever changed consumer expectation that Amazon has brought about with its delightful customer experience and philosophy on removing obstacles between itself and its clients’ happiness. Visibility platforms have become the connective tissue that binds shippers, carriers, intermediaries, and all others involved in the value chain of logistics. Providing the technology layer that enables much-needed interoperability, a freight visibility platform becomes the single integration point for the various technology applications that are used to plan, dispatch, track and convey delivery and billing information for enterprise shippers. Through advanced visibility solutions, businesses are able to provide high-value insights and data to their stakeholders in the form of real-time tracking, seamless data integrations, and actionable insights through data. Creating transparency into the product life cycle ultimately enhances the customer experience, increases customer retention, and builds the platform for process improvement and process automation. Real-time visibility in the supply chain and logistics has become a required offering for new and established players in the market. Visibility adoption is driving a new wave of efficiency throughout the shipment lifecycle, serving as a launchpad for future growth and innovation among transportation capabilities.

In the future, the lifecycle of a product will be further automated — from planning and execution, through to settlement. Today, however, we are still in the early innings of the visibility platform game and I’m writing this essay to share some of my learnings I’ve gained on the space through intense research over the past 2–3 years. My goal in writing this essay is simply to share what I’ve learned and the information I’ve gathered in a structured and unbiased way. Full disclosure, I am an investor in early-stage logistics tech companies and some of the companies referenced in this essay are companies I have invested in or helped along their journey in some way. My views

My overly simplistic infographic of how a Freight Visibility Platform works

Current Industry Competitors:

Company Overview: Macropoint

MacroPoint (acquired by Descartes)

Subscription Revenue (2020): $18M

Growth Rate: 41%

Headcount: 44

Modes Covered Direct: TL (NA Only)

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin: 78%

Churn + Upsell: 105%

Churn Rate: 5%

Capital Raised: Acquired by Descartes for $107M

Overview:

Macropoint was founded in 2011 by Bennett Adelson and acquired by Descartes in 2017. Their proprietary platform consolidates shipment tracking data from carriers into a single integrated platform to meet two growing challenges: real-time freight visibility and automated freight matching. Product features are heavily focused on over-the-road visibility and capacity matching. They mainly serve LSP’s and have some success with shippers, mostly Descartes customers. Macropoint’s customer base includes Covenant Transport Solutions, U.S. Express, Sunline, SteelCase, Shaker Group Inc., Scout Logistics, and DAT.

Strengths:

● Marketplace / load matching

● Large North American Carrier network with established brand recognition

● YMS / Appt scheduling as a differentiator

● Capacity matching capabilities

● Frictionless sign-up and onboarding for drivers

Weaknesses:

● Lower compliance figures with their Carrier network due to product based on App and GPS-based tracking

● Sole focus on TL, North America market, and tracking-only limits customer base potential

● Descartes historically has been hesitant to invest in product development and that appears to be the case at Macropoint currently

● Descartes’s additional offerings to Macropoint do not give them a competitive advantage to the market

● Macropoint is viewed as a supplementary asset, rather than a driving force in the Descartes portfolio

Company Overview: FourKites

FourKites

Subscription Revenue (2020): $39M (E)

Growth Rate: 34%

Headcount (from LinkedIn): 509

Modes Covered Direct: TL and Parcel

Modes Covered with Partners: LTL(SMC3) and Ocean (Ocean Insights)

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin: 51% (E)

Churn + Upsell: 107% (E)

Churn Rate: 10% (E)

Capital Raised: $100.5M

Overview:

FourKites was founded in 2014 by Matt Elenjickal. Headquartered in Chicago, IL, FourKites with an office in India as well and employs roughly 500 professionals. Fourkites has a first-mover advantage in the visibility market. FourKites primarily focuses its services on the Food & Beverage (F&B) and Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) shippers. Their core service offering is in the FTL space, but they have tried to expand into the LTL market through a partnership with SMC3 as well. FourKites recently entered into Yard Management by acquiring a distressed asset, TrackX for just under 3 million dollars. FourKites expanded internationally with a lift and shift technology plan that hasn’t yet yielded the results its been looking for but it continues to find ways to answer customers' key visibility questions, if even through partnerships. The company’s primary customer base includes Kraft Heinz, AB InBev, 3M, Dow Chemical, Cargill, Nestle, Ecolab, PetSmart, Kimberly-Clarke, Dollar Tree and General Mills.

Strengths:

● Market leader for CPG and Food & Beverage

● First mover with shippers

● Large shipper customer base

● Slick UI with pre-built Analytics dashboards

● Provides visibility into Inventory and SKU-level data

Weaknesses:

● Not a platform, lock customers into their application through partnerships and collaborative solutions

● Small existing carrier network with a manual onboarding process has a negative impact on time to value and carrier compliance standards

● Shares CPG logos with competitors

● Analytics are low value due to data quality

● Encroaching on partner’s capabilities (TMS/YMS) with their application stack

● Lacking successful track record outside of US

● Level 1, 2, and 3 support with partners delivers a poor customer experience

● Partnering on modes inherently creates roadmap conflict for global customers

● Seamingly recurring negative press related to media articles involving lawsuits

Company Overview: project44

project44

Subscription Revenue (2020): $35M (E)

Growth Rate: 75% (E)

Headcount (from LinkedIn): 267

Modes Covered Direct: TL, LTL, Rail, Ocean, Air, Parcel

Modes Covered with Partners: N/A

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin: 74% (E)

Churn + Upsell: 118% (E)

Churn Rate: 2% (E)

Capital Raised: $241M

Overview:

Current CEO Jett McCandless founded project44 in 2014 and established the company’s headquarters in Chicago, IL. In 2017, project44 acquired Europe’s dominant visibility provider based in Denmark, Gatehouse Logistics to expand their geographic footprint into Europe. project44 is the world’s largest connectivity network of its kind. Far ahead of the competition, and widely viewed as the best-positioned platform for continued organic and inorganic growth, project44 has the most robust set of API’s and integration tools. These tools are what sets them apart from their competitors allowing them to offer more services, data capabilities and relatively easy integration for customer, carrier and LSP onboarding. project44 has taken a platform-based approach, allowing for multiple parties to connect via a unified platform. The platform hosts the industry’s most expansive and diverse set of shipper, LSP and carrier customers across geographies and modes. Another strength for project44 — they give carriers visibility tools for free helping them develop the deepest possible connections. Some of project44’s bluechip customers include Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Dollar General, and Walgreens.

Strengths:

● Current market leader in data quality, API first approach, value to the overall ecosystem, and ability to monetize/grow into new markets, upstream and downstream workflow automation, global reach

● Connections with ELD providers creates both an economic and technical moat

● Global and multi-modal visibility (TL, LTL, Ocean, Air, Rail)

● Fast onboarding and time to value for carriers

● SLA for carrier compliance — 90% of carriers within 30 days

● Largest partner ecosystem (TMS, YMS, WMS, OMS, Carriers)

● Free visibility tools for carriers

Highest rated data quality in the industry

Weaknesses:

● Average user interface relative to the industry

● Does not offer load or capacity matching capabilities

● Higher base cost structure for shippers and LSPs

Company Overview: Sixfold

Sixfold

Subscription Revenue (2020): Less than $1M (E)

Growth Rate: N/A

Headcount (from LinkedIn): 51

Modes Covered Direct: Groupage and TL (Europe Only)

Modes Covered with Partners: N/A

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin: N/A

Churn + Upsell: N/A

Churn Rate: N/A

Capital Raised: Owned by Transporeon

Overview:

Sixfold was founded in 2017 by Wolfgang Woerner. Sixfold is owned by Transporeon, a leading transport management platform located in Germany. Transporeon cross-sells Sixfold into their carriers. They offer Sixfold for free and offer carriers slot booking and tendering with a markup to offset the Sixfold cost. Sixfold’s primary customer base includes Nestle, Kingspan, Rockwool, STI Freight, and Knauf. Sixfold helps shippers connect with their carriers and customers for accurate delivery estimates leveraging TMS, telematics, and mapping data along with predictive analytics. Sixfold is an exclusive partner with Transporean.

Strengths:

● Offered as a free product to Transporean customers

● Offers TMS and appointment booking tools in addition to visibility and tracking offering is advanced

● Strong visibility momentum due to “free trial” of Sixfold platform

● Introductory pricing model drives new customer acquisition

Weaknesses:

● High total cost of ownership with “free visibility”

● Lack of experience in onboarding customers at scale

● Small network of existing carriers makes scaling and customer acquisition difficult

● Lacking global footprint necessary to service global companies

● Weak relationships with carriers due to pricing and business practices, resulting in low carrier retention

Company Overview: Shippeo (information edited 03/2021 with the cooperation of company)

Shippeo

Subscription Revenue (2020 reported by company): $10M+

Growth Rate: 110%

Headcount (reported by company): 185

Modes Covered Direct: TL, Groupage, and Parcel. Combined maritime and road, first in Europe.

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin(reported by company): ±80+%

Churn + Upsell: 109% (E)

Churn Rate (reported by company): ±1%

Capital Raised: $71M

Overview:

Shippeo was founded in 2014 and currently employs 185+ professionals. The company is headquartered in Paris, France. Shippeo has historically focused its attention on French-based companies but has recently expanded into other European countries. Shippeo recently acquired oPhone ($3M of subscription revenue). Their visibility platform provides access to predictive and real-time information for all deliveries. Their primary customer base includes Gastorama, Auchan, Saint-Gobain, Viapost, Conforama, Leroy Merlin, FM logistic, Casino, Monoprix, and E. Leclerc.

Strengths:

● Strong brand awareness and recognition in UK and EMEA

● European market prefers working with European HQ’ed software providers over other, larger companies with more mature products, strategy, network, and capital

● Developed strategic partnership with software providers Alpega and SAP to grow their network

● Strong capabilities in Predictive ETA accuracy, data quality, and dedicated data science team

● Advanced mobile app with capabilities like document management and order level tracking

● 90% SLA for carrier onboarding in 90 days

● Well-positioned to continue to raise venture capital to enable expansion and growth

● Growing base of TMS and Telematics integrations supporting improvement in carrier relationships and connectivity

● API first strategy is enabling quick connectivity with other platforms

Weaknesses:

● Shippers have said their network lacks strength in modal coverage across the globe which removes large Shippers for sales profiles

● Have focused historically on European shippers with global enterprise footprints, choosing not to focus on US market (this may or may not prove to be a weakness, more or less just flagging as a difference for now)

● Customers have said the organization lacks a strong Professional Services team to accommodate custom integrations and complex projects for larger customers

● Outwardly, it does not appear the company has invested in strong carrier on-boarding processes and tools, continues to be a point of friction in their sales and onboarding speed — this may be solved by the growing number of TMS and Telematic integrations the company is seeing recently

Company Overview: TruckerTools

TruckerTools

Subs. Revenue (2020): $5M (E)

Growth Rate: 90% (E)

Headcount (from LinkedIn): 43 (E)

Modes Covered Direct: TL (US only)

Modes Covered with Partners: N / A

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin: 51% (E)

Churn + Upsell: 107% (E)

Churn Rate: 10% (E)

Capital Raised: $8.5M

Overview:

TruckerTools was founded in 2009 by CEO Prasad Gollapalli, a longtime DAT/GetLoaded engineer. The company is headquartered in Reston, VA. TruckerTools’ proprietary GPS-enabled mobile app and Smart Capacity relationship management platform provides high tracking compliance success to 3PLs and freight brokers. Originally known as the “Yelp for truck drivers” the TruckerTools team did a great job early in the smartphone revolution gaining valuable space on many truckers’ home screens. From there, TruckerTools has scaled to more than 1 million downloads giving them a unique position as an emerging visibility and smart capacity provider. They have a robust customer base amongst freight brokers in the US despite only operating in the TL market. Notable customers include Schneider, Kingsgate, EastCoast Transport LLC, Ryan Transportation, Kenco, Ari Logistics, Genpro, and Syfan Logistics.

Strengths:

● White label driver app designed for 3PLs to offer to their carrier network, a great value for smaller trucking companies and owner-operators working closely with a particular broker

● Brokers and 3PLs see start-to-finish tracking compliance success rates between 70%-90%

● Freight matching and load tracking capabilities

● Broker Advantage portal is first of its kind carrier relationship management platform for brokers

● Visibility solution to over 750,000 truckers and 130,000 unique carriers

Weaknesses:

● Single modal focus with TL, TruckerTools lacks LTL, Ocean, and Rail presence

● App-based tracking data can be frustrating for carriers to juggle — technology barrier

Newer Entrant Industry Competitors:

Company Overview: Vizion

Vizion

Subs. Revenue (2020): $1M (less than)

Growth Rate: 552% per year

Headcount : 11

Modes Covered Direct: Ocean

Modes Covered with Partners: Drayage/Rail

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin: N/A

Churn + Upsell: N/A

Churn Rate: N/A

Capital Raised: $1.5M

Overview:

Vizion was founded in 2018 by CEO Kyle Henderson and CTO Tyler Hughes and is based in the United States with employees distributed throughout the country. Vizion is a 100% digital platform of API services delivering door to door ocean freight visibility making it easy for logistics and e-commerce companies to integrate the most complete, universally standardized, and highest quality ocean visibility data into ERP, TMS, WMS, Control Tower, and in-house built software solutions. Vizion’s customers can address their own unique business challenges using accurate tracking information sourced from ocean carriers, port terminals, drayage providers, rail companies, and AIS vessel tracking. Vizion works with businesses of all types and sizes; from shippers moving more than 100k containers per year, to technology companies delivering AI solutions for logistics, or LSPs needing reliable visibility on a global scale.

Strengths:

● Modern, open, developer-friendly API tools (think EasyPost for Ocean)

● High quality, enriched data — 27+ carriers, port, rail, geocoding, and customs data in a single API

● Leveraging many data sets (public and private) — Vizion overlays multiple sources of data to synthesize and enrich standardized data sets used by many of its competitors

● Live data quality measurement and reporting

● Toolbox for DIY organizations choosing to build ocean visibility in-house

● Offers vessel, container, and return tracking milestones through singular API

Weaknesses:

● Single modal focus with ocean freight data, lacking market presence

● Limited rail and drayage visibility outside of US

● API-only user experience is difficult for some legacy players to manage and requires in-house technology expertise. This is also a barrier for smaller companies who lack in-house technical expertise

Company Overview: RPA Labs

RPA Labs

Subs. Revenue (2020): $1M (less than)

Growth Rate: 595%

Headcount: 20

Modes Covered Direct: Ocean, Air, Ground

Modes Covered with Partners: N/A

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin: N/A

Churn + Upsell: N/A

Churn Rate: N/A

Capital Raised: $1.2M

Overview:

RPA Labs automates the billions of daily conversations in the logistics industry that are buried in emails, texts, documents, and fuzzy data. With technical principles purpose-built for the sector, RPA Labs’ software can help companies scale faster with process automation that requires less deployment time than general approaches.

Strengths:

● Response Bots — Automated Inquiries for Track & Trace — 25% or more of customer emails consist of track and trace inquiries. This typically requires customer service representatives to manually search carrier websites and/or their TMS and re-key the data back to the customer. These manual response times can take anywhere from hours to days — their shipment might even arrive by the time customer service is able to respond. RPA Labs’ Email Response Bot is able to automate these inquiries by responding back to customers with the real-time status of their shipments in seconds. The benefits:

  • Reduces email overload
  • Employees reclaim hours to work on other high-level tasks
  • Improves customer experience

● Detention & Demurrage Visibility — Employees are tasked to manually check carrier websites every day, multiple times per day in order to update the status of each container. On any given day, there may be thousands of containers that are in critical free-time range or already incurring penalties. With RPA Labs’ Detention & Demurrage Management Application, logistics teams can easily track container fees before they happen in one centralized application. Contract and tariff-free time is updated automatically and is integrated with all the major shipping lines.

  • Container Track & Trace solutions delivering container status, detention, and demurrage fees
  • Automated Data Entry from disparate data sources
  • Enhanced cost Visibility
  • Proactive Demurrage Management alerts to customers and operations when the last free day is approaching

Weaknesses:

● Less of a true visibility platform, more of a visibility swiss army knife, helping customers add visibility where is it missing currently

● API first solutions require in house technical development expertise for customers

● Best suited for operations centric enterprises looking for specific visibility or workflow automation solutions

Company Overview: OpenTrack

OpenTrack

Subs. Revenue (2020): N/A

Growth Rate: 1,200% per year

Headcount: N/A

Modes Covered Direct: Ocean

Modes Covered with Partners: Rail

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin: N/A

Churn + Upsell: N/A

Churn Rate: N/A

Capital Raised: N/A

Overview:

OpenTrack was founded by LogTech veterans Kevin Valsi and Martin Hendlemen who met while working at another freight-based startup, Cargomatic. The two spent 2+ years developing a fully-automated software platform for ocean visibility and landed 2 of the top 10 global ocean freight forwarders by volume as paying customers before doing any marketing. Valsi and Hendlemen believed in an industry where reputation is everything, they would only get one shot at delivering on a product that had to be 99%+ reliable. After finishing their core ocean visibility API, OpenTrack expanded its offerings to include a proprietary rolled cargo alert service, white-label customer portal for forwarders, and an integrated partner service providing intermodal/inland rail visibility using OpenTrack’s data aggregation platform.

Strengths:

● Fully-automated proprietary API that delivers the fastest, most accurate, and complete results for ocean visibility by aggregating and selecting the best data from dozens of sources for every container tracked

● Consistently ranked #1 in data reliability and data density when benchmarked against its competitors by large enterprise freight forwarders

Weaknesses:

● Currently limited to US ocean imports only

Company Overview: Terminal49

Terminal49

Subs. Revenue (2020): $1M (less than)

Growth Rate: 240% / year

Headcount: 3

Modes Covered Direct: Ocean and port

Modes Covered with Partners: N/A

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin: 70%+

Churn + Upsell: 100%

Churn Rate: 0%

Capital Raised: $2.2M

Overview:

Terminal49’s mission is to simplify global trade. Terminal 49’s online platform gives logistics service providers, shippers, and logistics tech startups complete visibility into end-to-end trade operations and container movements. With over 600 million containers moving globally every year, much of the operations to move a container from A to B is still very much a manual process. Today, Terminal49 is building tools and API’s that provide real-time visibility to people who help move containers and make the entire process a lot more efficient.

Strengths:

● Deep domain expertise in drayage operations· Multi-party collaboration dashboard

● Integrations with all US and Canada terminals

● Free tools for smaller NVOCCs and FreightForwarders aimed at bringing tech to smaller providers enabling them to compete with the largest forwarders

Weaknesses:

● Ocean only

● Terminals and carriers can cut off access to data so Terminal49 is working to partner with operators going forward

● Slower growth in comparison to competition as a tradeoff to deliver and scale optimal service with a smaller team

Company Overview: ThroughPut

Subs. Revenue (2020): $1M (less than)

Growth Rate: N/A

Headcount: 8

Modes Covered Direct: N/A

Modes Covered with Partners: N/A

Key KPI’s

Gross Margin: 90%+

Churn + Upsell: 100%

Churn Rate: 10%

Capital Raised: $3.5M

Overview:

ThroughPut’s ELI software suite taps into existing time-stamped data tied to your sales, purchasing, distribution, and manufacturing activities and puts operational improvements on autopilot. ELI predicts demand, reorients production capacity, reassigns warehouse space, and reorders materials just-in-time, so you never miss out on customer demand again. On a single software, ELI improves material flow and free cash flow, across your end-to-end value chain.

Strengths:

● Deep domain expertise in operations

● Robust API first intelligence engine recognizes and accounts for SKU level data for all products, LSPs, customers, prospect, and internal stakeholders to provide 360 views of supply chain efficiencies or lack thereof

● Each dollar invested in ThroughPut is returning $3+ to its customers

Weaknesses:

● The global nature of their industrial customer base leads to longer sales cycles

● While mode agnostic, ThroughPut’s ELI software provides post-delivery visibility for transportation, not real-time or near-time

● The technical depth of product utility requires layers of stakeholder buy-in, further delaying sales cycles

● Digital revolution for global supply chains is still in early adopter phases limiting prospective target pool in the short term

Summary of the industry today:

Macropoint had the lead position when cell phone triangulation was the dominant technology method in freight visibility but that was back in 2016. With technology advancements and venture capital flowing into LogTech, the game has changed and it seems like MacroPoint stopped innovating after they were acquired. According to McKinsey, nearly 29 billion has been invested into LogTech since 2014 with the majority of the investment dollars coming in since 2016. This trend suggests the earliest leaders in visibility are likely not the best suited to dominate the space into the future, see 10–4 Systems and Macropoint as examples.

Of the newer entrants coming into the space Sixfold has an interesting proposition in my opinion. Offering several free tools for carriers and logistics service providers like its free Live Border Congestion Map for Europe are smart ways to create stickiness and utility for stakeholders while developing out a broader ecosystem. Although in tech, when you get something for free, typically you’ve become the product so time will tell how much carriers in particular value the Sixfold/Transpereon solution. Shippeo is another interesting company to keep an eye on and could be a formidable competitor in end-to-end visibility overtime. The key for both of these companies’ success or lack thereof may very well come down to their execution as they cross the pond and come into the United States market where project44 and FourKites rule.

When it comes to the leader in the United States and globally the numbers don’t lie. FourKites appears to be a bit of a mechanical Turk through their significantly higher headcount. The lack of a foundationally strong product has created the need to develop their organization around partnerships and services rather than a centralized and configurable platform. This shows in their higher employee churn, and significantly higher headcount than their two nearest competitors combined. Meanwhile, their customer churn rate is also significantly higher while losing grip on their dominance in their primary market of CPG as others come looking to serve that category. Fourkites appears to have lost its profitable edge with declining gross margins and non-scalable unit economics. Efforts of legal challenges like patent infringement allegations from one competitor and accusations their CEO created fake email addresses and sent notes to another competitor's board members have been distractions at the very least and at most represent failed hail mary efforts to minimize their competitor's advancement.

It’s still early stages for visibility, however. Most of the providers started around 2014 with another cohort of new entrants coming into the space over the past 24–48 months. All providers have been building their products and platforms frantically and trying to gain market share. project44 is probably the best positioned with their platform first approach to be a steady and scalable provider as customer needs evolve and new entrants come into the market. The biggest differentiator project44 has today in my view is the company started as a data service initially. They began by aggregating carriers first then built a visibility platform on top of the data, not the other way around. Most competitors in the space (not all) started with a visibility application and added capacity data from there. project44 started with the vision of creating connective pipes in the logistics industry, initially bundling trucking APIs for LSPs, and now provides visibility into Inventory, SKU and PO level detail. While there is still a lot of room for improvement and plenty of time left in this race, currently project44 is leading the way in global supply chain visibility and it will take some doing for anyone to overcome their advantages. This isn’t just my opinion, the FreightWaves FreightTech voters have named project44 the 2nd most innovative company in logistics technology three years in a row, placing directly behind Amazon each year. Additionally, many of the rest of the top 25 most innovative companies on the list were/are project44 customers further proving the innovative culture and vision within the company DNA. I’d say that that puts project44 at the head of the class.

Beyond that, the interesting opportunities exist in:

  1. Tangential areas of the supply chain that remain opaque, specifically non-transportation based -and/or-
  2. Singular aspects of the larger platforms in visibility that can be unbundled and provided to companies with more narrow visibility needs

If nothing else, it should be made clear that in my view visibility and shorter cycle times are here to stay and technology/software will be the cornerstones of these trends, not the relationship-based decisioning we’ve seen throughout history. As the once bold lines between logistics and supply chain continue to blur in a post-covid, e-commerce reliant, containergeddon world, we’re reminded yesterday’s fast is today’s normal. It wasn’t that long ago when overnight felt expensive and excessive. Now, food is delivered within minutes of ordering from an app. Today’s fast is now tomorrow's normal. We are never going back the other way and visibility platforms will serve as the OS for the more fluid and reliable supply chain networks of our future.

--

--

Charley Dehoney

Charley Dehoney is a growth-focused executive, advisor, & investor, with nearly 20 years of experience at the intersection of transportation technology