Like a true entrepreneur, Max Lock is always looking for the next big thing.
He had his ear to the ground when he was building Schoolboy Ice Cream and saw the demand for environmentally conscious disposable dessert dishes and cutlery. In that venture, he saw how painful international shipping can be for small businesses. That’s where he got the idea for Fleet Logistics.
“I thought, ‘if we can book our air tickets and hotels online for our travel – we should be able to do the same for our freight,'” he said. “So the idea of Fleet was born — an online platform where shippers of any size can find logistics service providers and manage the whole international shipping process.”
Fleet customers can get shipping quotes, pay online, send messages through the platform, and check on shipping status. The startup was the first runner-up at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2014 and in 2015 it raised a seed round and began growing its Portland team.
Earlier this year, Fleet announced a $4 million investment round, bringing the total funding to date to $4.5 million.
We caught up with Lock for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “An online marketplace for international logistics, connecting shippers and logistics service providers.”
Inspiration hit us when: “I have always been entrepreneurial and started a series of businesses while in high school. These businesses have evolved from my interests as one opportunity has opened the door to other progressively bigger and more significant opportunities. While providing systems consulting services to a local restaurant, I seized the opportunity to start an organic ice cream company. The ice cream business led me to import paper and plastic products from Asia and develop a customer base amongst the rapidly growing frozen yogurt industry. My experience as an importer and distributor convinced me that the ocean shipping industry is ripe for disruption and the idea for Fleet was born.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We went the VC route because we are trying to change a massive old school industry and needed the capital to build out our product and to reassure our service providers that we’d be around for many years to come.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our secret sauce isn’t so secret. In everything that we do, we put the customer first. I know this sounds cliché but we operate in an old-school industry that doesn’t prioritize the customer experience and neglects many small to medium sized businesses. For example, one of the things we started was ‘The Price You See is the Price You Pay’ because traditional freight forwarders took advantage of smaller customers by quoting one price and charging another once the shipment has been delivered. This level of transparency helps us stand out from our competition.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “The smartest move we’ve made so far is moving to Portland, Oregon. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to start your company in the Bay Area because that is where capital is as well as a large talent pool. What people don’t tell you about is the outrageous overhead and competitive recruiting scene. Moving to Portland allowed us to put more money towards building out our product and made it easy to recruit top talents.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “The biggest mistake that we’ve made so far is keeping employees who aren’t a good cultural fit for extended periods of time. It is natural for startups to think that having someone is better than having nobody, but that often isn’t the case. We’ve found that having open and honest communication about what is and isn’t working is better than avoiding the problem or fearing the decrease in productivity.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Right now I’d prefer to have Bezos in our corner. Amazon is currently working on building out their own logistics network from the ground up for everything from last mile delivery to ocean freight and air freight. It is yet to be seen what kind of impact this will have on the industry, but I’d rather have them in our corner than competing against them.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “Our favorite team-building activities are escape rooms and potlucks. We are a bunch of foodies who love to solve puzzles.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “The biggest thing that we look for when hiring is people who do well with ambiguity. Fleet is a smallish team that works in a very fast-paced startup environment where tasks and projects frequently change. We look for people who are able to take an idea, run with it and adapt to the changing needs of our customers and service providers.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Always go an extra mile to service your customers.”