Editor’s note: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and not FreightWaves or its affiliates.
When the news broke that DAT had released a competitor to Truckstop.com’s Book-It-Now (conveniently called “Book Now,” saving users four keystrokes over the Truckstop.com product when accounting for the space bar and also with noting Parade AI had the name first), I commented that DAT was playing catch-up, and it wasn’t a good look. That remains true.
Then came the news that KeepTruckin had shut down its One Point acquisition to focus on its digital freight matching (DFM) product. KeepTruckin got into the brokerage game with its acquisition of One Point — ostensibly for proof of concept of DFM from the available capacity in its ELD network. That is not to suggest that KeepTruckin did not have designs for its brokerage, but the opportunity for KeepTruckin with One Point was in the capacity in the platform. In shutting down One Point, KeepTruckin founder Shoaib Makani said, “We’re getting out of brokerage because it’s hard.” He also said, “We cannot be a neutral marketplace with a brokerage.” Both are true.
Neither of these seems like a big deal by themselves. However, both of these are signs that DFM has turned a corner in the marketplace, and it may now be “table stakes” in the battle among brokerages to serve customer needs.
Visibility is more than a blue dot on a page, and DAT’s core value prop has been visibility since long before it was sexy. Love them or hate them, DAT has sat atop the market for brokers and shippers to connect to capacity. During this technology revolution over the last few years, DAT has been slow to act and has instead doubled down on existing products. It was not until just under two years ago that DAT offered a tracking product, which they did not integrate with the core mobile offering at the time.
Meanwhile, other companies have been making moves. While perhaps not directly, startups like KeepTruckin, project44 and others began offerings that could eventually displace DAT’s value prop. As Bill Vitti, chief commercial officer of Truckstop.com, said this week on FreightWaves’ “Great Quarter, Guys,” the $1 billion in capital raised to acquire a majority stake in Truckstop.com will continue to push it forward and help it move faster. While DAT may be waking up to the fact that Truckstop.com is no longer its “little brother,” Truckstop.com has already started looking well ahead of DAT, and “Book [It] Now” is just the most visible example.
Truckstop.com is not the only company offering DFM services that brokers and carriers can use to automate. As an example, Trucker Tools has a similar product and it is fair to say that the DAT move is not entirely a move against Truckstop.com. While it may not admit it publicly, for DAT there is no way to read the news as anything other than speaking to the fact that the company felt compelled to act. Truckstop.com may have forced DAT’s hand, but likely Book It Now alone would not suffice in bringing progress as it concerns DFMs.
KeepTruckin has been a darling of the startup world, capturing large market shares in the rush to ELDs. KeepTruckin acquired One Point in April 2019 in a move to leverage the capacity liquidity and data generated within the ELD platform. It was a simple math equation: Have trucks, offer loads, make money. Why would it need a brokerage? In the early days of Convoy and Uber Freight, both tried to avoid the “B” word, opting to be a “marketplace” or “platform” instead. It was a good tactic for raising money, but not useful in persuading shippers to buy in. Eventually, both pivoted to admit they are brokers.
The news that KeepTruckin is shutting One Point also could point to the fact that in the five years since the founding of Convoy, and the more than two years since Uber Freight, shippers have become more open to working with a “marketplace.” More likely, it points to the fact that they have not been able to. Makani’s comments point to operational inefficiencies and a likely struggle to get shippers on board. To “focus,” KeepTruckin pivots to bring its capacity to bear for companies that need it — and are ready to buy brokers.
Early in the DFM space, it seemed that adoption lagged because of a fundamental misunderstanding of DFM. Brokers seemed to think of it as a “newer” post-and-pray strategy. Companies offering a DFM service only get paid if the transaction is completed. With these mainstream companies scrambling to get into the DFM space, it stands to reason that perception has changed — this is capitalism after all. Brokers have come around in understanding there is still a place for the human connection in matching with technology as an additive tool. The news from both DAT and KeepTruckin speaks to the fact that DFM has turned a corner in the adoption curve — moving past early adopter into the mainstream.
The why is easy to see. Matching is expensive for brokers. Quick back-of-the-envelope math suggests that an average broker booking six loads per day and taking home $50,000 a year means that it costs $33 just to match a carrier to a load. Reducing the cost to match will allow brokers who adopt DFM and apply it appropriately (meaning the right incentives, the right structure and the right training) to compete at a lower margin and win.
Three quick tips for success:
- Start with users. Understand their true needs, not what you think their needs are. Assess products before you buy for how to actually solve the problem your users are facing. Don’t just buy the shiny one.
- Speaking of capitalism, companies too often fall into the trap of thinking of tools as an OR when they are actually an AND. Make it a priority to assess these tools.
- Speaking of things not to do, sign up for these tools and think it solves all your problems. It does not. Review your compensation structure to make sure you are driving the behaviors you want and review your training to ensure your employees understand how to properly use the tools.