Dray Alliance COO sees ‘huge opportunity’ to aid shippers, carriers

Dray Alliance, a digital drayage marketplace that connects shippers and truckers for the delivery of containers between Los Angeles-area ports and logistics centers, said Wednesday it has closed a $10.2 million Series A funding round led by Matrix Partners.

Sammi Liu, who joined Dray Alliance last May as general manager, now carries the title of chief operating officer.

Liu previously was vice president of operations for Showroom Inc. but left after a year when the company failed to secure Series B funding, according to her LinkedIn profile.

She served two years as general manager of the logistics service Shyp and had a yearlong stint as Uber’s operations and logistics manager in LA.

The Dray Alliance team in Long Beach, California, has grown from five people when Liu joined to 30 today.

“My background is operations and geared toward more quantitative kinds of things. Dray Alliance is trying to solve a problem that I touched upon through various periods of my professional experience,” Liu said. “In my last company, which was another Series A startup, I was the VP of operations. It was a furniture logistics company. We imported a ton of furniture into our warehouses, and one of the pains was always ‘where’s this driver?’ From port to warehouse is incredibly painful to coordinate for a medium-size business. I didn’t even really know I was dealing with the problem of drayage from the other side, which is the end receiver side.”

Sammi Liu is the Dray Alliance COO. (Photo: Dray Alliance)

She said the opportunity to help solve a problem drew her to Dray Alliance.

“There is a genuine intention here to improve the ecosystem and improve the functionality of drayage. It’s a huge opportunity to make things better for both sides,” Liu said. “The carriers can actually do a better job, have more control over their schedules and grow their businesses through value-added technology. On the shippers’ side, they can actually get something they’ve never had before with drayage, which is getting the visibility and getting a reliable lever to pull when you actually need drayage done from the port.”

E-commerce customers expect visibility. Drayage carriers and shippers should too, Liu said.

“Most folks have the expectation that when you order something from an Amazon or a Jet.com or a Walmart that you can actually know where your package is,” she said. “But where is my container of cargo? That container of cargo might be worth half a million dollars and I lose sight of it. I think the industry is ready for it, and I think the challenge is actually the opportunity for us.”

Liu said she is up for the challenge.

“I started out in trading, which is highly quantitative, and it gave me a firm appreciation for data and data integrity and understanding optimization, and a high degree of comfort around that,” she said. “Then I was at Uber circa 2014, so I went through the high-growth phase of a startup that was on the cusp of being a giant company. That was incredibly exciting. I learned a lot and got to see what the cadence should be at that level for that kind of company.”

Wednesday’s press release said that “in an industry predominantly led by men,” Liu is one of the first female trucking industry COOs. But Liu, who began her professional life on a trading floor surrounded by more than 200 men, said gender doesn’t matter to her.

“In my age group, especially in the tech environment, we’re able to essentially assess performance and see a person without recognizing their gender first, their race first or whatnot — everyone is actually very equal,” said Liu, who is in her early 30s.

“I think folks are much more interconnected, and they can actually be much more empathic and accepting and see each other as equals. Thus far in tech, largely my experience has been fairly egalitarian in the sense that there are opportunities, especially for folks in my age group, when we see someone, [gender] doesn’t quite register. That’s what happens when we hire and we look for talent. It doesn’t register whether you’re a woman or a man first, what your race is. It’s much more the person,” she said.

Wednesday’s announcement also included the news that Dray Alliance earlier this month had hired another person, Lauren Roberts, as vice president of sales.

Roberts previously was assistant vice president of sales at Samsara, “the unicorn in trucking fleet management that has raised $530 million,” Dray Alliance said. She also held senior sales positions at Indeni and Cisco. 

Liu said, “We have a group of amazing people. Our team is incredibly diverse in experience. Everyone brings 100% to the table.”

Although Dray Alliance currently only serves the Southern California market, “definitely it’s on the road map to expand,” Liu said.

Dray Alliance said it will use the $10.2 million raised in the funding round to increase automation in its products and scale its hiring in sales, engineering and operations. In addition to Matrix Partners, Moving Capital, Craft Ventures, Act One Ventures and Wonder Ventures participated in the funding round.

In February 2019, Dray Alliance announced it had raised $3.5 million in a funding round led by Craft Ventures.

Dray Alliance CEO Steve Wen said last year, “We saw an opportunity to transform the way the drayage market works while making life easier for shippers and truckers. Instead of shippers guessing status, location and rate of their containers, Dray Alliance aggregates data from our partners to provide real-time visibility throughout the drayage process. We are helping both shippers and truckers improve efficiency, move containers faster and eliminate friction in the container shipping process.”