This vector slows coronavirus transmission

A software startup that digitizes back office operations for trucking companies is serving a larger purpose as companies seek touchless solutions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Honestly, said Will Chu, he never anticipated that his new company would play a role helping mitigate one of the biggest health crises ever to hit the United States. “We weren’t doing this to combat contagion,” said Chu, the CEO of Vector, a startup that helps trucking companies automate workflows. 

Chu and his team built a digital solutions company for the logistics industry in order to speed up invoicing and enhance visibility, he explained. But because Vector’s tools and modules reduce the need for physical contact – nothing has to be handed off, nothing has to be touched – the system effectively limits opportunity for transmission of COVID-19.

“We’re finding ourselves in a position where we can leverage this technology to help this effort in a small way,” Chu said.

Founded in 2018, Vector helps carriers streamline their operations by replacing paperwork with electronic forms. The San Francisco-headquartered company landed $10 million in a series A funding round last year, led by Goldcrest Capital with participation from 8VC and Congruent Ventures.

Global commerce is documented on bills of lading, the system of record for freight movements. But this paper-based system is slow and inefficient, Chu points out, with drivers often forced to pull in at truck stops to fax paperwork or send it via overnight mail.

Vector’s mobile scanning tool allows drivers to scan and digitize freight documents, cutting down on the telephone calls and physical paperwork required to complete a delivery. From that base, the company continues to add features that digitize and automate all manner of processes, boosting efficiencies and saving customers money.

Now COVID-19 is fueling a new demand for its services. 

“Carriers don’t want drivers going into truck stops; they don’t want them licking envelopes,” Chu said. For their part, shippers aren’t eager to have drivers come out of the cab to interact with their employees to get the documents they need.

Using Vector’s auto-imaging capabilities, freight documentation can be “ingested en masse,” and made available for drivers to access via SMS texting workflows. Drivers don’t have to get out of the cab, avoiding person-to-person handoffs.

This past week, for example, Vector made adjustments to a custom workflow involving California utility PG&E and third-party carriers for Stella Jones, a utility pole manufacturer. In addition to automating deliveries and assisting with safety protocols, the system now allows drivers pulling into shipyards where the poles are stored to get the documents on their phone without having to go into the office. “There is nothing physical,” Chu said.

Echoing the sentiments of other supply chain tech CEOs, Chu said digitization also enables remote work, a central feature of coronavirus social distancing mandates. With Vector, drivers can use a mobile app to scan paperwork, and the receiver can be at home on a web browser, allowing companies to continue billing and invoicing without interruption.

Ironically, Chu acknowledged, Vector is not the most apt name for a software company during the coronavirus crisis. That’s because in epidemiology, a disease vector is any agent which carries and transmits infection to another living organism. 

Needless to say, Chu and his team had another context in mind.

A vector in mathematics is “a quantity having direction as well as magnitude” and is a concept that describes the logistics sector, Chu explained. A truck travels in a direction, he said, and carries a certain amount of cargo – magnitude. 

Even in the current context, the name has relevance, as Vector is eliminating a few of the coronavirus risk vectors by helping with social distancing.

Overall, the pandemic is making Vector’s mission more clear and the value proposition stronger, Chu concluded. “It’s something I think was a surprise to all of us.”