Working at Microsoft, Google and Amazon showed Dan Lewis what successful tech companies look like firsthand. But he wanted to start one from the ground floor.
In 2015, Lewis started Convoy, a movement toward efficient freight. As the nation’s leading digital freight network, Convoy uses technology to find smarter ways to connect shippers with carriers.
"I always wanted to be part of the company's story. It's more rewarding and meaningful when you understand how your work impacts your company and the whole industry—and why that impact matters." - Dan Lewis, Convoy CEO and Co-Founder
Here, the Convoy CEO and Co-Founder talks about starting his company and offers advice for founders who are looking to build startups in volatile times.
Don't keep your idea secret. Define your idea, come up with your storyline and start pitching people—friends, family, everyone. After you’ve said it out loud a bunch of times, you’ll be able to feel whether or not it’s getting better, or if it’s just a bad idea. That helped me identify the problem of trucking.
I got up in the mornings, drove to truck stops and the warehouse districts around Seattle, and talked to people. I used LinkedIn to look up everybody who was in supply chain who I worked with when I was doing management consulting, and I would just call them. That’s how I started forming the idea.
I realized that because of supply chain challenges—such as unloading and traffic delays and breakdown risks—truckers can’t plan that far ahead. This massive industry is mostly offline, as well. Truck drivers are calling their broker at night or looking for jobs on websites and calling around to the other brokers, not using a smartphone to track their trucker location.
On the other side, shippers didn’t know where their trucks were. By building technology that could track assets and where the trucks are, these small owner-operator truck drivers could reduce their empty miles, find more convenient loads and be tracked while on the job so shippers know if the truck’s coming or not. They could get paid faster by capturing digital photos of their paperwork. We knew there was a lot of opportunity here. That’s why we decided to build Convoy.
What helps is stepping back and looking at the fundamentals. We know that over the next decade the industry is going to go in this direction, whether we’re the ones doing it or not. It’s that bigger picture of “this is going to happen, and here’s why this is happening.”
Another approach is to focus on the customer. One of our values is to start with the customer, whether they are a truck driver or a shipper. The most reinforcing part of working on a long, hard problem is a customer telling you they need what you’re building. It’s super motivating.
When you’re raising your seed round of funding, there are three things that are helpful to keep in mind. One, does the person investing believe in you as a person? Two, do they think your idea is plausible, with a real market behind it? It doesn’t have to be fully formed—and they don’t have to be blown away by it—but they have to believe there’s a market there that you can capture. And, finally, can you technically get it done?
I’ve consistently worked with Amitava Sarkar, a Managing Director in J.P. Morgan’s Corporate & Investment Bank. His transportation supply chain team has done a great job of showing up in the industry. J.P. Morgan is really plugged in and knows the scene and can advise on who to talk to, what to think about and what’s emerging.
A lot of people I talked to in the transportation space knew Amitava and the team and thought highly of them. That’s really valuable. The financial components of it are important, as well, but when we’re talking about founding Convoy, that was a big part of it.
I first met Dan on the sidelines of one of the major supply chain conferences in 2018. Dan has a great talent for understanding the pain points in supply chain logistics and articulating how Convoy’s technology could help a very large and inefficient industry. Convoy created the premier digital freight platform in North America, and Dan has built a fantastic team along the way.
Sarkar is Managing Director in Corporate & Investment Bank at J.P. Morgan.
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