digitlalisation © Ed Triki |
© Ed Triki

Mumbai-based digital freight forwarder Shipwaves, which ditched a marketplace model to focus on its individual offering, opened its Middle East headquarters in Dubai this month, capping an impressive three years since launching in 2015.

A separate expansion to South-east Asia is planned later this year.

The tech start-up describes itself as India’s first “full stack” digital solutions provider for ocean freight.

As well as freight forwarding, Shipwaves provides more than 1,000 shippers with customs clearance, insurance, inland transportation, and warehousing services. Digital logistics solutions include instant quotations, rate comparison, freight tracking, reefer monitoring, automated invoicing, payments, and financial services.

Shipwaves co-founder Athahar Mohammed told The Loadstar the company ditched its original freight marketplace model soon after starting the business.

“We quickly pivoted to a digital freight forwarder model because it really made sense for a lot of shippers to be working with one forwarder rather than multiple forwarders through a marketplace. And they preferred the ease of working on documentation, etc with just one forwarder,” he added.

Shipwaves has now become a top-three provider at two of India’s ports and is on-track to exceed 10,000 teu this financial year. The company said revenue growth had trebled compared with 2017.

Mr Mohammed noted how there were few players in the so-called ‘digital forwarding’ space when Shipwaves first started. Since then India – and the world – has seen an influx of tech-based logistics providers entering the market.

Although the service models vary, each claims to bring new efficiencies to freight forwarding by improving transparency and cargo visibility and by eliminating paper-based transactions.

For example, in India, Cogoport targets shippers with the same marketplace model Shipwaves abandoned, while FreightBro and Boxnbiz provide software that help forwarders ‘go digital’.

Indeed, traditional forwarders aren’t standing still in the face of digital disruption – as BIFA’s Robert Keen has pointed out – and are investing heavily in upgrading their legacy IT systems to provide similar digital solutions.

In which case, after enjoying early entrant advantages, can digital forwarders maintain their competitive advantage long-term?

“[To keep up] traditional players will have to invest a lot in technology and also re-skill many people in their organisations to ensure they use the technology better,” said Mr Mohammed.

“We’re starting with technology from day one, and everyone in the company is very comfortable using it. Plus, we’re using a lot of data analytics to improve upon the technology, so we’re always 10 steps ahead and can work at a much faster pace. It’s like manoeuvring a small boat compared with a big ship: which one is faster to do?”

Shipwaves also has a team of logistics experts with extensive forwarding experience, Mr Mohammed added, meaning they can handle complicated freight movements and exceptions as a traditional forwarder would, including project cargo and reefer shipments.

He said providing shippers with real-time access to information, via the Shipwaves mobile app and through the company’s in-house data analytics, is another way to entice shippers from competitors and help them with improved supply chain decision making.

“We have a lot of data analytics and business optimisation reports for internal purposes, and now we’re re-purposing it for our shippers as a way of consulting and telling them, for example, insights into carrier performance over time.

“We provide effortless visibility across all carriers and insights from multiple sources so they can take actions before things go wrong. There’s a huge amount information for them to act upon.

“Access to information is what makes them better than their competition, so we’re doing everything we can to provide ease of access to that data,” said Mr Mohammed.

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