Kontainers is disrupting the freight industry with digitization and predictive analytics. We talked to Charles Lee, CTO and CPO at Kontainers, about their ideas and experiences in bringing paradigm-shifting forces to freight forwarding.
What's your role at Kontainers and what does that entail?
(Charles: ) I’m the CTO and CPO of the company. I build and maintain the Kontainers platform that you see today. I set out the technology and product roadmap for the company and I’m responsible for delivery of that roadmap. I’m also responsible for acquiring customer feedback and make iteration improvement on the product.
What does Kontainers do?
Kontainers’ primary objective is to make freight shipping easier for business exporters and importers.
What specific problems is Kontainers solving in freight shipping?
At the moment, when you want to ship anything internationally, you’ll have to go through agents called freight forwarders. If you’re massive like Coca Cola, you will have your own logistics, but that’s only 30% of the shipping volume. 70% of the shipping volume has to go through a process that’s pretty much offline. Shipping a container can be around 20 phone calls and 60 emails. At Kontainers, we eliminate the countless phone calls and emails from the equation and provide instant quotes directly to you.
20 phone calls and 60 emails. Why does shipping a container take so much communication?
One critical piece of documentation in exports is the bill of lading. That alone constitutes to around 20 to 30 emails back and forth between the forwarder, the carrier and the exporter. Then there’s also communication between the exporter and the importer, because they need to both agree with the bill of lading. A lot of the time, a bill of lading doesn’t actually get finalized until the ship has arrived at the other end.
Also there’s no central storage of documentation, and there’s a lot of documentation. You have loads of disparate systems and none of them talk to each other. It’s humans that do the talking between each system. When you need to find important documentation like a bill of lading, it’s pretty much just searching around the emails. It's a bottleneck and people have to spend a lot of time for a task that is crucial but very inefficient.
So how are you guys solving these problems?
So what we set out to do is to create an online platform that allows shippers to book the shipments electronically and digitally. At the moment our product allows you to make a booking with us in 5 minutes, and if it’s a repeated booking you can complete it in seconds. So this frees up a lot of time for our customers and they get to do what is more important to them, which is growing their own business.
We have a system in place that reduces the whole conversation to two emails. Then the bill of lading is agreed upon by the exporter and the importer. It's that easy. No misunderstandings, no mistakes, no emails flooding your account. This is an example how one can use technology to streamline processes and break old habits.
What challenges have you encountered as the CTO at Kontainers?
From the technology standpoint, a big challenge is adapting the 40 year-old end to end shipment industry technology to suit today’s needs. The Shipping industry has been the most resilient industry to digital change. They don’t see a need for change. Freight forwarders don’t want to reveal information that customers can then use to bargain with them. That is a big reason why digitization is so slow. Carriers prefer to allocate money to keep the operations low-cost, rather than on digitization. It’s understandable because allocating resources towards digitization is more of a long-term investment.
We’re still pretty much the only company that tries digitalization of an end to end shipment. So when you’re the first one, you often find that there’s a lot of stuff that needs improvement.