The trucking industry is still very old-school — paper schedules on cork boards, if you listen to tech investor Reid Hoffman — but everybody needs trucks, which makes it a very attractive industry for technologists and investors. The thing that’s going to revolutionize trucking, though, is something most people already have: an iPhone, or Android, or other smartphone.
“The smartphone revolution is beginning to hit truckers,” Hoffman told Kara Swisher on the excellent Recode Decode podcast released on Monday. “They all have … a general-purpose computer that can help match and route and deal with things like taking pictures of incomplete loads and other things. You have this whole place where the experience can be transformed. It makes a very big difference in the world.”
That’s why Hoffman invested in — insert “Uber but for” here — Convoy, a trucking startup based in Seattle that aims to put trucking logistics onto the cloud to make the trucking business more efficient.
Hoffman was an executive vice president at PayPal, then founded LinkedIn and worked there until last year; since then he’s become a partner at Greylock Partners, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm that invests in early stage technology companies. He’s on the board at Microsoft. And he recently become very into trucks:
“Trucking is a trillion dollar industry, and 82 percent of it is spent in the actual trucking part of it, and it’s complex, which leads to a lot of room for technology adding a tremendous amount of value,” he told Swisher.
And that business has yet to become digitized, he said.
“A huge amount of the trucking industry is these fragmented, five-truck-or-less companies,” Hoffman said. “Well, the time that they spend scheduling and using cork boards and calling people and everything else is all time that they’re not working.”
Convoy is a Seattle-based startup that, in January, hired away Tim Prouty to be its head of engineering from Uber, a company that grew precisely because all of its customers had the Uber app on their smartphones. As Geekwire reported, the company raised $16 million in 2016:
The company pulled in $16 million in venture capital from Greylock, Jeff Bezos’ venture capital firm Bezos Expeditions, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, eBay Motors founder Simon Rothman and Code.org co-founder Hadi Partovi.
“The thing that made it go from ‘oh, that’ll happen at some point’ to ‘that’s happening now’ is that more of the truckers have smartphones,” Hoffman said. “And once you have that smartphone connectivity, then you can begin to close loop and build the features. You have to have a critical mass of that. You have to have an active network. So, enough truckers with smartphones, enough shippers going, ‘Oh, these features are very handy for me to make my business much more efficient.’”
While smartphones are shaping up to change trucking tech, trucking culture — maybe best exhibited in the video below from Smokey and the Bandit — is probably going to stick around for the time being.Photos via Getty Images / Steve Jennings