Benji Coetzee is changing the face of the freight transport industry, one truckload at a time.
She is the Chief Executive Officer of EmptyTrips, a technology that connects and matches spare capacity on vehicles to those who need goods transported.
This innovation, launched last year, has helped optimize the movement of goods on the roads and on rail, in a cost-effective way.
“The essence of the business was to try and reduce this problem called empty trips,”says Coetzee when we meet her.
Two years ago, Coetzee, a seasoned management consultant largely focusing on the industrial sector, founded SeedPitch, a niche consultancy, of which she is still the Head Strategist.
With her R2 million ($148,000) in savings, she then embarked on EmptyTrips.
According to Coetzee, transporting goods across the continent is complex and expensive. Regional integration between countries and trade facilitation are also challenges. But that’s not all.
“One of the biggest issues that they have is not that countries don’t talk to each other or allow the goods to move across the continent, but the actual transporters that move the cargo charge exorbitant rates. So that means other people won’t send their goods to other countries within Africa because it is just not feasible,” says Coetzee.
She took advantage of the big gap in the industry through EmptyTrips by matching a person/company with an empty cargo vehicle – with a fee that they think is reasonable – to a company which has goods that need to be moved.
“We have that better digital platform. We can negotiate better transport fees for those users. So that is the power of that platform. We bring those communities together and reduce the burden in that regard,” she says.
Like Uber and Airbnb before it, EmptyTrips is also a part of the sharing economy.
Coetzee employs six people and has had over 200 corporates test the concept and come on board.
“It has been very aggressive [since],” she says.
There has been one concern for her though; South African rail company Transnet that has not yet come on board for her venture.
“It was easier to lobby people from the trucking industry. But going into rail has not been that easy [because] you are getting into political aspects. You are working with state-owned entities,” says Coetzee.
“Give us your freight and let us try and get more freight off the road on to the rail. A lot of people underestimate how efficient rail can be, if only we could give it another chance.”
This movement of goods applies to all kinds of cargo.
“[What] the government could do in general for technology, not just my platform, is to enable the movement of mining cargo and agricultural cargo…What the government could do for us is to say ‘this platform becomes the norm for all cargo on behalf of the government’,” she says.
EmptyTrips’ integrated systems paired with smart algorithms matches demand and supply for transport across Africa, without having to get involved in customs regulations.
“Fortunately for us, we just deal with freight orders and clearing agencies so we don’t get involved in the customs issues. But once the cargo has a commercial invoice, it is matched to a transporter. It is very easy to get it across the border. That at least eases quiet a lot. It is when the transporter does not have the required documents that it begins to be quite problematic at the border,” she says.
Coetzee hopes other startup companies such as theirs would realize the importance of the resilience needed.
“I think it doesn’t matter how big or small your business idea or the industry is. I am trying to disrupt a huge industry. It is $8.1 trillion globally. That is huge!”
Not just resilience and persistence, proving your idea works is also crucial.
“I always say that the economy of ideas is rife. There are many people with ideas, but the idea does not matter, your proof matters. And your proof is, have you executed on it [business idea]?”
EmptyTrips is not just about ensuring that big corporations cut down on costs but it also allows small and medium enterprises to move their cargo efficiently. The impetus is smooth logistics and smart economics.
EmptyTrips could well become the Airbnb of the logistics industry, so it’s best to get on this train before it leaves.