Trucking isn't the first thing that comes to mind when considering industries ripe for disruption.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar might disagree. They, along with other investors, are backing Convoy, a Seattle-based startup that's betting there's no better time to bring some of the ideas used by Uber — connecting drivers and customers with mobile technology — to the $749 billion market for hauling freight and merchandise.
Oh, and Uber co-founder Garrett Camp also is helping to fund Convoy.
Convoy, which shippers can use to request a truck, get instant price quotes and track drivers throughout pickup and delivery, said it has raised $2.5 million in early financing. The startup is mainly focused on shorthaul trucking, usually one-day trips between companies.
"Trucking is probably the largest outdated industry in the country," said founder Dan Lewis, who left Amazon in February with a view to starting his own company.
Hadi Partovi, the co-founder of Code.org and an early investor in Facebook, encouraged Lewis to look at trucking and introduced him to investors.
Bringing technology to shipping isn't a new idea. Amazon, Postmates and Uber are expanding (and speeding up) last-mile delivery of goods and services. In May, Flexport raised funding from Google Ventures by positioning itself as the Uber of shipping containers.
"As an angel investor, it's the largest market opportunity I’ve ever seen, at least since looking at Facebook in 2005," Partovi said.
Lewis, 34, has had some experience with logistics and shipping. He delivered office supplies in college and did consulting work for the Panama Canal, but he had a lot of learning to do. The Yale graduate spent a few months talking with shippers and hanging out at truck stops. Some refugees from Eastern Europe, who were hosted by his family when Lewis was a kid, later became truckers and were a valuable resource, he said.
Convoy began operating in April and has been serving customers in Washington state, but the startup is just emerging publicly Oct. 27. Customers number in the double digits and there are almost 100 trucks from pre-approved vendors in Convoy's network, according to Lewis. The idea is to compete with brokers who handle requests from shippers, negotiate pricing and arrange for trucks to haul freight.
Convoy's software lets customers specify what kind of truck they need and select accessories such as a tarp, a lift gate or protective gear. Pricing is determined by an algorithm, and the software also figures out which trucker is best-located and able to fill the job.
Other investors in Convoy include Dropbox co-founder and CEO Drew Houston, Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, former Starbucks executive Howard Behar, former Microsoft Windows chief Brad Silverberg and investment bank Allen & Co.
Convoy plans to expand to other areas in the next year and may raise more money, Lewis said. While there aren't any startups in the same space, there are some in adjacent areas, so the company wants to move rapidly, Partovi said. Even so, Lewis acknowledged that trucking is an unusual market for tech innovation.
"Kids don’t wake up at Stanford and say, 'I'm going to revolutionize trucks,'" Lewis said.