Flexport Founder Ryan Petersen to Return as CEO
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Flexport Inc. CEO Dave Clark is abruptly leaving the startup after a year at the company, making way for the return of its founder, Ryan Petersen, and highlighting pressure on startups in the logistics industry after a pandemic boom.
In a memo to staff Sept. 6, Clark wrote, “Today, Ryan and I discussed his desire to return to focusing on growth in the core freight business. In light of that, I feel that he is best suited to lead the company in that direction.”
The news was a surprise in tech circles. As recently as Sept. 5, Clark posted on LinkedIn about plans to speak next week in Seattle at a Flexport “exclusive launch event.” It also followed a major announcement in May, where Flexport agreed to acquire Shopify Inc.’s logistics unit for a 13% stake in the startup.
Clark joined Flexport from Amazon.com Inc. last year, initially starting as co-CEO and then serving as CEO. Previously, he spent two decades climbing the ranks at the e-commerce behemoth, rising to the level of CEO of its worldwide consumer business, and earning the nickname “The Sniper.”
But at Flexport, Clark had a tough time transitioning from the much-larger Amazon, according to a person familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The companies have different models: Amazon is mostly a self-service company — it relies on its website and offers little human interaction between the corporation and its customers. Flexport, by contrast, required more hand-holding and salesmanship with clients, the person said.
Clark bristled at criticism of his style at Flexport, and announced his resignation soon afterward, the person said.
On Sept. 6, the Wall Street Journal suggested another possible demand on Clark’s attention: The paper reported that Clark is considering a campaign to become governor of Texas, citing unnamed sources. Clark, who moved with his family to Texas before leaving Amazon, had also sparked speculation among some colleagues in Seattle at the time that he would pursue a political office.
A representative for Flexport did not comment beyond thanking Clark for his leadership for the past year. Clark did not respond to requests for comment.
After stepping away from his duties at Flexport, Petersen announced in July that he had joined the Peter Thiel-backed venture capital firm Founders Fund as a partner. On Sept. 6, he posted on X, the platform previously known as Twitter, “I’m back!!!”
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Flexport is one of the country’s most prominent startups, having raised more than $2 billion in funding and notching a valuation of $8 billion. Earlier this year, Flexport said it would cut 20% of its staff, which consisted of about 3,000 people according to LinkedIn. At the time, Clark and Petersen cited a decline in shipping volumes that followed a pandemic surge.
Freight companies like Flexport posted banner years during the pandemic — Petersen said its revenue would approach $5 billion last year. But they have faced a reckoning in 2023 as shipping capacity surpassed consumer demand for goods, sending cargo rates plunging.
Global goods trade may enter a recession, Oxford Economics said in a research note earlier Sept. 6.
Bloomberg Beta, the venture capital arm of Bloomberg LP, is an investor in Flexport.
— With assistance from Brendan Murray and Matt Day.