This post is an observation of European SaaS business innovation at scale.
While living in Europe, I kept up with tech news from Seattle. There were 3 reasons for this:
- Seattle has very innovative entrepreneurs and technology companies: I was observing early stage technology and business trends.
- Because my specialty is leading international expansion for companies, I was looking to see which companies are ready to go international.
- To see what my Seattle friends were up to.
November 2019: Convoy $400 million investment
I was impressed to see the news about Seattle startup Convoy receiving $400 million in investment. Not only was the amount impressive (which dwarfs almost any European investment rounds), but also the quality of the investors in Convoy, among them Bill Gates; Amazon founder Jeff Bezos; Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff; former Starbucks president Howard Behar, and U2’s Bono and The Edge.
It led me to look into Convoy and I was extremely impressed with what I found. Convoy goes beyond simply matching + tracking empty space in trucks and shipping containers, and is getting into the business mechanics (payments) of the industry. And locks in pricing and deliveries. This is true innovation!
Setting up a platform or online service to match empty space with goods to ship is digital evolution, but not disruption.
Analysing the entire process of shipping and improving how independent contractors (in the United States) get paid is disruption!
Convoy sees itself as part of the entire shipping & logistics ecosystem, not just a technology service provider. The Convoy Innovation Lab is an example of how they participate broadly across the industry.
Clearly Convoy is going to be a massive player in the trucking industry. I look forward to watching them grow.
Searching for “The Convoy Of Europe”
Recognizing the potential for Convoy in the US inspired me to look for “The Convoy of Europe”. My motivation was twofold:
- Europe has its own unique set of issues around trucking. Perhaps payment to independent truckers is not a key issue in Europe (or perhaps it is! or perhaps this is an aspect ripe for disruption), but certainly there are many issues related to cross-border shipping, not only within the EU, but into/out of the EU.
- I enjoy creative business thinking and wanted to figure out how to positively disrupt the uniquely European issues to make trucking in Europe more smooth and economically efficient. I wanted to join “The Convoy of Europe”.
I was living in Frankfurt, one of the main transportation and freight hubs in Europe. Surely there must be a leader in freight innovation in Frankfurt!
Surprisingly, my online research and talking to people in the Frankfurt tech investment and startup community, turned up no obvious market leader. Indeed, I didn’t find any company around Frankfurt doing anything very innovative, more than just matching space with goods.
And which startups were the big German conglomerates investing in? Nothing impressive. It looked like the established German players were just dipping their toes in companies that are doing small-scale incremental digital evolution.
I did not find any other company in Europe with the ambition to do a pan-European company.
One of my recurring critiques of European businesses is that they tend to focus first on their home country, then expand. This leads to the situation where, for in a new market segment, each country has its own ecosystem, with a leader and some smaller players. But just across the border is a different ecosystem with a leader + challengers.
I left Germany in March 2020, without finding what I would consider “The Convoy of Europe”, meaning a company with the conviction to truly positively disrupt a non-digital industry, with the ambition to do so at large scale.
Shortly after I returned to Seattle, I did find out about a German company that looks to be almost “The Convoy of Europe”: sennder, based in Berlin.
I say “almost’ because from what I understand, they are primarily focused on bringing digital efficiencies to a non-traditional, fragmented marketplace, which looks to me more like evolution than disruption.
That said, sennder is clearly pan-European in scope; at the least, bringing efficiency across borders in Europe is a very welcome advance!
September 2020: sennder acquired Uber Freight Europe. It is interesting to note in the article, that sennder will refer shipments in North America to Uber Freight, meaning they will have a strategic partnership competing with Convoy in the US.
Apparently I just missed becoming aware of them: had I known about sennder while still in Germany, I would have taken the train to Berlin and camped out in front of their offices until they hired me!