Taking a global leap

Fast-growing SwanLeap is devising a global strategy to enter new markets with its logistics technology.

These are exciting and challenging days for CEO Brad Hollister and his rapidly growing startup, SwanLeap, but when a national business magazine reports that you’re one of the nation’s fastest-growing companies and touts the way your technology platform saves money for companies, especially manufacturers in a manufacturing state, you’re going to get a great deal of attention.

Now that the logistics startup has gotten people’s attention, how does it keep rolling in the right direction with such explosive growth? Hollister spoke to that and he believes SwanLeap, a Madison-based company that started in 2013 in a house in Elkhorn, Wisconsin and already reports $99 million in annual revenue, will be able to maintain and manage future growth.

“We have a lot of compassion for our fellow Wisconsin executives, so that’s the message I have,” Hollister states. “We’re here to help them grow their business.”

Leap of faith

In an attempt to replace outdated shipment management practices, SwanLeap makes technology that helps companies plan and carry out shipments. American manufacturers constantly are trying to wring costs out of their processes, including logistics, and SwanLeap’s technology uses artificial intelligence (aka machine intelligence) to help customers ship at the best possible rate.

Looking to the immediate future, Hollister says the company has started partnerships that will propel it to become a major global provider, which brings unique challenges. Meeting those challenges starts with coordinating an international effort, which SwanLeap has done with offices in the Philippines and Mexico.

“We’re making sure we’re building a solution that’s reflective of different international markets,” Hollister sates. “What I mean by that is there are different process flows. There is different terminology used in different markets. Even within the Spanish-Latino community, Argentina uses different words than Chile for the same thing, so we focus on making it very user centric so that we can have easy adoption in different markets throughout the world.

“We’re getting people coming to us from all over the world, asking if they could distribute for us or represent us in new markets. We’re evaluating a lot of those right now.”

With fierce competition for a diverse pool of labor, the 50-person tech firm projects it will be adding 20 people before year’s end. “We certainly have figured out a lot of processes really well, and now it’s really time to grow,” he says. “To this point, I’ve been clear about the fact that we really haven’t started the company yet because we’ve been building the product, so the product is pretty much to the point where it’s better than anything on the market. We’re able to start ramping up some of the other functions — customer service, sales, marketing — to promote it while we continue to innovate.”

Tailored trucking

SwanLeap’s technology platform takes into account the service requirements of each potential customer. In the B2B environment, if you have a customer that has a small bike shop down an alley, a trucking company can’t send a full semi-truck down there, so it needs information placed upstream in the process so that option can be eliminated. Armed with that information, the trucking company can ship materials or products in the precise way they need to be shipped.

The artificial intelligence component is a vital one because, as Hollister explains, every company and every supply chain operator works with a development plan and an “implement-the-plan-for-the-next-year” mentality. “That’s just simply not what we envision going forward as the best option,” he states. “We see an idea where you’re able to take the order and then consider all options, all the empty trucks, all the shipping companies out there, and the make the best decision based on that.”

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Asked if SwanLeap’s automated platform leaves anything for human beings to do, Hollister says the point is to leave decision-making to the machines. “It’s pretty much down to the point where there is no decision-making happening,” he says. “The value for humans is to look at the graphs and charts, and then they can fix operations accordingly. Although we can automate this, too, humans have to print the labels and put them on the packages. It’s just the idea that the machine can make the decisions for you. We shouldn’t leave that to humans.”

The value proposition is that a typical company ships about 8 percent of its revenue, and Hollister says the SwanLeap technology puts roughly 2 percent of that revenue back into the company “so the savings can be used for further expansion, capital improvement, and staffing.” For larger employers, that means millions of additional dollars can be applied to business development.

Tariff trouble?

When you operate in international markets, supply chain considerations take on added meaning. Hollister was asked if the Trump administration’s tariffs and the retaliatory tariffs that have followed would disrupt global supply chains at precisely the time SwanLeap develops an international presence. Trade tensions have eased after agreements with the European market, Canada, and Mexico, but China has proven to be a tougher nut to crack.

Still, Hollister doesn’t think there will be much of an impact on SwanLeap, though there will be more upward pressure on domestic trucking and consumer prices. “For us, I don’t think we’ve actually felt the effects of it yet, and I don’t think it’s going to matter so much for our business,” he states. “If you look at global supply chains, if you were buying out of China before, you’re putting in orders nine months to a year ahead of time. Those orders are just starting to come to fruition now, so they are shipping now and you get these surprise prices, and it’s difficult for the manufacturer or the distributor, but essentially they are still shipping those in because they have those orders placed and they are probably pre-funded.

“I don’t see a big change in our platform because all that’s going to happen is that if companies move away from overseas shipping, they are simply going to buy more raw materials locally or domestically. So they are going to need more trucks coming in than they would by just having a container with completed good.”

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