When Craig Fuller started FreightWaves, a niche publication focused on the freight, supply chain and logistics industries, he was focused on educating the world about his other startup, TransRisk. That company provides a market data analytics and tracking dashboard akin to a Bloomberg Terminal.
“It was intended to basically educate the market about the idea that [our product is] viable, that we are going to create data analytics and risk management products, and to help us to gain exposure,” explains Fuller, who has transportation in his blood. His father started the largest privately held trucking company in the U.S. out of their hometown, Chattanooga. Fuller’s first foray into entrepreneurship was founding a logistics software startup.
But FreightWaves, launched in March 2017, organically — and quickly — picked up steam. After hiring a full editorial staff and focusing on data-driven journalism that used their market insights to inform articles, the online publication began to garner a huge audience. It’s now the most-trafficked publication in the freight market — with almost twice as large of an audience as any other comparable publication.
“What we realized is that there was this untapped audience — and we found that companies wanted to be involved in that,” says Fuller.
That growth inspired Fuller to focus much of his efforts on FreightWaves, coming up with strategies for monetization and audience growth. They set themselves apart from other competing publications by focusing on revenue through sponsored content, rather than annoying or unsightly advertising.
“What happens in the transportation space is what I call the NASCAR model — it’s a bunch of banner ads or slapping a logo on it. It just looks really junky. We tend to focus on sponsored content where when someone is reading a section of the site, it’s clearly disclosed where it’s paid for,” says Fuller.
The publication focuses on high-profile topics including autonomous trucking, blockchain, and green transportation. The content continues to be informed by the company’s data business.
“Our core business is tracking the freight market in terms of supply and demand,” says Fuller. “So our editorial staff will write about what our data tells us is happening in the market.”
“If you look at the commodity markets, whether it’s Reuters or Bloomberg, they have editorial publications but every single one of those editors has to sign into an ethics policy. We are writing about things that we’re learning from the data, but we don’t have any direct market competition so we’re just showing the positions of the market.”
By following this model, the FreightWaves brand has grown so successful that the TransRisk name has now been incorporated under FreightWaves.
They’re moving full steam ahead with the TransRisk data business, though. The trucking industry, with a market size of over $700 billion, is one of the largest industries in the U.S. — by revenue, largest than the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries market, than iron and steel, and then petroleum and coal production combined.
FreightWaves’ SaaS—based data dashboard currently informs prices and analyses from over one hundred sources to help shippers optimize their routes and provider choices.
Fuller explains that FreightWaves’ next step will be to take advantage of that information by launching trucking freight futures contracts. A futures exchange is a marketplace where buyers can purchase something at a predetermined price that they will receive at a specified time in the future.
FreightWaves’ thesis is that a futures market for freight will help shippers, carriers, and brokers negotiate based on informed predictions about where the market is headed, as well as hedge their position to protect themselves from rapid price fluctuations.
FreightWaves will roll out those freight futures later this year— the company will be the first in the world to create such a tradable freight futures marketplace.
To accomplish all this, they’ve brought on a C-suite of transportation veterans from companies like UPS and FedEx, along with former Wall Street-ers and capital markets experts. The company raised a $3.4 million seed round in October 2017 led by Fontinalis Partners, a mobility-focused venture firm helmed by Bill Ford of the Ford Motor Company.
Fuller says they’re seeing $720,000 in gross revenue this month, up from $300,000 last month. He anticipates $10-12 million in revenue this year.
“We’re sufficiently capitalized,” says Fuller. “Having said that, there’s a lot of interest in the business, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we raised again — but its not something that we have to do.”
They were also accepted into and funded by Engage, the Atlanta-based corporate and institution-backed fund that counts ten major public and private companies as backers, along with Invest Georgia. Engage is run in partnership with the City of Atlanta and Georgia Tech, where it is based.
FreightWaves participated in the first cohort of the fund’s program, which ran in the fall of 2017.
“It gets the corporations involved in these early stage companies. It gives them an interest in seeing successful outcomes from these businesses,” says Fuller on his experience at Engage.
While in the program, and during the scaling phase of FreightWaves’ publication side, Fuller’s team noticed a lot of interest around applications of blockchain technology in transportation. In addition to providing more educational content, they also joined with seven other companies and led the formation of a trade alliance called the Blockchain in Transportation Alliance (BiTA).
“People were asking way more about it. We ended up agreeing to start this group, the BiTA, and there was so much interest — we thought that in a year we’d have 20 companies signed up. In that first month we had 60 companies apply for membership.”
Today BiTA has seen about 1,700 companies apply for membership, with 300 fully joined following an interview process. With about one trillion dollars of freight revenue amongst the members, it’s the largest transportation association in the world, as well as the largest blockchain commercial alliance.
FreightWaves provides the community for BiTA, which includes a place for transportation executives to discuss blockchain developments, regulations, and standards, as well as in-person events to convene the community. Fuller expects at least 500 attendees for their next event.
“I think it demonstrates how technology changes — blockchain and autonomous and the like — are all resonating with the freight community,” says Fuller, who serves as BiTA’s Managing Director. “People are thinking about payments through blockchain, not crypto per se, but tokenized payments. They’re using it for driver history, having the drivers entire history as they’ve gone from fleet to fleet; things like safety records and fuel economy, the whole history of the driver.”
With their content, data business, futures marketplace, and now BiTA to tie it all together, Fuller likens FreightWaves to the Bloomberg of the shipping industry.
“Our data business and our news business continue to grow at an exceptionally fast pace. I think traffic on our site will double by the end of 2018,” he says.
And, though the company is headquartered in Chattanooga, Fuller is bullish on maintaining a connection to Atlanta. BiTA’s Transparency18 conference will be held in Atlanta this May.
“Atlanta has this opportunity — if you look at the truck-only highway, if you look at the port opportunity — Atlanta, the state of Georgia, is going to become the logistics hub of America soon,” Fuller says. “I think Georgia specifically recognizes this strategic opportunity. Chicago has historically been where the heartbeat of freight is in the United States, and it’s good to see Atlanta and Georgia take a stand to become a major emerging player in this industry.”
Photos provided by Freightwaves