Cameron Ramsdell built his career around the shipping and logistics industry. But he wasn’t initially sold on trucking.
While US Census data shows there are 711,000 different trucking companies employing over 3.5 million people, Ramsdell told Hypepotamus that the industry remained fragmented and largely adverse to technology adoption.
He recalled the phone call to Hypepotamus, saying that Fuller was looking for a “better model” for trucking that focused on driver retention and better route planning.
“We ended up talking for like three and a half hours,” Ramsdell said. “We had a very similar outlook on the industry and what we thought was coming. And the next thing I knew I quit my job and moved my family from Chicago to Atlanta.”
That move to Atlanta ultimately helped launch Variant, a tech-focused and driver-centric trucking company based in Midtown.
Variant looks to solve what Ramsdell sees as two fundamental flaws in the traditional trucking world: the need to create a trucking company that cares about its drivers and builds purposeful technology to optimize different routes. Annual turnover is unbelievably high — up to 97% at some trucking organizations — and companies don’t rely on technology to make the best routing decisions for their customers or their drivers.
Innovation In Trucking
Trucking may be one of the most common jobs in the US, but the industry remains largely fragmented. “The largest trucking company in the US today is $5.5 billion, which in an $800 billion industry, is not a lot. The top 20 [trucking companies] don’t even have 10% market share.”
Drivers often jump companies in search of better pay and better conditions. Retaining drivers is about creating a quality work environment on the road, something Variant does by building a community of drivers and providing better-quality trucks.
Its revenue and capacity management system is connected to Variant’s own fleet of trucks. By combining telematics and service data with data about customer needs on the other side, Variant “matches supply and demand, and create the best routes for that driver given their current constraints,” Ramsdell added. “We have control over all those information flows so that we can make decisions on that driver’s behalf.”
To improve routes and keep drivers safe on the road, Variant is looking to solve a math problem that Ramsdell admits is “combinatorially explosive” to solve.
“The simple question of what truck should take what load is actually a remarkably hard question to answer,” he added. “How many different ways can you route one truck to 10 orders? That’s 10. How many ways are there to route two trucks to 10 orders? There’s 90. You go on and you look and say, Okay, what about five trucks and 20 orders? Well, there are 1.7 million ways to do that.”
That complex math puzzle has attracted a large number of Georgia Tech doctorates to the team. In total, Variant’s staff is now 160 people, 95% of whom were hired during the pandemic.
While a subsidiary of Chattanooga’s U.S. Xpress, Variant strategically opened its HQ in Atlanta to capture the tech talent in the area.
“We have worked really hard this year with a team that is very new to this industry,” Ramsdell said. “We have three or four new tech releases that we’ll be pushing out here in the next month or so that will enhance our driver’s experience in one way or another. We’re just now really gaining momentum and I truly feel like we’re just getting started.”