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Singapore startup plays Uber to the container-truck trade

Over one in four hauliers here using the platform Haulio, which went operational last May

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Haulio co-founders Sebastian Shen (left) and Alvin Ea. Mr Ea said some hauliers, however, baulk at the idea of sharing resources with strangers, especially when price undercutting is common.

Singapore

RIDE-HAILING and bike-sharing platforms have entrenched themselves in many countries, including Singapore. And the trend has now spread to container trucks.

Homegrown startup Haulio - which is targeting users in the supply chain - has a  web portal that functions like a consumer-focused ride-hailing or bike-sharing platform.

Customers who require containers to be moved from one point to another put up job notices on the platform. The containers are treated like "passengers" and truck drivers assigned using an algorithm-driven engine.

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And just like ride-hailing platforms, drivers are assigned based on a few criteria, not just a first-come, first-served basis, but also reliability ratings and past performance.

What's different is that customers are the ones setting the prices. And the customers can be truck drivers themselves, who might need a hand in times of overwhelming demand.

Alvin Ea, co-founder and chief executive of Haulio said the firm seeks to solve the problem of increasingly extreme fluctuations in shipments.

He said: "As shipping lines are consolidating, the ships are getting bigger and it gets busier with sudden spikes. The big companies have economics of scale; they can do good planning. But those who are suffering are the small ones."

Haulio tries to bring together, on its platform, smaller trucking companies, which typically have fewer than 10 vehicles.

Sebastian Shen, co-founder and head of product development, said: "Collectively, there are economies of scale. If you are in this community, anyone who is nearby can serve your customers; you don't need to depend on your own trucks."

Since Haulio's platform became operational in May last year, about 150 companies have registered on the platform, of which over 60 are hauliers. This is more than a quarter of the 230 or so hauliers in Singapore. Hauliers are companies employed to transport goods by road.

These companies have brought a fleet of over 1,000 trucks to the platform, which has moved over 35,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers to date. To put it into perspective, Haulio said 100-200 containers are transported every day.

Mr Ea said the startup takes a 3-5 per cent cut from transactions.

Currently, the one-year-old startup is completing its seed round. Its backers include the venture capital arm of port operator PSA International, PSA unboXed, which selected the startup for its incubator programme.

Elton Fong, assistant vice-president of PSA unboXed, said: "Haulio is in line with PSA's vision for the container port of the future, a part of which is increased connectivity with the logistics and supply chain industry."

But the company still faces a significant challenge convincing hauliers, some of which were established in the 1970s, to use the platform.

Mr Ea said these hauliers are not used to the idea of sharing resources with strangers, especially when price undercutting is common.

To promote the platform to potential users, the company has adopted a bottom-up approach. They have been meeting haulier owners over coffee to explain how their platform works.

He said he has used UberFLASH - a common booking service Uber launched with taxi giant ComfortDelGro - as a comparison.

He told them: "We are not trying to steal your business. If you have nothing much to do, come to me, we try to feed you work; if you have too much, we will help you to manage the workload."

In addition to acquiring more users to grow the business, the startup hopes to take the platform overseas, leveraging on PSA's global presence.

Philippe Salles, head of e-business, transport and supply chain at Drewry Supply Chain Advisors, believes Haulio is well-positioned to develop further.

He said: "Landside container logistics is one of the shipping segments which is open to digitisation.

"The prerequisite is to operate in an already digitised port environment. Singapore is an excellent place where it can grow."

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