“You constantly need to reinvent yourself”: Interview with Shippeo’s co-founders Lucien Besse and Pierre Khoury

Founded in Paris in 2014, Shippeo is a European leader in real-time transportation visibility services. With a fast-growing team of 160 employees, the company is the only RTTV (Real-Time Transportation Visibility) provider in Europe to have developed a machine learning algorithm that calculates shipment ETAs with 95% accuracy 12 hours in advance of a delivery. They track around 10 million loads per year, and are present in 70+ countries. Having raised €58.4 million so far, the startup began with a pre-seed of €90K and today it serves well-known clients like Carrefour Group in Europe. Impressive, on all accounts.

We recently had the chance to interview co-founders Lucien Besse and Pierre Khoury, who gave us some valuable insights on Shippeo’s journey, their own entrepreneurial perspectives, and the future of the industry.

Pierre and Lucien, thank you for joining us! Could you explain the mission of Shippeo, and what makes you stand out from the market?

Our philosophy is really straightforward: it’s about being customer-centric and executing to a high standard. We listen closely to our customers’ needs and ensure that what we’re offering is really going to impact their business for the better. We work with their teams to calculate and agree on the expected value and ROI for each project, and then we focus on high quality carrier onboarding to ensure strong adherence, high quality data processing and ETA calculation and rapid development of new features and functionalities to best meet customers’ specific business needs.

Over the last couple of years, we are really proud to be the only RTTV provider in Europe to have developed a machine learning algorithm that calculates shipment ETAs with 95% accuracy 12 hours in advance of a delivery, despite the vast number of real-life variables that impact road transportation operations within Europe, like weather patterns, traffic and driver regulations. We also offer tracking that is more granular – down to the unit-level – and capable of coping with seamless switching between multiple modes of transport as goods travel along the end-to-end supply chain.

We are also 100% GDPR compliant and believe that we have the highest data privacy standards in the industry. Carriers like working with us for this reason, and appreciate the thorough onboarding process we give them, having achieved a 96% carrier satisfaction rate to date.

Shippeo has come a long way since its founding in 2014, with €58.4 million raised so far. Can you talk us through how you have designated this funding, and what you plan for your new round? 

It is very exciting. Building the best product on the market takes time and money. Supply chain, especially in Europe, is complex and we don’t have an option other than to tackle this complexity in our product design. We have always wanted to stand out by having the best technology and that’s what we’re working hard to maintain. The new round will help us continue to invest in the product to further automate the manual supply chain processes that customers need and of course to continue to scale our sales and marketing team across Europe.

What do the new investors bring to the table in terms of smart money and why did you choose them?

Battery Ventures invest in companies that they believe can become category leaders in big markets. They know us for a long time, and they witnessed the exponential growth that we’ve had in the last few months and years. We have doubled our recurring revenue in 2020 despite market confidence having been shaken by COVID-19. They offer great expertise in scaling successful SaaS organizations and will help Shippeo reach its next milestones faster.

How did you both use your professional and entrepreneurial previous experiences to support Shippeo from its beginnings throughout its journey?

To be honest, when we started out, we didn’t have much experience as entrepreneurs. We were looking for an exciting market with lots of growth potential, but neither I nor any of the other co-founders were experts in supply chain. It really started around this idea of the potential to innovate in this big and exciting market, so instead of relying on experience we tried to learn as much as we could as quickly as possible. We spent 18 months on the road meeting with people as much as we could to really understand their needs and pain points.

I’ve definitely learned that building a company requires a lot of humility, as both problems and solutions are constantly evolving. Today’s competitive landscape can shift overnight so you constantly need to reinvent yourself, and reevaluate your capabilities and processes, to stay ahead.

How do you use IoT in the company services today? Is there a plan to expand the use of devices in freight transportation under your monitoring and management?

Shippeo is purely a software player. We don’t make any hardware. But we collaborate closely with producers of these systems as they are one of the key sources of data for our network. The more the supply chain organization of our customers matures, the more we can acquire some of the data at a more granular level. For sure, the use of IoT will grow over the next few years to power new use cases and services to add more monitoring and tracking capabilities throughout the value chain, and where relevant we will make sure these are available to our customers through our solution and connectivity.

How diverse is your team in the Paris office? Are you planning to expand geographically and opening offices in other capitals?

We have an incredibly diverse team. Amongst our more than 150 staff there are 22 nationalities and 27 languages spoken. So, we celebrate these differences and encourage our employees to be themselves, championing a culture of diversity and inclusion. Beyond our Paris office, we have 7 more across Europe as we want to be as close as we can to our customers and users. And this number is set to expand as we continue to grow our reach both throughout Europe and beyond.

How has COVID-19 affected the acceleration of digital transformation in the industry, and how have you been affected in this sense?

I think over the past 12 months, the need for digital transformation across supply chains has only become more pronounced. We know that end-to-end visibility is already the top priority for most supply chain leaders. The disruptions from COVID-19 led to even greater interest and growth in our customer base, as organizations value more real-time insight and automated notifications to end customers on shipment ETAs and exceptions, while also aiding companies in decision-making to become more agile.

As I mentioned, we grew a lot last year, more than doubling our subscription revenues and increasing our customer base to almost 80 companies with some major industrial brands and fourth-party logistics providers such as Kuehne+Nagel, Total, Hager and Krone. Last October, we acquired another French visibility provider oPhone, along with their major customers in the retail and manufacturing sectors, into our community. Plus, our total workforce more than doubled in the last 12 months, now totaling 160 employees, of which 45% work in R&D.

What are you doing to address your, and your clients’, carbon footprints? 

Some of our customers are already using the real-time transportation data that we have in our platform to be more efficient in the way they calculate their carbon footprint. It’s a growing trend and the market and we’ll continue to accompany these needs.

What is next for Shippeo in terms of product development and functionalities offered?

We have ambitious plans to do big things and are always working on the development of new capabilities. This is largely driven by what we hear from our customers, by listening to their needs, helping us to steer and prioritize. By collaborating closely with them, we are also able to develop a better product. So, we continue to develop ways of leveraging visibility with the end goal being more automation of transportation and supply chain processes. That is where the real ROI of visibility is achieved.

Last, but not least: knowing what you know today about entrepreneurship, what would be the industry that you would invest in – and why?

I like to stay on the pulse of new industry innovations and technologies with potential to fundamentally change the way people and businesses operate. Personally, I think the fintech industry is a very interesting space. There are a lot of innovative initiatives under development, completely reinventing how people can do business and go about their finances. Like the supply chain sector, there is a lot of antiquated systems and services. It is an industry with huge potential.