Maritime shipping, the engine of global economic growth for much of the twentieth century, has stalled in the past few years.
The industry, which has high costs and is slow to adopt new technologies that could improve efficiency, is now facing a crisis of overcapacity and low demand, which is punishing shipping companies large and small.
Nowhere is this pain felt more intensely than in the bulk shipping market, which is in the midst of a multi-year downward spiral, according to predictions from most of the big banks.
A forecast showing a market that’s complex and cratering would dissuade most entrepreneurs from entering, but for Jenna Brown and Fabian Blaicher, the two founders of Shipamax, the bulk shipping industry’s pains could be their gain.
Brown and Blaicher both worked as commodities traders at the international trading firm RWE, before moving on to other pursuits.
It was at RWE that the two experienced the pain of bulk shippers firsthand. While the containerized shipping industry, which deals with the transport of everything from electronics to embroideries and everything in-between, has some fairly robust supply chain and logistics tools associated with it, bulk shipping for commodities is a much different story, says Brown.
“When most people think about shipping, they think about containers – most people don’t know or think about the multi-billion dollar non-containerised shipping industry,” says Brown. “It’s complex to understand for outsiders – and as a result, there are relatively few modern tech software companies in this space.”
The new graduate from YCombinator’s latest batch of accelerated companies sits at the intersection of shipping requests and the start of a ship’s journey. The company claims to take all of the hassles out of decision-making, charting, and booking a big bulk ship.
This is wildly different from booking a cruise or even grabbing a spot for a container on a ship (also something startups are working on).
Most bulk shippers still rely on paper and pencil (or Excel spreadsheets among the most technologically savvy), Brown says.
In a down-cycle, where every bit of efficiency can help, Shipamax’s software means route optimization, easier booking, and better outcomes, the company says.
“Like many other industries, outside of their day jobs these people are consumers – they’ve tasted that beautiful, easy to use software they can use in their personal life and there is a huge gap between that and what they use at work. That’s frustrating,” says Brown.
Companies can receive anywhere from 4,000 to 15,000 requests for booking each day, and extracting information from those emails is time-consuming. Shipamax integrates with a company’s email and extracts relevant information to create automated booking requests.
While big software companies are servicing the freight market (including companies like Flexport, Haven, and FreightOS), Brown said that fewer people are moving into the bulk shipping market because of its different supply and demand dynamics (or it could just be that it’s a dying market).
Dying or not, the London-based Shipamax is seeing plenty of demand for its software. There are 20 shipping companies on the Shipamax waiting list, and a freemium version is already available for industry players to dip their toe in Shipamax’s tech-enabled scheduling waters.