Moaad Benkaraache and Tayyab Hussain have set out to solve a problem in the commercial trucking industry, just not the problem they originally thought they would.
As seniors and members of the College’s Engineering Entrepreneurs Program (EEP), they wanted to find a fix for underutilized trailer capacity. But after talking with trucking companies, they learned that technology used to track how much space is occupied and how much has been filled is already being utilized.
But they kept talking to potential customers, asking what problem needed to be solved rather than telling those customers what problem their EEP project would solve for them.
“You’ll realize that your idea might not be exactly what they want, but if you keep talking to enough people, you’ll catch a pattern,” Hussain said.
The pair learned that as the trucking industry has shifted from pricing based on weight to a pricing plan that also takes the dimensions of items to be shipped into account, the industry often must rely on customers to provide the measurements by which pricing is determined.
While some larger companies can afford laser-scanner technologies, smaller ones have employees use tape measures, a difficult task when assessing a pallet of items that is irregularly shaped. Whether intentionally or not, customers often provide inaccurate measurements, and trucking companies don’t have the time or resources to double-check everything.
Trakex’s idea combines sensors and software that measure a pallet of goods as it moves from the point at which a customer drops the pallet off to a truck, providing the shipping company with measurements that lead to accurate pricing.
Benkaraache and Hussain, spring 2016 graduates with degrees in industrial and chemical engineering, respectively, won first place in the New Venture Challenge at Lulu eGames, the annual entrepreneurship startup competition. They followed it up with a fellowship from Y Combinator (YC), the Silicon Valley startup incubator that has helped Dropbox, Airbnb and other companies get their start.
Benkaraache and Hussain spent eight weeks over the summer receiving help from a YC counselor and $20,000 in the form of a convertible security for seed funding. At the end of the eight weeks, they had a chance to pitch to investors during a Virtual Demo Day.
The partners adjusted their model again during the YC experience and turned their attention to smaller parcel shipments. E-commerce is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, and the most expensive aspect of it is shipping cost. Billions of dollars are wasted because of bad dimensional measurement and inefficient packing.
The company has done $20,000 in sales and has reached a deal with German logistics company DHL, Hussain said.
Trakex now plans to attack a $22 billion parcel shipping market that includes potential customers like Amazon, Walmart, Nike and other major distributors.