Episode 12: Pauline Van Ostaeyen
In the latest episode of "Maritime Means...", we talk with Pauline Van Ostaeyen, Co-Founder of logistics enablement platform Dockflow. We explore the origins of the platform, how it simplifies day-to-day operations for Freight Forwarding professionals, the complexities of digitalization in Maritime, the start-up scene of Antwerp, and more.Listen now (00:42:17)
Full episode transcript
- Welcome to another episode of "Maritime Means...", a podcast by Spire Maritime dedicated to building a community of innovators. I'm your host, Blythe Brumleve. And I'm happy to welcome in Pauline van Ostaeyen, co-founder of Dockflow. And we're going to be talking about the entrepreneurial evolution in the maritime industry. So, Pauline, did I butcher your name? Hopefully, I didn't, but you can correct me now if I did.
- Well, I think butchered is probably a little bit too grave a word, but you've tweaked it a little bit.
- What's the proper pronunciation just so everybody knows?
- Like, really, the Flemish pronunciation - because I speak Dutch, but I live in Belgium. And it's a little bit of a different accent versus someone from the Netherlands. But it would be Pauline van Ostaeyen.
Getting started in Antwerp
Pauline explains how she got started in the Maritime industry via student jobs, how she met her co-founder and how Dockflow came to be.
- Oh, wow. That sounds so much better than the way I pronounced it. So hopefully, maybe in the editing process, we can include that instead of my butchered version. But I would love to be able to set the scene for the audience today. Where are you calling in from? I was reading that, hinting to it, the port of Antwerp. Did I pronounce that one right?
- That's perfect. No, that's perfect. I'm based in Antwerp in Belgium. Antwerp is like one of the top ports, one of the most influential port cities as well in the world. A lot of container traffic happens here in Antwerp. A very big hotspot for supply chain and petrochemicals as well.
- Oh, wow. What makes it one of the most important ports in the world?
- I think it's history. Historically, for the past hundreds of years, the port has grown enormously. And still today, a lot of companies have their European logistics hub focused around the Antwerp-Rotterdam kind of axis.
- I have in my notes that it's a centuries-old double gateway to Europe and one of the biggest ports in the world, which I think is super fascinating, especially to learn about different ports all over the world, because obviously, that's the story of human civilization. Now, for you, co-founder of Dockflow, what is your founder's story? What got you into the maritime industry?
- For me, it all started at university. I was a student at the University of Antwerp studying economics. And like so many other students, I was looking to make some cash on the side. So I applied for a student job. A lot of the student jobs, especially if you're looking to do something outside of waiting tables and restaurant stuff, a lot of the student jobs in Antwerp are logistics-related. So I ended up working - first, I did a short gig, I was basically the help desk for the customs declaration software for shipments going into very specific African countries. That was kind of my first introduction into logistics. And I really enjoyed it, especially because it was very international as well. And then, yeah, my second student job in logistics was at the forwarding department of a chemicals trader, which was really exciting because it's also a company that was really rapidly growing and expanding. A lot of it, yeah, in Africa, South America. And there, I really got to see firsthand what it was like to work in maritime logistics. And I also saw the contrast between whenever I was in class, I was an economics student, and we would see these business cases or case studies from Harvard Business Review on digital transformation. And then every week on Wednesday, I would go to my job at the forwarding department of the chemicals company. And there, I would just see that there was such a contrast of the level of digitalization that was actually achieved. And I think some examples are, you know, I'd literally have to hunt down suppliers to send over documents. Then they wouldn't. So, you know, just take some old PDF that you have lying around. You know, use some, yeah, we call it like a corrector pen to just change up some dates because otherwise everything gets stuck. I think the low, low was when I physically had to run after a DHL courier to hand him some papers. Otherwise, the container wouldn't be able to make the ship. So, you know, the contrast that I saw there of the benefits of digitalization that are possible versus what is actually being implemented right now, that contrast really stuck with me. And my co-founder had similar experience. We met through AIESEC, which is a global youth organization, student organization that actually is fully run by students. And it allows students to organize exchanges between different countries. So there's volunteering opportunities, but a lot of young graduates also have like their first work experience abroad. And it's all facilitated by students themselves, which was, yeah, which was totally my thing. I really thrived there. I learned so much there, but I also met my co-founder there. And he had a similar experience also doing his thesis on blockchain in maritime logistics. He also did some student jobs in logistics. So, you know, with that kind of perspective that there's so much that we can do with digital tools and technology in the shipping industry and so little is being done today, kind of with that insight, that was the basis for Dockflow. So that was in 2018. And we really just started out doing some consulting for mostly freight forwarders in Antwerp who were like, hey, you know, there's this cool hype technology blockchain. We want to do something with it, and we want to become more digital, and we want to make the lives of our teams easier using the right digital tools. And we were like, yeah, OK, we can help you with that. Because, you know, the nice thing about consulting is you don't have to be an expert in something. You just need to know more than whoever is hiring you, which was definitely the case for many logistics companies in Antwerp. And that was kind of our introduction, you know, into really getting into that world and getting to know maritime logistics, learning the processes, learning the pain points. We talked to so many people from, you know, upper management and CEOs to that's really people doing the hands-on work. And those insights really led us to the idea behind the Dockflow platform, which is that we saw there was a need for a tool that allowed different parties in a supply chain to track their container shipments and to be able to also share this data with each other and to bring together data from sensors. So these IoT sensors that record temperature, GPS location and everything, bring that together with updates from the carriers, with updates from different partners down the supply chain, really bring that together into a cohesive story for the entire supply chain to be able to share data with each other and get the right insights. So, yeah, that's in short kind of how we started from, you know, students' experiences as a student. We went into doing some consulting and then finally we really decided to go for it and build the Dockflow platform.
- And so it sounds like you were doing the consulting and then you found out what a lot of these problems were and then decided to create a startup based on solving those problems.
- Exactly. Yeah, that's exactly how it went. Especially when I was a student or doing these student jobs, I never necessarily had the idea of, OK, I'm going to build some platform here and I'll see what it does. We really started out from a problem, which is a little bit, you know, I see that happening in many startups who start from a technology or a solution and then have to go look for a problem that they can solve with that technology. And for us, it was the other way around. And I think a really great illustration of that is one of the forwarders that I worked with. So we were sitting, you know, in this landscape office. So you're sitting at kind of an island with multiple desks together, right? And she was like really, I think she's got like at that point at least 15, maybe 20 years of experience in freight forwarding. And she was on a rant, complaining not to me, to someone else. But I heard her say, oh, you know, like 10 years ago, it was so much easier. If I wanted to book a shipment, I just filled in one paper, one form, I mailed it and it was set. I knew it was done and dusted. Now, today, with all these digital tools, I have to fill out my BL information, my bill of lading information on five or 10 different portals in a tiny, tiny text field where I have to put like 30 lines of items or specifications for my bill of lading. I have to do that 10 times after each other. Then it gets changed and thrown around a bunch of times. Like that kind of illustrates how forwarders and the maritime supply chain in general hasn't really benefited from digital tools as much as they should have and as much as they can.
Maritime freight forwarders and digitalization
We discuss the role of a freight forwarder, specifically in maritime, and the challenges they face that are addressed by Dockflow's platform.
- I want to back up a little bit. What is the role of a maritime freight forwarder versus, you know, just I guess a traditional freight forwarder?
- I think at least in Europe, there are forwarders. Many forwarders, they offer indeed different types of services. So they'll do air freight, they'll do some roads and offer some rail shipments as well. But Dockflow really focuses on the maritime part of a multimodal journey because there are very specific data sources and really specific processes that are quite similar across different maritime supply chains. For us, it's important to build a solution that does really well on the maritime part instead of, you know, just mashing everything together and giving kind of a meh experience across different modalities. We really find it important to be excellent in the maritime front.
- Yeah, that's super interesting because you were just talking about that bill of lading where the woman was talking about filling it. Now she has to fill it out so many times. And I would imagine that Dockflow solves that problem of having to fill out that paperwork, all of those across those different platforms and all those different tools?
- Specifically for booking a bill of lading, that's not really something that we really specifically handle. It's more kind of the thought behind it. What's important for us is we call it logistics enablement. It means that we really want to enable these forwarding teams, these logistics teams, to work a lot more efficiently and a lot more pleasantly so that they can focus on work that really matters, not copy-pasting things into 10 different portals, so they really can focus on meaningful work and also give better service to their customers. I think what really differentiates Dockflow from many other platforms is that we've built it really from the ground up in a super close collaboration with end users, not with a management who wants nice business dashboards, but really with users who, on a day-to-day, they're doing all these repetitive tasks and they are doing all the copy-pasting. And they're the ones who, you know, there's an incredible labor shortage for those types of supply chain roles. So we've really worked very closely with many different end users on building up Dockflow, and I think that's really our strength.
- Why do you think that, I guess, the maritime portion of freight forwarders, why do you think they were a little slow to adopting digitization? Because you mentioned that they were a little slow to it in 2018 when you started. I'm curious as to why you think they were a little slow to it, and has that gotten better?
- I think, yeah, I see a couple of different reasons for why they're so slow in adopting and really embracing new technologies. First of all, there's a legal part of it. If you're, you know, maritime shipping is inherently so international, and there are a lot of legal requirements. For example, a bill of lading that has a whole legal framework that needs to be in place for every country in the world. So, many documentation things, there you just have this legal limitation that you can't just replace it by a digital solution, just like that. That's definitely part of it. But I think that's also being misused a little bit as an excuse. The other two factors that I see, and the most important one here, I think, is a lack of standards. There is, yeah, there are initiatives. You have the DCSA initiative to bring more standards into structuring shipping data a little bit better. But still, yeah, if you're trying to get the whole world on board on a certain standard, and that's just a difficult thing to do. And if you really want digital tools to work, you need to have standards. The interpretation of an ETS or an ETA needs to be, you know, everyone needs to have the same interpretation of what that field really means. And that's the second big blocker that I see is this lack of standards.
- Oh, that's interesting.
- And the third one, which I personally feel is actually the biggest one, is the mentality. Mentality and habits. You know, we've been doing things for years like this, and what if we don't want to change? That's just, I think, that kills every kind of initiative.
- And so, you know, as you're discovering these problems and you're coming up with these different solutions, you know, if I'm a maritime freight forwarder, how am I using Dockflow? At what port? Is it a daily tool that I'm using? Is it a weekly tool? How does it play a role in my day-to-day?
- Yeah, Dockflow indeed is something that forwarders use on a daily basis. So Dockflow continuously monitors different data sources such as terminals, shipping line websites, AIS data. So that's where, of course, Spire comes in and is really important. And Dockflow will actually piece that all together to also alert forwarders of important updates. For example, a missed transshipment, a big ETA change, a discharge of a container when a container is ready to pick up. So those are all, you know, those are things that they would have to manually look up every day for, you know, maybe an hour or two hours a day even. And that Dockflow does automatically and actually alerts them of the important notifications, important exceptions. So that's really something that's just embedded in their day-to-day workflow. And for us, that's also important that we, you know, that that's our impact, that we're able to make their day-to-day life a lot easier.
Logistics enablement explained
The central concept of Dockflow is logistics enablement, and Pauline dives into what that means and how it shapes the platform.
- I've heard you use the phrase logistics enablement, you know, a couple of times now. Can you define what, you know, what that means? It kind of sounds like that's exactly what your software is doing is giving that kind of transparency to the users so then they can focus more on the tasks that bring them more value instead of the busy work. Is that a good, I guess, overall assumption?
- Exactly. Exactly. We really want to get rid of the busy work and make sure that, you know, that people in logistics and supply chain, they are really good at critical thinking, logical reasoning. Those are really important skill sets to have. They have such a wealth of knowledge. But if you look at the day-to-day work that they often have to do, it's not reflected in that. And we really want to free up time for them to really be asked, you know, be tackling more in-depth and more interesting questions.
- I think I've heard you call Dockflow a platform similar to ordering a pizza. Is that, that was the article title name. And I was like, oh, wow, that's an interesting comparison. Can you break that down for us?
- Yeah. No, indeed. I think, of course, the audience of the podcast is already a little more into supply chain and logistics. But the pizza comparison is one that I usually make for people who are kind of outside of that world. I think the experience that Dockflow wants to give is similar to when you order something on like a pizza on Deliveroo or Grubhub. You can follow your rider from the restaurant all the way to your front door. You can already like go outside. You can easily receive your pizza. It's a pretty smooth process. It's not perfect, but it works pretty well most of the time. And that's great for a pizza box. That works for a pizza box. But if you look at bigger boxes, namely, you know, all these containers, you know, thousands of containers on a big container ship. Once the doors close, nobody knows where it's going, what's inside, how long it's been here, how long can it stay here? Is it going to be late? When will it arrive? And that kind of, yeah. Usually when I explain it to people outside of supply chain, they're wondering, oh, doesn't that exist yet? Like, is it really that bad? Do supply chains really run that poorly? Do people really don't have a clue where their container is? And I always say, yeah, that's pretty much how it goes.
- That's interesting that they have that kind of response that they would just assume. Because, you know, a big part of me would assume that that technology is already there. But you kind of broke it down for us just a moment ago. There's all these different international components, different regulations and laws that come into place. That streamlining, it sounds like, is a lot more difficult than what it should be.
- And it's a really big problem as well. Like what I mentioned with the really experienced forwarder that I used to work with who was complaining about the BL information, that you had to input it on 10 different websites. Like that's just a small example. And the problem is really big. And it's like that's why for Dockflow it's important for us to really focus on being very good at specifically that maritime visibility component. And we really start from there. And our vision is to over the years grow out to a logistics enablement platform where we offer different tools to freight forwarders and supply chain teams to, yeah, just get their supply chain running a lot more efficiently and pleasantly.
Baby stepping into AI
Pauline talks about the different applications of Artificial Intelligence in Freight Forwarding, and how the pace of implementation has to be slower than what would be expected in other industries.
- And so, you know, we talked about a lot of, you know, data collection, AIS data, of course. But then there's also the component of, you know, I guess the quote unquote tech that's come into the scene over the last year with AI. You know, the phrase can just be as a blanket term on so many different industries. I'm curious as to how you think about AI, especially when it comes to parsing and collecting all of that data.
- I think what we're seeing now is a lot of I see a lot of enthusiasm in inside the supply chain industry for AI. And there's a lot of different aspects to it. There's the generative AI part where, you know, where ChatGPT, for example, is able to speed up a lot of processes like, you know, writing emails, a lot of document parsing as well. OCR is an important application that's used there as well. I think that will indeed make it a lot more efficient. But I always like the thing that always kind of bothers me is that essentially a document, any type of document always attempts to create like a record or a snapshot of reality. It could be like a document basically documents an agreement or it documents a certain state of goods or a document. A document is there to take a picture of reality as it is. And what we're doing with OCR, with an OCR solution, for example, is OK, so we're documenting reality on this document. And then we're using OCR to extract information from that document. So to extract the information about the reality. And then we're putting the information about the reality in a database. And I feel like that's just a lot of different steps to take to just, why don't you just directly get your snapshot of reality into your database? And that's where solutions I think like blockchain, for example, have a lot of potential. But of course, you know, for the time being, I always say I prefer incremental gains and small wins over forcing, you know, forcing a big break.
- Yeah, I would imagine that, you know, digitization and then throw an AI into the mix and then throwing other, you know, something like blockchain or even these other, you know, tech solutions is almost enough to like just overwhelm people that you almost have to do baby steps, especially in a historic industry.
- Exactly. And I think, honestly, in this industry, baby steps is the way to go.
The Belgian start-up scene
We discuss the status quo of the Belgian start-up and scale-up scene.
- Let's switch gears a little bit to the startup scene in the maritime industry is, you know, specifically where you're at in the Belgium area. Can you give us a sense of, you know, what it's like? Is it, you know, a bunch of coworking facilities? Is it a bunch of, you know, people working together? Like, I think, you know, I read a story about you and your co-founders working together in a coworking space. Like, is that what does that scene look like, especially in, you know, quote unquote, post-COVID world?
- Yeah, I think the Belgian startup scene, just the Belgian startup scene is already a pretty small scene. I think Belgians and Europeans in general are a little more like risk averse and less motivated to become entrepreneurs than you might have, for example, in the American startup scene. So it's a small world. You kind of, you know, a lot of people, you kind of see the same people every time at events and such. So, that really does create a nice vibe because there's always someone who can, like, introduce you to someone or help you with or know someone who knows someone. There's really this, there's definitely this sense of community for sure. I do think that Belgians are a little, they're kind of shy and humble. Like, we always kind of joke about if you have this kind of Silicon Valley startup pitch decks versus Belgian pitch decks, like, or a pitch in general or founders in general. They're, yeah, Belgians are very much, very humble, but actually there's some amazing technology being developed here. There are some really big, big breakthrough startups who, yeah, or startups, scale ups, really. There are a few unicorns as well who then make it, you know, to have a, really have a global footprint. So yeah, it's a very exciting, exciting scene to be part of because there's really this community feeling. So it's very supportive as well.
- Are there a lot of them in that, you know, the maritime space, given that, you know, many of the folks in that area work in logistics?
- There are quite a few. A lot of it is also in more, more hardware-related as well.
- Oh, interesting.
- Yeah. And we actually, like the office where I'm sitting now, I know my background doesn't really do it justice, but we have a, it's a really cool space actually. We have our office here inside the beacon, which is a hub for smart logistics solutions, mobility solutions as well. So yeah, we're surrounded by quite a few startups, but there are also some corporates here who, yeah, they really try to foster this, this collaboration between startups, university researchers and scale ups and corporates as well.
Pauline's awards and women in Maritime
We look into the awards Pauline received throughout her career in Dockflow, and other women's role in the Maritime industry.
- Oh, that's super interesting. And obviously, you know, being part of that network, that maybe that close group of people, you know, everybody kind of knows everybody type of vibe. You yourself, with Dockflow, have won a couple of different awards, which is, was really impressive to read. You won the Supply Chain Award for Startup of the Year by Belgium's Logistics and Supply Chain Professionals, where you said it's very exciting to see so many voters in the audience and Jerry embraced logistics enablement. So congratulations, you know, on that front. And then there was another award that you won from the Veuve Bold Award, where you got to baptize a wine. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
- Yeah, that was definitely very cool. There are two very different awards. I'm really proud of both of them. The Supply Chain Award, especially because that is really from, you know, supply chain professionals who have years of experience. They're in the industry. It's really nice to get a vote of confidence. You know, it really shows that Dockflow is able to deliver hands-on value for really for this niche, for these professionals. So that's very validating. And the Veuve Clicquot Award is the bold award that really celebrates female entrepreneurs who, yeah, are, as the name says, have a really bold vision and a big impact on the entrepreneurship landscape. And what's especially important for me there personally is that I'm able to serve as a role model. I hope that other women see me or women or young girls see me doing it. They see me being, you know, a successful entrepreneur and a co-founder of a software company in logistics. And that they think, well, if she can do it, I'm going to give it a try as well. So, yeah, and the Veuve Clicquot Award has actually been going on for 70 years. So the back story behind that is really inspirational because actually Veuve Clicquot, I don't know if you know, "Veuve" means widow in French. So she was actually, she founded, well, she didn't found the Champagne House, but she really made it into what it is today. She really was a pioneer also in terms of the technology at the time behind developing new champagnes and behind, you know, scaling the whole champagne process of the production process and the supply chain as well. And that's really inspirational because she did that as a very young, as a young woman were at that time back in the day where that was absolutely not a given. It still isn't today, but you can imagine a couple hundred years ago that that was absolutely revolutionary. So in her honor, the Veuve Clicquot Champagne House gives out the bold award every year.
- And that's amazing. So you get awarded and then you get to go to, I guess, the winery or the vineyard and you get to, you know, the way you baptize is you waste champagne or not really waste it. But I saw a video of you like pouring it out and I was like, oh no, like what happens to it afterwards? You know, here in the States, we call that, you know, alcohol abuse. But then, you know, in other areas, I imagine that that was a big like celebratory moment, you know, for you, especially as an entrepreneur.
- It's celebratory, a bit like Formula One drivers spraying champagne on the podium, I guess. It's really a ritual. Yeah, no, I think the award experience was amazing because I got to meet so many women from female entrepreneurs from all over the world. And we all came together in Paris first, to celebrate the anniversary, 70th anniversary of the awards. And then the day after we went to Reims, to the Champagne region to, yeah, each of us got our own vine. So vine with like a name plaque on it. And yeah, we got to baptize it. So a very, yeah, very, very humbling and inspiring experience.
- Do you know just offhand if you are the only sort of a maritime entrepreneur to get that honor?
- No, I actually met the South African winner from I think one or two years ago, Captain Londy. She is also - she's so cool. She's Africa's first female dredge master, if I'm correct.
- What a title, dredge master.
- Yes, it's so cool. And, you know, just the support that you have within that group is amazing. And so I did meet another fellow maritime entrepreneur and also from the Netherlands, the last year's winner. She is the, yeah, the director of a container, really a container company, as in they really build and customize shipping containers.
Hubspot's customer advisory board
We talk about Pauline participation in Hubspot's customer advisory board.
- Oh, super cool. Yeah, that's awesome. I would have just assumed that, you know, you would have been the first. That's amazing to hear that specifically other female founders in maritime, you know, have earned this award too. So shout out to them for even, you know, having this program in place. And then obviously, you know, honoring folks like yourself. One more thing that I did want to mention is that HubSpot, which is like a huge American company, it's like if you're marketing in the US, like you're probably using HubSpot. But you were on the customer advisory board with HubSpot for about a year. So I'm wondering, like as someone that's familiar with inbound marketing and the concepts behind it, but then also working in the maritime industry, you probably are aware of like so many great stories that can be told in maritime. I'm just curious what that experience was like being on the board, on the customer advisory board with HubSpot.
- It was really eye opening because as I, you know, as I mentioned, for Dockflow, it was really important to work so closely with our users to develop the platform. And part of my motivation for applying to join the HubSpot customer advisory board was also so I just could learn how they do things. Because I've been a HubSpot user since my time at university at AIESEC. And I'm a really big fan. I think just product-wise, they have such a strong solution that also, you know, they have an excellent startup program as well. So if there are any founders listening, I really recommend you apply for the HubSpot for startups program, which is a really big discount. It allows you to just use the full power of the HubSpot suite. And yeah, the experience in the advisory board was also really, really fun because you get paired up with lots of like, with HubSpot users, they're all HubSpot power users. So you kind of feel like that's already like a click that you have. But everyone's kind of in a different, a different niche, different industry, different roles. So that's, yeah, it was really insightful. I learned a lot from just, you know, how, how they handle how they handle this customer feedback process, which, yeah, by the way, is so, you know, the customer experience as a member of the customer board is also really great. Met a lot of folks who are on the HubSpot team as well. And yes, it's really insightful. You learn how other companies, how other startups, other bigger teams are doing specific implementations and how they're using some HubSpot tools maybe differently than you are or better than you are. And just, you know, learning about how, what a good process is to really get, because you're, you're a diverse group also in terms of personalities. And HubSpot has a really good process of, you know, getting feedback, even from maybe some quieter people in the group, for example. That's, you know, it's important that you have their feedback as well. So, yeah, just their kind of workshop methods. That's all really, really finely tuned.
The future of maritime data
Pauline explores how she views the evolution of maritime data, including congestion solutions, CO2 emissions and more.
- And so, you know, as we sort of, you know, round out this conversation, what do you think is sort of next or on the horizon for, you know, bringing all of these different data points, you know, for supply chain visibility, you know, using AIS data, you know, all of your different data points? What do you think is next? I know it's difficult to predict like five years in advance, but what's coming down the pipeline maybe in the next six to 12 months?
- Yeah, I'm, I'm so excited. Maybe if I can just peek a little bit further than the six to 12 month horizon? Yeah, I'm just, I'm so excited by just all the, you know, all the data that Spire is collecting. That is, the possibilities there are really endless. And specifically for a supply chain, there are like, we have the ETA prediction we have now. That's fine. But honestly, with all the data they're collecting, also weather related. And, you know, if you're really able to kind of tame that and bring that all together, there are so many options there. There are so many possibilities. I think we can make it so much more powerful in the next couple of years. So I'm very excited to see what Spire does there and, you know, what we can, especially in terms of the level of detail that we can go for things. I see that increasing very rapidly, actually, in the next few months. Even like we are now, we have integrations with specific terminals, but that's, you know, on a terminal by terminal basis. Some ports have a more streamlined solution in place. You know, Port of Antwerp, Port of Rotterdam, they, you know, they're big on initiatives to get data from terminal from each, you know, because each terminal is often operated by an individual company. So with their own standards and their own software stack. So for a lot of port authorities, it's already become a big priority to get all that data, bring it together. But then still, you're still going on a port by port basis. And, you know, Spire's terminal solution that we're actually onboarding currently, that is an exciting development there that will already be available in the next couple of months.
- That's amazing. And that, I would imagine, would help with, you know, different frustration points, which one of those being, you know, like port congestion, different port events, you know, vessel waiting time, things like that.
- Indeed. Yeah, exactly. And just, you know, just having better data and faster data than some of the other sources can currently provide. That's where I see a lot of opportunities. And then the next, like the second big thing for sure is emissions tracking. We have like also there are different sources to really get an estimate of carbon emissions, too, because a lot of, you know, a lot of companies in their supply chain are required to do really solid carbon accounting to really have a good grasp on what their carbon emissions are. And, you know, in the future, this will only get more and more strict, but also consumers are becoming much more aware of it and are really requiring it from the companies that they buy from. So, you know, whatever consumer buys, you know, it trickles, trickles all the way back to the supply chain, of course. And also, for Spire, I see a lot of opportunities with regards to the data that they can give us.
- Amazing. Pauline, is there anything that I should have asked that you feel is important to mention?
- Not specifically. Maybe, yeah, I think what has like the past couple of two weeks, there have been a lot of buzz around Slynk, Slynk.io, Convoy, the whole kind of Flexport position, you know, that's really been bubbling up the past couple of weeks. So maybe that's another that's an interesting one to mention as well.
Ups and downs in the maritime startup scene
Pauline talks about recent bumpy paths for companies in the Maritime scene, and how Dockflow navigated some rocky beginnings to get to where it is now.
- Yeah. Yeah. So any comment on that, on how you think that shapes out the market? Because, I mean, Convoy is such a huge story here, just in the U.S. freight market. I, you know, Flexport is like the darling of, I think, of the quote-unquote startup world. But there's also, you know, a lot of debate around, you know, some of these companies. How do you think it all sort of shakes out?
- Honestly, from our perspective, when, at the time when, you know, money was, capital was cheap and everyone was raising millions or billions, we had just raised like 500K. We were just at the beginning phase. And we were really still looking at, okay, what is, you know, our platform? We didn't even really have an MVP. We were at a really early stage. Then COVID hit. But we suddenly saw interest in our solution really soar. And that was, you know, super exciting for us. Expanded the team as well. But then, you know, after a while, we realized, yeah, actually our product market fit is not good enough. It's not, you know, our product is not yet where we want it to be. We can't really address the needs of our customers exactly like they want to. We're not giving them enough value yet. So then, yeah, we had to let a couple people go as well. And for us, and that was exactly at the time when you had like Flexport and Slink and Convoy. And they were all, you know, raising millions. Slink was like sponsoring the Dubai golf tournament. And in the meantime, you know, what we're seeing, you're seeing all those companies raise so much, expand so much, onboarding these big names. And we were like, yeah, just kind of keeping our head down and really letting people go. And we had to focus on, we really wanted to focus on getting our recurring revenue right, getting our product market fit good, and getting a good sales process in place. So, you know, we were kind of - in terms of, it's tough because you're watching all the others have so much fun and raising so much and being so successful. And in the meantime, you just kind of have to grind and you can't seem to get it right. So, but we persisted, of course, and we held on. And then as a result, now we're actually EBITDA positive. So actually by, you know, by doing that ahead of time, now we're in a really good position. And honestly, I'm happy that it went that way, because also our customers really forced us to, you know, to do better and to really build, you know, because we work together so closely with our users. We really were able to hone down on getting the data right, getting good value, really building a solution that brings value to these supply chains, to these companies. Whilst the others were, you know, raising and spending and expanding. But now we're in a good position. So actually I'm also, of course, like I really feel for the people who work at these companies because it's awful for them having this happen to you. But on the other hand, I'm also kind of happy that it's happening because it's, you know, it's kind of a shakedown. It's filtering out all the air. And now finally, we have a good opportunity to show that we have a solution that does actually work properly and does fulfill expectations because we were forced to, you know, keep our head down and get it right first.
- Yeah, because I mean, with your HubSpot background, so you were listening to your customers, you were, you know, monitoring what the conversations and finding those different commonalities and building, like you said, an MVP to get your product where it needed to be. That it is a product that someone needs. It's not necessarily, you know, the flashy like sponsoring golf tournaments, but you're the one still in business. So, you know, that speaks to, I think, the founders and the entrepreneurial spirit all across the globe that if you put your head down and you focus and you listen to your customers and you're willing to build something that solves a specific problem for them, then you're going to be in business for a long time. So, Pauline, great conversation with you today. Where can folks follow you, follow more of your work, sign up for a demo for Dockflow, you know, all that good stuff?
- Definitely check out Dockflow.com for also for a demo. And yeah, absolutely. Follow me on LinkedIn. Feel free to say hi and connect. Let's connect there.
- Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time and perspective.
- Thank you Blythe, It was a great conversation.