Zhenya Beck, Freightera Co-Founder Interview with Andy Jacob, DotCom Magazine: How Freightera’s Shipping Solution for Small Business Helps Reduce Stress on People and Planet. Freightera’s Technology and Personal Story Behind Its Green Mission
Andy Jacob: Good afternoon everyone! Andy Jacob here with the DotCom Magazine: entrepreneur spotlight series, and we have a very excellent guest on the show today. If you are an entrepreneur, you should really watch this show because we are going to learn a lot about what not only takes to be an entrepreneur, but what it takes to build a leading company. We have Mrs. Zhenya Beck, she is the co-founder of Freightera, and let me tell you Freightera is absolutely knocking the cover off the ball in the freight business. They are actually re-defining the entire freight business with their platform. They got a moniker that I really love: “Ship more, ship green, and stress less.’’ We’re going to get into that.
Zhenya has a very unique story, why shipping green is so important to her and her family, and why she founded this company with her husband, it’s a really beautiful, wonderful story that they’ve been able to put together with Freightera, and Zhenya thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Zhenya Beck: Thank you, Andy. It’s great to be here.
Andy Jacob: Let’s pull the lens back to 30,000 feet, there is so much to talk about what your platform has been able to do in the freight business, it’s absolutely incredible what you and your husband and your team have put together. But let’s pull the lens a little bit and tell people what Freightera is all about?
Zhenya Beck: Freightera is the first lower emission freight marketplace with instant pricing from hundreds of trucking companies and easy online bookings. We work with manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and other businesses that need to ship freight in Canada, in the USA, and from Canada to the USA cross-border and from the US to Canada.
It works a lot like Expedia for freight. You put your origin and destination, the description of what you ship, the number of pallets, the weight, and with just a click of a button you will see pricing from multiple carriers available on your lane. You can now sort it by price, by carrier rating, by delivery estimate, and by low emission option. And all the quotes are ready to book, they are all-inclusive, it saves so much time to our shippers that used to spend hours and sometimes days searching for trucks at good prices.
Beyond that, we also have automated shipping documentation. Your bills of lading, your proofs of delivery, your shipping labels, everything is automatically generated by the system. And your shipping history, previous orders, your addresses, postal codes are all sitting for you conveniently online in your account. We also do tracking and tracing as necessary for our shippers, but most of the time tracking info is available on your account online, and we send our shippers notifications that a truck has been dispatched or when your shipment is being delivered. So it’s very very convenient, amazing technology.
And on top of that, we have the best customer service on the planet, we work with a group of very smart, very caring people, and if something is not on the website if you have questions, or there is an issue, you can just call our Freightera Care and they’ll work really hard to help you and get you a quote or have your question answered. So we have hundreds of reviews from our customers, and most of them are 5-star reviews, and they say Freightera is light years ahead of other competitors and other technologies that they tried or other traditional brokerages, so it is a really exciting technology that we have for our shippers.
Andy Jacob: It is awesome, Zhenya, we read the reviews, we vetted it, and it is really outstanding what is going on at Freightera, everybody loves it. We know you do business with a lot of giant companies, Fortune 500 companies do business with Freightera, but the bread and butter, the people who really push along the entire platform are smaller companies, so maybe you can address that, and talk about that a little bit as well.
Zhenya Beck: Yes Andy, absolutely. We work with big companies but our bread and butter, as you said, our pride and joy is that we are able to help small businesses, lesser-known companies that really make the life in America and Canada the way it is, with their hard work and dedication, and as you said we have hundreds of 5-star reviews, as I say at the end of the day it is not what we say but rather what our customers say about us, so maybe at some point I will even read a few of those amazing reviews because they really are excellent.
Andy Jacob: That is awesome, Zhenya. So now if I am a smaller business and I want to ship some pallets or even have a truckload of merchandise that needs to go to the USA or to Canada, or that same company in Canada wants to ship to the USA or within our own country as well, what I found very interesting Zhenya is you have been able to put together through technology. If I am going to ship to Canada, or Canada shipping to the US, there is an incredible system that really makes the transition to go between countries very seamless. So maybe you could talk about that a little bit because that is very very stress-free for people who are shipping pallets or trucks to different countries.
Zhenya Beck: That is right, Andy. I have recently talked to one of the brokers that I know, and he has been in business for 40 years, and he says that even among professionals, when he talks about shipping cross-border, people go ‘’no, no I don’t want to do this, I have no idea how to do that.’’ We greatly simplified it, so when you’re shipping across the border, you are actually going to just upload a couple of pieces of documents, that you would do anyway, and we take care of everything else, so it really is a big deal.
Andy Jacob: I love it, it makes things so stress-free for the clients, they have an opportunity also, which is very unique, this is something that really separates Freightera from the pack if there even is a pack, is that you specialized in having certain freight companies that are able to ship green, and they have a certain designation or certification, perhaps from a third party, that lets you know at Freightera that these companies are shipping green, and you can go on this platform and select those green shipping freighters, and something very interesting is that typically the ones that are shipping green even cost less money than the ones that aren’t shipping green. So let’s talk about how all that works at Freightera.
Zhenya Beck: That is right, what we found when we actually started to work with SmartWay certified companies is: because they are focused on performance and fuel reduction they are usually better ran and more efficient companies, so we find that a lot of them are much less expensive as well, the beautiful thing is that shippers can ship with all these certified companies, do a good thing for the planet but also it doesn’t cost them more.
Andy Jacob: I love it, and doing great things for the planet is what you and your husband are all about, the co-founders of Freightera, I know you have a wonderful story about why the environment is important to you, and why shipping green has become the way of Freightera and has made it one of the leading companies with leading platforms in shipping. So maybe you can tell our audience a little bit about this remarkable story, about why shipping green and the environment is so important to you.
Zhenya Beck: Absolutely. Freightera’s green mission started as a deeply personal story, a deeply personal mission. I grew up in Siberia, on the shores of the remarkable lake Baikal, it is a beautiful, the biggest freshwater lake in the world, it is really pristine, the shores are beautiful, the water is so clean, you can drink it without boiling. And it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is one of the wonders of the world. When I was 12 years old, I wanted to write about Baikal, and first I wrote for local newspapers, and when I was a student at university, studying journalism, it was unquestionable for me that when I work in media I will write about the environment, lake Baikal, and how environment and health are related.
So in 1991, I met my future husband and Freightera CEO, and co-founder Eric Beckwitt. We met at one of the press conferences through Tahoe-Baikal Institute, it is a student exchange between the USA and the Soviet Union at that time, it was designed to promote peace and collaboration between our countries. Because Eric was working and quite well-known in California at the time for his conservation work, and I was working as an environmental journalist in Russia, we bumped into each other on several occasions, and several years later we decided that we are going to pursue our relationship.
In 1996, I went to California, I joined Eric there, and we built our own house, on our own land, and in 1999 we had a baby boy born, he was born healthy and happy, but at around age 1, he developed life-threatening asthma. Sometimes we would just go for a long walk and end up in the hospital, so it was really stressful, really scary, we wouldn’t sleep at night just listening to him breathing. We couldn’t understand why, because we were living in the mountains in the Sierra Nevada, and the sky was blue, it seemed that we are far away from the big cities. As a journalist, I did some research, and I found out that we were living in one of the most polluted with ground zone areas in the USA.
So our California dream was over, and in 2004 we decided we are going to move to Vancouver for our son, and we applied as skilled workers and got our immigration papers as skill workers, but underneath the surface, we were actually environmental refugees.
So in 2014, when we started Freightera, we wanted to bring our green DNA with it, with us, and we realized that by being in the midst of the transportation industry we actually could do something meaningful about it. You may know that actually, 7% of greenhouse gas emissions are coming from freight transportation, and if we do nothing, if we do business as usual, then by 2050 it is going to be 50%.
And it doesn’t matter what we think about global warming, or about climate change, this is atmospheric pollution, this is air pollution that is actually killing people. About 8,5 million people in the world die every year from atmospheric pollution. I just checked online and 25 million Americans have asthma. It’s about 8% of the total population. In Canada, surprisingly, it is even higher. It is almost 10% of the population, children, ourselves, people who are sensitive, so it is a serious issue.
So what can Freightera do? What are we doing right now? As you said, we are working with SmartWay certified carriers. But how did we start, we actually started with thought leadership just to bring the issue in the spotlight. So really early in the company’s story, our CEO was approached by London-based “Climate Change – The New Economy” magazine, and they wanted him to write an article about a green future for freight. It is our vision. So shortly after that, we were invited to Marrakech, to the COP22 Climate Change Conference, and we spoke about the green future for Freightera as well.
And after that, we were approached by SmartWay program in Canada, it is run by US EPA, and the government of Canada and they wanted us to feature SmartWay certified carriers on our website.
So that is how Freightera became the first low emission freight marketplace, but that is not the only thing that we do. You may know that every time, every day when you look at the road, 30% of the trucks are empty, and for backhaul trucks, the situation is worse: about 80% of trucks returning empty, so working with these carriers to fill in the empty capacity is a very important step. Beyond that, an even higher impact is, what we call in transportation: “mode shifting”. When you take freight from trucks and you put it on the rail, it is a reduction of actually 60% and that is why we work closely with several large rail companies in Canada and in the USA.
So this is how Freightera’s green mission is working, and most recently we had four former Amazon executives that joined us, and they were attracted by the company culture, and our green mission, so you can imagine that bringing their talent, their expertise in customer service and in technology, and the passion for the environment, Freightera’s technology, Freightera’s customer service, and Freightera’s impact is going to only get better over time.
Andy Jacob: This is an amazing story, Zhenya, you know I can’t imagine having asthma, but as you mentioned, 25 million Americans have asthma, to not be able to breathe is got to be one of the true tragic things that people can experience in their life because oxygen is so important, breathing is so important, and you really put your money where your mouth is, you and your husband built this platform, you want to change the world, your story is remarkable, you have been able to move to Canada as an environmental refugee, and certainly hearing this story for all the people watching this show, they’re going to look at their own life and say to themselves: ‘’Maybe I should perhaps if I’m not already doing so, include some kind of social positive impact into my business as an entrepreneur, like Zhenya and her husband have been able to do.
So really remarkable, congrats and hats off to you Zhenya, this is why we wanted you on the show today because this is a true entrepreneurial success story that you and your husband have been able to start by meeting each other back in Russia those many years ago, building not only a love affair but building a business of your own as well.
Let’s talk about Freightera a little bit more, because I think people watching this show want to say to themselves: ‘’You know, they built this amazing platform that is built on technology,’’ – how did you build it, Zhenya? Was there a technology team that came around, or was it built by you and/or your husband from a technological perspective? How did you build this platform that does all these amazing things, so people can ship more, ship green, and have less stress when shipping?
Zhenya Beck: That is a good question, Andy. Eric and myself are actually web developers, that is what we have done. When I moved to California from Russia, I didn’t think I could be a journalist anymore, English was my second language. I speak better now, but at that time it was just not something I could do, and I wanted to do something. It was 1996, the Internet was happening, and I thought – I want to learn something, I wanted to learn something that is interesting to me, so I started to learn web development, web design, a bit of programming here and there, and I started my first business from my home in California, and we were already at that time working remotely – I was working with customers from California, from the Bay Area, and the awesome thing I was going to this Sierra College in California, we had people that were working as trainers that came from Bay Area, they were working with big companies, that was hands-on training, and it was wonderful. It’s a good story by itself.
So we are web developers, and Eric is GIS specialist, so he was working in the programming of maps. So all of those things that we can do, that we are doing now, came from ourselves, from our team, and now we attract better and better talent to make the platform even better.
Andy Jacob: I love it, what a wonderful story this is, just a remarkable story of starting and learning, becoming and doing, and it’s really really awesome, Zhenya, I am going to indulge myself a little bit, because I know you probably have a couple of favorite testimonials that people have written about the company, really amazing, and I know because I actually read all the testimonials, they go on and on, so many people love what you are doing, it’s just incredible, so maybe you could pick one or two of your favorite testimonials, and maybe read them to us because I think it is very worthwhile to let people know what you are doing at Freightera.
Zhenya Beck: Thank you for indulging me, Andy. I printed a few, I will read the most recent ones from Google reviews: ‘’We saved our customer more than 50% off the shipping by using this service, and they were blown away. The interface was simple and fast and made it easy to book the shipment. Great work over there. We will be using Freightera any time we can in the future.’’
Next one: ‘’My first cross-border shipment. Freightera staff was very professional, and everything was arranged in less than an hour, including brokerage. I will be using Freightera for all of our shipments going forward.’’
And maybe just one more: ‘’We are a small business and having purchased some equipment in the USA, we were looking to ship to Burnaby BC, we don’t have any experience in shipping and didn’t need any, using Freightera was straightforward, simple and fast, they were super responsive and competitive. Great job Freightera, thank you.’’
Andy Jacob: That’s awesome, and they go on and on and on, so it is really amazing what you’ve been able to do, Zhenya, a lot of people are commenting about the platform, about how easy it is, of course, people can participate to save money, and at the same time help the environment which is really important.
Zhenya, I know you only sort of cut out a certain amount of time today, but there are a couple of questions I would like to ask you about entrepreneurship because we have a number of young entrepreneurs that watch the show, they like to glean information from successful entrepreneurs. So a lot of entrepreneurs say to themselves: ‘’How does someone get to become a co-founder of a company like you’ve been able to build, and when people from the outside looking inward, younger entrepreneurs look at the success that you and your husband had, they might say: ‘’Ah! It was easy for them,’’ but we know that it probably wasn’t as easy as it looks, so do you have some inspiration or some type of message to give to the younger entrepreneurs about adversity and how it always doesn’t go as well as planned, but you have been ready to make a pivot, or maybe get around the pothole in a certain way, and keep on going, keep on pushing, so that you ultimately get where you want to go?
Zhenya Beck: Absolutely. Well, my husband says, and I really like this saying: ‘’We eat challenges for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.’’ And it is so true, it really isn’t easy being an entrepreneur, and whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and you have to accept that. But it’s so worth it because one of the best investments that you can make is in yourself, and in your business. You have control over that. If you are inspired about something, and you want to do something, especially if it has a meaningful mission, there is so much to do in the world, there is so much meaning that we need, go for it, absolutely go for it! It is going to be difficult. It was difficult for Eric and me, it challenged our relationship, but we just came to the other side of it stronger as a couple. It has been a great experience.
Andy Jacob: I love it, and often people look at someone who’s been able to reach the pinnacle of success in their particular field, and they say ‘’boy, I would like to replicate what that person is doing’’ or ‘’I would like to reach that level of success’’ and the next question they really need to ask is: ‘’Am I willing to put in the work, am I really willing to make that happen?’’ And as your husband says, and I made a note to myself while you were talking, because I really like this quote, and I am going to remember it and use it in the future: ‘’We eat challenges for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.’’ That is really a great quote. Maybe your husband is going to come up with a book of his famous quotes in the near future, because I love it that, it’s really remarkable.
Zhenya, what you’ve been able to do with Freightera, with your husband, and your entire team is really remarkable. I wanted to thank you so much for spending some time explaining how you’re changing the entire freight environment, the entire freight business with your platform by allowing people to ship more with a lot less stress, and important to your personal mission to ship green, and important to everybody’s mission in the world to make sure that the environment remains as clean as it possibly can, your passion about asthma with your personal story was very revealing, and I wanted to thank you for sharing that personal story to help our viewers understand more why you have such a commitment through Freightera to make sure that you do commit to shipping in a green way, with your SmartWay certified carriers. So Zhenya, I wanted to thank you so much, again, this has been a true delight, you are an inspiration, and I think I can say not only for myself but for the people watching this show: we are all expecting much greater things even to come for Freightera.
Zhenya Beck: Thank you so much, Andy. It’s been a pleasure.