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project44: Democratizing the Amazonification of Shipping

At Sapphire Ventures, when we think of investing in “companies of consequence” we think of monster spaces, emerging and disruptive technologies, and companies with clear value propositions. It’s hard to think of a better fit for those characteristics than a company that’s creating the connective tissue layer between the various elements of the transportation and logistics space. And who better to lead a company to disrupt a trillion-dollar industry than a team who has done it before. That is why we are so excited to join Jett McCandless (CEO) and team with our newest Series C investment in project44.

A White Lie

This is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I first came across Jett and project44 more than two years ago when I emailed Jett multiple times asking if he would be able to meet while I was in Chicago for meetings or a conference here or there. What Jett found out while co-writing this blog was that I had fabricated those trips so that in the case he agreed to a meeting I could quickly book a flight. True story. But, that’s how taken I was with the concept of bringing a fully automated, real-time API visibility layer to the shipping space.

I won’t confess to how many trips I faked to Chicago before our first meeting, but I will admit that our excitement in what project44 was building only grew as we spoke with shippers, carriers and third-party logistics players who were tired of using phones, faxes and outdated EDI solutions to track shipments. project44 provides a digital API solution that connects all the elements of this supply chain with trusted, normalized data in real-time that can easily be shared and analyzed to ensure optimization of shipments. Think Stripe, Twilio and Mulesoft*, but for shipping. This is one of those huge spaces with a no-brainer value proposition — to replace an asynchronous, human-intensive process of connecting dots in the air with an automated, digital solution that takes only 15 seconds, not the traditional 15 minutes, to complete. And it’s able to do this thousands of times every day.

The Sound of Inevitability

The logistics industry is rapidly changing. Traditionally, it has lagged behind other industries in the adoption of nextgen technologies, which is somewhat surprising given the size of the space and the fragmentation between when a shipper looks to ship something and when a carrier ultimately delivers it. Call it an emerging wave, an inevitable modernization, or the Amazonification of an industry, but players in the space are realizing that as customer expectations become increasingly important, it’s not just about operational efficiencies anymore. Customers want and expect visibility into where shipments are and confidence in on-time delivery of those shipments. As we move toward an era of “liquid inventory,” limited human interaction and cobbling together vast amounts of siloed and ununified data just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

The Man to Do It

This is where Jett comes in. He started his career in the call center of a freight forwarder, taking call after call to tell the other person on the line that their shipment was on the way regardless of where it was at the time. He quickly realized there must be a better way to manage and track freight. Jett assembled a top-notch team of professionals with experience across the space to build what would quickly become the preeminent connective tissue that provides not only visibility, but also unifies every part of the process, from pricing to payment, across all modes and geographies.

We couldn’t be more elated to add project44 to the Sapphire family, and join Jett and his team as they revolutionize the shipping industry and help all players in the supply chain make better, faster and cheaper decisions to ultimately get customers what they need when they need it.

A First Impression and Lasting Partnership

My first thought about Kevin Diestel was, “Wow, this guy must really love visiting Chicago, he’s here all the time!” In retrospect, even though Chicago is a world-class city with many cultural and culinary attractions, I soon realized that Kevin was very serious about project44 and he was “leaning in” to learn more about our company. In hindsight and unknowingly, I was playing hard to get. It was clear after our first meeting that we were “kindred spirits”. It takes a unique perspective, which Kevin and I share, to get as excited as we are, about bringing advanced visibility solutions to the transportation and logistics markets. Finding somebody with that passion matched with the focus, drive and operational acumen to make it happen is rare, and once we were finally able to sit down and talk, it quickly became clear to me that Kevin saw the same potential here that I do.

In truth, it was his persistence that spoke volumes. Seeing how committed Kevin and Sapphire were to understanding our vision and market, I knew that they saw as much value in the work we’re doing as my team and I see. That’s a large part of what ultimately led us to partner with Sapphire — they understand the massive potential behind connecting the freight industry, they see the incredible benefit this can bring to everyone and everything that touches the supply chain, and they recognize that we have the team and the resources to get the job done.

Having a team like Sapphire behind us is a tremendous strength and competitive advantage. They don’t just make financial investments, they invest in the growth and success of their portfolio companies. I’m as committed to the success of my team members as I am to the success of the company, and I only partner with people and organizations who share that view and passion. That’s what I see in Sapphire, and that’s what makes me so excited about collaborating and scaling with them. With investors like Sapphire Ventures helping us on our journey, we are extremely confident that we will succeed in connecting the world’s transportation ecosystem and increase trust and predictability in the industry.