I recently had the pleasure to speak with Michael Holden from Perth based freight start-up, Bustle, which launched a few months ago. Here is his story.
//SN: Hey Michael, tell me a little about what problem Bustle is trying to solve.
With Australia’s road freight volume set to double over the next 20 years from 200 billion tonnes to 400 billion tonnes the problem Bustle is solve is utilising existing resources in the supply chain more efficiently. Using smart phones and technology to remove layers from traditional models is making it faster, easier, more transparent to transact whilst improving efficiency and reducing costs. Connecting B2B is allowing smaller businesses to offer a cleaner and more transparent model than the majors whilst keeping dollars in local economies.
A big issue for B2B supply, especially in the modern market, is fluctuating demands and having to control costs whilst matching market cycles. Bustles provides on demand connections directly to owner operated transport businesses, qualified independent human resources and critical services such as tyre suppliers, mechanics, auto sparkies etc without the need to lock in or manage relationships. This creates better buying power and greater market activity for them.
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//SN: So where did the idea for this come from? Is Bustle like an Uber for freight?
The idea came just over a year ago after I left the transport industry to pursue a different opportunity. I moved to personal finance, helping families reduce their debt but had kept in touch with my contacts that I built over the past decade in the industry. After seeing no change or breakthrough services, decreasing margins plus seeing business waste a lot of money (I mean a lot) on inefficient layered transport models, I started drafting the platform.
Is it like Uber for freight? Not really – There are 4 pillars that make up our platform. Customers, Drivers, Support Services and Independents. These pillars are a community that heavily relies on each other to keep the industry moving. In Uber there is a person(s) needing a ride point A to Point B whereas in transport there is someone needing transport services of which the drivers whom take on that work need help keeping their vehicle on the road which is where the support services and independents fit in.
Our community is a live online market place designed at engaging B2B transactions that offers value to those within the community. An example of that is if I am a driver and I go to get quotes on tyres I am like any other person that rings up or drives in to a store. Within Bustle if I lodge my tyre job I receive quotes from suppliers as part of a growing economy which means I am now buying like a big businesses.
//SN: Who is your perfect customer, and what problem or challenge does Bustle solve for them?
Bustle connects businesses to each other so our perfect customer fits in to any of the 4 pillars I mentioned above.
Businesses trying to improve their freight costs and automate dispatches we can set up API’s to reduce their administration time/cost to control their supply. Bustle not only gives greater transparency in to the road transport it also gives them data critical to their business like cycle times and accurate freight spends at the end of each week, month, quarter or year. A problem I have seen over and over is businesses have no idea about their monthly 3rdpart freight costs when trying to reconcile P&L’s nor do they realise the amount of variations companies can add to each movement when invoicing. You might estimate $10,000 for the month only to receive an $11,000 invoice.
For the other pillars such as drivers, support and independents they become customers in the sense that they can connect to work opportunities that were previously hidden from them. A tyre supplier servicing a truck is good business for us and offers value to those drivers who now becomes a customer too. Same goes with the independent and customer connections where those interactions become customers of each other which then closes the loop for all businesses in the Bustle community.
//SN: Your team is all in Perth, right? How do you find operating a 24/7 business across our large country?
Yes, all of our start up operational team is in Perth with 1 of the directors based in Melbourne. So far we haven’t experienced too many issues as most of the volume is in Perth however we are starting to see jobs posted in other states. As our platform is a conduit to find each other it is a user controlled environment intervention is an exception not rule making it easy to manage.
The directors of Bustle have a large network of people and with the user base growing expect take up in states start to take place starting to talk with our contacts to ensure we can scale to match the demand. In each state we have relationships ready to include them as partners in the business.
//SN: Can anyone be a driver, or do you have expectations on licenses and vehicle size?
Potentially anyone can be a driver however Bustle is aligning industry specific drivers to certain registered customers. A home business might not care if a driver doesn’t hold specific qualifications or wears hi-vis PPE clothing where as a steel manufacturer or mining company will need specific items before wanting to engage services.
Automating this so that drivers/transport companies build their profiles while customers select their minimum requirements allows the customer wanting to engage transport an opportunity to filter and pre-inspect a supplier before accepting their services. The rating system, as simple as it is, allows people to know that this person is coming with previous delivery of expectations. In transport it is not uncommon for drivers that have been removed from a company to appear down the road at a competitor. With Bustle we have a lock out system that can ensure that drivers not delivering on their profile of services can be removed to keep a high calibre of suppliers.
//SN: What lessons can you share with us in the process to date?
One that springs to mind is despite having a great product that businesses like, change is scary to some and takes time. Businesses may provide great feedback as to what it could solve for them but they may not have the final say or have the ability to move quickly. Within supply chain and transport, it is a proud and old market where decision makers can be in a different demographic to a lot of the tech start up business owners. Having them trust in our model isn’t a one off conversation or overnight decision.
Another lesson is build, review, refine, repeat. In simple terms keep trying to be better. Getting our product out there, seeing the market’s reaction then amending it has been critical to attracting customers and users. Building a community is important to ensure there is value for everyone. Businesses and consumers want value so if that value isn’t being developed you might be relying on 1 or 2 items for success.
//SN: If there’s one tip that you would suggest to someone with an early stage startup idea, what would it be?
Get help. You don’t need to give away your idea but identify what you are not so good at and find a partner or partners that hold those skills. Looking at a lot of successful businesses, they generally aren’t a one-man band. Mentally and financially having people with skin in the game is important towards growing.
Thank you so much for your time and wisdom, Michael. We look forward to watching Bustle grow.