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A Kellogg MBA Creates Real-Time Tracking For A Trillion-Dollar Industry

The FourKites team, with CEO Matt Elenjickal  second from left in the front. Courtesy photo.

After seven years working in transportation and logistics, Matt Elenjickal had bumped up against the same problem too many times. He was implementing transportation management systems for big companies like Oracle, Nestle, and Kraft — but once the goods were on the truck, most companies had no way to track them.

Elenjickal’s frustration turned into an itch to start a a real-time tracking software company, so he went back to school to get his MBA. After two years at the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, throughout which Elenjickal worked on his idea, he graduated in 2014 and launched FourKites. Now two years in, the Chicago-based FourKites has raised $16.5 million and ranks 25th on Poets&Quants’ 2017 Top 100 MBA Startups — the first year Elenjickal’s brainchild has made the list.

“We have a lot of legacy systems — 40-year-old technology — that are managing an almost trillion-dollar industry,” Elenjickal says. “This presents a huge market opportunity for someone who can be disruptive and deliver value.”

ZELL FELLOWSHIP PAVES THE WAY

Matt Elenjickal. Courtesy photo

At Kellogg, Elenjickal was named a 2013 Zell Fellow, a program for MBA students pursuing entrepreneurship. Recipients are supported financially and given mentoring and other resources to help them successfully launch their venture upon graduation. Elenjickal, naturally, used the program to build FourKites.

He says his time at Kellogg provided him with “the 3C’s that every entrepreneur is looking for”: capital, connections, and customers.

The Zell Fellowship supported Elenjickal at the very beginning of FourKites, he says, and the school helped him make connections within the Chicago venture capital ecosystem. It also gave him inroads to potential customers who helped him test and perfect the business.

IMPROVING SUPPLY-CHAIN EFFICIENCY

FourKites uses mobile, cloud, and analytics software to provide real-time tracking, which Elenjickal says can improve supply-chain efficiency. “Businesses and consumers rely on goods to be shipped on time — increasingly in days rather than weeks,” he says. “Yet the complex and fragmented nature of trucking infrastructure poses a problem for shippers.”

In the old system, shippers might rely on “Track and Trace” teams to figure out where their products are. These teams called truck drivers, distribution centers, warehouses, and customers. But in relying on phone calls or emails, the process was very reactive, Elenjickal says — and it wasted time.

“If you order something on Amazon, you know exactly what is happening with your order with some degree of accuracy,” he says. “However, if you are a manufacturer or retailer, you have no visibility into the hundreds of thousands’ worth of product that you put on a truck.” If shipping companies subscribe to a FourKites tracking plan, Elenjickal says, he can provide that information instantly.

FourKites has partnered with around 45 GPS providers to create a real-time location feed. They also provide arrival times, taking traffic and weather into account, and send their subscribers alerts if anything unexpected happens.

“Without FourKites, a shipper would have to log in to 20 or 30 different GPS provider websites to find the location of each driver, and even then they just show a truck on a map, rather than an ETA using traffic and weather,” Elenjickal says.

IN THE NEXT YEAR, PLANS TO HIRE 100+

The two-year-old company has more than 13,000 active users and has tracked 16,000,000 loads so far. Elenjickal says FourKites has an impressive client roster that includes three of the top food manufacturers in the U.S., two of the top food distributors, a large speciality apparel retailer, an office supply chain store, and more.

The information FourKites provides has reduced the hours and dollars spent on disjointed communications and delayed updates, Elenjickal says, and some of their customers have already seen an ROI.

For now, he says, the plan is to integrate more data sources into the FourKites tracking platform, expand internationally, and begin tracking other transportation modes, like rail and ocean. And he hopes to hire over 100 people in the next year.

“We are the only scalable tracking platform built with large shippers and third-party logistics in mind,” Elenjickal says. “While our current tracking competitors are designed for small brokers who need to track an important load or two, we are designed to track entire fleets for shipping companies, like big-box retail chains, to enable full supply-chain visibility, which is increasingly becoming a standard.”

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