Less than three months after launching, Uber Freight is expanding into new markets and building out its on-demand freight app, adding personalized features and push notifications to make it easier for drivers to find work.
The ride-hailing technology company’s fledgling logistics business is expanding efforts to sign up drivers located in the West, Midwest and South. Uber Freight has used Texas as a testbed from its soft launch in late 2016 through its public debut in May, though drivers on the app have been delivering loads from the state throughout the country, the company said.
As of this week, the company is actively marketing to drivers and shippers in major metropolitan areas in California, Arizona, the Chicago-Midwest region, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
The updates come as competition intensifies among on-demand freight matching startups looking to disrupt the established logistics industry. Venture firms are expected to pour $1 billion into cloud-based freight platforms this year, including Convoy, which raised $62 million in a new financing round late last month.
Uber Freight won’t disclose how many drivers are using its cloud-based load-matching platform and accompanying mobile app, how many shippers it is working with or other specifics. However, loads from current shippers have increased “about 10 times since the beginning of the year,” said Eric Berdinis, product manager at Uber Freight.
“We’re growing at an Uber-like pace,” said Bill Driegert, director of Uber Freight.
Whatever growth Uber Freight is experiencing comes despite ongoing problems at Uber, including the continuing search to fill the chief executive job vacated when founder Travis Kalanick was forced out earlier this summer. The problems at its parent company come up occasionally in Uber Freight’s discussions with customers, but so far, it has not affected business, Driegert said.
“The product speaks for itself,” he said. “We’re heads down focused on building out the best product we can. If we build the right product for our customers, that’s ultimately what matters.”
Despite its troubles, Uber has billions of dollars in investor cash the company can use to bankroll Uber Freight to get it running without having to worry about turning a profit, said John Larkin, transportation and logistics industry analyst with Stifel Equity Research.
Though they’ve got a lot going for them, startups such as Uber Freight and Convoy are recreating what’s already offered by traditional brokers such as CH Robinson and Coyote, which have been working on updating their own technology to make it more user-friendly, Larkin said.
“The question becomes how comfortable are shippers dealing with startups that are heavy on tech and a little light on the freight side,” he said.
New App Features
To encourage sign ups, Uber Freight updated its mobile app so drivers can set load preferences based on location, hometown, past loads and other specifications. The app uses push notifications – technology that flashes an alert onto a mobile device even when an app isn’t open – to point drivers to available loads that match their preferences.
In the coming weeks, Uber Freight plans to add features that will show drivers “packs” of local, short- or long-haul loads, along with a “For You” pack that includes all personalized recommendations.
Uber Freight continues to limits its service only to full truckloads, though the company is beginning to experiment with other types of services, Driegert said
Trucker Ferdinand Heres of Knoxville, Tenn., signed up with Uber Freight in May. (Photo: Ferdinand Heres)
Ferdinand Heres, an owner-operator who runs out of Knoxville, Tenn., downloaded the app when it became available in May. Since then, he has used it almost exclusively, for approximately 30 loads. He calls the experience so far “picture perfect.”
That’s not the experience he had with other load boards advertising cargo that was gone by the time he saw them.
“I like it much better,” said Heres, owner of Heres Transport. “You look at the loads and prices and take it or leave it.”
Uber Freight has connected him with both small shippers and large companies. Compared to other brokers he’s worked with, Uber Freight is “better organized than just the average, and a little bit more professional,” Heres said.
Phoenix-based Circle H Intermodal is using Uber Freight’s push into new territory to expand its own business. The 42-truck interstate carrier is expanding the lanes it runs from its current territory of the West, Southwest and Texas into the Midwest and Ohio basin area, said Edward Hampton, a partner and the chief executive of Circle H.
Also, four of the company’s 35 drivers have been using the Uber Freight app with such positive results the company is giving it to 15 more drivers this month. Information on loads has been accurate, and the company normally gets paid in 48 hours or less, Hampton said.
“When we need to call in we get a live [person] for answers to questions we have. In my opinion, it’s been a great union,” he said.
Uber Freight’s effort to market itself as a driver-friendly service extends to sponsoring an annual concert at the Great American Truck Show expo later this month in Dallas. The “Take a Load Off With GATS and Uber Freight” concert stars Tony Justice and two other country singers who are either truckers or have truck-driver connections.