The Borderless Opportunities For Logistics Startups

By leveraging tech and tapping into the e-commerce boom, India's logistics players are not only democratizing cross-border commerce but are expanding their market horizons

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A world without borders has long been the dream of many. Today, with the advent of technology, we are inching closer to fulfilling it. Even though physical boundaries have still not disappeared, technology has undoubtedly shrunk the world.

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It has not only simplified cross-border commerce but also democratized it by enabling startups and small businesses to efficiently expand into international markets, which was till now limited to large businesses. Today, cross-border trade is proving to be an effective way for these businesses to increase brand awareness across global markets, thereby increasing the scope of revenue generation and easy customer acquisition. According to data shared by our sources, international cross-border shipping from India is expected to be valued at around $ 129 billion by 2025. Further, India is home to approximately 63 million small and mid-sized enterprises, which hold a 54 per cent share in the country's cross-border shipping operations. This is also further boosted by the recent launch of National Logistics Policy (NLP) to promote a seamless movement of goods across India and improve the competitiveness of products in domestic as well as global markets.

Tapping into this opportunity are cross-border logistics players, who leverage advanced technologies to help independent businesses enable direct commerce.

The rise of cross-border logistics platforms

Some of the Indian platforms operating in the cross-border logistics space include Shiprocket, iThink Logistics, Porter, FreightFox, FarEye, Cogoport, Rivigo, Shipsy, Delhivery, Blackbuck, Freightwalla, and others. Among these, Shiprocket, Delhivery and Blackbuck have turned unicorns. Recently, Amazon India also launched a cross-border logistics platform, SEND, which offers end-to-end support to Indian exporters. For now, the platform is available for exporters on Amazon Global Selling.

"Thus far, cross-border B2C e-commerce has been the domain of sellers selling on global marketplaces like eBay, Etsy and Amazon but going forward we expect a lot of Indian D2C brands to expand into this area as well. India is one of the top ten countries in terms of cross-border e-commerce growth," said Akshay Ghulati, cofounder, strategy and global expansion, Shiprocket. The company offers individuals and companies a chance to ship their products to the USA, UK, Australia and various other countries. It caters to 220+ countries and has courier partners like DHL, FedEx, and Aramex under its banner.

"The highly fragmented nature of India's logistics industry, multiple regulatory bodies, manual approval processes, poor shipment visibility, stakeholder collaboration, growing cost leakages, and evolving customer expectations are some of the key drivers of technology adoption in this sector," said Soham Chokshi, CEO and co-founder, Shipsy.

According to TurningIdeas Ventures' survey in 2021, 42 per cent of Indian startups were gearing up to tap the global market in 2022. "With India's competitiveness on the global stage strengthening for manufactured goods, merchandise, agri exports, etc, the opportunity for cross-border logistics is very promising for Indian logistics players. Effective cross-border logistics requires varied organizational competence which includes know-how and relevant technologies for surface transportation, container movement and optimization, freight forwarding process, and customs, and for that Indian logistics companies need to evolve and collaborate with the synergies of the global players as well to create a network which can be leveraged to deliver goods with quality, safety, right documents and cost with the international standards," said Nitish Rai, cofounder and CEO, FreightFox.

LPaaS and other trends

We are also seeing the emergence of of many LPaaS (logistics platforms as a service) in the space. These platforms bridge the gap between logistics and technology by delivering one-stop solutions to micro, small and medium-scale merchants. For instance, Shypmax by Shyplite is an AI technology-backed cross-border LPaaS, which provides end-to-end shipping solutions to B2B, B2C and C2C audiences. It enables businesses and individuals to manage cross-border shipments without any hassles.

"The rise of LPaaS platforms is a classic case of 'necessity is the mother of invention'. During the pandemic, companies with multiple stakeholders realized they need better visibility in the supply chain. This accelerated the need to establish end-to-end visibility in their supply chain clearly. Since, the supply chains manage goods during rest (warehousing) and goods in transit (single or multi-modal logistics), to tie in all these together, there is an increased importance of logistics performed as a service to offer better insights into these segments," said Rai.

Experts call these platforms a whiff of fresh air, offering customized solutions, innovation and integration. "LPaaS emergence is driven majorly by democratizing of technology at an affordable price which fits in the RoI expectations of the industry stakeholders and a need to build a more organizational wide value chain augmentation," he added.

Another major trend seen today is the way startups are leveraging data to deliver actionable insights. "There is also a silver lining on the horizon in terms of consciousness around data. Companies want to make sense of this data and they want to apply the insight to their operations. For instance, companies are now willing to invest in understanding how their primary, secondary, and last-mile delivery are going in tandem with the company's vision and what can be their next step to achieve holistic growth," added Rai.

Further, automating freight procurement is helping businesses save on freight procurement costs through competitive bidding and fetching current rates and historical data enabling shippers to access the best freight rates every time. There is also an alarming need for real-time container tracking. "Spreadsheet-based tracking and the need to visit multiple freight forwarder and shipping line websites make it impossible to provide customers with real-time container status. These methods take more than 7 minutes to track a single container. Businesses are rapidly moving towards leveraging platforms that offer a unified view of all container movement and help manage different carriers/freight forwarders under a single dashboard," said Chokshi.

Gaining competitive edge

With increasing opportunities in the space and the availability of tech for everyone, the startups in the space have to keep upping their game. For instance, doing comprehensive data integrations and achieving the ability to actually utilize data from varied streams to develop and deliver credible intelligence systems can help a startup have an advantage over others.

"Second is collaboration. It is a very important factor in the coming times like platform-to-platform collaborations and integrations to cross-pollinate for the information and actions which are more responsive and informed. Each platform has its own expertise that can fuel the synergy, giving both parties the capability to deliver value to the customer together," said Rai.

Startups also need to stay aligned with the growth of infrastructure in the logistics pace and the changes that will accompany them in the supply chain. Additionally, like other any businesses, it is important for these players to understand consumer needs and challenges. "A platform that understands and caters to unique customer challenges ascertains that domain expertise gets translated into cutting-edge product capabilities, ensures seamless integrations across disparate logistics infrastructure through smart APIs, and delivers tangible business outcomes, stands a great competitive advantage," said Chokshi.

While pricing is also key for the India market, other differentiating factors will also go a long way. "This market is too big to have just a few winners. There will be space for 8-10 players, but each must define their USPs that will differentiate them from the others. Those that cannot differentiate on anything beyond pricing will surely die a long but painful demise," said Anirudh A. Damani, founder, Artha Group.

While opportunities galore in the space, using technology and data to understand consumer pain points will be key. It will help more and more startups gain a strong foothold in this highly competitive space.