Sustainability and innovation: Accelerating change in the freight industry

Lorries in motion. Evening traffic on the motorway.

Jai Kanwar, below, co-founder and joint-managing director of digital freight platform Zeus Labs, tells us about the company and managing the road haulage supply chain

Tell us the background of Zeus. When did you set it up and what was the thinking behind it?

I launched Zeus together with my co-founder Clemente Theotokis in 2020 while studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science. We identified a gap in the market when we realised that the haulage sector had not yet modernised away from paper-based and manually intensive processes. We saw a terrific opportunity to make industry more efficient and sustainable. Zeus is a next-generation tech platform aimed at streamlining the road freight industry and reducing emissions in one go. The tech enables shippers to cut out the five or more intermediaries commonly seen and efficiently book, manage, and live-track shipments. With a single point of access model, it provides a massive 71 per cent reduction in admin hours, full forecasting & reporting, scalable access to over 10,000 trucks (and growing) and auto reconciliation of all charges per load.

Who is your target customer?

Any large enterprise (manufacturers, producers, retailers) who ship high volumes of freight by road. Zeus works hard to create an even playing field for owner-drivers and small haulage companies (with fewer than 12 trucks) by giving them easy access to new work. We serve more than 40 enterprise-level clients, including Primark, P&G, Decathlon, AB InBev, and Apollo Tyres, handling over 660,000 tonnes of cargo annually worth circa £6 billion.

What makes you stand out from your rivals?

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

Zeus stands out from the crowd as it brings together two unique models into one: a dedicated fleet and a free-to-use freight marketplace. Hauliers pay nothing to use Zeus and benefit from spot loads (ad hoc work) as well as contracted, recurring work. Everything is digitised and via the free Driver app, proof of deliveries is uploaded instantly, triggering payments within 48 hours (compared to market average of 60 days). Hauliers get notified of new loads and can accept and schedule jobs while still on the road. Our unique hybrid business model is driving efficiency for shippers and real growth for hauliers, combined with accurate reporting which enables further reductions in carbon emissions.

Where do you see your business in five years’ time?

Our vision is to create a single technological standard that enables everyone to work together to increase efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of global freight. The development of the marketplace is the first product, a platform that brings together hauliers and large/enterprise shippers, providing full truck load business as scale.

This will then fund the development of additional developments to this marketplace:

  1. Partial Truck Loads (PTL) & Groupage – transporting a shipment with other goods
  2. Vans and light goods vehicles
  3. SME business service – where single assignments of any size can be catered for

And other SaaS solutions are also in development, which will allow companies to use the Zeus platform for their internal logistics operations too. Zeus plans to extend these capabilities beyond just road freight into other transport modes, in order to modernise and streamline supply chains for everyone.

Does your age have an impact on how you are perceived / treated internally & externally?

The supply chain industry is very traditional. Most carriers and freight operators are male owned and male operated (over 95% of drivers are men), while the industry overall has a high median age (over half are aged over 46). In this sense, starting a digital freight management service at 23 years old has been a unique experience. It has come with some challenges, externally more than internally, but also brings many advantages, not least of which has been being the face of much-needed change. Investors and clients appreciate young, ambitious entrepreneurs who usher in new ideas and bring fresh bouts of energy.

At Zeus, both Clemente and I believe that the freight industry can be truly sustainable, both fulfilling our economic needs and reducing its environmental impact on our planet. The current fuel crisis highlights how a zero-emission-based freight system would also be more resilient too.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?

There are a few essential steps everyone should take before launching a business.  Firstly, it’s key to fully validate and research your market. Zeus was only launched after a year of undertaking validation studies, research, and planning.

Secondly, if you’re a young entrepreneur, you need to understand that although you may have a great idea, it’s the execution of that idea that will determine success. Having a great leadership team – your ‘core’ – is an absolute must. Clemente and I had to ensure our team reflected solid industry experience, complementary pioneering attitudes, and critical thinking abilities.

Thirdly, be prepared for things not to go to plan. Mitigate this by making sure your business planning is not based on best case scenarios. Also prepare yourself mentally. At Zeus, what we thought would be most challenging, like getting traction with major manufacturers, went more smoothly than expected, whilst other areas did not go to plan. With start-ups, nothing will ever be ‘perfect’, but being able to acknowledge this and collaborate with your team to overcome unexpected scenarios is an essential investment that will pay off.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024