After the announcement of their € 15m funding last month, we asked talpasolutions CEO Sebastian Kowitz to share more insights about the company. Read below what he told us and what he would advise founders thinking about raising!
Sebastian, to those who don’t know talpasolutions yet, how would you explain it in two sentences?
Well, TALPA is a data-analytics software company that focuses on connecting supply and demand in heavy machinery after-sales through a marketplace. Therefore, we offer a predictive analytics platform that helps optimize machinery operations by collecting and analyzing real-time and historical data. Our mission is to empower our clients with AI-driven solutions for fleet optimization and after-sales management, using advanced algorithms to automate workflows and enable predictive maintenance in fleet-intensive industries.
In the beginning of 2023, talpasolutions closed their Series B financing round. What are the next steps for the company and what major topics are you currently working on?
As a result of the funding we've received, we've been able to attract top talent across all areas, allowing us to reduce bottlenecks and support our clients' ambitious scaling goals. Our product roadmap has also progressed significantly, with a particular focus on improving the depth, width, and usability of our software with improving our AI.
We've successfully expanded into new industries like construction, logistics, and agriculture, and recognize the need for local representatives as we continue to grow internationally. Additionally, we're committed to supporting our clients in achieving their ESG goals through our solutions, as we believe that sustainability is a critical component of business success in the long term.
What are the success factors for you when forming and growing a start-up in the B2B Software business?
To build a successful business, it is crucial to prioritize building strong relationships with customers and partners. By being responsive to customer needs, establishing trust and credibility, and collaborating effectively, you can create a loyal customer base and valuable partnershipssupporting your scaling goals.
Being flexible and adaptable is essential for long-term success. The market and customer needs are constantly changing, and businesses that can pivot their strategies accordingly will be more likely to succeed. This requires being open to feedback and new ideas, as well as having the willingness to make changes when necessary.
Finally, discipline and focus are critical components of a successful business. Setting clear goals and metrics, tracking progress, and making data-driven decisions will help you optimize your business and stay on track towards achieving key milestones. This also means being mindful of resource constraints and managing your burn rate effectively.
By prioritizing these key factors, you can build a solid foundation for your business and increase your chances of success in today's competitive landscape. Remember, building strong relationships, being adaptable, and staying focused are all critical components of building a thriving business.
With some caution, what advice would you give to founders who want to raise a round of funding with a product in an exotic industry like mining, as you did at the beginning?
To successfully raise funding for a product in an exotic industry, it's crucial to educate investors through first-hand experiences. In my experience, inviting investors to visit clients and see the product in action provides a better understanding of the industry's unique challenges and opportunities, rather than just providing reference calls. Allowing investors to speak with real users, not just managers, also helps validate the market potential. This hands-on approach builds investor confidence and secures necessary funding for the product.
Speiz is the perfect complement for service companies operating in fulfillment, last mile, and urban mobility as well as for large real estate companies. It fills the non-digital market segment for renting logistics space. Pilot customers such as Bolt (latest funding round: € 711 m) and large real estate companies have already been acquired. Speiz aims to grow together with these market participants.
The demand for new warehousing space and urban as well as suburban locations has increased in recent years. Even now, at an expected economic turning point, the renting activity of new logistics space is still higher than 2021. In the current situation, space has become a success factor in logistics. Meanwhile, new business models from fulfillment and last-mile startups which target the feasibility of more efficient same/next-day promises, are gaining urban ground.
Logistics real estate facts and figures
The rental market for logistics real estate has been growing steadily since 2019. It closed 2022 in Europe with a record year-over-year growth rate of 15 %. Demand for more than 11,000 new warehouses in the next five years meets an already saturated market where only a limited amount of space is still available. This has led to a sharp increase in rent 14 % between 2016 and 2021 in prime German regions where, as a consequence, the development of new spaces is predicted to reach a new high in 2022.
Developers of logistics spaces are becoming more and more creative to solve the warehouse construction backlog of almost 2 year after the COVID-pandemic. However, logistical operations require space that surpasses the needs of ordinary commercial users many times over. For example, urban and suburban logistical operations demand sufficient space for loading and offloading a variety of transport vehicles. Ease of access even during rush hour, safety-relevant standards that correspond to the stored product groups, and - last but not least - maximum proximity to the recipient of the goods are some of the necessary requirements. These new models move hubs closer to cities.
For tenants that operate hundreds of warehouses at the same time (Getir fulfills its orders from more than 1,000 hubs), rental costs make up a huge share of operational costs. Established logistics players must play along so as not to lose clients to these more consumer-centric competitors. Consequently, finding the right warehouse spaces will more than ever be a competitive factor. But right now, there is no strategic tool to systematically search for appropriate spaces that meet tenants’ requirements.
Landlords trying to match these (new) tenants require less bureaucratic and manual leasing systems and tenancy management processes. Currently, they are paying unreasonably high commission fees to brokers who only have limited market penetration or use conventional marketplace platforms that do not know the exact and changing requirements of the sector.
The Solution – Speiz
We believe in Speiz, because their solution focuses purely on logistics spaces - the best possible approach in our opinion. The Oslo-based startup was founded in 2020 and has developed a data-driven platform that digitizes and optimizes the rental market for warehouse and logistics real estate. F-LOG led the seed funding round and is part of the consortium consisting of investors such as Lithuanian seed stage VC, Iron Wolf Capital and a group of business angels.
Speiz offers a technology-based, two-sided platform that enables landlords to manage their leasing process for logistics spaces digitally and in a targeted manner. The platform matches their space with the specific needs of potential tenants. It focuses especially on matching landlords and tenants. Unlike other real estate platforms, Speiz approaches landlords and tenants directly and connects them according to their needs and characteristics.
Speiz convinced us because -
Paulius, Sondre, Vilius and their team have more than 30 years of combined experience in the startup, real estate, and tech environment. The three founders are successful serial founders who know how to run a company in the logistics real estate business.
the company understands that it is operating in a landlord-dominated market and is working on an end-to-end product that digitizes and automates the entire leasing and property management/ administration process for landlords. Speiz has already won over multiple large real estate companies that now manage their entire portfolio on the Speiz platform. They also act as early-stage strategic development partners.
the team has created a dedicated platform for logistics real estate close to the city instead of an "all-round rental platform". Speiz recognized that logistics real estate is increasingly contributing to the strategic competitive advantage before and of the last mile.
the platform uses proprietary technology to identify and assess spaces and at the same time, uses third-party technology (like 3D viewing) to maximize the user experience. Through AI-based search and analysis, Speiz assesses properties that currently cater to a completely different use case (like a supermarket, for example) in terms of their fit for logistical purposes. The properties are then categorized, allowing customers to filter their features accordingly.
From a VC perspective, Speiz’ business model allows for highly attractive scores in major B2B marketplace KPIs, particularly in CACs, ACVs and days-to-turn.
To learn more, visit Speiz online or get in touch with @Michael Geers
The fashion industry is a giant. With more than 150,000,000,000 (150 billion) items produced annually and a global revenue of almost 2,000,000,000,000 (yes, that's trillion) USD, it's also one of the few industries that just about everybody directly engages with. In fact, roughly 5% of household income in developed countries flows into the fashion industry.
At the same time, the fashion and apparel industry is also reported to be one of the most polluting industries in the world. From an ecological viewpoint, fashion emits 80 times more CO2 than all international passenger flights and cruise lines do together. Reliable research has further shown that 2,150 items are thrown away per second, most of which have been worn 7 - 10 times only. The industry consumes huge amounts of hidden water and pesticides (e.g., 50% of all pesticides in India are used for cotton) and is responsible for 35% of microplastics found in the ocean.
There's another, equally important element to the impact of fashion Comprehensive data suggests that social standards (even in European countries such as Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine or even Italy) fail to meet minimum requirements. Statistics on social standards in the fashion industry are grim when it comes to compliance with minimum wages, avoidance of child and forced labor, enabling works councils, or adherence to maximum working hours. In a nutshell, clothing is still produced in a legal vacuum.
Change is not easy
Fashion companies face unprecedented supply chain complexity and often lack visibility – not to mention steering capabilities – beyond their direct suppliers. Why? Because…
Value creation in the fashion world is multi-layered, global, and divided into clearly separated stages, from growing raw materials to sewing garments. The market for each of these stages is highly fragmented, with countless small players, especially in the early stages close to the raw material.
Larger fashion brands today work with 1,000 to 2,000 direct suppliers, depending on the width of their assortment and their sourcing strategy.
Product lifecycles are becoming shorter and shorter while the number of collections per year increases as much as lot sizes shrink. Zara, for example, with its 24 collections per year, is setting new standards. This inevitably increases the number of buyer-supplier touchpoints and makes individual supplier relations less strategic.
And the greenwashing award goes toooo…
At the same time, the behavior of fashion labels and producers in relation to ESG is moving further and faster into the spotlight.
The importance of a clean and fair supply chain is now - finally, we should say - being reflected in purchasing decisions. Between 50% - 80% of buyers - depending on the survey and their age group - attach great importance to high standards. Accordingly, the sale of Fairtrade textiles has doubled over the last 6 years. No industry feels the destructive power of negative PR like the fashion industry. Today, reputation and sustainability risks come from unknown factors in global value chains. Nobody wants to be rewarded with a greenwashing award.
Stick to the rules, please!
And then there are the new Supply Chain Transparency laws. Not only in Europe and the USA but worldwide, new laws are coming into force. They downright dictate increased due diligence beyond the direct suppliers - and will make violations economically painful very soon. However, most purchasing managers at the major fashion companies report that they are unable to meet the new consumer and government requirements today. Fashion Revolution's latest report goes even further: only 12% (!) of the top 250 global fashion companies are able to publish reliable information about the origin of their raw materials.
This is where our latest portfolio startup comes into play:
retraced is a digital platform that connects fashion companies with their direct and indirect suppliers across all tiers. This way, they gain unparalleled insights into their supply chain design, practices, and performance. After collecting and exchanging certificates, audit reports, and other ESG-related data sets, retraced detects ESG-related risks within the value chains, suggests and monitors corrective action plans, and allows its users to communicate the insights to consumers, retailers, and governmental authorities - fully digitally and in line with applicable regulations.
And here is why we invested:
Team first: Lukas’, Philipp’s, and Peter’s understanding of the fashion industry is impressive. Having founded and managed a shoe brand themselves, they have built an outstanding team of fashion, ESG and supply chain experts who have translated their know-how into a highly effective, vertically focused digital platform.
The success of the solution stands and falls with its acceptance by the many suppliers and sub-suppliers. By focusing on real efficiency gains on the supplier side, the team succeeded in onboarding and activating 7,500 suppliers in a very short time. The respective usage and activity KPIs (daily logins, NPS, …) by far exceed benchmark values which is mostly due to the platform’s intuitive and easy usability.
retraced allows its customers to take collaborative action to improve production practices in the industry. We believe that is the only way to make a real impact.
End-to-end and highly granular: retraced covers the entire process from the cotton farm in India to the end-consumer communication in the US. Despite this wide scope, the platform gives highly detailed recommendations, as supply chains can be analyzed by factory, product or order level.
The new regulations vary considerably from region to region. The Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act in the USA has different implications than the Supply Chain Act in Germany and the Loi de Vigilance in France. retraced already covers these regional specificities and generates 55% of its sales outside of the European Union, allowing the company to capitalize on the global market potential.
Yes, the new regulations give retraced a significant boost. Impressively, more than 70% of its users are not directly affected by the new laws today, but use retraced for better supply chain and sustainability performance to remain relevant in the market. retraced is a strategic tool – even for those not exposed to regulatory pressures.
Going beyond ESG
In the broader market view, very few SaaS companies have managed to establish such strong digital access into similarly deep layers of the value chains. Connecting all upstream players on the same platform opens big doors for retraced.
The company has the potential to grow its platform into a leading supply chain management suite for the fashion industry, providing a holistic view of value creation. From strategic purchasing decisions to tactical use cases such as sampling and transportation planning, to operational activities such as order management and track & trace, the platform will provide further significant value to its users.
But first, let's make the fashion industry better for the planet and the people. We're excited to be part of that journey.
Smartlane is is a transport optimization and analytics engine with fully-automated transport planning and industry-specific process mining capabilities. We have talked to co-founder Monja Mühling about the company's growth and recent developments.
Monja, to those who don’t know Smartlane yet, how would you explain it in two sentences?
Smartlane is a Software as a Service company in the logistics industry. We automate how transport orders are allocated across our customers’ vehicles. For this, we use artificial intelligence to make transport operations much more efficient, sustainable and a lot less complex to plan.
In the beginning of 2022, Smartlane closed their Series A financing round. What has happened since then? And what major topics are you currently working on?
The funding has given us an additional boost. We were able to hire further, really strong experts in all areas and will continue to do so. The new colleagues have settled in really well. This has enabled us to directly reduce bottlenecks in approaching and onboarding new clients. We were already able to tick some very important boxes on our product roadmap which further improved our software in terms of depth, width and usability.
We also focus on partnerships with leading software providers in the logistics industry. Our products complement each other, and we can deeply access customer processes more quickly. We have been able to finalize some of these partnerships in recent weeks, both technically and commercially. Now the joint market approach is starting here as well.
The new funds also help us to push forward our mid-term and long-term vision. With Smartlane, customers will soon be able to optimize and automate entire logistics networks in addition to implementing intelligent and automated route planning. To achieve this goal, we have been working very closely with experts and strategic partners from the logistics services industry for some time.
What are the success factors for you when forming and growing a start-up in the logistics environment?
More and more logistics companies understand that artificial intelligence, automation and digitalization can truly make a difference in the complexity of the logistics sector. However, the industry is still at the beginning of the journey here and it needs all the more a clearly defined product and a detailed understanding of the customer to be successful in the market. We have, therefore, continuously adapted our strategy and processes and have learned a lot in the course of doing so.
Compared to other industries, logistics has not been the most attractive industry for young and ambitious "techies". At Smartlane, we prove the opposite with international, diverse, mixed teams across all areas of expertise. We’ve learned that a strong, forward looking company vision and progressive values play a vital role in attracting such talent.
With some caution, can we still call you an exception among LogTech founders?
Definitely. In general, female founders are still quite rare. In the logistics environment, the gap is even more apparent. At Smartlane, we are proud to have very strong female talent and experts in all departments, from sales to software engineering, on board. There’s one sector, however, where we see many female founders. And that’s Climate Tech. So maybe it’s the immense ecological impact of our solution that attracts female colleagues so much.
Let us introduce to you our team member Andreas. He talks about his journey and the challenges and opportunities of LogTech.
Tell us about your professional journey so far.
Since completing my studies, I have had the privilege of helping to build up new business areas and companies in the field of supply chain management both nationally and internationally.
Besides the strategic development of new businesses, I also enjoyed overseeing the operational execution of supply chain services in an international context for large multinational brands. This background allows me to understand the needs and opportunities of digital transformation well.
I have been working in digital transformation and venture capital for about six years. During this time, I helped build and shape the venture strategy for our investor FIEGE, resulting in numerous investments in new areas, such as Last Mile, Robotics, Smart Warehousing and many more, resulting in 30 direct and indirect investments in young companies on behalf of FIEGE, as well as accompanying first exits.
With F-LOG, we have now invested in five companies over the past 18 months.
What excites you about working in venture capital?
There are a lot of things. I love working with people who are highly motivated about changing established areas. I am thrilled by the diversity of ideas and the drive of the founders. To then advance topics together motivates me immensely. In addition, I tend to view change through digital transformation as an opportunity – an opportunity to gain efficiencies in processes, develop new businesses and ultimately, generate sustainable new financial results.
What do you look at when investing in startups?
According to the motto "The true pain point for a startup is to find a true pain point", I look not only at the founding team but also at the validity and potential of the idea or the startup. To me, it is of essential importance and a vital prerequisite that a new business adventure stands a high chance of a robust future. This is crucial for all parties involved such as the employees, the customer, and the investors as well.
What is your favorite topic in LogTech at the moment?
In particular, I find urban logistics, sustainability, and collaboration on the basis of smart contracts very fascinating and see great changes coming our way. Smart contracts are a sub-element of Blockchain technology that facilitate trustworthy and automatic transactions. This can be a fundamental basis for connected and collaborative supply chains allowing the gain of great efficiencies, especially when multiple partners such as manufactures, shippers, warehouses and transport companies construct a global supply chain.
Do you see any specific challenges that founders of LogTech startups are facing more than in other domains?
I don't really see any particular challenges. Rather, there are great opportunities, especially in cooperation with established market participants. This is where speed and scaling advantages can be generated. It is not just a question of money as some recent examples in Quick Commerce show, but also a question of solving a pain point that is commercially viable. And here, co-development especially in the early stage of a new business set-up can be a great advantage, if not a USP.
What can you learn for your everyday personal life?
I would like to learn and see more about valid use cases in the field of Smart Contract. I think this has the potential to improve the collaboration between distributed players in logistics as a whole in order to increase efficiencies and, above all, to act more sustainably.
Germany is the European champion! At least when it comes to the rate of returns in e-commerce.
Returns in e-commerce. A problem that has been known for a long time – but who is able to tackle this problem? And what are the solutions?
The fact that the e-commerce sector has been growing continuously for quite some time is no big news. Likewise, it is not news that returns are an increasing problem. Online customers return more than 30% of their purchases.
Those involved in the market will know that how a customer experiences a returns process has a decisive impact on customer satisfaction and directly influences whether they will buy from the store again. Hence, performing well in reverse logistics is the cornerstone to building customer loyalty and repeat business.
So let’s have a closer look at why returns are both a real challenge and a market opportunity, and why we believe from a VC perspective that there is lots of space for technology-driven startups to make a real difference.
In 2021, the global e-commerce market generated sales worth USD 4,938 billion. With a CAGR of 16.8% from 2020 to 2021, the market has proven its immense growth for another consecutive year. The number of returns, however, has been reported to have doubled between 2019 and 2020, thus growing way faster than its parent market. In Germany alone, nearly 500,000,000 returned items have caused processing costs of more than EUR 5 billion (2018). While the fashion industry bears the biggest share of these costs (33%), recording the highest likelihood of items being returned (56% of fashion items are sent back), other product segments are affected, too. 91% of retailers across segments state that their return volumes are growing.
Let’s dig deeper into the retailers’ perspective and try to understand why returns are problematic.
Pain points from retailers’ and shoppers’ perspective
High costs of returns: Depending on the retailer’s size and individual processes, a return will cost a German online retailer somewhere between EUR 8 and 10 per parcel. While half of this amount goes to the actual cost of transportation, the other half represents the cost of processing the return. Such high costs even lead some companies to refund the customer’s expense without asking them to return the purchase. Hence, companies prefer to give away the goods for free than to invest time and money into the return shipment. All in all, profit margins and conversion rates deteriorate significantly and may even discourage businesses in the long run.
Return processes have a major impact on the NPS and customer satisfaction. Unpleasant return experiences often negatively impact the company, resulting in over 30% of shoppers avoiding the online store in the future. About 70% of all customers make purchases and potential repurchases dependent on the return conditions and their previous experience with returns.
Complex processes: Return processes are mostly paper-based, non-digital, and require manual handling of physical goods. Moreover, the manual inspection and assessments of the quality of the returned goods is often based on subjective perceptions.
Uncertainties: Retailers have difficulties in anticipating returns and taking them into account in inventory planning
Also, customers face certain pain points when it comes to returning their online purchases. For more than a third of customers shopping online, paying for the cost of a return is the biggest pain point. Due to ever-increasing costs for returns, more and more retailers are asking for fees for returning items again. But which other pain points do customers experience when returning goods shopped online?
Inconvenient return processes: Just over a third of all online retailers include the return label with the initial delivery. Roughly 50% of all retailers expect customers to download and print out their return labels themselves. In the remaining cases, consumers either have to download and print the label, request one in person (via e-mail or by phone) or buy one directly at the carrier shop. Even if these procedures are an inconvenience for the customer, they sometimes allow retailers to better anticipate returns and improve their inventory planning. Moreover, some retailers intentionally create inconvenient return processes to prevent the customer from returning the goods.
Non-transparent return processes: More often than not, a purchase will only be credited to the customer's account once the return has reached the retailer's warehouse.
Non-transparent return policies: One in three customers decides against buying from an online retailer because they have difficulties finding information on the return policy.
Limited options to return goods: Most retailers still require customers to take their returns to the post office themselves. On average, only 8% of retailers offer free returns pick-up, and one percent of retailers offer to pick up returns at a fee.
Let’s not forget the environmental impact of returns: In Germany, returns accounted for 238,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) in 2018. Even before 2020, every year, a remarkable 2.3 billion kilograms of returns were disposed at landfills only in the U.S..
Funding & exits
Driven by the high relevancy of the topic, reverse logistics is clearly a field of high potential when it comes to founding new businesses. Startups tackling current developments in the e-commerce industry bring high hopes to investors which is emphasized by recent funding in the field of reverse logistics. However, looking at recent investments, the US market once again seems to be ahead of Europe. Especially in the US, startups have raised significant funding recently, which demonstrates how hot the topic is. Therefore, let us take a look at recent funding and exits.
Optoro - total raised: USD 360 million: Optoro helps to solve the above-mentioned issues on both the retailers’ and the consumers’ sides. It allows online shoppers to return goods label-free and box-free at more than 1,000 stores in the US for an immediate refund or exchange. Retailers use the software to resell returned inventory on various channels and also to outsource the fulfillment of returns or to optimize product-related decisions based on AI algorithms. Other startups in the returns domain that have recently nabbed significant funding are Loop (USD 78 million) and ReverseLogix (USD 20 million).
In addition to growth capital funding, renowned last mile and software giants have shown major interest in acquiring returns technology startups. Veho, a technology company that enables next-day delivery for e-commerce brands, recently announced the acquisition of QuikReturn. The reverse logistics startup QuikReturn has developed a new technology to offer its customers a scheduled pick-up of returns. At the time of Veho's acquisition, QuikReturn had already raised a total of USD 300 million and was most recently valued at USD 1.6 billion.
Further remarkable exits in this space include PayPal’s acquisition of Happy Returns as well as Returnly’s acquisition by affirm.
F-LOG perspective: how to tackle the challenges of returns?
Returns in e-commerce come with a variety of challenges. Here at F-LOG we believe there are several starting points for potential solutions that can tackle these challenges:
In order to reduce the number of returns in general, it is necessary to work on solutions pre-sale. By using A.I. and augmented reality, for example, customers can be given a more precise indication of products before they buy them, thus reducing the likelihood of a return. However, from a VC perspective, these models have not yet gained significant traction. The acquisition of Presize by Facebook is one of the first major exits in this area. Besides, Presize is still in a very early phase, which does not yet support an appropriate assessment of the deal.
The return process is critical to customer satisfaction. Furthermore, additional touchpoints can be addressed. Solutions that deal with central drop-off points for returns or the pick-up of returns are highly interesting for customers as well as retailers due to their direct impact on customer satisfaction.
One of the hottest topics at the moment are last mile delivery models. Every day, Lieferando, Gorillas et al deliver groceries and other consumers goods directly to our doorstep - only to return to their base with an empty backpack. Surely there is a way to integrate the pick-up of returns into existing last mile models.
Up until now, the (physical) handling of returns goes hand in hand with an immense manual workload. Those who manage to automate processes, for example with the help of robotic or data technologies, are guaranteed to strike a nerve with all retailers and logistics providers.
The alarming amount of returned goods that are disposed at a landfill has been highlighted above. Isn't there a way to save these goods from the landfill and reprocess them for sale? Again, US-startups like Optoro give hope.
Returns put retailers under economic pressure, are a major disruption to the consumers’ shopping experience and should be avoided all together, or in the least handled more sustainably for a number of ecological reasons. From a VC perspective, these aspects should be a reason for startups to apply cutting-edge technology and thought-through business models to address the returns market. Especially with regard to Europe, we expect to see a major change here.
Daniel Granados is an Investment Analyst at F-LOG Ventures. He brings experience in venture capital and M&A to the team. Read on to find out why he is the perfect addition to the F-LOG Ventures team and which LogTech trend fascinates him the most.
What was your journey into the world of venture capital?
After finishing my bachelor's degree in Economics at the University of Bonn, I was given the opportunity to put many startups to the test in the software team of High-Tech Gründerfonds for a bit more than a year. Then, following my master's degree in St. Andrews (Scotland), I spent almost two years in M&A consulting, where I handled the supply chain issues in a number of transactions before returning to the venture capital industry in March 2022. Now at F-LOG, I am following the developments in the LogTech sector and discovering the future disruptors of the supply chain.
What excites you about working in venture capital?
The technology we use today looks nothing like it did only ten years ago. Working in venture capital means embracing the new, helping to transform existing industries, and to create new ones. In this sense, there are no limits to creativity and innovative thinking, which makes me feel positive about what future entrepreneurs bring to the table.
And why F-LOG Ventures?
F-LOG is seeking the champions of tomorrow while combining the "old" and "new" economy by trying to solve today’s pressing issues: The digitalization of the logistics industry and the advancement of exciting technologies. The team of F-LOG has the privilege to not only act as an independent VC but also to have the operational experience and network from our investor FIEGE to give logistics startups the perfect support. This is a positive “unfair advantage” which adds value to what F-LOG gives to entrepreneurs.
In your opinion, what is the hottest topic in logistics at the moment?
There is incredible potential for LogTech business models of startups serving the sustainability efforts of retailers and consumers. In addition, there are business models in the circular economy and reverse logistics which are still rather undeveloped compared to the already huge and growing e-commerce market, yet will become more and more relevant in the near future due to growing pressure from users. I am therefore particularly looking forward to such technologies.
What is your most important lesson learned in venture capital so far?
The short answer is: don't decide immediately.
When you are presented with a topic or analyze new business models, it is advisable not to listen to your first instinct, as it can often deceive you. It has been proven that prejudice or stereotypes are some of the many biases that influence our decision-making ability. Especially when dealing with the unknown, we often are biased because we feel we have already figured out everything there is to know about a topic, or because we have heard of other similar solutions that did or did not make it, or because we just follow trends.
Such traps are part of our everyday life and therefore it is especially advisable to constantly question ourselves in order to really discover the most exciting and disrupting innovations. This is the only way you will discover pioneers.
Sustainability has been an omnipresent topic not just since recently – so how could we not address it in terms of logistics and venture capital scene developments?
We’re all aware of the fact that the sustainable way of doing business has become more important in recent years. Resources are scarce, consumer behavior is changing towards a more eco-friendly product or service choice, technologies are evolving extremely fast, and political regulations are tightening because of e.g., specific emission targets in the Paris Climate Agreement. Our society is demanding a green transformation and businesses have to deliver. They are adjusting their strategies or even developing new business models to meet their customers’ needs and reduce their ecological impact – especially in the logistics sector.
Startups with the goal of making our markets more sustainable are becoming increasingly interesting for venture capitalists although this trend is nothing new in the VC scene. Cleantech startups using clean technologies to fight the climate crisis or preserve resources, for example, were already booming in the early 2000s. However, their often hardware-heavy approaches could not be scaled sufficiently, and their long-term product development was very unclear, making investors hesitant about investing big.
Since then, two major developments have emerged. Firstly, the mindset of investors has broadened - a development also driven by funding and investors wanting to follow ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) criteria, thereby focusing on ethical actions. Secondly and more importantly, the mindset of high potentials has evolved towards the ambition for their business actions to have an impact. While in the early 2000s, a corporate lifestyle at investment banks or consulting firms was the ultimate goal, today, many high potentials are per se increasingly motivated to found their own company and thus have a significant say in the strategic direction and the value culture of their startup. The desire to have a positive impact adds up to this and encourages more founders.
From our perspective, this is the best thing that could have happened. In the past, a major disadvantage of sustainable companies was that they had the stigma of failing to reach their purpose. With the tremendous talent that the sustainability sector has gained over the past years and the commercial development that has come with it, the sector is ready for big investments and to create an enormous impact. From a logistics perspective, we identify several business models and fields of application that address the circular economy:
Reducing CO2 emissions
This is probably the most obvious claim. At F-LOG, we are seeing an increasing number of companies targeting the global CO2 emission problem and seeking funding. This especially concerns modes of transport for goods and commodities, including the entire field of e-mobility. Electric commercial vehicles like trucks, but also electric ships and planes have slowly been developing over the past few years due to the zero-emission target of all transport by 2050 under the Paris Climate Accord. In Europe, Volvo is one of the market leaders in e-trucks but only sold 346 units in 2021. So far, no European country has managed to actually utilize e-trucks in numbers above a three-figure rate - with Switzerland and its 77 e-trucks in operation leading the way. Germany ranks fifth with 37 purely battery-driven electric trucks. One of the biggest challenges remains for the battery capacity to handle routes of more than 200 km and the associated time needed to recharge during which the truck cannot be driven. This leads to increased transport costs and results in productivity losses in the single good sold. Shifting perspective to the last mile, many (lately well-funded) startups try to address sustainable deliveries by concentrating on transport modes like cargo bikes or vans (e.g., Liefergrün, GetHenry, or Packfleet) or autonomous robots. Starship, for example, secured US$ 100m in two rounds within 30 days both executed at the beginning of this year. This investment enables them to expand their autonomous delivery services to North American and European cities. For more information on the last mile, check out our city logistics blog.
In addition to transportation, developments at management software level are also apparent. Especially tools helping corporates with emission tracking and ESG compliance are gaining traction. Solutions throughout the entire supply chain are already simplifying and supporting the individual decision-making process on the reduction of CO2 emissions. Companies like the French startup Sweep (US$ 100m funding), Persefoni from the US (US$ 118 m), or Berlin-based PlanA (US$ 13m) already received substantial funding despite being relatively new to the market, which shows investors’ growing interest in business models tackling sustainability solutions.
Another field being progressively disrupted in terms of sustainability is waste reduction. And just as the recycling process itself, the ecosystem involving startups addressing the waste management sector is a circular one: there are startups that try to convince the customer to change their behavior toward a more sustainable and conscious consumption – then there are those with tools to manage the already generated overproduction (e.g., Misfit) – and those that aim to reduce or to avoid waste all together (e.g., PlasticEnergy).
A specific use case of waste reduction is the packaging of goods. According to the Cradle2Cradle (C2C) concept which recycles raw materials to be fully reused, sustainable packaging should be recyclable or biodegradable. The packaging includes all materials used to send an order as well as transport packaging such as pallets, covers, transport cages, and shrink film. Regulated by the German Packaging Act, which was introduced in 2019, companies that bring packaging into circulation are also responsible for taking it back and sorting it, as well as documenting details of how it is/can be recycled. This and the mandatory registration of packaging solutions, among other things, will be tightened by July 1, 2022. Alternative concepts range from reusable packaging such as heavy-duty boxes or pallets to different combinations of materials that are easy to recycle or have themselves been recycled (e.g., paper, cardboard, or carton). Exemplary startups include London-based Notpla receiving more than US$ 13m in December 2021 or the mature US startup Temper Pack raising a Series D of US$ 140m in March 2022. Rather young is Woola, which is providing sheep wool-based compostable packaging solutions.
Efficient use of warehouse space
Lastly, an essential role is played by where and how goods are stored with the goal of reducing unused space. As the prices for logistics spaces continue to rise, discussions often revolve around whether existing space can and should be used in both warehouses and other storage facilities, or whether new real property should be built. It certainly does not need to be emphasized here that the former option is probably the more sustainable one. However, a trend is seen here toward investments in new buildings regardless of the segment. Alternatives to new spaces are, for example, options like on-demand warehousing and mini hubs in urban areas. On-demand warehousing offers the opportunity to flexibly store and digitally manage goods while sharing spaces with several parties when not in use. Advantages include, e.g., filling fluctuating warehouse occupancy, shorter last-mile transport routes as well as shorter or more precise delivery times. Another concept that, for example, SpaceFill offers is to use the platform’s economy to make available space visible, and easy and fast to rent out. The French company secured US$ 25m recently in a Series B led by NGP Capital and Maersk Growth.
Sustainability is here to stay and that’s a good thing. This blog adds value to discussions about current developments in the logistics sector. A lot is happening in terms of transportation, warehousing, and the materials used, showing just how diverse sustainability can be.
Our final words of wisdom:
It’s never the businesses alone that make the change. It’s us. The consumers. Our daily decisions set the course!
Another team member of F-LOG Ventures is Tanja, our Managing Partner. As always, below you’ll find some interesting questions Tanja answered for us.
Tell us about your professional journey so far.
I came across venture capital by chance during my trainee program at the start of my career. Immediately excited, I went directly into VC. That’s why I’ve been on the investor’s side for quite a long time, and I still have a lot of fun working with founders and startups.
What excites you about working in venture capital?
Venture capital is all about new business models, people, problems, developments and challenges day in, day out. Things never work out the way you imagined, they always change and you have to react to them. This is what I like best — you never get bored. Sometimes things go well, sometimes not, but the cooperation between the founders, the team and the investors is always important. When you reach your common goal with the startups, it’s a great feeling.
What do you look at when investing in startups?
For me, in addition to the business idea, the team is super important. Ultimately, it is the founders and the core team that make a business model succeed. However, we as investors need to have a good assessment of the situation, which also requires a lot of experience and gut instincts. The teams naturally present themselves at their best during pitches and want to convince investors of their merits. For us, it is crucial to understand how the teams function internally and how they communicate in critical situations with their investors.
Other than that, the past development of the company, the KPIs, the technology, the customers, etc. are of course necessary for us. They give us a good picture and validate the team’s assumptions about the market, other investors and also customers.
Why did you join F-LOG Ventures?
I had the opportunity to set up F-LOG Ventures from the very beginning which I found very exciting, especially since I had already set up another fund. A lot of heart and soul always goes into this and you feel like a startup yourself, which is also good for an investor.
I consider F-LOG’s focus on the extended field of logistics to be an essential USP to enable us to really support our portfolio companies beyond money only. With the know-how, market insight and network that F-LOG can offer here, we see ourselves as a partner for startups in the logistics sector and this is what sets us apart from many other VCs.
In your opinion, what is the hottest topic in logistics at the moment?
There is a lot of movement in the logistics sector. COVID-19, in particular, has strengthened this trend. As F-LOG, we are currently looking at a number of topics that we consider to be extremely interesting. This includes supply chain resilience. Current supply chain problems, e.g., as seen in the automotive industry, show how important and fragile the supply chain still is. Here, many startups are rethinking existing processes and using innovative approaches to solve the problems. We see that the demand for new logistics solutions will continue to grow.
Are there any learnings from your professional life which you value in your private life, too?
Always be yourself and be confident in what you are doing, whether it is going well or not.
Are there any tips you would like to share with entrepreneurs looking for funding?
Prepare well for an interview. Rehearse beforehand, maybe even get tips from experienced founders. The network is huge and helpful in this area.
Show yourself as you are. Give your opinion without letting yourself be taken away from it because you are afraid to tell the investor something they don’t want to hear.
Approach the situation as if you want to convince yourself as your biggest critic.
Be open to new directions if the investor is the right match.
Who else is behind F-LOG? To give you a better idea of the team we prepared some questions for each of them. Next up: Michael.
What does working in Venture Capital mean to you?
First and foremost, to me, it means always questioning your beliefs, every day. In the VC market, you work on issues that often go 100% against existing industry logic. That is super exciting! You get to work a lot with the latest technologies and great founders! The work is very meaningful because you help these founders build something very big and valuable, solve problems, and create jobs.
What was your most important lesson learnt in Venture Capital so far?
My job consists to a large extent of asking questions and listening. Coming from a professional role where I was more used to having to give answers, this was new to me at first. But I love listening to founders, asking the right questions, understanding their true motivation, and learning together with them.
What was your journey into the world of Venture Capital?
My professional background is in logistics. I spent three years driving strategic projects and strategy development in the Corporate Development department of our investor FIEGE, gaining very deep insights into logistics market segments and customer pain points therein. When F-LOG Ventures was founded, it was clear to me that I wanted to become part of this team. My network in the industry helps me a lot today to evaluate new business models and to really help the founders of our portfolio companies. My academic background is more broadly in business administration. I studied in Germany, England, and Indonesia.
What makes a great Venture Capitalist?
Short answer: Everything that comes after the funds have been transferred.
What is your favorite topic in LogTech at the moment?
It is difficult to choose just one. A challenge that moves me enormously is the digitalization of the small logistics players. Many business models are limited to corporates with strong purchasing power as customers. On the other hand, there are many lightweights in logistics which together make up at least 90% of the market. The European industrial space is highly fragmented. We see a huge potential in digital and technology-based standard tools for these small logistics players who will be the first to suffer from the shortage of skilled workers and are all the more dependent on digitalizing and automating their logistics and information processes.
Do you see any specific challenges that founders of LogTech startups are facing more than in other domains?
Most of the teams we work with need a very strong understanding of B2B processes that have developed over a long time, differ widely from one supply chain to another and rely on an outdated IT infrastructure. Incorporating new digital products into or building on top of these environments is not always an easy task. Having the right sales and onboarding process in place is therefore highly important. Otherwise, there is a risk of sales cycles becoming too long. From my perspective, this aspect is even more dominant in the logistics and supply chain domain than in other B2B domains, such as HR or accounting.
What can you learn for your everyday personal life?
Aim towards a higher goal that others think is unachievable. Then, find the right supporters and prove the critics wrong.