CNBC Disruptor 50

41. Flexport

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Founders: Ryan Petersen (CEO)
Launched: 2013
Headquarters: San Francisco
Funding:
$1.3 billion (PitchBook)
Valuation: $3.2 billion (PitchBook)
Key technologies:
Cloud computing, machine learning
Industry:
Logistics, freight forwarding, supply chain management
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 1 (No. 24 in 2019)

Persephone Kavallines

The past year elevated a topic most people usually find pretty boring and take for granted: logistics and the supply chain. But from chip shortages that are hitting major industries like autos to skyrocketing lumber prices, super tankers stuck in the Suez Canal and the pandemic magnifying how critical the logistics industry is to life — whether it's delivering life-saving PPE or just your Amazon package during a stay-at-home period — freight bears great weight in our society.

Freight is a trillion-dollar industry, and it has not moved with the speed of the 21st century, long reliant on ledgers, email and (even) phone calls to communicate. But there is a new generation of start-ups using technology to tackle the biggest issues in a complex global web of deliveries, Flexport among them.

Flexport's ocean, air, truck and rail freight forwarding and brokerage services move legacy approaches to shipping and customs management to where all business is moving today: the cloud. Its data platform can analyze costs, container efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions, a rising priority for companies in the logistics space, and for their corporate clients, who are all now seeking to lower their carbon footprint throughout the business value chain.

One of the aspects of the logistics industry which is made for the data analytics age is its reliance on recordkeeping, i.e., information. It's just never organized the information in the right way. But logistics relationships are built on a massive store of data across millions of documents. Unlocking and optimizing that data is among the keys to moving freight ahead. Flexport thinks of itself as the operating system for global trade, and it has 10,000 clients across 200 countries.

In the past year, founder and CEO Ryan Petersen has focused on questions like how much PPE could fit in a passenger plane — the company moved tens of millions of masks around the world during Covid outbreaks. But back in 2014, when he was just getting the company started, Peterson's wondering to himself was more fundamental: "How am I going to fix global trade?"

That is a question many more people, many who never expected to, have become interested in getting answered.

Contributed by Eric Rosenbaum

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