Jenny Xu, former chief strategy officer at FreightWaves, has taken a position as chief executive of Carggo, a digital freight platform that serves small- and medium-size third-party logistics companies.
In a recent telephone interview, Xu talked about synergies between her former and current employers, freight-tech’s “third wave” and how empathy is a key ingredient for success.
Xu joined FreightWaves in 2018 as a managing director. She first connected with Carggo in May 2019 during the FreightWaves conference Transparency19, where the startup launched during an on-stage technology demonstration.
“Up to that point, the Carggo team was focused on designing the product, making it work for testing beds,” Xu said. The next step was accelerating commercialization. “So I started discussing my FreightWaves experience in terms of being new to market, building a story and connecting to a core audience. And I gradually started talking about joining them.”
At the time of her departure, Xu was working on evolving FreightWave’s organizational structure and culture as the startup grew rapidly – from 50 employees one year ago to 120 employees today. FreightWaves’ Chattanooga headquarters was and continues to be central to its strategy and positioning, said Xu. “Freight Alley captured and defined the “third wave” of internet exploration,” she said, “matching digital technology with deep industry know-how.”
Much like FreightWaves, Carggo aims to democratize access to data and technology. The companies that benefit the most from the SONAR platform are small and medium carriers, brokers and shippers, Xu noted. Similarly, Carggo leverages data science and machine learning to give smaller players instant access to digital technology, allowing them to compete successfully with bigger entities in the digital age.
“We are leveling the playing field,” said Xu.
She elaborated on the company’s “third wave” guiding principle, an internet evolution framework developed by entrepreneur Steve Case. The first wave was about the creation of the internet, while the second wave saw the rise of software programs and apps.
The third wave is all about integrating technology into daily life – “using domain industry knowledge, but leveraging technology,” said Xu. “You move from tech first to industry domain first.”
FreightWaves, she noted, “talks about tribal knowledge to start and layering on available technology to transform society.”
Empathy is at the heart of the third wave, said Xu, who developed her own tribal knowledge working for legacy business like Kellogg’s and Bridgestone. She said automation scares a lot of people, and that “the human element is so important.”
So FreightWaves, for example, supplements SONAR data with contextual information and insights “to allow humans to make better decisions.” For its part, Xu said, Carggo is trying to create “an ease of access that used to be limited to those with capital. That requires empathy with the user who was traditionally left behind. This is a people-first business.”
Asked about the flood of new startups seeking to transform the industry, Xu, who has years of experience as a tech investor, said the numbers are unlikely to decline any time soon.
“But we will start seeing that is important now to further differentiate yourself. In the beginning, you could put ‘digital’ in front of everything and it’s a win. The bar is higher now, so new entrants have to show a different way of thinking, and a different design.”
Carggo has raised around $15 million, according to Crunchbase.
Does Xu miss FreightWaves? Yes, but apparently it is a place you never really leave. Xu is slated to speak during the next FreightWaves Live event, taking place in Chicago in November. She laughed. “When I first talked to Craig about starting a new role [with Carggo], he was like, ‘glad to see our alumni taking over the world.’”