SwanLeap looking to reach new international customers

SwanLeap co-founder Brad Hollister is bringing new logistics technologies to businesses with operations in Latin America, anchored by the company’s first international office in Mexico.

“Mexico has been the perfect storm for us,” he told WisBusiness.com.

After being named the fastest-growing U.S. company of 2018 by Inc. magazine, SwanLeap got a lot of attention in the United States and abroad. Although the Madison-based company is very active in Canada, Hollister says Mexico represented a “logical first step” for an office outside the country.  

He says entering the Canadian market was somewhat of an easy path, due to cultural and linguistic similarities. Mexico, on the other hand, is “surprisingly advanced in some areas and disappointing in other areas.”

It was a matter of chance that led to SwanLeap looking south, according to Hollister, as he happened to meet some former L’Oreal executives who understood how to reach the Latin American market.

“They saw our solution, and they were very, very excited about it,” he said, adding those former executives are now employees of SwanLeap. “Once they got ahold of it, they were off to the races with this.”

SwanLeap has a logistics platform with artificial intelligence that helps customers optimize their supply chains.

As Hollister explains, major companies like L’Oreal, Levi’s and RayBan have “pretty large supply chains” in Mexico and Latin America, but their technology isn’t as developed in those areas.  

For example, he says Ford spends around $20 million per year on transportation in Mexico.

“That’s not a lot by U.S. standards, so Ford’s not going to put in a $2 million software to manage their transportation,” he said. “But what if it was $150,000?”

He says SwanLeap isn’t shooting to be the “low-cost provider” in the market. But with a solution that’s cloud-based and sold as a software service, “we can deliver a really robust solution to a tier one customer like Ford, L’Oreal… for a fraction of what else is available in the market.”

According to Hollister, Levi’s is still running their global supply chain on Microsoft Excel. But he says companies like these are “waking up” to new technologies.

“They need our solution, and they can roll it out globally for a fraction of the cost,” he said.

SwanLeap boasted an eye-popping 75,000 percent three-year growth rate in 2017, reaching $99 million in revenue after launching in 2013. But Hollister still isn’t sure his company has crossed the invisible line between startup world and the realm of established businesses.

Even before SwanLeap, Hollister was no stranger to the startup journey, having founded a different shipping-related company that failed to take off.

“It’s a really important question where we’re at right now, because do we hire people that are startup people that understand the chaos? Or do we hire big company people that understand that they’ve got to take out the garbage too?” he said.

He says it’s been difficult to find people that straddle that line. But he says SwanLeap aspires to move past startup status, so the search continues. The company currently has about 100 employees.

Hollister’s definition of an established business hinges on defined internal and external processes. While he says SwanLeap’s client-facing processes are “pretty much ironed out,” some internal operations are still being polished.

“Every day we come to work, it is like an absolute mess,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. I could have easily had to cancel this [interview], because I had a customer that was misunderstanding something, or whatever the case.”

He pointed to a number of startup challenges that SwanLeap is still facing such as getting panicked late-night phone calls, working long and variable hours, and other concerns.

“There’s things like that, that we are fleshing out every day that we need to continue to focus on,” he said.  

Listen to a recent podcast with Hollister: http://www.wisbusiness.com/index.Iml?Article=393639


–By Alex Moe