An Egyptian startup whips trucking and logistics industry into shape

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - CAIRO: Despite Egypt’s efforts to develop on all fronts, its infrastructure remains the biggest challenge, especially when it comes to transportation and logistics.

A group of young entrepreneurs who were at the forefront of Uber emerging in Egypt saw an opening there, and Cairo-based Trella was born.

“We discovered that you can really change an industry that is extremely fragmented and inefficient,” said co-founder and COO Ali El-Atrash, 26.

The industry in question is the trucking business in Egypt, which faced a host of challenges. El-Atrash said that “95 percent of everything we wear, drink or eat” is transported on the back of trucks.

“It’s a massive multibillion-dollar industry, but it is extremely fragmented — 93 percent of the 1.3 million trucks we have in Egypt are independently operated, and thus highly inefficient.”

That fragmentation-born inefficiency caused many problems for both shippers and carriers.

If a company wanted to move a shipment, it received high quotes, and the service was unreliable at best.

“We want to reduce the cost of moving goods throughout the entire region. In effect, we’ll be improving the overall macro-economic efficiency, touching the lives of the average citizen,” El-Atrash said.

Trella saw that it could eliminate that inefficiency by bringing together shippers and carriers into one marketplace.

“As of now, we are working with around 50-60 shipper partners and have around 15,000 to 20,000 trucks onboarded all over Egypt,” he said.

The company moves just about everything within the country, as well as to Libya and Sudan, with major players such as Coca-Cola, Orascom and Nestle using the trucking marketplace.

“We landed these major shippers through offering them competitive shipping rates, higher fulfilment reliability and a far superior quality experience,” El-Atrash said.

Independent truckers using their own vehicles would probably have two or three shipments on a good week, but with Trella, they could have 12 or 13.

They get to select their routes, shipping times and even the kind of goods to move.

Last December, Trella acquired local competitor Trukto, consolidating its position as one of the most powerful trucking and logistics marketplaces in Egypt.

Explaining the reasons for this deal, El-Atrash said: “We’re looking for a very long game into the trucking and logistics business, and the only way to grow in such a fragmented market is to make use of the pre-existing synergies with other companies in the region.

We have ambitions to scale beyond Egypt and expand our footprint in neighboring countries.

“Trukto was the first player to enter the market, and they were quite visionary. They had a lot of hyper-localized institutional knowledge and a solid base of insights into how the market runs and operates.

“They were also more into short-hauls and local distribution, which complemented our value chain big time.”

Regarding the challenges that confronted Trella, El-Atrash said: “We’re trying to solve one of the most complex logistics problems ever, in one of the most convoluted regions in the world, and to really solve this problem you need to get the right people on board.”

This is why the company puts a huge emphasis on its hiring process, seeking only the best and brightest.

“This is a super cash-flow-intensive business, and it took some time for us to scale to a level where financial institutions could take us more seriously as we’ve become a lot more debt-worthy than ever before,” El-Atrash said, referring to another challenge Trella faced when it started operations in early 2019.

Tech adoption in such a traditional industry as trucking also proved complicated.

“We’re making that happen by listening to carriers quite often. We have an extraordinary on-ground presence, where for every facility we’re moving loads through, we have an on-ground operator,” El-Atrash said.

Using that presence, the company collects “insights and qualitative data” on how it could make its product more seamless for its carrier partners.

With impressive talent on board, grand ambitions and the support of high-profile investors such as Algebra Ventures and Y Combinator, Trella has lofty goals for the future.

“We have ambitions to scale beyond Egypt and expand our footprint in neighboring countries, where we can really make use of the network, further improving the overall efficiency in our marketplace,” El-Atrash said.

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. 

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