Nina Luu's new company, Shippabo, is filling what she sees as a big, unclaimed, gaping vacuum in one of the largest industries there is: shipping. And wherever there's room for improvement, there's room for two other things, too: new tech and new profits.
What made you interested in shipping?
As an entrepreneur and importer of sustainable textiles (we imported home textiles and sold it to clients including J.Crew, Saks Fifth, Bloomingdale's, Costco, Bed Bath, and Anthropologie), I became quickly frustrated by the shipping process. Managing inventory accurately in order to plan for the future felt nearly impossible, let alone getting an accurate shipping estimate and arrival update. And if I was late on a shipment? I had to pay up—a percentage of the total purchase for each day late. Also, the final shipping invoice was always marked up with no context or explanation. The shippers were providing no usable data.
I was fed up. I knew this traditional way of conducting business just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t transparent, and it wasn’t using the best of technology. So I set out to change the way shipping is done.
How are you leveraging technology to speed up a centuries old industry?
In the past, your access to information was guarded and limited based on the Freight Provider’s priorities and excuses. We’ve eliminated that opaqueness. We pass on the info directly from the freights to our customers. We offer real-time data and intuitive reporting. We provide instant quotes and let our customers choose their own shipping schedule. And, we’ve streamlined communication—we’ve eliminated the hundreds of emails customers would receive from shippers in favor of organizing the information in one shipping document for each client.
Do you think there is still room for improvement and growth within the shipping industry? What are the biggest issues that technology can help address?
There is still a lot of room for improvement. Technology can provide each party within the supply chain with data, transparency, streamlined processes and communications—from shippers to freight providers to importers. The more we are able to do that, the more each party within the supply chain will prosper.
If the data in the past was guarded, how did you convince the shipping companies to give you access to it?
We presented the value that was inherent in having access to analytics. We understand how sensitive data is to a company, however, we wanted shipping carriers to know that we could help them and took tome to communicate that.
Are you worried that the shipping industry could wise up and make your company obsolete, by just providing their customers with a better and more user-friendly interface?
What Shippabo does is far more than just shipping. We help businesses make sense of their own purchasing and shipping data.
This is a huge market that is starving for technology and empowerment. The more players involved in improving the industry, the more the industry can expand. The technology and growth, even in competition, will make the market far greater than it was before.
How has your background shaped your experience in building Shippabo?
Freight forwarders are in the business of freight forwarding, not in the business of managing your business. Shippers don’t worry about the client’s pain points because they’re not managing inventory. They are very silo’d in their thinking. Collaboration has been the cornerstone of my experience in B2B marketing and creating first-rate customer service, like with IGH Global Corporation, has always been my mantra for success.
What's been your greatest challenge?
Breaking stereotypes has been a challenge, especially in B2B tech and shipping. Most investors don’t expect a woman in the industry and they certainly don’t expect her to be building a major company that transforms the way things have always been done. But we keep surprising people, which I’m proud of.
What would you tell other young women who are looking to create a product or platform to solve a problem they're experiencing first hand? How can you avoid making it too personal?
It’s good to make it a little personal—I was frustrated, I was fed up. That’s when you know that other people probably share your feelings, which validates the need for your solution. Then, find out if other people do share your experience. Talk to others in the industry. What are their pain points? And when you hear people say, “Well that’s just how it is,” ignore it. Expect more. Create better. There’s can be a better, smarter, more efficient way to do something.
Where do you see the shipping industry in 5 years? And Shippabo?
In five years, I hope the shipping industry operates in a way that helps businesses that are shipping internationally thrive. We believe that means the shipping industry continues moving toward one of transparency in shipment details, collaboration across the supply chain, and actionable data that companies can use to plan for the future. For Shippabo, I want it to be known as the company transforming the industry and, therefore, the one to turn to if your shipping needs more transparency and collaboration. I want Shippabo to be the go-to industry leader in helping enterprise companies optimize their supply chains and, therefore, their inventory turn.
About the Author
Nina Luu is from the Greater Los Angeles Area, has a Bachelors of Business Administration, International Business from California State Polytechnic University Pomona and founded Shippabo in 2015.