eTEU is platform that automates the process of document creation in logistics
Please introduce yourself and your startup eTEU to our readers!
My name is Kristian Volohhonski, and I am one of the co-founders of eTEU Technologies. I am originally from Estonia, but have lived in London for the last almost 5 years. I came here to fulfil my academic goals of getting an undergraduate and masters degree, however the journey has lead me to not only achieving that but also starting eTEU Technologies with my colleagues.
eTEU is platform that automates the process of document creation in logistics (and hopefully soon enough, beyond logistics as well). Today, exporters and freight forwarders are still mostly creating the trade documents one by one. Our solution allows them to cut the time spent on this time significantly. All that is necessary is to fill out one document, based off which the entire document package will be created, with most fields already filled out with the information that the user provided in the so called ‘Master File’.
In addition, we are working on a blockchain system, that would allow parties to exchange the ownership of various documents (as well as documents themselves) through the platform. This would enable the exchange to be secure and transparent.
How did you get the idea of eTEU Technologies?
Our team came together during the Kickstart London 2017/2018 cohort, where the passion for technology and our previous backgrounds in logistics became the driving force behind the innovation of eTEU. Most of our co-founders have either been directly involved in logistics, or have been exposed to the issues present in the industry through family ties to the sector.
We saw some of the gaps in the processes of document creation and transfer, after doing research and discussing our previous experiences in the field. The fascination with blockchain lead us to believe that it would be a suitable application for technology, and that the document draft processes definitely needed an update as well.
Why did you start eTEU?
Maritime logistics is an extremely important part of international trade, with close to 90% of goods being shipped by sea globally. Nonetheless, the industry has been relatively slow to adapt new changes when it comes to administrative tasks. Through research and customer development, we came to a conclusion that there is a gap in the market, that we could fit ourselves into.
Human errors, delays in the arrival of documents and other issues can significantly reduce the speed at which cargo is processes along the supply chain. Additionally, other solutions on the market are tailored more towards the bigger players, however we felt that there must be a way for smaller businesses to have the opportunity to stay competitive in the field, despite their smaller capacity of cargo processing. Thus, for us the goal is to make our solution and the technology accessible to the SMEs, while still being scalable to a point where a large company could use our services.
What is the vision behind eTEU?
The shipping industry is developing at a rapid pace. New and advanced technical solutions are being introduced to the market daily and this is great news for big enterprises. Unfortunately, not everyone can follow along. To many SME-s the accessibility of new technology is limited, mainly due to high costs and disruptive integration. Our vision is to serve as the bridge between these enterprises and modern solutions, therefore, our goal is to make the technology behind document creation more user-friendly and accessible, and the same goes for the document transfer one as well. With eTEU, companies can enjoy the benefits of high tech solutions, while only paying a fraction of the costs.
How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?
I think the best analogy to starting and running a startup is being on a rollercoaster – there are highs and lows, but you are already on the ride so might as well make the best out of it. We are all first-time founders, and had to learn many lessons along the way. Luckily today there are many programmes that encourage innovation and assist entrepreneurs along the way, and for us is it important to be open-minded and flexible in all of our approaches, from sales to operational processes. The main challenge in the beginning was customer development, as the industry relies heavily on introductions, because it is a well-established industry with many companies in the market that might be doing similar things, but operate very differently.
Thus, adapting our solution to the needs of various people has been a challenge that was tough in the beginning, but also is still a challenge that we tackle on the daily basis. Additionally, as first-time founders we lacked the capital to fund our business and thus, we had to reach out to investors and programmes to give us the opportunity to start the business. I feel that when you are young and starting your first business, the credibility might not be there, and because of this you have to go through additional loops to get the funding from investors and programmes, as well as the trust of people within the industry itself.
Who is your target audience?
Our ideal client are the SME exporters and freight forwarders, which are actively participating in international trade and make between 12 and 200 shipments per month. Such company is our ideal client because international trade plays important role in the company business and takes up a lot of man-hours of company employees responsible for organising the shipments. However, usually SMEs cannot afford software solutions for supply chain management developed by big vendors such as IBM and Oracle, because they lack budget to afford such solutions as well as technical expertise to manage complicated implementation process.
What is the USP of your startup?
Our competitors generally focus on one aspect of document optimisation, whether that is document drafting or transfer. eTEU aims to create a full solution, that will enable both processes to work together seamlessly, and at the same remain accessible, as well as easily integrated into work processes without disrupting them. Digitalisation and simplicity is at the core of our solution. This is the reason why we have partnered up with the NEAR blockchain protocol, and are working on connecting the blockchain elements to our platform, without making it confusing or expensive for companies to use. Our solution is a web-application, and does not require nodes to be hosted individually by the company, instead they can focus on simply using the platform to achieve their goals.
Can you describe your typical workday?
As the Chief of Operations, I have to be in the loop of pretty much everything that is going on tech and business wise. My role is to be the bridge between the two teams and make sure that everyone understands what we are trying to achieve, as well as that the feedback that comes in from the business team is carried over to the product development, and vice versa. I generally begin my work day at 9 am by checking my emails and replying to them, or perhaps scheduling emails that have to be sent out later. At 10 am we have the first check in with our tech team to see how they are doing and discuss the plan for the day, on Mondays we also discuss the plan for the entire week.
After that I check in with our CEO Eduard to let him know about the plans and the progress of the product, as well as to discuss the business teams plans for the week, and what the progress has been. Throughout the rest of the day I keep close contact with the tech team to answer any questions and guide the development process, reach out to programmes and people form the industry, and make sure that the product pipeline is in order. I usually do that through adjusting the structure and tasks on our Jira canvas. Whenever we have a call, where product demonstration needs to be done or the conversation revolves around the product, I will generally join Eduard and Valentine to make sure that everything is explained in a simple way, and all the questions are answered.
Where do you see yourself and your startup eTEU Technologies in five years?
Although we are currently working within the maritime shipping space, our ambitions are definitely to expand to all methods of transportation (i.e. trucking, air freight, multi-modal and potentially even railway) with our document drafting platform. We believe that no matter how the cargo is shipped, the documents still need to be created, and when that is the case, there is always room for improvement and we are here to help. For the document transfer system, we see ourselves
expanding beyond transfer of logistics documents. Other spaces like finance as well as law can benefit from a secure transfer of documents and the rights to these documents. Today companies could be printing out the documents, sending them by email or even through a FTP (file transfer protocol), but we think that blockchain can serve as a tool that would make the entire process smoother and far more secure.
All in all, the plan is to expand product-wise, as well as geographically. Currently, we are operating mostly in the UK, Estonia and Ukraine, but markets beyond Europe are of great interest to us. Asia, with countries like China, Singapore and Japan are significant players in the shipping industry, and thus the interest of partnerships with companies from the region will definitely be in the plan for the next 5 years. Hopefully, within the next 5 years we will have the opportunity of partnering up with a larger player in the shipping space, like Maersk of DP World.
For me personally, the next 5 years will be the time to grow as a person and as an entrepreneur.
What 3 tips would you give to founders?
Firstly, I believe being curious is very important. It has been the driving factor in our product and customer development. It encourages us to ask questions and work with exciting technology that we probably would not work with otherwise.
Secondly, having the resilience to keep going during the lows or demotivating times is crucial to running a startup. It has been a bumpy ride, and I see that for the next few years it will remain to be so. That is why entrepreneurs have to have the motivation to keep going, and keep tackling the challenges. I think it is easy to give up during the tough times and quit, but learning the lessons and continuing the work takes courage. That said, there are cases where stepping back and abandoning a feature or a project makes sense. Nonetheless, the bravery of having the resilience to keep going is in my opinion very important. Progress takes time, and often enough we want to move far quicker than we can, but having patience allows us to avoid mistakes that can happen by rushing.
Thirdly, maintaining a strong sense of communication within the team is crucial to getting over tough times, and especially during the beginning phase of starting the startup and during growth. Discussion should be encouraged between all members of the team. That is how we have been able to overcome challenges together as a team.
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Thank you for Kristian Volohhonski the Interview
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