News emerged at the start of June that the world’s richest man was investing millions of his own money into Beacon, a little-known UK tech start-up. Beacon has been around for two years, so why make the investment now? What has Jeff Bezos spotted, and what does the timing indicate?
Part of the supply chain industry is called freight forwarding. Freight forwarders provide cargo booking services for importers and exporters, arranging the transportation of shipped commercial goods. They are the go-betweens for the companies who produce and sell goods, and the freight ships, planes and trains that transport those goods around the world. There are thousands of rival companies, which has given freight forwarding a reputation for being fragmented. It is also seen as being slow to digitise. Beacon has been working on a technical solution to change this.
The product that they say will revolutionise freight forwarding is a single platform which uses artificial intelligence and real time data to optimise cargo routes. It provides information to businesses on global shipping costs and the company also offers supply chain financing.
This may seem like a niche case but there is a pattern at work here. Businesses, even those in the more arcane corridors of the supply chain, are getting better at using technology to find efficiencies in different areas of their operations, just as individuals learn to use smartphone apps to improve their lives. Beacon, like Uber, Deliveroo and Wayfair before it, is looking to provide a single digital solution to multiple analogue options.
Beacon’s founders were both senior executives at Uber, its CTO headed up software engineering for Amazon’s package and freight operation, and one of its main funders is a former CEO of Google. Beacon has also been aggressively recruiting expertise, with a series of key hires made in the past several months, many of whom come from either Uber or Amazon. The signs now point to Beacon taking its place among them as the latest company to use intelligent technology to disrupt and fundamentally change an industry.
This is relevant to all of us as consumers. Beacon is moving quickly to transform the way in which goods are transported, at a time when consumers are changing the way that goods are purchased: we are not just witnessing global change, we are the reason for it and each one of us is participating in it.
The coronavirus pandemic will change our world, but so far we’ve only been able to guess at how. This looks to be an early example of a business mobilising to meet changing demands. It reminds us that new human behaviour has the power to change entire industries, for whoever spots the opportunity first.
Jonny Brownsteen is a senior account executive at Camargue