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Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 raises $6M, expands in Africa

Nigerian trucking logistics startup Kobo360 has raised $6 million to upgrade its platform and expand operations to Ghana, Togo and Cote D’Ivoire.

The company — with an Uber -like app that connects truckers and companies with freight needs — gained the equity financing in an IFC led investment. The funding saw participation from others, including TLcom Capital and Y Combinator.

With the investment Kobo360 aims to become more than a trucking transit app.

“We started off as an app, but our goal is to build a global logistics operating system. We’re no longer an app, we’re a platform,” founder Obi Ozor told TechCrunch.

In addition to connecting truckers, producers and distributors, the company is building that platform to offer supply chain management tools for enterprise customers.

“Large enterprises are asking us for very specific features related to movement, tracking, and sales of their goods. We either integrate other services, like SAP, into Kobo or we build those solutions into our platform directly,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will start by developing its API and opening it up to large enterprise customers.

“We want clients to be able to use our Kobo dashboard for everything; moving goods, tracking, sales, and accounting…and tackling their challenges,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will also build more physical presence throughout Nigeria to service its business. “We’ll open 100 hubs before the end of 2019…to be able to help operations collect proof of delivery, to monitor trucks on the roads, and have closer access to truck owners for vehicle inspection and training,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will add more warehousing capabilities, “to support our reverse logistics business”—one of the ways the company brings prices down by matching trucks with return freight after they drop their loads, rather than returning empty, according to Ozor.

Kobo360 will also use its $6 million investment to expand programs and services for its drivers, something Ozor sees as a strategic priority.

“The day you neglect your drivers you are not going to have a company, only issues. If Uber were more driver focused it would be a trillion dollar company today,” he said.

The startup offers drivers training and group programs on insurance, discounted petrol, and vehicle financing (KoboWin). Drivers on the Kobo360 app earn on average approximately $5000 per month, according to Ozor.

Under KoboCare, Kobo360 has also created an HMO for drivers and an incentive based program to pay for education. “We give school fee support, a 5000 Naira bonus per trip for drivers toward educational expenses for their kids,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will complete limited expansion into new markets Ghana, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire in 2019. “The expansion will be with existing customers, one in the port operations business, one in FMCG, and another in agriculture,” said Ozor

Ozor thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Owning trucks is just too difficult to manage. The best scalable model is to aggregate trucks,” he told TechCrunch in a previous interview.

With the latest investment, IFC’s regional head for Africa Wale Ayeni and TLcom senior partner Omobola Johnson will join Kobo360’s board. “There’s a lot of inefficiencies in long-haul freight in Africa…and they’re building a platform that can help a lot of these issues,” said Ayeni of Kobo360’s appeal as an investment.

The company has served 900 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 8000 drivers and moved 155 million kilograms, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, Dangote, and DHL.

MarketLine estimated the value of Nigeria’s transportation sector in 2016 at $6 billion, with 99.4 percent comprising road freight.

Logistics has become an active space in Africa’s tech sector with startup entrepreneurs connecting digital to delivery models. In Nigeria, Jumia founder Tunde Kehinde departed and founded Africa Courier Express. Startup Max.ng is wrapping an app around motorcycles as an e-delivery platform. Nairobi-based Lori Systems has moved into digital coordination of trucking in East Africa. And U.S.-based Zipline—who launched drone delivery of commercial medical supplies in partnership with the government of Rwanda and support of UPS—and is in “process of expanding to several other countries,” according to a spokesperson.

Kobo360 has plans for broader Africa expansion but would not name additional countries yet.

Ozor said the company is profitable, though the startup does not release financial results. Wale Ayeni also wouldn’t divulge revenue figures, but confirmed IFC’s did full “legal and financial due diligence on Kobo’s stats,” as part of the investment.

Ozor named Lori Systems as Kobo360’s closest African startup competitor.

On the biggest challenge to revenue generation, it’s all about service delivery and execution, according to Ozor.

“We already have volume and demand in the market. The biggest threat to revenues is if Kobo360’s platform doesn’t succeed in solving our client’s problems and bringing reliability to their needs,” he said.

BoxLock secures your booty against porch pirates

This clever – if expensive – product is called the BoxLock and it is a keyless padlock that lets your package delivery person scan and drop off your packages into a locked box. The system essentially watches for a shipping event and then waits for the right barcode before opening. Once the delivery person scans the package, the lock opens, the delivery person sticks the package in a box or shed (not included) and locks it back up. You then go and grab your package at your leisure.

The lock costs $129.

The company appeared on everyone’s favorite show, Shark Tank, where they demonstrated the system with a fake door and fake UPS dude.

The internal battery lasts 30 days on one charge and it connects to your phone and house via Wi-Fi. While the system does require a box – it’s called BoxLock, after all, not LockBox – it’s a clever solution to those pesky porch pirates who endlessly steal my YorkieLoversBox deliveries.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 accepted into YC, raises $1.2 million

When Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 interviewed for Y Combinator’s 2018 cohort, a question stood out to founder Obi Ozor. “What’s holding you back from becoming a unicorn?,” they asked. “My answer was simple,” said Ozor. “Working capital.”

Kobo360 was accepted into YC’s 2018 class and gained some working capital in the form of $1.2 million in pre-seed funding led by Western Technology Investment announced recently. Lagos-based Verod Capital Management also joined to support Kobo360.

The startup — with an Uber -like app that connects Nigerian truckers to companies with freight needs — will use the funds to pay drivers online immediately after successful hauls.

Kobo360 is also launching the Kobo Wealth Investment Network, or KoboWIN — a crowd-invest, vehicle financing program. Through it, Kobo drivers can finance new trucks through citizen investors and pay them back directly (with interest) over a 60-month period.

Ozor said Kobo360 created the platform because of limited vehicle finance options for truckers in Nigeria. “We hope KoboWIN…will inject 20,000…[additional] trucks on the Kobo platform,” he told TechCrunch.

On Kobo360’s utility, “We give drivers the demand and technology to power their businesses,” said Ozor. “An average trucker will make $3,500 a month with our app. That’s middle class territory in Nigeria.”

Kobo360 has served 324 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 5480 drivers and moved 37.6 million kilograms of cargo since 2017, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever and DHL.

Ozor previously headed Uber Nigeria, before teaming up with Ife Oyodeli to co-found Kobo360. They initially targeted 3PL for Nigeria’s e-commerce boom — namely Jumia (now Africa’s first unicorn) and Konga (recently purchased in a distressed acquisition).

“We started doing last-mile delivery…but the volume just wasn’t there for us, so we decided to pivot…to an asset-free model around long-haul trucking,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 was accepted into YC’s Summer ’18 batch — receiving $120,000 for 7 percent equity — and will present at an August Demo Day in front of YC investors. “We were impressed by both Obi and Ife as founders. They were growing quickly and had a strong vision for the company,” YC partner Tim Brady told TechCrunch.

Kobo360’s app currently coordinates 5,000 trips a month, according to Ozor. He thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Owning trucks is just too difficult to manage. The best scalable model is to aggregate trucks,” he said. “We now have more trucks than providers like TSL and they’ve been here….years. By the end of this year we plan to have 20,000 trucks on our app — probably more than anyone on this continent.”

On price, Ozor named the ability of the Kobo360 app to more accurately and consistently coordinate return freight trips once truckers have dropped off first loads.

“Logistics in Nigeria have been priced based on the assumption drivers are going to run empty on the way back…When we now match freight with return trips, prices crash.”

Kobo360 is profitable, according to Ozor. Though he wouldn’t provide exact figures, he said reviewing the company’s financial performance was part of YC’s vetting process.

Logistics has become an active space in Africa’s tech sector with startup entrepreneurs connecting digital to delivery models. In Nigeria, Jumia founder Tunde Kehinde departed and founded Africa Courier Express. Startup Max.ng is wrapping an app around motorcycles as an e-delivery platform. Nairobi-based Lori Systems has moved into digital coordination of trucking in East Africa. And U.S.-based Zipline is working with the government of Rwanda and partner UPS to master commercial drone delivery of medical supplies on the continent.

Kobo360 will expand in Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal. “We’ll be in Ghana this year and next year the other countries,” said Ozor.

In addition to KoboWIN, it will also add more driver training and safety programs.

“We are driver focused. Drivers are the key to our success. Even our app is driver focused,” said Ozor. Kobo360 will launch a new version of its app in Hausa and Pidgin this August, both local languages common to drivers.

“Execution is the key thing in logistics. It has to be reliable, affordable and it has to be execution focused,” said Ozor. “If drivers are treated well, they are going to deliver things on time.”

UPS has a plan to transform diesel trucks into electric vehicles

Some UPS trucks will get an electric makeover.
Some UPS trucks will get an electric makeover.

Image: Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

UPS is giving some its fossil-fuel powered vehicles a green energy makeover. 

The company has over 108,000 delivery vehicles deployed on routes around the world. More than 770 of those are powered by electric or hybrid motors, and UPS wants to add to that number without actually buying any new vehicles.  

UPS will team up with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to convert up to 1,500 diesel trucks to new all-electric systems.

The program, which will be based in the Bronx in NYC, depends on $500,000 from NYSERDA to develop and test the conversion system. UPS and transportation energy company Unique Electric Solutions (UES) LLC will collaborate on the project. If all goes according to plan, the converted e-trucks will start running NYC UPS routes next spring. 

The UPS trucks will be outfitted with UES chassis kits, which will replace the conventional setup with a 225kW electric motor to the rigs. The new system will make the vehicles up to 20 percent more energy efficient, according to the company.

The all-electric powertrain convertor kit.

The all-electric powertrain convertor kit.

Image: ues

UPS didn’t didn’t provide a range estimate for the converted trucks, but UES says on its site that its uniqueEV chassis kit can offer between 40 to 125 miles per charge, depending on the configuration.

The project aims to perfect a system to convert up to three of the diesel trucks daily, with plans to transform about 1,500 vehicles (66 percent of UPS’ NYC fleet) by 2022. 

UPS is embracing electrification, and recently made a public goal stating that one out of every four vehicles purchased by 2020 will run on alternative fuels or some other “advanced technology.” The company has already begun to make good on its comments, buying 200 hybrid trucks last month and queuing up as the first customer for Daimler’s new all-electric FUSO delivery trucks. 

The all-electric UPS trucks might not be as eye-catching as those decked out with T-Swift album ads, but the new delivery vehicles could mark an important new practice for companies that manage massive fleets of diesel-powered vehicles. If the program is a success, we might see even more conversion programs put into practice as every industry that depends on the internal combustion engine shifts their focus to electricity.   

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Red Cross to start testing drones in disaster relief efforts


The American Red has teamed up with the UPS Foundation and drone manufacturer CyPhy Works to bring drones to sites of natural disasters. The goal is to use drones tethered to the ground to assess damages through constant aerial observations. This is where CyPhy Works comes in.

The pilot program utilizes CyPhy Works’ Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) platform. In this test the platform will provide constant power to a drone flying stationary at 400ft through the use of a tether. Since the drone is tied to the ground, constant power can be provided from a ground-based generator thus providing uninterrupted surveillance for days or weeks at a time. A 30X zoom camera will then be used to surveil tens of miles around the drone and would be able to assess the impact of a disaster to best direct relief efforts and later to accelerate insurance payout.

The parties involved agreed to launch a one week, onsite trial in an area heavily flooded by Hurricane Harvey. If successful, it could be used again following Hurricane Irma.

The Boston-based CyPhy Works has been testing this tethered platform in different scenarios. During Forth of July fireworks and the Boston Marathon, CyPhy works provided hours of aerial surveillance to the Boston Police Department. The test with the Red Cross takes CyPhy Works out of Boston and potentially in locations without a power grid or general utilities.