Y Combinator Podcast: Ryan Petersen on Building Flexport, a Modern Freight Forwarder

Full podcast here.

  • The difference between parcel [UPS / FedEx] and freight is a simple one: Is the product too heavy for the driver to lift up and put in the truck? If it is, it’s freight. Freight needs a whole different network to move it. 

  • In the freight world, there is no company big enough to keep it in their own network from door to door. You would have to be the biggest company in the world to do so

  • His previous business was importing motorbikes and electric scooters from China to sell on eBay. 

  • I went to business school and graduated with $140,000 in debt. I realized I wouldn’t be good at any jobs for MBAs. So to manage the debt I got a bunch of part-time jobs. Writing case studies for Colombia, teaching the GMAT, and SEO consulting. All these jobs were flexible.

  • Amazon looks at their sales data and figures out which product should we clone. They have like 400 different brands now. 

  • I know if we stay in the fight we will win. You just want to make sure you set yourself up in a way so you are in the fight in perpetuity. You can’t lose this way. You’ll just keep finding new hacks. I didn’t know which business I’d make successful. But I knew if I could buy myself an indefinite period of time to experiment I’d create a successful business

  • I made a landing page before we had a license. This was prelaunch. We had a bunch of huge companies sign up. We had Foxconn [they make the iPhone]. Cargill signed up [huge ad company]. Saudi Aramco [the national oil company of Saudi Arabia] signed up.

  • How do look for talent? I look for insecure overachievers. Hungry but humble

  • The mission of Flexport: We are creating a better and cheaper way to ship freight. This is a trillion-dollar industry. Logistics is 12% of global GDP. 

  • I read a book every week. 

  • Book recommendations: The Origin of Wealth: The Radical Remaking of Economics and What it Means for Business and Society and Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World's Most Successful Companies.📚

  • Flexport got to $200 million in revenue without a marketing team. That was dumb. It was a lesson for me. I considered myself a growth hacker and marketer and that was the one area of the business where I didn’t hire people better than me soon enough.

  • Flexport is 98% outbound sales. We build lists of companies that import things. Then we call them and show them our value proposition

  • If you weren’t working on Flexport where would you source a new idea to work on? I always ask where are the pains? Read Schlep Business by Paul Graham. Keep lists of things that annoy you. The solutions to those problems are businesses. Ask which problem do I wish someone else would solve for me? If there are enough people like you that’s probably a good idea.