The drayage industry isn’t exactly known for its tech savvy, but an entrepreneur who grew up in the sector is looking to change just that.
Michael Mecca founded PortPro to address many of the broader challenges experienced by drayage carriers, beneficial cargo owners (BCOs), customs brokers and freight forwarders, who often don’t have IT departments to spearhead their digital transformation efforts and container visibility work.
The web- and mobile-based transportation management software’s (TMS) DrayOS platform serves as an end-to-end operating system for carriers as they manage their cargo pickup schedules from crowded ports. DrayOS helps them to automate time-consuming back-office operations, and provides them with the data to not only retrieve their containers on time, but prevent detention and demurrage fees that can quickly pile up.
“When you’re doing things manually, you’re wasting a lot of time and energy, and you’re leaving a lot of money on the table,” Mecca said. “When an import container is brought to a port, there’s a certain amount of time that it has before it needs to be picked up. Before, you would have to go to all these different websites to access all that information, such as when you need to pick up the container. Our system automates that, tells you when it needs to be picked up by, when it’s available to be picked up and then also tells you when it needs to be returned by. If you don’t return it or pick it up by a certain date, you get charged. Helping manage those parts in automated ways is very valuable.”
PortPro originally built DrayOS to give carriers and drivers access to software that can help them both manage—and sometimes dispute—these fees directly from their web portal or their smartphone. Its offerings include the TMS for drayage and intermodal carriers, connectivity and visibility solutions for brokers, carriers and expediters, as well as integrations with other providers serving the supply chain.
Within DrayOS, carriers can determine which driver is best to move a specific load by viewing their availability and equipment type, before dispatching the load request directly to the driver’s app. From there, the carrier can instantly receive updates on each driver’s load status, and even communicate with individual or multiple drivers in real time via instant messaging.
According to Mecca, who also serves as PortPro’s CEO, approximately 75 percent of drayage trucking companies use Google Sheets or a similar software tool. Mecca noted that many firms in the space use either use simple, non-industry-specific platforms such as Sheets—or a more robust, but on-premise legacy platform like SAP—to share data, because there wasn’t a drayage software company that had been democratized for industry users.
The data that drayage companies gain from the DrayOS platform also benefits BCOs, who are the importers of record that communicate with ocean carriers directly when they dock at a port.
“There hasn’t been visibility into that part of the supply chain for the BCOs of the world, for the Nikes, for the Lululemons, for the Teslas, because a lot of these drayage trucking companies are still running offline on a Google Sheet or Excel,” Mecca told Sourcing Journal. “Giving the trucking companies their own data and a platform and allowing them to connect better into their customers is another big reason why companies use it and it’s just beneficial for the industry as a whole.
In March, PortPro unveiled a companion software for drayage carriers within DrayOS called Track. This new addition gives truckers details like vessel ETA, container discharge dates, demurrage, and other details related to import tracking into the DrayOS platform and export tracking of the container’s earliest return date (ERD).
Terminal documents such as outgate and ingate receipts are captured in the system automatically, easing the burden on drivers and ensuring that data is captured and logged.
DrayOS Track also offers drayage carriers a recommendation engine that suggests empty return locations, and can also create per diem invoices.
“There are a bunch of locations that a container could be returned back to each day, and sometimes certain locations aren’t accepting. Traditionally, I would have 20 tabs open online checking between different sources when I want to return a container. We consolidated all that information,” Mecca said. “We also take screenshots of where containers can be returned back to, in case you have those on a per diem basis, so you can have backup documents that prove, ‘I can’t be responsible for this because there was no place for me to return my container.’ We took all that was living externally, built the brain for it and then put it into this operating system so that these drayage trucking companies for the first time now have access to all of this in one system.”
Currently, PortPro serves over 350 drayage trucking companies in the U.S., out of a potential pool of 6,500, Mecca says. But the company projects to expand to approximately 575 trucking businesses by the end of 2023. In total, Mecca estimates that roughly 8,600 truck drivers are active on the PortPro mobile app.
Mecca attributes the software’s rapid scaling within drayage trucking to its ability to work with companies of all sizes, from five trucks 10 1,000. Traditionally, the average drayage customer for PortPro operates anywhere from 10 to 25 trucks. But even the smallest trucking companies are big business, he said, noting that one truck on its own can bring in $300,000 to $400,000 in revenue for a company.
“A lot of our trucking customers are family-run businesses, but they’re multi-million-dollar businesses. You could have a business that’s a 15-truck or 20-truck operation, and maybe five to seven people in an office, and that could be a $12 million a year business,” Mecca said. “There’s a lot of revenue in trucking. The margins are where a lot of it becomes challenging if you’re not running well, but the top-line numbers are big numbers.”
The founder would know a thing or two about the ins and outs of a family-owned drayage trucking operator. Mecca comes from a family with more than 60 years’ worth of drayage, trucking and warehousing experience, with his grandparents founding Mecca Trucking in 1960 in Jersey City, N.J. In working for his family business growing up and out of college, Mecca felt that the best software for drayage trucking companies was still “stuck in yesteryear.”
After starting his own software company in 2017 called Axle Technologies, which focuses on providing trucking fleets with electronic logging device (ELD) and telematics data, he moved on to start PortPro in November 2019 to focus more on optimizing communication for drayage companies. According to Mecca, his family business ended up being PortPro’s fourth customer.
“Drayage is a niche that was really ignored, so since there was nothing really out here, why not throw my hat in the ring to see if I can make something better?” Mecca said. “But the need in the space and knowing what to build comes from a lot of internal knowledge and just having sat in a lot of the seats and realiz[ing] that there was a void in the space.”
PortPro raised a $12 million Series A in January to build out its technology platform. Mecca said PortPro had numerous opportunities to raise funding in the year prior, but initially resisted on the grounds that many businesses will raise money on ideas before quickly burning through the capital.
But that changed as overall cargo demand decreased across the global supply chain. The PortPro team saw the slowdown in volume as an opportunity to better help companies that were looking internally at process improvement—putting the software in a position to gain market share whereas other competitors might be pulling back spending.