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Ex-Flexport Exec Enters Fashion Factory Floor with Silq

Ram Radhakrishnan spent over a decade helping transportation companies move shippers’ goods from point A to point B, but his next act with Silq takes him up the supply chain to the first mile.

The founder and CEO of Silq, which recently closed on a $17.6 million Series A, spent five years at buzzy digital freight forwarder Flexport, most recently as vice president and head of ocean consolidations. He’s also served as trade lane manager at Toll Group and route development manager at C.H. Robinson International—all positions managing the movement of product.

Radhakrishnan, who said he grew up in factories coming from a family involved in manufacturing in India, is starting at point A with Silq to help fashion, accessories and home goods companies from the point of sourcing to find the right factories, streamline communication throughout the manufacturing process and then help get those products out of the factory and onto any given mode of transportation.

Radhakrishnan, along with cofounders Kate Alexander and Vishnu Nair, sees Silq as the bridge for apparel companies in an ecosystem that also includes the factories, freight forwarders and financiers.

“It became painfully obvious that the biggest problem facing supply chains overall is not the lack of technology, but the lack of structured data,” Radhakrishnan said of how his previous positions helped inform Silq.

Once a company places an order with a factory, Silq’s team is involved with the follow-up on samples, performs raw material inspections and also offers freight forwarders the information for more predictability on when they might expect a shipment to be ready from a factory.

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Silq counts Stars Design Group, Pinpoint Merchandising, Mizzen+Main and Mightly among its base of customers and Radhakrishnan said the company has managed about $10 million worth of merchandise over the last eight months.

Silq has 52 employees globally, with 15 in the U.S. who are primarily in engineering and sales. The headcount is expected to at least double, if not triple, by year end, Radhakrishnan said.

Once the founders identified the industry pain points, they decided to go “back to their roots” in apparel to double down on a vertical, which Radhakrishnan said is the hardest of all in terms of gaining visibility.

At the same time, the company does not handle the middle or final mile. Once product arrives at, for example, the Port of Long Beach, tracking would then have to move to another company’s system. The industry eventually wants to get to a place where everything is done within one tracking platform, but that will take time, Radhakrishnan said.

“That essentially is the ideal state that everybody is aiming for,” the CEO said. “That’s the future. We want to get to that, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Silq
A view of the Silq platform dashboard. Courtesy

Investment into supply chain technology has focused on a myriad of solutions, many of which promise visibility, a buzzword that’s becoming more and more murky with the growing complexity of supply chains and the raft of software choices now flooding the market.

CB Insights said some $33.6 billion in funding went to supply chain and logistics companies last year. The global figure reflected an 86 percent jump in funding from 2020 and money is likely to continue flowing into the industry this year.

Radhakrishnan likens the situation to shining a torch in a dark corner. In other words, there’s no correlation between a bunch of disparate data points from factory to suppliers to freight forwarders.

“Over the past 24 months, apparel brands new and old have faced unprecedented challenges in delayed timelines and cost uncertainty. Consumers have felt the pain of supply chain delays as items from their favorite brands are either taking longer than expected to arrive or are simply out of stock. More up-to-date data feeds, improved quality control and higher levels of collaboration are needed to meet rapidly shifting consumer demand,” F-Prime Capital Principal Ben Gorman said in a statement announcing Silq’s Series A.

F-Prime and Flexport led the funding round for Silq.

Ben Braverman, Flexport chief customer officer, said Silq’s ease of use is in the fact that it’s one solution covering a number of steps in the production process.

“We invested in Silq because we serve many of the world’s great brands and have seen first-hand the herculean effort that goes into making and delivering world class products. Silq is a single partner for brands to execute everything that comes after designing a great product and we’re proud to partner with them,” Braverman said.

Radhakrishnan said the new capital will go towards solidifying Silq’s footprint in existing markets, while also expanding to new ones in places such as Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Silq’s funding comes as others in the first mile space look to also narrow their focus to fashion. Artificial intelligence-backed platform Calico raised a $2 million seed round this month, led by tennis pro Serena Williams’ Serena Ventures. Calico, started by Kathleen Chan, aims to service apparel and accessories companies’ sourcing and production teams with a network of factory partners and help with quote requests, in addition to offering an order management system.

Radhakrishnan said what distinguishes Silq from others on the market is the duality of services that combines tech with a human touch.

“This is not just a software platform. This is a software and a service, and the key here is that change does not happen with just software, at least not with supply chains,” Radhakrishnan said.

While Silq is currently focused on soft goods including apparel and home textiles, the plan is to eventually expand in the next couple years to other categories with the long-term aim to address how global manufacturing is done more broadly given Silq’s core service.

“We’re essentially an exporter of data,” Radhakrishnan said.