Collaborating with customers to build a better platform

At Twill we believe in staying true to a mantra of agile working and improving on our product, based on what we learn from our customers as well as living our leadership principle of ‘doing a few things really well’. In that spirit it is critical to assess what we have built in our platform, how it is helping our customers, and how we are bringing their suggestions and comments into its development and improvement.

We can do this daily by simply looking at how much the features of our platform are being used; but when we want to get a more detailed or nuanced opinion, we talk to our customers directly.

I want to use this blog to share the value our customers have seen from using Twill as their digital freight forwarder:

Track & Trace – Including ‘Cargo Ready Date’ transparency

The tracking and tracing of your freight might seem like a simple feature – and something everybody must excel in in 2018 – but it’s not quite that simple! We work very hard on ensuring that we always show accurate track and trace information to our customers, with a focus on ensuring correct information on when cargo is delivered. This is appreciated by our customers because it gives them peace of mind and the ability to focus on servicing (and informing) their customers.

All documents and invoices in one tool – centralised paperwork

When we started Twill, every customer we spoke to mentioned that document handling is a nightmare. It is cumbersome and error-prone.

We have designed a simple solution for ensuring that documents are uploaded in time, time-stamped and stored even after the shipment is complete. It’s a simple solution for a big problem – and something our customers give us really good feedback on. Document handling is a big topic in our industry, and with the input from our customers, we see great potential for creating really simple-to-use and innovative solutions for the future. One step at the time.

Large volume management

Another feature that our customers have told us is adding great value is being able to manage a large number of shipments on the Twill platform. This includes (but is not limited to) having the ability to select which suppliers can make bookings on your behalf, sort your shipments on parameters such as supplier, trade-lane and arrival date, plus a simple overview of a large number of shipments.

To be perfectly honest, we didn’t originally design this feature considering the need to handle a large number of shipments. However, we learned that it was being used more and more and we started getting good improvement feedback on this feature. So we spent a bit more energy on developing an overview and it has now grown into something customers with larger volumes say is really useful. That’s a great example of something we are really happy to learn, but also something we feel we can still make even better for our customers.

Our customers matter

There is nothing better than getting customer feedback on Twill – both praise and improvement areas. We have spent a lot of time and thinking on developing the platform to get what you see today, and having our customers taking time to tell us how we can make it even better is quite unique.

So we encourage all Twill users to always give us feedback. Your feedback can really make the difference – and sometimes even make our day!

We don’t know it is impossible

Twill is a story of innovation and growth. We aim to innovate the user experience of buying freight in order to make it as easy as buying a pair of shoes on Amazon. For industries not familiar with shipping, this may sound kind of unambitious, however for those working with shipping everyday this would sound like a figment of a child’s imagination.

It is indeed a tall order and it will take lots of new ideas and lots of energy to defy what is commonly understood to be ‘how we do things’.

An impossible task?

In a recent speech from our (Maersk) Chairman Jim Hagemann Snabe, he told a tale of the sun-powered flight “Solar Impulse 2”, which successfully circled the globe 100% powered by the sun.

To succeed in this task the plane itself had to have a massive surface and at the same time be super lightweight. When talking to engineers in the aviation industry this task was defined as impossible. Not accepting this answer, Bertrand Piccard reached out to the sailboat building industry – and the rest is history.

The plane was built and it succeeded on its mission of circling the globe. When Piccard was asked why the engineers of the sail-boat industry succeeded on a task that the aviation engineers had deemed impossible, he answered (very simple actually) that the engineers from the sailboat industry did not know it was impossible – they had never tried it before.

That is how I see Twill. We don’t know it is impossible and therefore we will succeed.

Keep focused every single day

I feel very lucky to work in a company where our focus is innovation and growth.

Every day we try to make it just one tad simpler for the customer to buy freight online, and keeping this mentality coupled with a portion of energy and not knowing what is impossible – who knows where we can take Twill. That is for me an amazing thought and the sole motivation to make sure we do a great job.

The pace of development

Lately, I read a piece by Warren Buffet on the topic of Optimism in TIME magazine.

He says: “I was born in 1930, when the symbol of American wealth was John D. Rockefeller Sr. Today my upper-middle-class neighbors enjoy options in travel, entertainment, medicine and education that were simply not available to Rockefeller and his family… Two words explain this miracle: Innovation and productivity.”

This comment made me stop in awe. He writes about the development from 1930 until now, which is an astonishing development, but I truly believe that when I sit in 2050 and look back from 1985 (my birth year) the development will have been even greater. Our globe will be wealthier, safer and more equal.

I’ve no doubt that enabling no-fuss, one-click, available to all international trade will have a massive role to play in this development – and I am proud and honored to know that the innovation we are part of in Twill could actually make a difference. This is innovation that matters!

The future of freight forwarding

Taking a slightly shorter term view, I would say that in just five years from now, the concept of freight forwarding will already be forgotten.

Instead of the industry demanding that the customer must know what ANS, VGM and HBL stand for, as well as knowing enough about geography to get an A+ in university, thanks to innovation a customer will just click ‘please deliver’ and get back to her real work of creating value for her customers.

Shipping Made Simple.

-Troels Stovring, Twill CEO

2017 – Well that was a crazy year!

This is perhaps a bit of cliché – however the year is coming to an end and a new one is starting.

For me the reflection on “well that was a crazy year” and “what a cool year we are now starting” is now coming to me like a welcome New Year’s guest. Maybe it’s the same for you –when you see your December calendar getting into the double digits – you just can’t help yourself and your thoughts start to wander to the year that has passed.

I think it is healthy though to allow yourself to stop for a while – forget targets, forget growth and forget the outage in production last week – and think about the ‘Big Picture’.

What did you set out to do for the year, and what did you actually accomplish and feel proud about?

What we have done in 2017

I think humble pride has been the overarching theme of my 2017.

We set out on a mission this year to prove that we could build a virtual freight forwarder that would be strong enough for us and Damco to decide that all freight forwarding volume of the future should be handled via Twill.

And we did just that.

When the year started, we only had a skeleton of a platform and only an idea about how our customers would interact with a digital freight forwarder. Through the year we have learnt so much whilst, together with a growing customer base, continuously building the platform in a truly agile style, as well as having to find our place within the Damco/Maersk organisation.

Today, when I stop and reflect, I can see how far we have gotten and what we – and our customers – have been able to build. I also see a team of Twillers that has grown – both as a team and as individuals, but also in sheer size. We started with a base in The Hague and a small set-up in China and the UK. Now we have grown our base in The Hague significantly and have set-up shop in seven new countries. You see, this is why my overarching theme is ‘humble pride’.

Onto phase two

The ‘humble’ part is not so much towards 2017 – it is more about focusing on 2018 and beyond. We’ve successfully built phase one of Twill – we have a strong base of happy customers using the platform every day – and now it is time to initiate phase two and show that our product is strong enough and that it can truly simplify shipping for a significantly growing number of customers.

Where 2017 was almost our ‘rehearsal’ night (where most things went well, but the crowd knew that a few oopsies could happen!), we’re sure that 2018 will be like the opening night of a big show where we will truly scale up and go global.

What a cool year we’re now starting!

It’s hard to imagine how much we will learn about customer preferences and about new markets in 2018, and how that will impact how we will evolve as a company, but I am intrigued by the journey ahead of us and the exciting unchartered territory.

So from me, and the rest of the Twillers, I would like to thank you all for a fantastic 2017 and wish you all a thrilling ride for 2018. And remember – stop for a while and allow yourself to be proud of what you, your team, and your customers have accomplished together. We all deserve a bit of feel-good for the last couple of days of the year.

“The Winning Formula”

November 9, 2017 – I often get asked the question: Why did you start a new company owned by a legacy freight forwarder? Why didn’t you either start Twill as a completely independent company or just make it a department or product of Damco?

For me the answer to this is critical, as it is key to our success. Let me explain…

‘Old School’ freight forwarders: The foundation

Logistics – in its core – is about moving cargo safely, cost efficiently and timely around the globe. Fantastic software alone is not going to make the container move. We need vessels, aeroplanes, trucks, trains, terminals, airports, warehouses and very capable people all around the globe, making sure that the process is a smooth as possible. We need that today and we will also need it tomorrow.

Damco has decades of experience managing exactly this, with a global network of offices and more than 10,000 people with a strong logistics skillset. However, with the rapid technological developments taking place in our society today, consumers’ expectations of the services we use are increasing exponentially – much quicker than incumbent freight forwarders are able to adapt. This makes Damco (amongst other freight forwarders) into what many would refer to as an ‘Old School Freight Forwarder’. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, since Damco’s level of experience still has tremendous benefits and brings a lot to the Twill story.

‘New School’ freight forwarding: Let’s re-think, let’s innovate

Yet on the other side of the equation, we have ‘New School’ freight forwarders. They are very much focused on significantly improving the user experience, utilizing new technology, challenging existing processes, innovating and building agile ways of working – with the customer at the heart of everything they do.

To truly do this, you cannot simply set up a department or product within a company. The established company culture would not allow for this kind of thinking, despite the best intentions. Instead, you need to start from scratch, adopting new mindsets, utilizing new skillsets, bringing a new energy and a genuine and passionate desire to challenge the assumption of ‘that is how we always do it’. This is what we do in Twill and that is why we chose to run Twill as a standalone start-up.

‘New School’ needs ‘Old School’: This is how we can make a difference to the customer

Now to the winning formula: balancing the ‘Old School’ with the ‘New School’, allowing for the synergies to flourish without compromising the strength of both. You can win in this industry and create a new and improved way of doing freight forwarding by combining the new with the old. But you cannot win if you don’t do both – and do both well.

So, to answer the question I am often asked: I truly believe that software, customer focus, new energy and new skills will transform our business – but only if we mix it with the right foundation, experience and already existing assets. That is why Twill is a standalone start-up utilizing the operational set-up of Damco – a top 20 global freight forwarder.

Twill and Damco: A good balance

It is not going to be easy though – it is a constant balancing act that Twill and Damco must engage in.  When should we utilize existing assets and when should we build from scratch? This is a constant question for us and we have many explorative discussions. But as with everything else we do, it is about short experiments (fail fast), learning, adjusting and re-starting. This keeps us on our toes and keeps us on balance. And that is the reason why Twill, together with Damco, is going to win – by creating a world class customer experience through a start-up from a freight forwarder which has been around for decades.  

– Troels Stovring, CEO

Photographer: MichielTon.com

Completely Twilled

September 28, 2017 – Twill is a start-up aiming to make shipping simple for the customer. An important quest as the current customer experience from buying freight is all but impressive. However, how is it running a company that is trying to shake up a Legacy (yes, capital ‘L’) industry? And how is it to do as a start-up owned by a large organisation? For this blog I would like to share some of my personal experiences from starting Twill and the journey we have been on so far.

In July 2016, I was sitting with a colleague (Sarah) in a small room in The Hague starting the first infant thoughts on Twill. We were about to go to Berlin for 6 months to build the foundation for Twill. Now, a bit more than a year later, I can (despite many Twill years in front of us) reflect a bit on the journey. It has been crazy! And Fun! And Exhausting! And Exhilarating! And rather often, all in one day. You have to remember, that not only were we completely in uncharted territory on the business idea, Twill was also the first spin-off company from Damco and hence double uncharted territory. We were challenged with what tech stack to choose (and how does that fit Maersk), what the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) should/should not contain, if we really can adopt fully Agile, how Twill fits in Damco and who we can work with in Damco (to mention a few). Key learning to share on such questions: You learn to make decisions based on very little data and you should be prepared to pivot and re-do. You should be prepared to embrace fast failure and ensure that the learnings are the focus. This thinking made us start a tradition called “Failure of The Week” – a tradition we now hold very dear. Every Thursday 4pm – we clock out for an hour, huddle up our bean-bags in a circle, bring out a cold beer and nominate other people (or yourself) for all the failures we have done this week – and key – what we have learned from it. In the beginning this can be quite scary (to be frank) – you know – to be nominated publicly because you screwed up. However, we got the hang of it and now it is defining for our company culture and Twillers are not afraid to lean out, experiment, innovate – and fail fast in the process.

Starting Twill from just a few people and watch it grow to its current size of 50 people (and we are still just a toddler) has been a fantastic journey. We have had some very long nights making last minute code updates, fixing urgent bugs, preparing Board material or preparing for the customer meeting the next day, however, normally we would also find time for a game of ping-pong during the night (admittedly, sometimes causing an even longer night). These nights might have been long and tough, however it was all worth it, that day we got our first booking on the Twill platform and everybody could celebrate what we had been able to pull off in a very very short time. It was one of those moments I will never forget. I was with the customer, seeing her place the booking on the platform, whilst having the whole Twill team on Skype on a separate laptop. After she pressed “Submit Booking”, we looked to the team on Skype in anxiety – and only a second later – the whole team erupted in pure celebration when they saw the booking appear in the platform – we had our first booking.

Since then many customers have chosen to join Twill and it remains my favorite part of my job to see an intrigued customer making her first booking on the platform and look at you and say: “Was that it?”. Yes, that was it – we aim for simplicity and we will work extremely hard to ensure we keep improving that simplicity (or “Simproving” as we say).

Twill is not done (note: It will never be), however I know we have a strong product that is relevant in the market. I know because our customers tell us. We also get plenty of feedback on things we could also build and bugs we should fix, don’t get me wrong – but mostly, we get really good feedback on what we have built. And this is what keeps me going everyday – it makes me proud and keeps me motivated to build an even stronger product and reach even more customers. In that way we get one step closer to our vision every day: Making Shipping simple.

By Troels Stovring, CEO, Twill.

Every day is today

October 26, 2017 – It’s been roughly a year since my first day here at Twill. I like to look at it as a journey of 365 individual days; opportunities to make today, and every day, more valuable than yesterday.

At the beginning of this journey back in November 2016, my mind and my heart were fully occupied by one big question: how do you develop a culture? Is that even possible? How do you twill that unique binding fabric that shapes how we talk and walk as Twillers?

Culture lives and shifts and changes in response to the actions we take and the decisions we make each day. Well, by now I have the answer to those questions, but you’ll have to wait until my next blog post to find out!

In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown says: “If we want to reignite innovation and passion, we have to rehumanize work. When shame becomes management style, engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity and innovation.”

I would add that an essential component to ‘rehumanize’ work is trust. Trust is the foundation for an organization to grow, where an organization is understood as a network of people rather than a conglomerate of layers and operational models. We build trust by showing vulnerability, Dr. Brown says. By sharing and being open about our wants and desires, as well as our inevitable stumbles and failures, and by getting into the practice of doing this regularly, we can build trust over time.

At Twill, we understand that feedback is a mechanism of trust building. We make a point to share feedback consistently, and follow a model to enable us to do this effectively. We also make sure we celebrate what we’ve learnt when we l review the week during our Thursday ‘Nomination’ sessions.

Failing fast is another way of building trust. Quite the dichotomy, I know, but the key word here is ‘fast’. There is safety in risk-taking when it’s done in incremental steps and fast loops. This should happen with the right structures in place – firstly to ensure we learn from our failures, and secondly to ensure that we limit the possibility of any such failure having an impact on our customers. This creates a psychologically safe space where learning, rather than blame, is the focus.

And finally, in my view, the ultimate proof of trust is having the courage to enter the ‘arena’ every day, focused on your purpose. In my case, that is to lead from the heart and create the organization I want to work for. And while I’m aware that, in Dr. Brown’s words “there really is no effort without error and shortcoming”, I feel fortunate to live my dream and learn every day.

So, accept the challenge to make every day matter. With every new day you are granted a chance to do better, to take new risks, and to learn from failure. After all, this is how we at Twill make shipping simple, every single day.

– Ramona Sandu, Head of People.