3 things you need to be prepared for in 2018 – and how Twill can help!

2017 is drawing to a close, and like 2016 before it, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

As a customer, your biggest challenge is in ensuring the reliability of your supply chain while keeping costs as low as possible to remain competitive. This is no small task and, as we approach a new year, there’s plenty for you to be prepared for in order to make sure you can deliver for your customers.

Here’s a look at the three key things we see coming up in 2018:

  • Chinese New Year – You’ll no doubt have shipped out your stock in readiness for the Christmas period some time ago, but are you prepared for Chinese New Year? Taking place on February 16th, it will have a major impact on the Asia to Europe tradelane as all factories and production lines in China close for the week. They will gradually re-open following this, but production will be low. European customers in particular need to make sure they’ve got their stock ordered well in advance.

 

  • Vessels aren’t made of rubber! – Of course, in order to make sure your stock is with you in time, you need to get it onboard a vessel and the impact of Chinese New Year will mean that this will be harder as there is only so much capacity to be found. Ships won’t expand, and your cargo will otherwise be left on the dock. The best way to tackle this is forward-planning – the earlier you’re organised and have your space booked the better chance you have of getting your stock to you in plenty time and the better chance of avoiding the busiest periods.

 

  • Consolidation of carriers and the effect on rates – Over the past two years we have seen a strong consolidation of ocean carriers in the market and by the first quarter next year, in the Asia to Europe market, there will be 12 carriers where there once were 20. This means those that remain will be more rigid and rates will be more susceptible to change throughout the year. This is where a multi-carrier platform, like Twill, could make a big difference – because looking back at that key challenge for you as a customer, volatile rates make it harder for you to keep costs low and steady and with fewer carriers it could affect the reliability of that food chain.

At Twill, our digital multi-carrier platform allows us to secure cargo space for our customers at competitive rates. In a challenging and changing market, keeping an eye on trends and finding the best rates is our job. With the robust backing of a global player like Damco, we have an added negotiating power that can make the difference for our customers. This backing also affords us the unique opportunity to call upon a huge breadth of expertise, experience, and knowledge when needed.

2018 promises to be an interesting year and there are plenty of unknowns; but good planning is the best preparation and at Twill we want to help our customers keep their shipping as simple as possible.

-Maarten den Brinker, Global Head of Ocean Freight, Damco

 

The difficulty with simplicity

November 30, 2017 – “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

If you ask “what’s rule number one for Twill?” there is one answer that you will hear across the board – simplicity! This overarching principle penetrates how we develop our product and how we operate.

Where the logistics industry started

The business world is complex, especially in the logistics industry. Legacy systems, outdated processes, old working habits, local exceptions – all of these factors add up to the complexity level on top of the business nature.

I clearly remember the “business origami” we drew when we started Twill. It is so huge with dots and lines all over the place representing different parties and their interactions.

Standing in front of it made me think. This doesn’t make sense…This whole process makes our customers frustrated and makes us less efficient. We need a solution to make both our customers’ and our own lives easier.

So our goal is very clear. We want to simplify the logistics business.

Now the question is how…

Creating change one step at a time

Very soon we realised that to be simple is much more difficult than to be complex.

The reason why the logistics industry is so complex today is exactly because people in the industry were not critical and diligent enough to make it simple in its early days. Adding things to that process is easy but removing things is certainly not.

We still have a long way to go if we want to make – and keep – Twill as simple to use as possible. Here I just want to share a few learnings I had.


Three keys to simplicity

First of all, we need to learn and understand all the complexity and the reasons behind it. Understanding the problem is the foundation of any innovation. We need to expose ourselves in every business process and industry practice, as well as understand why things are done in this way. Luckily, with Twill, we have access to a huge number of logistics experts from Damco and Maersk to get the best knowledge in the industry.

Secondly, we need to constantly challenge the status quo to innovate solutions in order to handle those problems. Being critical and courageous to challenge is in our blood here at Twill. And this is what triggers the thinking of solution design.

Thirdly, if the complexity is something that exists for a reason or will stay for a while, we need to define a logic to handle it. There will be cases where the complexity is necessary for the time being. For example, customs clearance processes across the world are all individually different in terms of timeline and documents. We know that this won’t change overnight, but our customers don’t need to be experts on this. At Twill, we configure the logic based on our expertise and we maintain simplicity for our customers.

I want to finish off with a quote that I heard from one of our customers and which keeps me on my toes all the time. He said: “I like the simplicity of Twill and I hope over the time of its development, you don’t make it difficult to use.”

-Daisy Zhang, Head of Product

Lost track of your container once again?

November 28, 2017 – As our American friends celebrate Thanksgiving and we all look ahead to Christmas many shipping companies are gearing up for the busiest time of the year. In our personal lives, thanks to small orders from the likes of Amazon, we are able to track our gifts from the depot to the door. This is a huge weight off our mind and allows us to plan our lives accordingly – sounds perfect right? But what we’ve done for personal shoppers, we haven’t yet managed to apply to the shipping industry.

This isn’t because the resources aren’t there; there is a lot of information available on each individual shipment – but many companies fail to access it and pass it on to customers; and those that do often fail to notify them when it matters most.

Just as we plan our personal lives around our deliveries of shopping, clothes or gadgets, companies plan their business and stock around their shipments arriving on time and in one piece! There’s nothing worse for a company than to lose a shipment.

Track with us and stay updated

At Twill our motto is ‘shipping made simple’ and we have worked to tackle this foundational problem within the shipping industry from our earliest stages. When you track your shipments with us you’ll stay updated throughout your cargo’s journey. We’ve broken down the process and identified seven key milestones throughout a shipment – from arriving at port for loading to the vessel departing/arriving and import customs cleared – we monitor the shipment daily and as each milestone is reached you are automatically contacted and updated.

Other companies in the industry only check shipments every few days and any customer will tell you that a lot can happen in that time! By taking a proactive approach, checking daily and utilising automated emails it means that as soon as changes happen, you are made aware.

Knowing when shipments reach certain milestones is particularly important to our customers in the UK, for example. As mentioned, for so many businesses it’s crucial that they know when vessels have arrived at port, as they plan everything around this to ensure they have the right amount of stock in their stores at any given time. If there is a delay in the shipment, our updates allow us to notify them quickly so that they can make the appropriate adjustments.

Building for the future

At Twill we want to not just introduce this process for our customers, but build on it and make it even better. We want to make shipping simple and this is an important step toward that goal.

Looking to the future just think about the possibilities if we could automate this service – allowing our system to talk and share information and go one step further towards providing updates to our customers in real-time. This is our aim and we’re really excited about the prospect of making shipping even simpler for our customers.

-Alex Archer, Customer Care UK

Local strength, global reach

November 23, 2017 – Last week was a very special one for everyone at Twill; we achieved our biggest internal business goal, much earlier than expected. I feel very lucky to be the person writing a blog post after such a great milestone was achieved!

I can tell you that there is no one ‘hero’ in our story that made it all happen. Instead, there is a beginning, which is like a hesitant leaf falling on a calm pond. Then after many leaves have fallen, many waves have been made, and a lot of hard work, we feel the sweetness of a momentary success.

Building momentum for change

Our latest milestone moment made me reflect about the difference Twill can make in the world. Will we make any change in the way people go about their lives if we achieve our craziest dreams? Or are we just one more thing out there filling a forgotten space of the market?

It can be a scary thing to ask, but it is something we must answer to ourselves with bold determination. It is only with clarity on the potential impact we can have that we can build the momentum to drive massive change for good. And in order to answer this question we need to look at the helm of Twill: its customers.

The potential of SMEs

Today, our customers are predominantly small and medium companies (SMEs) that are focused on sourcing the best products around the world and bringing them to their customers. These goods imported with Twill include furniture for the tourism industry, tools for home improvement, exciting decorations for celebrations and many others. Our customers enable their local economies to thrive by providing the best products available in the global market while generating jobs and wealth simultaneously.

SMEs are considered to be the backbone of the economy. According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), 95% of companies in its member countries are SMEs and they generate 60%-70% of employment in those countries. Around 20% of these companies are also involved in international trade and contribute to 25%-35% of world trade – that’s a huge statistic!

So how does Twill create a level playing field?

When an SME is trying to access global trade it faces many issues. According to the EU Eurobarometer in 2015, the three main issues are: complicated administrative processes (i.e. excessive paperwork), high delivery costs and finding suitable business partners.

Something everybody knows in freight forwarding is that if you are a big player you will get the best service at the lowest price. So guess what you get when you are a small player? That’s right, not the best service for the price paid.

Twill has the potential to level up the ground for SMEs, increasing the level of service value relative to price. We provide access to global trade and enable our customers to win by simplifying the shipping process and building economies of scale so that they can stay focused on growing and scaling their core business.

It is not usual that you get to be part of a venture with so much potential. Tomorrow, when I show up in the office, I will have a big smile and sense of fulfillment because I know with certainty that we are enabling our customers to build local strength with global reach.

– By Juan Cajiao, Twill’s Head of Growth

Seamless simplicity

November 16, 2017 – When I first joined Twill, I loved its motto on very first sight – shipping made simple. It sounds like a great idea in a world where we have so much information to digest and so much data we can consume, right? For a system to be able to make something so complicated – such as shipping goods from one side of the globe to the other – sound so simple, it has to be exciting as a concept!

Defining simplicity

I worked for many years in IT, and in previous roles I‘ve participated in the build process of quite a few systems, both big and small. But I‘ve never seen a system that looks so “seamlessly simple” on the outside, but which has numerous obstacles that need to be overcome in order to get it there.

So what does Twill set out to achieve? Some dictionaries define “simple” as “easy to access” and “plausible” and that makes a lot of sense for our shipment business.

For us, “easy to access” means that we only provide information that is needed at a particular moment in the process. Making data “plausible” must give the option for our customers to drill down in case they want more context to understand exactly what is going on with their shipment.

So how does Twill do it?

Through the Twill platform we offer our customers a very simple to use, web-based front-end, so that they can check on their shipment quickly from a huge variety of devices, wherever they are in the world.

I could take this opportunity to provide more detail on how that front-end is structured itself, but I’m not going to go into that level of technical detail here.

Instead, let’s look at how our team of Twillers embrace our vision. We want things to be as simple for our customers as possible – and our employees play a vital role in that.

Shipping made simple

As a team, we can access so much data from the Twill platform that we have built our own internal dashboards to simplify the information that we use when handling our customers‘ bookings.

For example, in our offices we have monitors on the walls showing graphs of activity of various parts of our platform – which not only makes for interesting viewing, but also means that this information is easily to hand for all IT staff, providing the ability to quickly spot trends and any warning signs.

A lot of the work that the Twill team does is unseen by our consignees and shippers – and of course we want to keep it that way! The more seamless it feels, the better the experience for our customers.

In order to achieve that, we‘ve built numerous tools into the Twill platform to synchronize with our partners and be able to anticipate and communicate any issues before they occur. That means that we can address them before the customer even knows about them – making their lives simpler.

The end goal

Twill is all about making life as simple as possible for our customers. Are we there yet? Of course not! But we are making great progress.

We have a long list of features and a huge development path which we are working on in order to make shipping even simpler for our customers. But what I can say is that the whole Twill team is working towards that goal and I’m happy to be a part of that.

-Christoph Frei, CTO

“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

‘Agile’ is our Change Management methodology

November 2, 2017 – Disclaimer: I’m not a scrum master.  I’m not even a very good source if you want to talk ‘agile’. It’s only in the last five months since I’ve been working for Twill, that I have begun to understand what ‘working Agile’ means for me.

What I lack in the agile arena, I make up for in change management.

Change management has been my focus not only professionally but also academically over the last 5 years. Now that I have a chance to combine the agile world with the need for change management, I’m discovering that an agile way of working is actually a great way to do change management.

Let me explain.

Changing the way we work

Agile is all about development and I would argue that development is equal to change, but it has to happen step by step, with user feedback. The idea is to develop our ways of working in short sprints – send ideas and updates out to our users, get their feedback, and then pivot based on that feedback. Not surprisingly, this method of keeping our users close as we all go through an evolution, encourages them to evolve with us, step by step.

In the process of developing Twill, we are in effect asking customers to change the way they handle their freight. We are asking freight forwarding professionals to change their way of working. And we’re asking employees to change their way of servicing their customers. That is a lot of change – but it is change that they inspire and request! And that is the agile way of growing: grow quickly and be ready to adapt when the users show you that their needs have changed.

Translating our users’ needs

This blog post was inspired by a colleague who approached me and told me that Twill had a reputation of being good at change management and she wanted to understand what methodology we were using.

In formulating my answer, I realised that I couldn’t really say that we consciously chose a specific model from my text books. But upon further discussion, I realized that the aspect that she understood as effective change management came as a result of our agile way of working.

When we travel around the world to introduce Twill to our users, it has become known that we don’t promise a finished solution, or a 5-year vision. Even we do not know what the product will look like in few months. It’s all about the translation of user needs, not company ambition. Instead, we honestly explain that we want to build a product that makes shipping simple. And to do that, we need our users’ help to know what to build that adds most value. That’s agile. That’s good change management.

Taking our customers on the journey

In any change management model, we are taught to communicate honestly, listen to people, give them space to voice their concerns, and help them understand what it means to “me”.

In our agile way of working, we can’t over-promise on what the end result will look like, because we need our customers’ help to get there.  We can’t develop a tool unless we listen to our users and understand their pain points. We must understand what our new product means for them, in order to make it better.

Change is not easy, but when people can truly give input to the transformation that is coming their way, it’s at least easier to understand. And when the required change is agile enough to adjust with people’s input, it’s undoubtedly a better change.

-Barbara Peric, Head of Operations

Our little product secret: Ask Customers!

October 20, 2017 – As head of product in Twill, the two biggest topics that I need to provide answers to are: What to build, and what to build first.

On one afternoon, we have our regular review on product roadmap. How do we make decisions on what Twill will look like in one year, or even in three years? We list all the ideas and ask customers!

Another time, we have different opinions about user experience design. What do we do? We put both options in mockups and ask customers!

Does it sound easy? Yes, it is easy. We just need to keep in mind that we are developing a platform to solve customers’ problems. The only way this can work is that we put aside our “arrogance” and listen to our customers.

However, it was not always so simple. I come from a background of ten years working in the logistics industry before joining Twill. You can imagine how many assumptions I have built up along the way. I thought I understood customers’ needs very well. I thought I could design a great solution on my own to address their problems.

I could not have been more wrong!  Every time I talk to customers, I find little surprises (sometimes even big surprises) that challenge my assumptions. Every time I learn something new from customers.  If I hadn’t talked to customers, we could have built a platform for my imaginary problems and my solutions. Then Twill would have had no chance to succeed.

Twill’s vision is to make shipping simple. At the end of the day, customers are the judges. They tell us if their life is easier with Twill.

Customer feedback is the strongest foundation and the most valuable asset throughout the process of how we build Twill. Twill’s value proposition stems from customer research. For every new feature-design, we run user acceptance testing. Almost every day, we receive and discuss product feedback from customers, commercial teams, and our customer care team. For every country roll-out, we conduct user research to understand how our product fits the local market.

Customer-driven product development will ensure that we are headed in the right direction, and that we are prioritizing the right features. This will address my two biggest responsibilities.

Today, my industry knowledge is no longer a wall between me and our customers. I use it as a tool to better understand what customers say, and to design the initial proposals. Of course, all the proposals need to be validated by customers.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all the customers that gave feedback to Twill. We are looking forward to hearing more from you. Let’s shape Twill together!

By Daisy Zhang, Head of Product, Twill.

How to Twill a new Country?

October 10, 2017 – On September 2nd, I was sitting in the car of a colleague in Bilbao, Spain. I missed out on taking in the beautiful scenery because I had my laptop open, doing a final check for the potential customer we were on our way to visit.

My plan for the meeting was to first show the customer how simple it is to place a booking with Twill, and second, to make sure we gained their trust to let us eventually ship their cargo from China to Spain at some point in the future. Shipping with us in the future instead became the present; the customer loved the tool and the way our people work so they immediately placed a booking in Twill!

Since then, in the period of one month, we’ve had customers from all around Spain placing bookings in Twill more than 50 times. Looking at this experience, and since we want to bring to Twill to more countries, I’ve asked myself: why is it working so well?

I’ve identified three factors that we must make sure are fulfilled when bringing a new product into a new country:

  • Sharpen your offering: Bring the product to a real customer and ask them for brutal feedback. Then, make sure you refine your offering to meet their needs. For example, we translated Twill to Spanish to make sure the customer feels confident about every step they take.
  • Tune your efforts: Make sure your team, your partners, and your suppliers share one goal and understand what is their specific contribution. In Spain, we had several conversations with different stakeholders to make sure they understood the value Twill delivers to customers and how they could contribute to make the introduction a success… and they did it! These bookings are their win.
  • Unleash your potential: Identify and remove roadblocks. You will be surprised how many roadblocks are actually ‘imaginary’ (created by you). Be like water, always flowing towards the sea. For example: In Spain we loosened up our definition of the customer target group to be able to reach all the potential customers we can actually serve.

I leave you with a short video in Spanish (with English subtitles) on our opening in Spain. You will see some views of Malaga (where besides meeting Twill customers, I also went on holidays this summer ☺).

Looking forward to Twill more countries around the World!

By Juan Cajiao, Twill Head of Growth.

Building Tech organization in a new country

October 4, 2017  – For more than 10 years I was responsible for building technical teams from scratch for several companies. All of those were great successes. Teams has been formulated (from 0 to 25 , 40, and 60 team members). All processes for the software development have been established and implemented (including CI/CD pipelines, quality assurance, cross team cooperation, software architecture standards and coding principles).

So, when I joined Twill as a Chief Technology Officer, in February 2017, one of the main tasks was replacing the team of contractors with permanent Twill-ers (software developers, QA engineers).  It would be the easiest task I could imagine. But it didn’t quite turn out that way.

What the heck happened? What made this particular one so difficult? Why was I not able to build a strong technical organization, able to support our fast-growing venture, even within 4 months???

There were certainly several major reasons. One, which I consider as the most important, was my underestimating of being put into a new environment, outside of my huge professional network in Poland. It became so clear that moving into another country (or even city) is like ripping up roots. You have to invest an incredible amount of effort to build any kind of a new network, became familiar with the working culture, but also local manners, ways of reaching out to people. You have to spend most of the time on searching, talking to people, to head hunters, simply asking everyone if they would want to help you, or simply work with you.

Sometimes, I was losing my sense of reality, trying to talk to every single person who pinged me on LinkedIn, investing my time into searching google for any sources, even those not verified but promising wonders. That was not only exhausting for me, but also put tension and unnecessary pressure on the other team members. This was a dead end.

At some point, I changed my mind and approach. I let the team focus on only selected and proven sources, focus on the prioritized openings. Learning for me is that every place is different. In some places, you use huge network of head hunters, in the other you use only one but, in yet another one you use only personal recommendations.

It was more than fortunate that I joined Twill as my first real abroad work. The management team here is extremely supportive. They are more than committed into making this venture a success, not only inside their areas of responsibilities, but also outside. Thanks to this I was introduced to several different sourcing funnels, met people who could help me and Ramona, our Head of People, to actually get candidates and finally hires.

At the same time, I also tried my known network in Poland, and thanks to this we were able to quite quickly find and attract several strong developers in Gdansk, opening a new Twill office in Poland on September 18th.

As of now, we have a very strong team of experienced professionals, able to deliver business needs, but also to redesign and rebuild the left over from the MVP (minimal viable product) stage. We also have very well thought-through organizational design implemented (I’ll talk more about this in one of the next posts).

Does it mean I’m done? No way. I will work on the next phases of this journey, building bigger tech teams, splitting responsibilities and people into more self-driven and effective teams, growing Twill tech culture, encouraging each and everyone to experiment and innovate. To really disrupt the logistics industry. Keep it simple, keep it strong, keep it Twill.

By Marcin Kulawik, CTO, Twill.