Bezos invests in UK digital logistics start-up Beacon

Jeff Bezos has invested in a British start-up that is planning to use digital technology to disrupt the global logistics industry.

Beacon has raised $15m in a funding round, bringing the Amazon mastermind alongside current investors that include Uber founder Travis Kalanick and former Google chairman Eric Schmidt.

Mr Bezos was the second-largest investor in the round after US venture capital firm 8VC, which is understood to value the UK business at close to $60m.

The group, founded by former Uber executives Fraser Robinson and Dmitri Izmailov, combines supply chain finance with technology to find the most cost-effective shipping routes for cargo.

The company hopes that offering both services together will help it to gain a foothold in two industries worth $13tn annually.

Manufacturers from carmakers to furniture groups use “freight forwarding” companies such as DHL to handle complex global logistics, from booking ships to arranging onward transport afterwards.

The industry is heavily fragmented and many companies are behind in using live data to determine the best or most cost-effective routes.

Beacon uses real-time data to track cargo, as well as a marketplace service that allows it to view shipping costs and prices, overlaid by an algorithm that projects the best routes to take.

The company also offers supply chain finance, a service it claims is unique among freight forwarding businesses.

Suppliers often require payment up front, leaving manufacturers with immediate cash demands, while goods transported by sea are often not delivered for more than a month for longer routes.

“The biggest problem in logistics is almost always cash flow,” Fraser Robinson, chief executive, told the FT.

It will use the latest investment round to expand its team of 50, in order to win new customers. The company was founded in 2018 but only launched its products in the third quarter last year.

Mr Robinson previously led Uber’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, while Mr Izmailov, its operations chief, previously ran Uber’s business in Russia. The company’s chief technology officer, Pierre Martin, is a former head of engineering in Amazon’s logistics business.

The company is also banking on the coronavirus pandemic to drive demand, as the fragility of supply lines across the world was laid bare when factories across the world were closed because of the outbreak.

“With digitalisation accelerating globally as a result of Covid-19, we believe the future of the traditional freight forwarder is more precarious than ever,” said Mr Robinson, who says manufacturers are looking for more ways to cut costs, as well as greater visibility over their worldwide network of suppliers.

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