Ghana’s Vestracker heads to Europe to disrupt freight industry

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Uppsala, the fourth largest city in Sweden with approximately 150,000 inhabitants, may seem like a strange place for a startup launched by four young Ghanaians to launch offices.

But for Vestracker, formed at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) in Accra, the move makes perfect sense.

The startup has developed cloud-based software that allows freight forwarders to easily track consignments, facilitates collaboration with partners and provides a window for clients to access updates and status reports.

“Europe is the heart of the shipping industry and most of the big shipping companies are headquartered in Europe,” Osam Sarsah, Vestracker co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO), told Disrupt Africa.

“Setting up shop in Sweden makes it easier to get partnerships with these shipping companies, hence enabling us get reliable data for our clients in other parts of the world.”

Maintaining operations in their home country still has its benefits, however.

“Ghana is one of the five countries in West Africa aspiring to be the load centre in West Africa. With Ghana’s natural deep seaport, the possibility of that happening is high and Vestracker wants to be there when that happens.”

From these two different bases, Sarsah and his partners plan to expand their product to freight forwarders across the world.

The startup’s appeal is based on unique features allowing customers to monitor consignments from multiple shipping lines and manage clients with an inbuilt Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, while a report generation system sends periodic reports with a click of a button. It also offers a document management and archiving system that allows digital management and storage of all company documents and records.

Sarsah believes Vestracker has identified a real gap in the market.

“For both small and multinational freight forwarders, the problem is clear: they spend valuable time and resources inefficiently tracking shipments, often across several shipping lines, keeping clients and customers constantly updated, and managing their operations with multiple stakeholders involved in each transaction,” he said.

“Unfortunately for these freight forwarders and logistics managers, they still use the traditional tools of paper, boxes full of thick files and Excel. The effects of this are clear. Delays leading to demurrage costs, disaffected clients and badly structured organisations. This is what the industry looks like. This is what Vestracker is disrupting.”

Investors have liked the idea, with MEST putting money in as well as individuals in Europe and the United States (US). This has assisted the company in making progress with signing up customers and monetising.

“We have been heavily involved in product development over the last few months. However, we have ramped up quite a number of users in that time as well, both in Africa and in Europe. We have approximately 120 user accounts,” Sarsah said.

The startup has run a short trial in Europe charging a monthly subscription fee of US$400, which Sarsah said received a “very positive” response.

“Vestracker charges a monthly subscription fee and works closely with each freight forwarder regardless of size to determine a plan that fits their needs,” he said.

“This is part of the Vestracker process which makes sure a freight forwarder is up and running in minutes. No downloads, no Installations, no need for your IT guy.”

Sarsah feels the freight industry is ripe for disruption.

“There is a growing adoption of technology by the stakeholders in this space. The reasons are because a lot of governments and customs organisations are making the switch from physical to online transactions ensuring that the stakeholders are becoming increasingly familiar with using these tools,” he said.

“Secondly, more African logistics businesses have clients outside Africa and the demand for them to comply to global standards means they are currently looking to switch to tools like Vestracker.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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