Flexport: the Uber equivalent that aims to transform ocean freight

Signal of change / Flexport: the Uber equivalent that aims to transform ocean freight

By Gillian Phair / 27 May 2015

A new industry first in freight shipping has been developed and is gaining popularity as the ‘Uber for the Oceans’. San Francisco-based start-up Flexport describes itself as the world's first licensed customs brokerage built around a modern Web application. Its mission is to change the process of freight transport in the way that Uber has revolutionised road transport.


Flexport's software provides customers with information about tariffs, customs, and other logistics to allow for comparison between variables, such as port location, shipping dates, container vessel type and cost between different transport businesses. In digitising the ordering process, Flexport facilitates ease of international shipping, reducing paperwork and research effort and connecting several transport companies directly with customers, much like a price-comparison website.


Flexport has ambitions to change the face of global trade, and these aspirations are shared by Y Combinator, a company that discovered and supported several successful start-ups including Airbnb and Dropbox. Y Combinator believes there will be increased international trade if Flexport succeeds.


Since 2014, Flexport has brought in $6.6million in donations to develop its business model. The founder of the company spotted an opportunity, as the use of software had not yet been employed in the shipping freight market, despite its popularity in onshore logistics and supply chain management.


Signal spotted by Gillian Phair. 

Image caption: The Anna Maersk: your vessel of choice? 

Image credit: Tyler / Flickr 

So what?

Could this start-up change the future of shipping by removing hassle and improving business-customer connectivity?



Much like Uber and a number of price comparison websites, Flexport works for the customer, allowing them to make informed and resourceful shipping choices. In our hyper-connected world, customers increasingly expect access to such information, as well as services to support them to make the best decision. 



In modernising the shipping market system, it may become a preferred method of freight transport, as compared to airplane, train or road freight. A shift in transport type may alleviate build-up of greenhouse gases, as lorry freight can produce six times more CO2 than shipping. Air freight is 40 times less carbon-efficient than sea.



With rising anticipation of a global emissions tax, land and air-based freight operations could be hit with increased operating costs in the coming years. The shipping industry has made progress in recent years on fuel efficiency, with subsequent reductions in operating costs and reduced water pollution. Can it build on these developments to draw more business in future?


Bloomberg Business (2015, May 11) Flexport wants to be Uber of the Oceans 

Business Insider (2015, May 11) How an 'Uber for the oceans' wants to change marine shipping

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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