Growing up in Kuala Lumpur, Nadhir Ashafiq is used to seeing posters of Lori Sewa - lorry for rent advertisements - plastered haphazardly, creeping up onto the city’s infrastructures - walls, trees, lamp posts, bus stands.
These illegal ads, no doubt, an eyesore, but it also illustrates a void in the logistics market. “I saw there’s quite an inefficiency in logistics. Everything was done quite manually,” says Nadhir.
There must be a better way to connect lorry providers, drivers and consumers, Nadhir thought some four years ago. That was when the idea of TheLorry - an on-demand truck sharing provider - was born.
“The whole idea came about when my co-founder, Goh Chee Hau and I, sat down over lunch and talked about the logistics industry. One thing led to another, TheLorry was born.”
TheLorry serves as a platform that matches customers - both commercial and consumer - with lorry drivers. Through its website and mobile app, customers can choose a combined fleet of over 7000 vehicles, comprising lorries, vans, 4X4 pickup trucks and even large trailers, to move goods.
When we started in 2014, there were only two drivers that believed in us. It was super tough
“We did not start immediately with the grand idea. We just wanted to solve one particular problem,” says Nadhir.
“Early on, it was very difficult to find good talent to join our startup. It was difficult to convince them that they should forgo joining companies, banks or multinational corporations that have better benefits, better salaries. So that was the early struggle,” recalls Nadhir, who was an investment banker before diving full-time into entrepreneurship at age 26.
“I remembered we set up almost 20, 30, 40 meetings with these Lori Sewa owners - it’s actually the guys whose contacts I got from the trees and lamp posts,” he says.
“But out of the 40 or 50 people we’ve contacted, only two or three answered. So when we started in 2014, there were only two drivers that believed in us. It was super tough. They are still with us, until now. So, I am very thankful for that.”
Similar to ridesharing services like Uber and Grab, users on TheLorry get to track the rider’s journey and rate them at the end of the job. Nadhir explains that by using algorithm, higher rated drivers will have the advantage to see jobs earlier, than lower rated drivers - encouraging drivers to do a good job.
“TheLorry promises a brand where it will help customers to move and essentially not face any difficulties, unprofessionalism or unscrupulous pricing. We offer the whole convenience of booking. I think that’s what we are trying to bring to the table here,” says Nadhir.
TheLorry promises a brand where it will help customers to move and, essentially not face any difficulties, unprofessionalism, unscrupulous pricing
Since 2014, TheLorry has raised over USD2.8 million. The company largely focused on the consumer market in the initial stages. It has expanded to the B2B segment and is looking to ramp up operations in this space, targeting SMEs.
Nadhir says the company is also looking into expanding its operations in Southeast Asia. Recognising that there are already many established players, backed by big funders, in the region, Nadhir thinks the value TheLorry brings to both customers and drivers will help set it above other on-demand logistics company.
“We don’t see ourselves just as platforms anymore. We want to create an ecosystem where by we help both customers and well as the owners of lorries to thrive by providing them with financial assistance, insurance,” says Nadhir.
“Sixty percent of our vendors are owner operators. They are the boss, they are the ones driving the lorries. So they see value in us, we see value in them. It’s a win-win situation basically.”
TheLorry has expanded its operations in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Nadhir says they are determined to conquer the whole of Southeast Asia in the coming years.
“We are not going to look at any other countries except Southeast Asia. We want to be the dominant player when it comes to logistics platform in Southeast Asia. That’s our focus.”
“We definitely have different strategies for different countries. You can’t have a cookie cutter approach, when it comes to Southeast Asia. Every country has to be different,” says Nadhir.“So yes, there are competitors but the market is huge. I personally think that we can carve a certain space for each of us and thrive together.”
“I think it all comes down to our model. Our business model is asset-light,” says Nadhir. “So it’s a matter of replicating the technology we have built into a new country and scale fast. In fact, for Indonesia, it only took us two months, from the moment we said, ‘Let’s expand to Indonesia’ - to the first booking.”
TheLorry’s rapid expansion were not without external support, says Nadhir. He credits the company's growth to its participation in the Cyberview Living Lab Accelerator program in 2015.
“We were given a certain amount of money in exchange for a bit of a stake in the company. They provides us with the knowledge, know-how, mentorship as well as a network for us to really test our concept and idea.”
“That was a great decision. Because without a program like this, it would be quite difficult for us to get mentors that would be very valuable in starting the business.”
His advice to young entrepreneurs? Be lean, agile and fast.
“I subscribe to this framework or theory called The Lean Startup,” says Nadhir.
“You should always experiment when it comes to creating new and innovative products, rather than just throw money at it and immediately start. So the whole concept is about creating smaller version of the products, test and then run it. And if it goes well, then you continue. If it doesn’t go well, then you pivot.”