Several years ago, two freight forwarders in Spain found to their dismay that they had lost a client.
The customer called their Barcelona company after hours to urgently request information on a freight shipment — transportation schedules, costs, alternative ocean routes — but could not reach the two agents and switched to a competing company.
The two Spaniards — Iván Tintore and Carlos Hernández — decided they needed to offer a more efficient way to meet the needs of their international clientele, who move large volumes of cargo each year by ocean and air freight.
As a result, they developed iContainers, a pioneering online service that allows shippers anywhere to log onto iContainers.com 24 hours a day, search thousands of transportation options, and find the best routes, schedules and rates for moving their merchandise.
“We realized that the freight-forwarding industry was old-fashioned and needed to change,” said Hernández, iContainers’ co-founder and global managing director. “We are like Kayak.com and Expedia.com, but instead of moving people, we move freight.”
The two developed the first Internet-based freight-forwarding system in Barcelona at the end of 2007, secured financing from venture capital firms and set up the new company. “We offer our clients the option of searching for the best routes for ocean or air freight, and quoting and booking online,” Hernández said. “Essentially, you log onto iContainers.com and compare the cost of shipping goods from point A to point B, anywhere in the world.”
One of the main pages on the iContainers website, showing a cargo vessel loaded with multicolored containers in the background, summarizes what the company offers: “SEARCH. CHOOSE. BOOK. Best rates guaranteed.”
The company helps clients move freight throughout Europe, North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia via sea and air, charging a fee for its services.
“Our platform aggregates freight rates for more than 100,000 trade routes covering over 300 destinations,” said Hernández, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in business and an MBA from Barcelona’s ESADE business school and worked as a venture capital analyst before becoming a full-time freight forwarder.
The new service quickly caught on in Europe, and last year handled over 4,000 shipments globally, each of which involved anywhere from one container to more than a score.
In 2013, the company decided to set up a subsidiary in Miami, a major center for international trade in the Americas. Hernández came here to open iContainers USA, which now has eight employees. The home office in Barcelona has 25.
iContainers USA began operating in Miami in 2014 and is a fully licensed and bonded international freight forwarder. The company mainly offers “door to port service,” which means the company makes arrangements to pick up merchandise from the customer’s place of business, move it to PortMiami or Miami International Airport, and send it on to its destination. It also provides “door-to-door” service for some freight routes between two countries, and is expanding this service, Hernández said.
“This is a first step in developing our global platform that will allow companies to ship everywhere from everywhere,” he added.
iContainers works with large firms, small and mid-sized businesses (SMEs) and individuals. Once a customer books a shipment online, employees at the Miami office handle the details of arranging the shipment and keep the customer informed of the merchandise’s movements.
Aside from these duties, iContainers’ employees in Miami provide guidance to SMEs and to individuals who want to ship or receive goods but who may not be aware of the complex international import/export regulations, duties and other red tape.
iContainers USA is also sponsoring a series of international trade seminars and webinars. These events focus on how to optimize the logistics process in international trade and explain best practices developed by exporters and importers.
While iContainers was a pioneer in developing an online system like Kayak.com for freight, Hernández said that Google recently launched a website that “mimics iContainers’ platform,” and that a few other companies are following the same route.
“What we’re seeing is a ‘seed boom,’ where competitors were essentially waiting to see if iContainers’ concept and technology works,” Hernández said.
Despite looming competition, iContainers’ strategy is to continually improve its technology, enhance its platform and enlarge its network of shipping partners.
“The shipping industry has a long and rich history,” Hernández said. “Key players have been around for many decades and it’s essential to create an international network of partners who trust our service and believe in our ability to provide a full range of services, including door-to-door.”
One key element in iContainers’ strategy is to continue the company’s outreach to SMEs — a rapidly growing segment in international trade — as well to multinational companies, Hernández said.
“Through our efforts in communities and our events, we plan to educate businesses about the ease and affordability of going global,” he said.