BlueCargo, the startup to watch in 2019!
Blue Cargo is flying off to Los Angeles in March, after spending a few months in Paris.
The whole story started off a year and a half ago, when Laura Theveniau and Alexandra Griffon met at UC Berkeley doing their Entrepreneurship master. Both in their twenties, Laura was first a student in machine learning at ENSAE before Ecole Polytechnique and Alexandra a student at ESSEC Business School. At UC Berkeley, they teamed up to work on a common project and will later co-found with Arthus de Saint Chaffray (student at Ecole CentraleSupelec and Stanford) BlueCargo.
Long story, (very) short, in a year, the founders met, founded BlueCargo, were incubated in the biggest Silicon Valley incubator, Y Combinator, raised US$ 3m, worked in San Francisco, Paris and Los Angeles, and hired 4 additional talents to the team. BlueCargo “brings visibility to optimise
operations in seaport terminals” and to “achieve up to 50% savings in operational efficiency”.
So while the majority of the team was still working in Paris, at Schoolab Sentier, we interviewed Alexandra to know more about their story and journey up until now:
Question: Can you tell us about the beginning of BlueCargo?
Alexandra: When studying at UC Berkeley, Laura and I started working together. We wanted to use machine learning to help the port industry, an old industry. We got very lucky because we were right next to the port of Oakland and were able to get contacts thanks to our master director. We managed to get data from a US port terminal which allowed us to build our first models. We especially had the chance to visit ports really often, and link our data and model with reality. That’s how we understood there was really something to do.
Question: What is the impact of Blue Cargo for a port?
Alexandra: Everything is about flow of goods, more precisely about containers in ports. There is a saying in this industry that goes “When you see one port, you’ve only seen one port”, because indeed, ports are all very different. At the moment, we are more focused on imports ports, such as the ones in the USA and Europe. We use AI to know which containers will be first picked-up by trucks and optimisation to know where exactly to store containers given previous calculations.
Question : Your product is for ports, is that a passion of yours?
Alexandra: Well, both Laura and I have always be passioned by geopolitics. You realise that ports are at the heart of world traffic which is very interesting. To that, you can add the sheer coincidence that made us be at the right place at the right time. What is really exciting is how well we can measure the impact Blue Cargo has on ports, and what really is passionating is the fact that ports can sometimes be the economic lungs of a city, a region or even a country.
Question: How does it feel to have founded a tech startups, with a team of 7 in total and be the only business profile?
Alexandra: I think the first focus is the product and founders must negotiate and sell to the first clients themselves. Only then we’ll be able to grow a sales team and know the clients needs well enough to transfer this knowledge to the team. So I hope we’ll hire the sales profiles soon!
Question: is being French in the United States a limit or an advantage?Alexandra: In San Francisco, many people are from somewhere else! So as a French person you’re no different than anyone else.
Question: You went to Y Combinator, can you tell us about this experience?
Alexandra: Y Combinator is the biggest boost a startup could hope for, especially given that ours wasn’t even three months old, it’s kind of a life changing experience for an entrepreneur. Applying is straightforward: everyone goes through the same process. We heard about it when studying at UC Berkeley, it had always been one of our objectives. I think they liked the project, and there were people before us who proved that there was a market.
It was the best help we could get for three month, what’s incredible at YC is their “forcing focus mechanism”: they will help with fundraising, so before that, you can really focus on your product and your client.
They set up with you your three-months goals in three metrics and when you’ve reached all of them you finish by the demo day where you have very little time to be impactful and convince investors!
Question: Why did you decide to go to Berkeley via Le Bridge ?
Alexandra: I think Silicon Valley it’s the best place to learn about entrepreneurship. In France, I did my studies and completed my internships in finance, M&A and sales. I wanted to have a good background before starting entrepreneurship. So at the end of my studies, Le Bridge was right
Question: Would you have any advice for a student that want to be an entrepreneur?
Alexandra: yes! Well first, there’s no better time than right now! We always talk about risk but being a student is the moment where you have the smallest risk, and whatever happens, even if it doesn’t work out, there is nothing that will teach you more than starting your own business.
Then, I think the hardest part is finding the right people with whom to team up with. So UC Berkeley gave me the opportunity to meet with Laura and Arthus which was the trigger of BlueCargo. And there are a lot of people out there. The entrepreneurship community keeps on growing, at university you keep on hearing about it.
If you can, I think doing such a program at Berkeley is a great start but otherwise, students can join clubs and societies to meet people and network!
Le Bridge(applications closing end of March 2019)