Interview with Zhenya Beck in Total Prestige Magazine
Total Prestige Magazine has a tradition of interviewing inspiring professionals and business people. I was honored to get on their radar and happy to use this opportunity to share the Freightera story. The interview questions were thought-provoking and very in-depth, challenging, and fun to answer. The editor later selected it as the cover story for their Weekly Digest. And here it is for you. Thank you for your interest in our story.
TALKING WITH ZHENYA BECK
Turn on a national news broadcast today, and you are bound to see a story about climate change, transport emissions, or pollution. These are topics that aren’t going away, rather they are becoming more important.
Eric Beckwitt and Zhenya Beck wanted to do something about the growing air pollution problems and decided one way to help remedy the situation was to address the logistics arena. They founded a revolutionary technology startup called Freightera. The platform allows companies to find the best rates for shipping their products across North America. But not only are the rates low, but Freightera also offers businesses the chance to choose low emission shipping options that lessen the impact of pollution on the Earth.
Freightera has been making waves since it debuted, and the co-founders have achieved recognition for their fantastic startup. Beck recently sat down with Totalprestige Magazine and took some time to explain what makes Freightera such a cutting-edge company. Beck also spoke about her career and how she went from a journalist to co-founding an environmentally friendly logistics business.
Zhenya, tell us about Freightera and what makes it different than other logistics companies?
ZHENYA BECK: I would like to first thank you for the opportunity to share our story with your readers. Freightera is a purpose-driven company. We are here to make a substantial and lasting difference in the freight industry, not just for profit. If you ever tried to ship freight, you know how expensive, slow and technologically backward the whole process is. What you may have not thought about is how wasteful and polluting it is. Thirty percent of trucks you see on the road at any given time are empty. We exist to change that and to make freight shipping easy, accessible and green. Our CEO, Eric Beckwitt, believes that businesses today should all have missions beyond profit. People and the planet can’t wait any longer. We are also entirely funded by angel investors and high-net-worth individuals supporting our mission.
You have compared Freightera to Expedia previously, but for shipping freight. Can you explain just why you used this comparison?
ZHENYA BECK: How do you personally book your travel, your flights these days? I would imagine you go to a website like Expedia, enter your origin and destination, dates you want, run the search and select the option you like. Freightera works very much like that. Manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and other businesses shipping freight can go to Freightera’s search, enter origin and destination in the US and Canada, size, weight and a few other parameters of their shipment, click the “Get Quotes” button, and within just a few seconds they get rate quotes for their shipment all on one page, ready to book conveniently online. No phone calls to trucking companies or freight brokers, no waiting for hours or days to get a quote. Everything is done instantly just like on Expedia or any other online travel site.
Zhenya, you received a journalism degree before getting into web development and marketing. Can you tell us about your personal journey from budding journalist to Co-Founder of Freightera?
ZHENYA BECK: I started to write for a small local newspaper at age 12, studied journalism at university, and after graduation covered environmental issues in an established newspaper in Russia, where I grew up and lived 20 years ago near Lake Baikal, a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the early 1990s, I met my future husband Eric Beckwitt. We were both young people selected to take part in the Tahoe-Baikal Institute, a Russian-American initiative designed to promote peace and collaboration between the countries, particularly in the environmental area. In 1996 we got married and I moved to join Eric in California. Long story short, I was excited about the possibilities opening at that time in web development. I got trained in marketing, graphic design, and multimedia, and founded a web development company in 1999. Four years ago, I joined my husband as Co-Founder of Freightera. We completely moved away from the web design and development business since then, but we use this expertise at Freightera every day. And, as you can see, we brought our environmental mission with us.
In 2016, Freightera won the Excellence in Product Innovation Technology Impact Award from the BC Tech Association. As a Co-Founder of the company, how important was the award and how much did it mean to be recognized for your work?
ZHENYA BECK: The Technology Impact Awards is one of the most prestigious awards recognizing excellence and innovation in the British Columbia technology community. We were competing with many accomplished companies from Vancouver and British Columbia and were thrilled to hear our name as a winner in Excellence in the Product Innovation category at the TIA Awards. TIAs are like the technology Oscars, a spectacular gala event held each year at the Vancouver Convention Center with hundreds of guests.
We had already got great traction in the market and signed hundreds of trucking companies and over 1,500 shippers at that time, but the recognition from fellow members of the technology industry meant a huge deal to us. I think that being chosen for the BC Tech Hyper-Growth Accelerator the previous year and the BC Tech Association’s amazing support and encouragement must have also helped us. Since then we also won placement in Silicon Valley’s very competitive Plug and Play Logistics Accelerator in 2017 which put us on the map beyond British Columbia.
The Freightera website states the company is green and energy-efficient. How do you achieve your objective of being a green company?
ZHENYA BECK: Currently, about 7% of the total CO2 emissions worldwide are from freight transport, and if nothing changes, this number will grow dramatically. Freightera has partnered with Natural Resources Canada and the US EPA SmartWay certification system to create North America’s first Lower Emission Freight Marketplace. In the Freightera system, shippers can select lower emission rail and SmartWay certified carriers every time they book freight. Because these carriers are typically highly efficient and also offer the lowest rates, most of the time. Over 80% of the freight booked on Freightera each day is lower emission rail or SmartWay certified carriers. Depending on the total distance moved by rail, and the relative effectiveness of emission reduction by each carrier under the SmartWay system, CO2 and other pollutants are immediately reduced up to 60% for each load booked on Freightera.
Eric and I don’t talk much about it, but it’s definitely an important part of our story. The main reason we moved with our two young children from California to Vancouver, Canada, where Freightera was later born, was that our son had life-threatening pollution-induced asthma in California. Air pollution literally hit home for us.
What are some of the ways shipping and logistics are changing in the modern world and what difficulties do companies face when shipping now?
ZHENYA BECK: Shipping and logistics give people in industrial societies access to goods from all over the world. Inexpensive shipping makes it difficult or impossible for local manufacturers to compete if local labor costs are high in relation to other countries. One of the biggest problems US businesses face when shipping now is finding the best rates from the over 750,000 motor carriers registered with the US Department of Transportation. Even the largest firms do not know if they are overpaying for freight shipping on specific routes or lanes due to a lack of transparency in the sector. Freight shippers need a platform where prices from thousands of companies can be instantly compared, along with service quality, ratings, and relative emissions. That is what Freightera is creating now.
What is next for Freightera?
ZHENYA BECK: Freightera started in Canada in less than truckload shipping (LTL), and expanded to cross-border and US domestic shipments. The Freightera platform is designed for the road, rail, ocean, and air shipping, and already has the capability to book shipments from and to any location worldwide. That said, Freightera plans to first build out LTL coverage until it has the best coverage and rates in the US and Canada, then complete the addition of fully automated flatbed, FTL and refrigerated freight, containers, bulk freight, and integrated, automatic routing of freight across all transportation modes worldwide.
Zhenya, what is a day in your life like?
ZHENYA BECK: I have many responsibilities in the company and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and stuck, so each morning I try to start by stepping back to see things in perspective. After my morning routine, exercise class or just a cup of coffee or tea, I take a few deep breaths and slow down or mediate even if just for a few minutes. Then I check my calendar, review the performance of ad campaigns, and look at my Trello boards to see if anything needs to be done immediately and what would be the most impactful one, two, or three tasks to work on today. I may have several meetings during the day and always have emails and messages to answer. Having enough time has always been a big challenge as you can imagine.
What makes you smile?
ZHENYA BECK: My children. They are grown up and moved away, but we have very close relationships. I am really enjoying them as young adults. Our son is studying in university. Our daughter works with us in the company, after getting her Master’s degree from the London School of Economics, and she is one of our top performers and a huge helper. Also, our team. We’ve built a great team culture at Freightera. I don’t want to jinx it, but I smile thinking about our Monday rallies, group meetings, and relationships with individual people in the company. People are kind and respectful to each other. Of course, we have our snags, but it’s very satisfying to see that people mostly really enjoy working with each other. I love the enthusiasm and energy that they bring to work, and the love and care overflow to our customers. We are obsessed with customer service because care is deep in our culture.
What scares you?
ZHENYA BECK: The responsibility for the fate of the entire company stresses me sometimes. I feel responsible to our investors, our customers, partners, and our team. They have all invested in Freightera, our vision for the company. Working alongside my husband, who is the CEO, I understand the uncertainties and challenges of running this business like nobody else. I worry about him and the weight of responsibilities on his shoulders, of course.
What is your secret talent?
ZHENYA BECK: I love people. I am interested in their stories, what they value, and what motivates them. I always liked to interview people as a journalist, dig to understand them better and now I see it as an advantage when looking for new talent. I love seeing our employees realizing their potential, figuring out their undiscovered and secret talents, learning, improving, and getting better at what they do. I am happy to be a cheerleader for them.
Which historical figure do you most admire?
ZHENYA BECK: It’s hard to make a choice here. I’ve always admired heroes that sacrificed themselves to improve the conditions of people around them like Spartacus and, in the 20th century, Martin Luther King. I’ve always admired many artists and writers, philosophers, and creatives whose work has and will inspire and influence humanity well beyond their life spans, and I’ve been recently fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci, his incredible mind-boggling versatility and depth. He has touched on so many disciplines and made discoveries with implications hundreds of years in the future. He is the ultimate example of human potential in my view. Yet, he still considered himself a procrastinator and wasn’t hugely confident in himself.
What are you never without?
ZHENYA BECK: Audiobooks on my iPhone. I will never stop learning.
Can you share two of your favorite quotes with us?
“Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love, but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy.” ― Kahlil Gibran
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t―you’re right.” ― Henry Ford
What inspires you?
ZHENYA BECK: Young people, including my children. They give me hope. Young people are smarter than us, kinder, less materialistic, more sensitive, and environmentally conscious. They are paying attention, getting engaged, and will inherit the world and take better care of it than previous generations did.
If you had the power to change just one thing in the world, what would it be?
ZHENYA BECK: I would outlaw war-profiteering. There is no place for businesses that profit from such pain and suffering in the better world that we strive for.
Zhenya, what advice would you give to anyone starting a new business?
ZHENYA BECK: Go for it! It’s the best investment you can make for yourself and your family. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot longer than you think to become very successful. When they say, “instant overnight success after 10 or 20 years of hard work”, it’s true, but if you have the patience and discipline to succeed in a business that you love, you will. You have to love what you do though or learn to love it. Among numerous experts out there, people that truly love what they do stand out.
Anything else you’d like to add?
ZHENYA BECK: People ask me “How could you work in the same business with your husband?” I answer, “How could I not?” Every situation is different, of course, but for us, working in business together has deepened our relationship, and our respect for each other. I think we improve each other. I feel valued as not just a life partner, but a business partner. We have entirely different sets of skills and complement each other, there is nothing to compete about. He is the CEO, and it comes with a huge weight that I don’t want. In business and life, Eric is a great person, wise, funny, hard-working, and incredibly knowledgeable. I’ve been lucky that I could come to him with any concern and receive an answer, a council, a caring listener on the other end. We have always had a great relationship as a couple and I worked on it consciously. Friends know that I am romantic and believe in true love like a little girl and would not sacrifice it for anything. I’ve been consistent with that and wanted to show a loving relationship as an example for our kids. At the end of the day, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. We faced many stressful and intense situations together and emerged stronger as a couple every time.
Read more about Zhenya’s and Eric’s mission of making freight shipping green, through Freightera.