Benji is part of Africa’s top (award-winning) triple-bottom line evangelist start-up. www.emptytrips.com. An impact capitalist, Benji leverages tech, smart strategy and the shared economy thinking in an effort to save our planet & make profits.
After a decade in top-tier consulting and banking at firms like The Boston Consulting Group and HSBC, Benji decided to turn her attention to changing the world and founded EmptyTrips with Herman. The human whirlwind’s focus is now on making EmptyTrips the largest provider of logistics services, where her double Masters (LLM & MPhil) and her Bachelor’s in Finance come in handy on a daily basis.
Benji has been recognised by many within a short period of time, accolades include being a Forbes Africa Tech Disruptor 2018, Top50 Women in Tech – Entrepreneur Mag 2018, Frost&Sullivan On-Demand Logistics Innovation Winner 2018, AWIEF Top5 African Women Tech Entrepreneur 2018, Top5 Global Impact Challengers – SingularityU Africa 2017, Railtech Pioneer – Engineering Weekly, Insuretech TrailBlazer – DC Velocity (2018), Top50 Women in Tech – Innov8tive (2018), SA Innovation Winner – 2017, Top 30 Startup World Cup 2018, and most recently the Top60 Women Lead Tech Companies by Forbes. With her team, dominated by like-minded women, they have taken on a fight in a male-dominated, legacy-ridden industry to bring change, growth and environmental impact. EmptyTrips proudly addressed four of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, but here is her story over the past aggressive 2 years…
Please tell us a little more about yourself and your journey thus far.
After 10 years of top-tier consulting and financial services, I ventured into full time entrepreneurship with the aim to disrupt the African business status-quo. I hold Two masters degrees. I am currently scaling EmptyTrips, a logi-fintech high growth venture, (amongst others).
Please tell us a little more about how your company came about.
Approximately two years ago, I was driving along the N3 highway from Durban passing empty trucks and rail wagons along route. This got me talking to my partner (original co-founder), and thinking of numerous consulting clients complained about expensive transport costs eating into profit margins, yet there is oversupply given the empties?
Applying simple supply-demand economic theory, it simply didn’t make sense; excess supply leads to lower prices, not higher / expensive. I assumed better-matched demand and supply would lead to a lower equilibrium cost for transport… Aside from cost implications – and being a tree-hugger, the excessive emissions, road congestion and safety hazards caused by trucks in general, never-mind empty ones, was enough for me to try find a solution.
I decided that something needed to be done, a smart market for transport was needed to reduce the waste, the cost of transport and enable better utilisation of expensive assets. Technology held the key.
You are busy with some very interesting initiatives. Please tell us a little more about that.
We are super excited to have launched the first digital freight on-demand exchange for rail in Africa named RailFOX, collaborating with Grindrod Rail Consulting Services. Launched in mid-June, we currently offer instant booking for rail freight at great rates from Zambia to/ from South Africa. If we achieve the tonnage we set out to, we would be saving the same amount of sequestration of a 76000 hectare forest per annum by 2020 given the shift from road to rail.
What is it that you are passionate about?
I am passionate about reducing waste, minimizing costs, connecting Africa & lowering carbon-impact through technology.
What is your personal motto?
Hustle hard, play nice and tame your beast.
Who or What has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
My mother is the most incredible hustler I’ve ever known, and she has taught me so much about resilience, passion and being a solutionist. When I wanted to attend Teverton (a private school in Natal), she raffled a big-screen TV to raise funds. After working for a period, I decided I wanted to do a second Masters’ degree in Germany, one that combines international law and finance to fast-track my move into the investment banking space.
This was an issue, as it as super expensive, and local banks did not extend student loans for studies abroad. Well, my mom, she wrote to Maria Ramos motivating the case for Absa to extend me a student loan, based on my merits, and their surety. And it worked! She has always backed me as a star jockey, this resilient mindset has been my foundation. You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it and love it.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
One of the key challenges we are facing are corporate timelines to setup pilots and integrate. Creating a digital market, where none existed before. In essence means we are building two business at once: Database of vetted transporters and operators, and a database of cargo owners/brokers.
The marketplace does not function without both, and we first have to build transport capacity online before we can offer good rates and roper matching to cargo owners / brokers – but we will get there. The restricted marketing budget has forced us to be creative with our public relations strategy, although we are getting attention, we need marketing investment to reach our audience and grow our brand. However, we have made it work. We have created the noise, we knock on doors everyday and we are getting the attention from the right people.
What advice would you give a woman wanting to follow her dreams?
Be hungry for knowledge, earn your respect and humble yourself when needed. Doors will be closed, you will be told no many times, it is not glamorous – but making it happen is up to you.
What advice would you give your younger self?
You can plan ahead but your plan will definitely change when the time comes.
Your favourite daily affirmation:
Acknowledge others with respect. Ask with determined clarity. Appreciate the opportunity.
Your favourite quote:
James Openhei – “The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.”
What are your top 3 business tips?
1. Learn from your mistakes.
2. Solve a problem.
What would you say is the secret to your success?
One general piece of advice you would like to share:
“Build something a 100 people love, not something 1 million people kind of like.”