Berlin-based cargo.one, which runs a marketplace for booking air freight, has closed an $18.6 million Series A round of funding led by Index Ventures.
Next47 and prior backers Creandum, Lufthansa Cargo and Point Nine Capital also participated in the round, along with a number of angel investors -- including Tom Stafford of DST Global and Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas (COO of GoCardless and former chief product officer of Skyscanner).
The August 2017-founded startup says it's seen bookings rise during the coronavirus crisis travel crunch as airlines seek alternatives to selling seats to passengers.
Over the past 12 months the startup says it's scaled GMV by 10x and is expecting continued fast-paced growth as COVID-19 accelerates the adoption of digital distribution in air cargo.
The new funding will go on expanding the business, with the team aiming to increase the number of airlines signed up -- including beefing up coverage in Europe. Cargo.one is also targeting expanding into North America and Asia -- planning to triple headcount to 70 staff by the end of the year via an aggressive hiring drive.
Currently it has 12 airlines signed up to use the platform to book in freight shipments, including Lufthansa, All Nippon Airways, Finnair, Etihad, AirBridgeCargo and TAP Air Portugal. It launched the booking product two summers ago, with Lufthansa Cargo as the first airline signed up.
"Cargo.one is a two-sided marketplace, connecting airlines with forwarders of all sizes," says co-founder and MD Oliver Neumann, discussing the business model. "We receive a commission fee from the airlines for selling their air freight capacities on our platform. For freight forwarders the access to the booking platform is free."
The platform offers real-time visibility of available air freight across covered airlines and routes -- aiming to replace what can be an arduous process of phone and/or email back and forth for its target users (freight-forwarding offices).
Airlines set prices for air freight products sold via cargo.one .
"The air cargo market has been stuck in the '90s when compared to the passenger business. The vast majority of air cargo to this day is booked by calling the airlines directly. Many processes are still manual and time-consuming," says Neumann, who describes the product as "more than just a booking platform."
"We design, build and maintain custom integrations to our airline partners, creating both the front end for freight forwarders and integrating into the systems of the airlines and helping them improve the back-end infrastructure. That’s why we refer to it as the operating system for air cargo."
"At cargo.one we are building a 100% digital solution and enable airlines to transform their business digitally. Over the past years, cargo.one has built tailored technical integrations with airline partners that enable them to distribute their capacity online without the need to overhaul their infrastructure," he adds.
Currently, cargo.one's platform has some 1.1 million+ air freight offers per month, covering 120+ countries and 300 airports globally.
On the customer side it has more than 1,500 freight-forwarding offices signed up at this point -- which it touts as including "21 of the top 25 companies globally."
"From January to June 2020, cargo.one saw the number of air cargo search requests by freight forwarders quadruple. In response to increased demand from airlines and freight forwarders, we expect to triple the size of the business by the end of the year," adds Neumann.
Index's Martin Mignot and Max Rimpel led the Series A investment in cargo.one.
Commenting on the funding in a statement, Mignot, said: "cargo.one has formed close partnerships with major global airlines, who have subsequently seen their cargo business expand significantly. Conversations with dozens of other airlines in the Americas and Asia show the clear need for a simple booking engine for air cargo, and early signs of the far-reaching impact it will have on the airline industry and businesses around the world who rely on it to serve their customers."
Venture capital has been pouring into the logistics space over the past decade, chasing an increasing number of startups spotting opportunities to apply digital efficiencies to the movement of physical goods -- including aiming to replace freight forwarders themselves, in the case of another Berlin logistics startup, FreightHub, which raised a $30 million Series B last year for a logistics play that covers sea, air and rail freight.