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March of the apps: Yalla Pickup, Trukker and Trukkin on digital trucking

PMV Middle East meets the men behind three startups, Yalla Pickup, Trukker and Trukkin, looking to storm the transport segment with their cloud-based service aggregation apps

L-R: Gaurav Biswas, founder and CEO, Trukker; Elie El Tom, founder and CEO, Yalla Pickup; and, Janardan Dalmia, co-founder and CEO, Trukkin.
L-R: Gaurav Biswas, founder and CEO, Trukker; Elie El Tom, founder and CEO, Yalla Pickup; and, Janardan Dalmia, co-founder and CEO, Trukkin.

The Gulf region has witnessed the emergence of a commercial vehicle app ecosystem, as if overnight, with the appearance of a number of intrepid startups seeking to facilitate and simplify vehicular transport services — for everything from the delivery of sundry supplies to the haulage of loads between ports and free zones, or quarries and construction sites.

PMV Middle East catches up with three app-developing companies — Yalla Pickup, Trukker and Trukkin — whose respective apps span the commercial vehicles transport segment from pickups at the light-duty end, and on through medium-duty vehicles to the heaviest of the region’s haulers.

What all of these apps have in common is that they function as service aggregators that work to connect suppliers (in this case transport operators) with their end users — through the appeal of an effective interface and the simplicity of a single provider.

However, Yalla Pickup, Trukker and Trukkin are taking this process a few steps further in a not dissimilar way to how apps like Uber or Careem have transformed personal transport — by streamlining their aggregation services into an app and making them available at the touch of a button.

The rise of these platforms presents an opportunity for fleet operators to diversify their business channels and revenue streams. Customers can meanwhile trust in the fact that are dealing with carefully vetted vendors.

For paying customers, the ability to rate and rank vendors is a meritocratic development that should prove highly disruptive for the commercial vehicles transport segment in the Gulf, where the quality and reliability of service can often prove inconsistent.

The highly fragmented nature of the transport segment in the Gulf — which is dominated by small- to medium-sized players — also presents a scenario where all parties involved could benefit from apps and services that seek to simplify business transactions.

And if the overwhelmingly positive market reaction to Yalla Pickup, Trukker and Trukkin is anything to go by, it seems like these three apps, and similar aggregation services, stand in good stead to take the industry by storm.

As Elie El Tom, founder and CEO of Yalla Pickup, notes: “We’ve seen 200% month-on-month revenue growth. It’s not a big revenue, but the growth has been consistent from January to May. In January we actually had 396% revenue growth month-on-month, but it has been 200% on average.”

As the names suggest Yalla Pickup is focused on the pickup and light-duty truck segment, while Trukker and Trukkin are focused on the medium- and heavy-duty segments — though they are coming at the segment from different angles, and exhibit noticeable differences in their approach.

In terms of its user base as of early August, Yalla Pickup had registered more than 50 businesses and 300 individual customers.

Both Yalla Pickup and Trukker were launched for the UAE at GITEX Technology Week in Dubai last October, and the response from the market since then has been strong.

As Trukker’s founder, Gaurav Biswas, notes: “We have grown now by about 1,600% in nine months, and we intend to double by the end of the year — so we’re definitely doing something right, and a lot of it is because the space definitely has value to be added.”

In terms of volumes, he adds: “On an average we keep close to 40 trucks busy, and one a peak day we keep 70 to 75 trucks busy — so that’s the volume of the trucks on the street that are being moved by Trukker — and by the end of the year, we are expecting to keep an average of 200 trucks busy a day.

Trukkin was meanwhile officially launched in May this year, by co-founders Janardan Dalmia and Ahmed Al Nafie, the Saudi partner in the venture, following a soft launch in April.

Dalmia, who is also the CEO, details: “We launched in the UAE in May this year, and the response has been very encouraging. We have been doing quite a lot of shipments across the GCC. We then launched our Saudi operations at the beginning of August, and there has been a tremendous response there as well — so everything is very encouraging.”

User onboarding

For all three companies, the immediate goal is to grow their user base in a way that maintains both healthy balance of supply and demand, while all the while ensuring that the service standards are consistently maintained.

Any fleet operator that wishes to onboard with Yalla Pickup, Trukker or Trukkin must first undergo a strict vetting and quality control procedure involving a combination of document checks and on-the-ground checks of the vendors, vehicles and drivers to ensure that their paperwork matches reality.

Biswas explains that Trukker has “a three-step onboarding process” for its suppliers that begins with documentation verification, continues with driver checks, and ends with induction training for the drivers for both the app and manual handling best practices.

Once on the app, the vendors are then scored by customers through a ratings system that Biswas notes, “ultimately determines which of the guys will continue with us and which of them will eventually fail”.

He continues: “We have had so many vendors that we have taken off the platform, because they haven’t meet the performance standards, but equally we have seen other who have thrived. We have a vendor that started out with us with five trucks, and in March he was able to commit to buying two more trucks — just because of the amount of business he was growing with Trukker.”

Yalla Pickup’s El Tom similarly notes: “We have certain processes for onboarding vendors before they meet the clients — a driver checklist and induction training for both the drivers and vendors. The drivers have to sign off on anything they have been inducted on.

“We first started selecting vendors based on a limited set of criteria. Now we also take into account politeness and English language skills — so our selection criteria have been increased to meet certain standards, and this has been through feedback from the clients.

“Now we have reached the point where we have a full system process: first to select the vendor themselves; then to select the drivers; then to induct the drivers and helpers; and finally, to incentive the drivers — by rewarding the driver and the helper of the month.”

In the case of Trukkin, Dalmia notes: “There’s a verification process where we not only check all the legal documents, but also the quality of the vehicles. We initially based this on references from people who had dealt with the drivers in the past, and subsequently introduced the ratings system. Either way, we are constantly keeping a very close eye on the quality of service being provided.”

He notes: “Despite the scale, we verify all of the transporters and vehicles. The registration, onboarding and training process is a must.” Equally important, he adds, is the follow-up conducted by the operational team.

If a problem is reported by a customer, for example, the Trukkin team conducts a sanity check: first to clarify the nature of the mistake, if there is one; and, after determining what led to the mistake, where the process went wrong.

Dalmia adds: “Our idea is not just to boot off people because they happen to get a bad rating, but to dig deeper and figure out where something went wrong — and how the service can be improved to make the experience better for both the transporter and the shipper.

“We want to create a win-win platform, and our experience so far of companies who have a regular shipping requirements is that they don’t want to create issues. If something goes wrong, they are understanding.”

Beyond the onboarding process, all three companies also conduct regular spot checks.

Dalmia adds: “We are providing the customers with 24/7 operational support, and the first time the truck is getting loaded and the customer is using us, one of our guys — or sometimes myself — is always present to make sure that everything goes smoothly.”

Aside from checks, another critical element of the onboarding process is to ensure that it is balanced to prevent demand outstripping supply or vice versa. Since the onboarding process itself consumes resources, all three companies are being cautious and selective in the way they bring vendors on board.

In the case of Yalla Pickup, El Tom explains: “Demand has been higher than supply, so now I’m spending more time on getting vendors on board — until such a time where we can again meet the demand that we have already.”

Trukkin’s Dalima comments: “The demand and supply fluctuates a lot based on the work, but we feel we have a strong supply side that is capable of fulfilling all of the market demands. We are growing in a controlled manner, where we know that — once we onboard a client — we can serve them properly without creating a false expectation or having a supply issue.”

Trukker has taken a slightly different approach, and many of its clients has segued into the B2B segment from B2C segment, where it has built up a successful ecosystem of medium-duty transport vendors catering primarily to the home-moving segment.

Biswas explains: “B2C has been a super stepping stone for us, allowing us to master the science of business development and customer interaction — while our vendors focus on doing a good job of moving things from A to B.”

Starting in B2C has helped Trukker to fine-tune its app development and other processes in a segment that is highly customer-oriented and must adhere to high customer standards.

Biswas continues: “We now do close to 65% B2C and 35% B2B, but by the end of the year, we expect this to come close to reversing, and over the next year I think it will be 90% and 10% — for B2B and B2C respectively — with the growth that we see in the B2B segment.”

Dalmia adds: “The market has been positive, and we have had a very encouraging response. One way of looking at it is what is the ‘churn’ — the rate at which customers that use the platform once, but who do not provide repeat business. And in our case, all our customers are repeat customers. Once we onboard them, they have all used our platform consistently.”

Fleet management

All three companies are keen to highlight that the most important added value of their apps will ultimately lie in how the platforms assist with both fleet management and accountancy.

El Tom explains: “On version two of Yalla Pickup, which will launch at GITEX, users will be able to track their transactions, generate invoices, and segregate that data according to client, project or period — such as all of the trips that they have done in a month.”

In the case of Trukker, Biswas notes: “At the end of the day, Trukker is very different from Uber or Careem in terms of the way in which it operates. Those just involve calling a cab, sitting in the cab, going wherever you’re going, and getting an email receipt.

“Trucking is an operations heavy business and can be quite complex, i.e. a customer needs three trucks of a certain size, and each should have certain documentation — you need a set of nine documents for chemical transportation.

“We’re also adding values in terms of not just being a booking service, but providing a checklist of documents that the drivers need.”

Like version two of Yalla Pickup, he adds: “The client will have all of their transactions stored in a management information system. They might have moved 30 truckloads with 20 different transporters, but you’re going to get the same standard format of invoice from Trukker — and it will all be in the cloud.”

The same is true for Trukkin, for which 80% of the business is cross-border traffic within the GCC. Here, Dalmia explains, the app helps with customs clearance, noting: “We have appointed customs agents at all the borders.”

He adds: “Theoretically, we can scale to all the countries and open apps — there’s huge surface transport movement throughout the GCC — but what the shippers and transporters really need is operational support.”

All three apps also hold significant potential for supporting small- to medium-sized enter-prises in the market, which Biswas claims represent 70% of all trucks in the segment.

He notes: “Aggregation is not new — even players like Aramex and Agility aggregate — but what companies like Trukker are doing is delivering that ease of aggregation.”

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