Jan. 24–At 14, an age when other kids want video games and gadgets, Max Lock wanted a job.
“My birthday just came around and I told my parents, I want to get my working paper,” Lock recalls. He was living in Pennsylvania at the time, and state law required young teens to get their parents’ sign-off before taking a job. They gave it, so he went to work administering computers for a restaurant chain.
“I just always wanted to be busy,” Lock said. “I enjoyed working more than school.”
Lock skipped college and, now 22, is already eight years into his career. And on Wednesday, his Portland startup Fleet Logistics said it has raised $10 million in funding led by the German airline Lufthansa. Fleet has now raised $14 million for technology to help small and midsized businesses ship or import products around the globe.
Fleet, which currently employs 17, said it will use the new funding to add marketing and operations personnel as the company works to build a growing business on top of its underlying technology.
“We have a lot of hiring planned for 2018,” Lock said.
Young entrepreneurs are nothing new in technology. Mark Zuckerberg was still a teenager when he helped start Facebook. Steve Jobs was just 21 when he co-founded Apple.
What stands out with Lock is just how young he was when he began focusing on his career. He was 15 when he started an ice cream business (Schoolboy Ice Cream) because he didn’t like the treats the restaurant was serving.
In search of better containers for the ice cream, Lock began importing paper cups from China. Frustrations he found while trying to navigate the process led him to start Fleet.
“It’s pretty hard to mess up a paper cup,” Lock said. “The hard part is the logistics.”
Businesses importing their widgets from China need to arrange a warehouse there, trucking and an export customs agent. Then they’ve got to find a shipping line or airline to get the products across the Pacific, and then arrange a customs agent, warehouse and trucker on this side of the ocean.
There’s an entire industry of freight forwarders who handle those logistics, but Lock found their services to be slow, inefficient and expensive — especially for smaller companies like his cup business.
So Lock created Fleet as an alternative, giving importers a menu of trucking, warehousing and shipping companies to choose from based on price and service. Fleet claims its service can save frequent shippers thousands of dollars a year and help them track and manage their shipments more closely.
Shipping companies are intrigued, too. United Parcel Service participated in Fleet’s first investment round, two years ago and Lufthansa Cargo’s chief commercial officer, Alexis von Hoensbroech, is joining Fleet’s board as part of Wednesday’s deal.
When Lock started Fleet, he went first to the Bay Area: “Everyone tells you, you have to go to San Francisco to start a company,” he said. “And I fell for that.”
The Bay Area was too expensive, Lock found, and the market for skilled workers too competitive. So when a prospective hire suggested he consider Portland, Lock visited and was immediately hooked.
While Portland doesn’t have the national profile other tech hubs do, Lock said, it’s been the perfect place to grow Fleet — hiring from across the city’s tech ecosystem.
“We have a lot of talent here that people don’t recognize,” he said.
As a teenage businessman importing paper cups from China, Lock said he would go to high school during the day and then work from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. to communicate with his suppliers on the other side of the globe. He’s hyper-focused on his business, but Lock said these days he’s generally asleep at night.
“My life now is a lot more enjoyable,” he said. “But I still work probably too much.”
— Mike Rogoway; twitter: @rogoway; 503-294-7699
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