As editors, we regularly get opportunities to test new products. For instance, my colleague Jack Roberts travels to locations across the United States and even Europe to test-drive models from Freightliner, Paccar and other truck manufacturers.
I mostly write about technology so, by comparison, my testing opportunities are simpler and, might I add, less risky than commandeering an 18-wheeler down a steep mountain pass. By the way, I’ve tried that before and it was not pretty.
Occasionally I get offers to test software systems like asset tracking or truck-specific navigation. The drawback of testing these products is that I never have skin in the game. I do not run a business and therefore do not have real transactions to test how the software works when customers are calling me about the status of their loads or a driver is upset about his paycheck.
All of this changed recently. I had skin in the game when testing a product. It all started about two weeks ago when my brother told me about a load he might be able to get. He had negotiated a rate for $1,700 from Utah to San Francisco. Not bad!
My brother is an engineer and knew a company that had an urgent need to get a ramp to a contractor in San Francisco the morning of Thursday, June 27. This is what they call a “hot shot” load. He knew just the man to do it: my father.
My dad is a retired fleet owner and truck driver. He drives a Cummins-powered pickup truck. My brother was able to borrow a flatbed trailer with a gooseneck fifth-wheel attachment for him to use.
Intrigued, I decided to get involved in this family affair. After all, if nothing else, it would give me an opportunity to try out uShip to find a backhaul from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, Utah.
After contacting uShip about the possibility of doing a real-world product review, I received a call from Anne in their carrier development department. She politely helped me set up an account and guided me through the process of creating a profile for our business. She saved a load search for me between S.F. and SLC. From then on, she explained, I would be receiving a daily e-mail of search results.
Being a first-time user was a disadvantage but you have to start somewhere. The uShip service has a ratings system that works similar to eBay. Would a shipper trust someone with no track record on uShip to haul their cargo? I would soon find out.
I limited my bids to motorcycles and cars moving East between S.F. and SLC. Other loads along this route, like household goods and less-than-truckload shipments in general, were local movements. After several rounds of lowering my bid, I convinced a shipper to let me transport a 2000 Subaru Legacy.
One of the ways that uShip is unique is that all of the communication with the shipper during the bid process is public. Me along with other carriers (most everyone else was a broker) asked shippers questions to try and build trust during the bid process. uShip does not allow the shipper or carriers to send private messages. And those that try to include contact information in the public form can be flagged for a violation and possibly lose their account.
When the bid ended the customer accepted my low offer of $450. Once the offer was accepted, uShip provided the full contact information of the shipper. I called my new customer to work through all of the details.
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