Interview: Oliver Jones and Cole Stevens of Stevens Trucking

June 5, 2024

The interview with Cole Stevens, representing Stevens Trucking, shed light on the transformative impact of technology, particularly manifold, within the trucking sector. Stevens Trucking has harnessed manifold's capabilities to navigate the intricate landscape of the spot market, revolutionize bidding processes, and significantly boost profitability.

Cole underscored the pivotal role of manifold in their operations, emphasizing how the platform has streamlined their approach to spot opportunities. By providing direct integrations and real-time insights, manifold has empowered Stevens Trucking to make informed decisions, bid more competitively, and secure lucrative contracts. This seamless integration has not only enhanced operational efficiency but has also allowed them to expand their margins substantially.

Moreover, Cole discussed how manifold has enabled Stevens Trucking to strike a delicate balance between contract and spot freight. While contract freight offers stability, manifold has enabled them to capitalize on spot opportunities, optimizing routes and schedules to maximize profitability. This strategic utilization of manifold has positioned Stevens Trucking as a formidable player in the industry, driving growth and resilience amidst market fluctuations.

Looking ahead, Cole envisions manifold playing an even more significant role in their business strategy. With manifold's continued innovation and expanding capabilities, Stevens Trucking anticipates further optimization and efficiency gains. This underscores manifold's integral role in shaping the future of the trucking industry, facilitating growth, and driving sustainable operations for companies like Stevens Trucking.

Below is a full transcript



Hey Everyone. It's all over here with Manifold. I got Cole Stevens here from Stephens from Steven's Trucking today and super excited to chat with him. He's one of our our first customers, and we just wanted to share a little bit of our story together and have a really casual conversation. So Cole, I want you to introduce yourself and just tell us a little bit about your story.


Yeah. So I'm Cole Stevens. I'm the youngest of three sons here underneath my father, Kenny, the CEO of Stevens Trucking, based here in Oklahoma City. He started the company 45 years ago, and we're just trying to follow in his footsteps. We've grown to, you know, about 500 employees, 400 tractors, 1700 drive ins in the general truckload space just out here fighting the good fight in transportation.


Well, yeah, I  am super impressed what you all built over there. So fun store for everyone of like how we met we originally met while I was working at Convoy. And one thing I was blown away with, with Cole was his forward thinking about technology. And we were trying to, build our presence at convoy for medium size, medium to larger sized carriers.

We started building a relationship there. And then when Convoy went bankrupt and, you know, that whole thing happened, I was wanting to start my own company. I kind of posted a video on that while back, Cole was one of those people I talked to. And when I talked to him, I was pretty impressed with the response.

Your response was like, Hell yeah, that sounds amazing. And I think it was like, I want to get off DAT or something like that.


Yeah, that's basically what I was centered around is just, you know, finding solutions to problems, right? And healthy technology partnerships that, you know, support, support those business models and those people looking for those types of solutions because, I mean, at the time we were going through some some different things that kind of stemmed from using DAT.


Yeah. Yeah. Well, you've been like the most amazing and supportive customer so far, you know, really allowed us to cut our teeth on you as we, you know, building out this platform to actually all of your loads in one place, you know, lots of bugs here and there. But we've we've been super grateful. In fact, it was amazing visiting your team in Oklahoma.

Got to see what your dad built over there. And I thought it was I thought it was pretty amazing.


He's a pretty special guy. But you guys also have some special stuff going on, too. And we appreciate everything you guys have done for for us, you know, building things that we could only dream of. You know, we're just a just a bunch of truckers out here in Oklahoma trying to, you know. Yeah. So you guys have moved mountains for us and we appreciate it.


That's not true at all. You're not just a bunch of truckers. I am amazed by every single day when I when I get to chat with you. So, yeah, I would just love to learn a little bit more about, you know, how are you using the manifold platform and how it's how it's helping you out.

Yeah. So, you know, the thesis behind manifold is to really just get those direct integrations into, you know, the spot opportunities. You know, whenever you and I connected and you started to brainstorm on this business, just getting into those spot opportunities and getting into the weeds to be able to expand margin. And that's really exactly how we're utilizing this platform in manifold.


You know, whenever you get on to some of the different load boards, you don't really know what you're getting right. And we had to experience that firsthand. And it was a really, really tough situation to be in as a company. Whenever you're dealing with fraudulent activity and your legitimate business trying to navigate that and in such a tough market that we were already facing, but also all the regulations and things that we face as an above board company already.

And so, you know, just being able to go direct with more customers and turn over those, you know, turn over every stone possible and be able to look for those opportunities. And that's it sounds so simplistic, but what you guys have built has completely revolutionized how we are booking all of our spot opportunities. We're not looking through brokers, people that we've never done business with, signing up for random people that we don't know if they even exist, right?

We are now streamlining every bit of our bidding processes and our booking process through, you know, those spot opportunities with our major 3PLand broker partners as well as direct shippers. And we're seeing it expand our margins heavily. And also just the back end admin processes too are now streamlined versus dealing with, you know, 200 potential brokers for a company our size because 150 of those brokers, you did one load in a year.

Four that's a lot with trying to go through collections and you know receivables and all those different, you know, back end admin functions that people sometimes neglect. And now we're really dealing with a top 10 to 15 three peoples and then our direct customers that we're already, you know, set up with that we used to just get emails for.

And you can't expect your planners and your, you know, your 30 different dispatchers to go through 3000 different emails per day and happened to hit on the proper spot opportunity. But what you guys have built that manifold streamlines every bit of that process.


I remember when you first told me about that, I was kind of surprised because, you know, at first I was like, Hey, let's go get all your brokers and all your shipper direct customers all in one spot. But you really advocated for the email, and it's actually ended up being a really cool piece of the technology of, I don't know, I just I guess I'm just kind of shocked at how many opportunities come through your inbox.


It's it's crazy. And I mean, like, we're not even a, you know, large carrier. We're probably kind of like medium getting toward the large space. And so it's like, I can't imagine what some of the mega carriers out there have to go through. But it it really does make sense because, you know, you can't ask your customer to change their entire process.

Right. That's a really tough ask, especially in a market like this. So you don't want to rock the boat and ask them, hey, can you change how your how you're putting your spot opportunities out there? Right. And so it's a really hands off approach with those direct shippers that maybe don't have the technology, you know, to put those opportunities out.

But it's still allows us a really efficient absorption of that data and puts it all in one spot for us. Now, you know, which is it's game changing for us.


Yeah. And one of the things you taught me, you know, I came from Convoy, so I work a lot with brokers or like the brokerage space, but, you know, the carrier and the broker are two very different different entities. And so I just like understanding the nuances. You've really done a great job. It helped me understand, Hey, you know, you can't just go bid on all the loans, right?

It's like a lot of didn't like that right load because you only got, you know, 400 tractors or whatever the number is out right now. Right. And so and.


Where they're at on what day with what driver is totally different versus just looking in and honing in on a lane specific to a margin as a percentage, You know, we do also run a brokerage. So we understand, you know, that game and and there are similarities, but there's also major differences. And I feel like, you know, what you guys are solving for is one of those differences that has never been solved in the asset world.


You know? Gotcha. Gotcha. So what's going on? Right. You do a lot of contract freight and they need you some some spot freight. So I kind of like tell me about like how you think about those two businesses and like, we're like Manifold, like, kind of helps you out there.


Yeah. So we're we're probably 85% contract and a very demanding percent spot. Yeah. And so that can create a lot of actual constraints and less flexibility whenever you're that heavy on the contract side. But honestly you know what I think you guys solution has been so great for us is because it allows us to hone in on and focus on that small percentage.

Because really when you think about what's happened in the spot market over the past two years, it's dipped, you know, anywhere from 25 to like 50% in some markets on the rates. And so that can be upwards of a seven and a half percent net margin hit to your entire business, just running 15% spot. So I can't imagine some of the carriers that are running 50 60% spot market freight.

Right. And what this potentially do for them. But part of that is that we're always so focused on, you know, our contract freight that honestly sometimes that spot opportunity had been neglected. And that's why it's so important for us to be able to filter all those things out through manifold so that we're getting to the right freight at the right time.

Because I feel like as the market begins to flip, that's where the similarity between asset carriers and brokers, we're really both just middlemen. You know, we just happened to finance the equipment and different things, you know, really, you know, I'm not out actually driving the truck. And so what we do on the back end admin is still very similar to brokerage.

It's just different types of contracts. And so with that, you know, you got to kind of be able to streamline those processes and technologies the same way that a brokerage would. And that's what Manifold allowed us to do, is be able to, you know, catch up on some of those areas that we had neglected before because again, back to like the the 50% drop in spot that can really hurt your business even though it was such a small part of our business.

And so now we're hoping to, you know, utilize manifold to claw some of that back, you know, and be able to expand some of those margins as the spot, you know, trends up. Because if you're not finding the best rate for your drivers, that's when capacity starts to get tight. You risk losing those really good drivers.


Yeah, Yeah. And the type of freight matters to write like, like. Right. You know, you told me like you don't just you might, might take a little bit less of a load if it's going to a undesirable location or something like that.


Yeah, absolutely. And that's why it's so important, you know, for using manifold all in one place is to get that visibility and be able to filter those types of things super quick. Because again, you know, a load may pay $50 more on a short hop. You know, that's only a 150 miles. But if it's going to a not so great receiver or, you know that that's a very notorious shipper for tying your equipment up and they don't they're not fair on assets or you'll charges and things you can see all that for the most part in one place with manifold.

So you can make those decisions super quick and be like, Man, I'd rather take this load for four 600 bucks than that letter. 650 Because the ultimate true cost, not just price on a sheet, you're going to come out ahead, even though it looks like it's less on paper, right? Yeah.


That's actually something I'm really excited to add to the product. Right. Is, you know, watching you and your team use the product kind of made me think of like, okay, like we like we should help you build in some of these inside so you can see like here's undesirable locations or here's a, you know, you're talking about like this, this loads over a weekend, right?

And so you have to like leave the other at the park that the trailer somewhere needs a tractor or you're kind of stuck. Yeah. You know so those kind of like insights. Yeah. We definitely want to go add to the product and keep on working with you on.


Yeah, it's going to be awesome. I'm really excited about the insights just because like that is something that's always been so hard with the manual processes of spot opportunities is it's hard enough to manage such a manual process for an asset company as it is anyway. But then to expect your people who are trying to plan for like today and tomorrow, to then go back and do audit functions and things, I think that's going to I think that's going to be just another, you know, game changer.

Taking it to the next level is getting those historical data points. And yeah, you know, so that we can make sure that we're on the right track with those trends and really, you know, again, getting granular with our decision making. I mean.


Yeah, we're like holding out on that that load, knowing that the price is going to go up. I just wait one more day to book this load. Yeah. You know, they're going be a little more desperate.


Yeah, exactly. Well because you know, again 50 bucks can, can make a lot of difference, you know, on short hops. And it doesn't sound like a lot, but when you compound that over, you know, large scale companies and major brokers and, you know, major carriers, those margins can be 5 to 10%. You do that on an entire book of business.

That's a lot of bottom line dollar all over for for the entire industry.


Yeah like even in your case right 15% of your business if you're if you get to index 4% that's like a 1% increase overall 1.5% are all on you're exactly Yeah.


They can literally equate to millions of dollars just off of you know what what some of the internal people just think it's just like 50 bucks or 40 bucks. It's like if you compound that over every single spot opportunity that you're doing it, it's a pennies game anyway. In transportation, very slim margin. Always has been, always will be.

And so, you know, those little those little inches, those little pennies really matter in the game of supply chain. And so, you know, if you're able to get percentage points out, if it's a 4%, anything above that is like to me huge Y is amazing. I don't care what the product is. If you're if you're able to save 1% on fuel or tires, you know, all those things compound in this in this game of pennies and same thing if you can extract 1% on the plus side for your spot opportunities.

that's that's that's good stuff from mindset.


Yeah. Where do you see the future. Like what do you see in like the next couple, you know, next couple of years? What do you think's going on in the freight industry?


I think there's going to be, you know, a lot of things going on with the different technologies. I mean, I know everybody's talking about, you know, different advances within a I but also like, there's a lot of things going on in the back end that people don't realize that I and things are already touching and starting to start to streamline right.

You know, I think that's going to continue. Some that I've seen on the asset side that has also continued is, you know, home time continues to get bigger and bigger. And I really think that's going to be a problem to solve logistically is how can you like optimize your fleet and things toward better driver home time for things like mental health and work life balance and things?

That's something that we've already started to really try to try to study and whatnot. I've seen and I've talked to some other people kind of in the health space that are now getting some different media attention within trucking. And so I think it's becoming ever more important with the cultural and societal change. So I think the companies that are going to win are going to be the ones that are thinking about that aspect because again, technology is phenomenal and things like what you guys have built is phenomenal.

But ultimately, who's who's driving the truck, right? It's it's our it's our good working people that are sacrificing time with their with their spouses, with their kids, with their grandkids, whatever it may be. It's a really tough gig. You know, like driving a truck is is a really tough lifestyle. It's a really tough job. Very, very dangerous as well.

And so I think the more work life balance and mental health that you can focus and still get the same freight moved across the United States, but in a methodology that gives your driver for specifically with their domiciles more home time, I think that's going to be a huge win. And that's where to me things like manifold are going to be that much more important because when you need to fill the gaps, it's actually going to it's actually going to take that filter and that need down to an even more finite area, right?


No, I love it. Like it seems like one thing that I was surprised by, you know, when I was learning more about your companies, how many more trailers you had. Right? You have a really big trailer program. It seems like you get help. You like move in that direction of, Hey, you got a couple of trailer yards in strategic locations.

Now you can do more relay type. Yep. Runs that you know really reduce that overall on the road on the road time which just you know makes this so much sense to me.


As well and and that's the thing it makes the logistics that much tougher which is why I think.

The advances in technology can help solve that because it is more touches, but it is very simplistic, almost like an old school motor freight, you know, style of hub and spoke methodology because I guarantee you if you just asked a very basic question to a truck driver, I can get you the same pay. And this is the hypothetical with with trying to execute on that plan.

If I can get you the same pay because we are that efficient with this model, and instead of being home once every two weeks as an over-the-road driver, I can get you home every other night as a regional driver with resets every weekend. I would think that 99% of those truck drivers would say, Yeah, absolutely. I'd much rather sleep in my own bed every other night, you know, doing 500 miles out and 500 miles back.

As long as my pay is the same. Right, it's going to give them a lot better of a work life balance. And, you know, hopefully be able to even take care of more things at home. I mean, it's just it's hard. Yeah, it's a hard logistical life when your doctor is here, but then you're only back through here every couple of weeks.

Mean it's just it's it's tough. It's a tough job.


Well, the stress I remember I was at, you know, in order to start this company, we went through Y Combinator, where I was in San Francisco for three months. And I remember so I had two kids and a wife. And I, I remember going like, some people, this is their lifestyle, right? Like people that like you commercial fishing or, you know, truck drivers, like they're gone.

Yeah. You know, you know more than that, really. And I was like, I just look like I really, like, started to build some empathy for that kind of lifestyle. I was like, I destroyed me. You know, I went back every other week or something like that. But still and.


You're in you're out of your trade, You know, you're out of your routine, the travel. And that's why I think, again, back to things like manifold, which you guys have developed in the the ability to kind of play offense versus defense with planning and things because, you know, like you got to put yourself in that seat kind of quite literally with a truck driver, right when their plans change.

If you can't adapt to that quickly, just think about yourself When you're traveling and you're stressed out and you go to get on an airplane and something cancels or whatnot, right? Kind of kind of hacks you off a little bit or stresses you out a lot. Right? And so the better that we can be as a company with some of those planning, those strategic planning execution, I think that's what's going to help, you know, take us to the next level.

But also those streamlines in efficiency. I think you're going to help the industry as a whole, right?


Yeah. Me, me, agree. I yeah, I just I just it's just been such a great industry to work in. You know, I started this year, seven years ago. Like, honestly, like I have no plans. I'm leaving. Leaving this industry. It's like, really caught my heart and especially you  Cole, you are a great guy to work with.


I appreciate it. All right, Appreciate it, man. We feel the same way about you and your team. You, Jared and Andrew. You guys are awesome.

It's a tough I think that's what brings people together, right? There's a lot of really good people trying to solve really tough, complex problems and that that creates camaraderie in the industry. A lot of a lot of blue collar people just trying to roll their sleeves up and figure it out. It's definitely a special industry.


Love it. A lot of what super appreciate your time Cole. You've been the most amazing customer and I'd say now friend And yeah, we will talk again soon okay.


Absolutely. Thank Oliver.