Here’s how RPA Labs, a supply chain startup operating out of San Jose and Boulder, Colorado, describes what it does: “RPA Labs provides a full-service solution in robotic process automation for companies in logistics and supply chain that are buried in emails, documents, and inefficient processes.”
Here’s how Matt Motsick, RPA Labs’ co-founder, explains it: “We have about 20 pre-trained bots, ranging from response bots to document bots to workflow bots to enhance back office processes like responding to customers, getting documents from customers or automatically scheduling delivery appointments with DC’s. Everything is around making transportation quicker and more efficient.”
Prior to founding RPA Labs, Motsick founded Catapult International, a Kansas City-based company that managed air freight for freight forwarders and specializes in global shipping rate management for air, ocean and road freight. While there, Motsick says he began to understand the power of doing business digitally. “We dealt with freight forwarders located in LA, New York and Hong Kong who were amazed that we were managing their ocean contracts from a small, landlocked city in the Midwest,” he says. “But, that’s the power of the Internet.”
About two years ago, after selling Catapult to the Accelya Group, Motsick was doing startup mentoring with a local technology group in Kansas City and thinking about his next move, when Suraj Menon, his co-founder and partner in RPA Labs, reached out to say he was developing robotic process automation solutions, or RPA, for the logistics industry. Was Motsick interested in joining him?
“I didn’t know a lot about RPA, so I started researching, and it seemed like the next big thing from a technology standpoint,” Motsick recalls. “I was interested.”
The pair worked for about a year-and-a-half on developing the technology, funding the company out of their own pockets. They came out of stealth mode in September 2019, and worked with Schematic Ventures on a seed round.
RPA Labs was certainly not the first company to try to bring RPA to logistics and supply chain management. Their differentiator, they believed, was going to be to develop a library of bots already trained to perform specific functions important to people managing transportation and logistics. “Most RPA companies give you a framework, and then you hire developers and consultants to train the bots for your company’s processes,” Motsick says. “Our bots are already trained for specific functions and ready to go. You install them and configure them for your company.”
Before coming out of stealth mode, they wanted to have what’s known as a minimal viable product, or MVP. “We didn’t want vapor ware,” Motsick says. To focus their efforts, the pair began to meet with some of Motsick’s former customers for feedback. What were their pain-points, and what would they like to automate if a bot was available? As they developed bots, they gave them a test drive with some of those same former customers. “We told them up front: We’re still building these, they’re not ready but we need your feedback. Being upfront with them was very important,” Motsick says.
The company is developing bots in three categories: Conversations, documents and workflows around pain-points in the market. The email response bot, for instance, can analyze an email and understand that a shipper needs a quote to get a delivery from Point A to Point B on a specific date. It can search a database in a TMS system and reply back in less than a minute with no human intervention. To quote a rate, the bot can consider factors that might impact the rate like the origination location, the required delivery date and the product or commodity that’s going to be delivered.
In September 2019, RPA Labs went live with its first customer, 5 String Solutions, a last mile delivery network that connects shippers to about 100 last mile delivery carriers, many of whom don’t have API capabilities. “With a login and password, our bots can go into the carriers’ systems and retrieve updated status of things like driver location, when an order was delivered or proof of delivery documentation and then populate that in 5 Stream’s system and update it’s customers.”
The company is currently working with other customers and continues to build out its solutions.
“We’re going to just keep on building,” Motsick says. “We’re at 20-some bots now, but we could have a catalogue of 100 bots by this time next year.”
About the Author
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.