Were it not for Pushpit Pallav Sharma’s 13-year-long exposure to commercial shipping, he wouldn’t have noticed a huge gap in the maritime industry. Working with international shipping and trading giants such as Damco, Maersk Group, Cargill and Norvic Shipping exposed him to aspects of commercial shipping such as managing sales, vessel chartering, operations and the export-import aspect as well. But the players in the field were quite conservative in their attitude towards new technologies and software for streamlining trade and operations, and automation was still in its nascent stage. “Even companies worth Rs.1,000 crore operated using one laptop and one mail, with everything from invoices to the trading worked out on Excel,” says Sharma. While a few foreign companies provided software, there was no Indian company doing the same.
Sharma noticed that the marine industry was mainly grappling with three issues: first, the absence of automation and technology; second, shipping companies had to deal with multiple companies for their software needs; and third, the cost of the software was very high.
Having identified a problem that he could address, Sharma jumped at the opportunity and in December 2016, began working on PortDesk — a platform that provides solutions to all these issues under one roof. The idea was to make it simpler for the vessel operators, solve the pain points of agents, charterers, suppliers and vendors and make the entire process of trading transparent and cost and time efficient.
“Whenever a ship arrives at a port for discharge or to pick a consignment, there are several charges levied such as terminal charges, port clearance charges and berthing fees, which range from Rs.16 lakh to Rs.1.2 crore,” says Sharma. This is where the company steps in — right from getting a quotation and following up with the agents on handling of shipments to managing invoices and tracking the vessel till delivery.
PortDesk was officially launched in April 2017 with an initial investment of around Rs.50 lakh, and primarily targets clients in Singapore, Norway and the US. Despite the conservative nature of the industry, start-up has managed to acquire five clients and 102 vessels so far. Clients will be charged a monthly fee, which is fixed at around 0.1% of the client’s average ticket size. On an average, a client requires at least five services for one vessel. The average transaction value of each service is around Rs.32 lakh, that allows PortDesk to pocket around Rs.16,000.
In a month, a ship would go to port two-three times, bringing around Rs.48,000 to the enterprise per month per vessel. As an initial offer, PortDesk offered clients a three-month free trial, but it plans to end such offers by October this year. This September will be the first time it will generate revenue, which is expected to be around Rs.13 lakh from its first paying customer, who has about 30 vessels operating in a month.
In June this year, PortDesk raised around Rs.12 crore seed funding from Alphard Maritime group, a Singapore-based maritime services company. Currently, it is building its second product, FreightCasa, which is a predictive freight matrix that will help clients book a vessel and cargo across the world on one platform. The company plans to have around 200 vessels by the end of this financial year, and estimates to earn a revenue of around Rs.1.92 crore.