Founder’s underdog story mirrors company’s story of growth and acceptance
By Al Muskewitz
When Guillermo Garcia emigrated to the United States from Venezuela seven years ago he brought with him two things: a fifth degree, his country’s version of a Class A CDL, and a dream of making it on his own.
The problem was he landed in South Florida; a hot spot, for sure, but not exactly the hottest spot for a career in trucking. In his home county he went from being a pet food delivery driver to building a 500-person trucking company, but when he got to Miami there really wasn’t anyone to guide him through all the things it took to be independent – things like getting his own truck and authority, securing insurance, finding loads.
He did land a driving job with a company leased to a major carrier to make ends meet and establish an over-the-road footing in the States, but he still yearned to be independent and all the things it took for him to be truly on his own he learned basically on his own, by trial and error.
From that experience he was determined that no other newbie to the industry was going to have to wade through the same issues he did by themselves.
So, he developed SmartHop, a business-in-the-box solution that gives small fleet owners and owner-operators the tech and support to look and feel like they’re working for one of the industry’s big players – all while maintaining the independence that drives them all.
“Even though my business in Venezuela was successful, in the U.S. I was a nobody, so I really had to start from scratch,” Garcia said. “I had make way through a bunch of small opportunities.
“I quickly realized why isn’t there support that the small truckers need? Company drivers want to be independent, but they’re frightened about how to run the business and who to call, who can support them, and that’s what we want to change – the fundamentals of how small truckers get the right support and the right technology for them to have a fair chance.
“We only want to give them a fair chance and then it’s up to them to decide if they want to really be successful or not.”
SmartHop is geared towards small fleets (fewer than 10 trucks) and independent operators running 53-foot long haul dry van and reefers with commercial offices in Miami and New York and an engineering team in Bogota, Colombia.
By aligning themselves with SmartHop, for a nominal fee of 3 percent per load, clients receive complete back office and administrative support, access to available loads at above-market rates at every point of a trip and the advantage of bulk buying on staples like fuel, leases, insurance and payments.
“We’re pretty much their business consultant; we’re already negotiating on their behalf,” Garcia said. “It’ to give them all they need for them to have an authority backed by us but them to remain independent. If they want to come to the industry we have everything they need to be able to make that happen.”
The concept was conceived three years ago, tested heavily in 2019 and formally launched in February 2020 right before the COVID pandemic hit. Every industry was affected by the crisis, but Garcia believed in the concept and apparently so did a lot of truckers.
It currently has 50 employees, more than half based in Miami, and 100 trucks, grossing an average of $10,000 to $15,000 per month, using the product. Earlier this year the company raised an additional $12 million of capital through some major industry players to accelerate its growth.
“I’m a huge believer in things happen for a reason,” Garcia said. “I can tell you looking back to 2020 we worked really well in uncertainty. That helped us incredibly well to have had a bigger 2020 than what we expected. It exceeded all our expectations.”
In an industry that sometimes lacks transparency and trust his concept might have been met with skepticism at first, but clients who have experienced the SmartHop way have quickly embraced it and referred it to their peers.
At least one small fleet owner gave it a shot with one truck and wound up bringing the entire fleet under the umbrella. And now those small fleets are considering expanding.
And SmartHop is a solution to that end as well, partnering with HireMaster to identify drivers looking for work and matching the most qualified with their clients who might not have the resources to independently access such lead-generating services.
“They’re not used to receiving that level of support,” Garcia said. “In many ways we have gotten the reaction of this is too good to be true, but we’re giving the small guys all the tools to compete head-to-head. We’re just leveling the playing ground for our customers to still be independent. The reality is most of the truckers out there really want to be independent.
“We want to give them the best of two worlds, having all the tools and all the support. They’re calling the shots. We’re just their backbone. We are their COO down and it’s up to them to make the final decision on what they want for their businesses.”
Al Muskewitz is the Editor at Wright Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Main photo: SmartHop founder Guillermo Garcia is helping level the playing field for small fleet owners and owner-operators.