Finding ways to retain quality truck drivers is an ongoing challenge for an industry that typically has a turnover rate of 90 percent or more.
But Arkansas native Max Farrell believes he and Andrew Kirpalani have developed a tool to help trucking companies keep drivers in their seats.
The two are co-founders of a trucking industry app called WorkHound, a product designed to serve as a line of communication between drivers and their employers. The app allows drivers to share their experiences anonymously. The data is collected and aggregated for the company, providing insight into the thoughts and concerns of drivers.
"We set out with the goal of giving the drivers a stronger voice and helping companies retain more drivers," said Farrell, who splits his time between Des Moines, Iowa, and Arkansas. "We knew there was a correlation between the two, but we weren't sure how specific."
Farrell, 26, got a better idea after several months of research that included numerous conversations with drivers and trucking companies.
Executives told Farrell the constant turnover among drivers was largely because of well-known concerns like pay, home time or equipment. But Farrell and Kirpalani discovered other reasons for the constant churn after talking with drivers, leading to the creation of WorkHound.
"As we dug deeper into it, we found it was because drivers felt like they didn't have a strong voice and the only power that was left for them to make a statement was to quit," Farrell said. "So what we started to think through was 'OK, what if we started a platform where we could give these drivers a voice where they can share authentic feedback, even if it is anonymous.'"
WorkHound provides an outlet by first asking drivers how happy they are on a scale of one to 10. The platform then leaves room for open-ended responses for drivers to explain why.
The data is sorted to identify themes among a driving fleet or specific risk indicators that could lead to departures. It also gives companies a chance to respond to the concerns, encouraging a line of communication between the parties.
The goal is to help slow a turnover rate that did drop for the first quarter of 2015. The rate -- 84 percent according to the American Trucking Associations -- was the industry's lowest since 2011 and a 12 percent change from the same period in 2014. Bob Costello, the trucking group's chief economist, said in a July statement that the drop was significant but he wouldn't be surprised if driver turnover "edges higher in the quarters ahead."
Shannon Newton, the Arkansas Trucking Association's president, said recruiting and retaining drivers remains the "No. 1 issue" for most companies.
"It's the biggest deal and, frankly, one of the biggest things they throw money at when you're talking about recruiting, retention, signing bonuses, advertisements, all that stuff," Newton said. "If anything can be done to bring those numbers down, require less investment on the recruiting side and invest more in the drivers you have, that's important."
Newton is familiar with Farrell's interest in the trucking industry after the Arkansas Trucking Association hired one of his other startups, the consulting firm Create Reason, earlier this year. Farrell spoke to several association members last winter, identifying ways in which companies could attract more millennials to the industry.
It eventually led to WorkHound, which gained validation late last month by winning the "Truck Tank" competition at the Great American Truck Show in Dallas.
The event, which was based on the television show Shark Tank, featured a group of investors listening to transportation-industry pitches from 10 entrepreneurs. WorkHound collected a $5,000 prize for the victory, but Farrell said the exposure was more valuable.
"That was a huge vote of confidence from the industry," Farrell said. "For us to be a young company and to show how quickly we've matured and how well-developed the product is, I think [that] really surprised the judges and then just the trucking community in general."
Growth and further development are next on the agenda for WorkHound, which recently wrapped up a 90-day business accelerator program in Omaha, Neb.
Farrell said Tuesday that there were currently two trucking companies outside of Arkansas on board as WorkHound partners. Others are showing interest and he's hoping to add Arkansas companies to that list, saying it would "mean the world" to him personally.
Farrell said that getting companies to initially "buy into the vision" has been the hardest part of the process, but success at "Truck Tank" has helped open doors as WorkHound tries to help trucking companies retain drivers.
"Luckily we found some early partners that are taking a shot with us and putting some skin in the game," Farrell said. "There's skepticism and concern for anything new, but we've seen some wider eyes as we do demos or even show live data.
"Our goal is to create value for companies. We're trying to help solve a problem. If we do that, value will come back to us."
Business on 09/23/2015