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Called the “lifeblood of the U.S. economy,” the trucking industry transports everything from apples to sofas. Approximately three million truck drivers deliver up to 9.2 billion tons of freight annually. To keep shelves stocked and consumers satisfied, such a large and powerful industry should be at the forefront of innovation. It’s not.
A Tough Road Ahead
Take it from Marcel Alvarado, a film producer who ventured into the trucking industry, armed with a camera to document his experience. During his two years of filming, he was amazed by the difficulties truck drivers undergo on a daily basis. Something needed to be done.
Alvarado started out in the industry by scouring the classifieds for open trucking positions. In an industry that faces huge driver shortages, there were plenty. He found a company that offered free training in exchange for driving with them for a year. Although his class began with 20 trainees, within two weeks half had dropped out.
Once training was complete, Alvarado’s year on the road opened his eyes to the hardships drivers faced. This put him on a mission to bring change to an industry that hasn’t evolved in decades.
His first challenge? Bringing connectivity to the industry. Drivers are alone on the road, isolated from friends and family. During his time driving, Alvarado says he missed every single family birthday. He recalls driving down the interstate past his home but being unable to stop due to his schedule.
When something goes wrong at home, drivers are often hundreds of miles away from the problem. Which means returning to their families can take up to several days. And with the average driver’s salary at a meager $38,000, there’s little choice but to get back on the road as soon as possible.
Along with physical isolation, drivers often experience loneliness at home. Few of their friends and family can relate to the tight schedules and days — or even weeks — of solitude. Driving isn’t a regular job that lets them return home each night; it’s a lifestyle.
Another challenge for drivers: finding a good place to stop. Because of tight schedules, limited truck parking, and regulations restricting how long they can be on the road, every hour has to be planned ahead of time. A driver who has trouble finding a rest stop risks working longer than the legal limit. And that’s a serious problem. Sadly, planning ahead is difficult. A driver can check one of many travel apps to find a suitable stop. The problem is, such apps rarely include information about trucker-friendly amenities like parking and decent showers.
Drivers can use the radio to contact their peers for stop suggestions. However, this form of communication — which dates back to the 1970s — comes with limitations. Only two drivers can use the same radio channel at one time. And those with the strongest signals in the region dominate the airwaves, leaving hundreds of others unable to connect.
Drivers clearly have a lot of problems and pain points but the most frustrating part of it all is that each of these problems is solvable. It needed someone with a mind for technology to step up and create change.
Changing Trucking For Good
After Alvarado’s year of driving, Trucker District was born. Together Alvarado, his wife Katrina, and Abraham Elias, a friend from Alvarado’s filming days, founded a driver-centric company that seeks to “increase truck driver value, while creating new solutions for the companies that depend on them.”
Their goal was to build a one-stop shop for all the needs drivers face: a place to log miles, navigate, find a truck-friendly stop, look for better jobs within the industry, and communicate with other drivers. In an industry with an average driver age of 55, the Alvarados and Elias hope new tech can bring trucking up to speed, attracting younger recruits and improving the quality of life for current drivers.
A Rocky Road
Every startup faces its own unique challenges, and Trucker District is no exception. The Alvarados and Elias discovered that while they were a strong team, bringing in others with the same vision proved difficult. To get their product built, they needed to either find an in-house tech developer or partner with a development firm.
Early in the process, they found what seemed to be the perfect firm. Perfect, that is, until they saw the cost. The outsourcing development options they found were going to eat up much of their limited budget, leaving no room for the big launch they wanted.
After the development firm fell through, The Alvarados and Elias tried bringing an in-house developer on board. When that didn’t stick, they hit a low point. Finding development that fit their budget and their vision was easier said than done.
The Trucker District team didn’t stay down for long. They joined Houston Technology Center, a business incubator and accelerator that provides funding, mentorship, and connections for startups in the Houston area. The incubator did two things: 1) it gave them the push they needed to keep going, and 2) it connected them with Gigster. The Alvarados and Elias were elated to discover Gigster could help build an exceptional product that fit their budget. At long last, their dream to improve the lives of drivers was becoming a reality.
When they started working with their Gigster product manager, the trio felt like they had added another member to their team. As they communicated their unique needs to their PM, she intuitively understood. Throughout the process, she pointed out ways to make the app even more efficient. Her management led to the creation of an app that far exceeded their expectations.
The Trucker District team knew they needed to build a minimum viable product and launch it quickly. Joining Houston Technology Center provided funding and connections to build that product. Gigster then accelerated their development, which quickly got the app into the hands of truckers.
Their advice to other entrepreneurs? Find good partners who can speed up the journey. For Trucker District, it was Houston Technology Center and Gigster. Now that those partnerships are in place, Marcel Alvarado and his team are on their way to taking over an industry that’s ripe for change.
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