Crewing and ship-management software start-up grows in Rotterdam
Except for fuel expenses, manning a vessel actually accounts for 60 percent of its operational expenses. Ship management companies often pay very little attention to this outlay – even though the amounts involved are quite substantial. This never ceases to amaze Sofoklis Papasofokli. “Most firms accept these costs as a given. As if it’s only about wages and insurance premiums,” says the CEO of the Cypriot start-up RadiantFleet. RadiantFleet’s platform makes the manning of vessels more efficient and cost predictable.
Twenty percent of the ocean-going vessels worldwide are managed from Cyprus. Papasofokli has years of experience working for one of the island’s numerous ship management companies. He has seen first-hand how much time and money are wasted due to inefficient organisation. RadiantFleet is intended to put an end to this. “Take communications with the crewmembers, for example. Most of them run via email, which costs a lot of time and information gets lost in people’s inboxes. Or contracts, which in many cases are still drawn up manually on the basis of a text template. This can lead to costly errors – incorrect references to insurance terms, for example. We are working to establish a uniform platform that strongly improves communication with all parties involved and avoids unnecessary errors,” explains Papasofokli.
There is currently no integrated software platform on the market that connects ship management companies with their partners. The RadiantFleet (link is external) platform provides this facility and connects shipmanagers with ship owners, manning agents, crewmembers, travel agents and others. In a single click, users can share all relevant information with the crewmembers. And by clicking another button, they can do the payroll. A link with the travel agency allows ship managers to quickly and easily make the bookings required to get the crewmembers to the desired destinations. “The platform allows the user to predict costs and simplifies processes by automating them. This cuts costs. In addition, it becomes possible to incorporate automatic checks. Do the crewmembers have all the required paperwork? Do they have the correct visas? This prevents unnecessary discussions afterwards. And it leaves users with more time to focus on the core issues that really require their attention,” says Papasofokli.
Papasofokli first began developing his concept of an efficient ship management platform together with his brother Marios in the autumn of 2014. After two years of plugging away in the evenings, by late 2016 the outlines of the new platform had started to emerge. Market recognition followed in 2017 – thanks in part to the firm’s participation in PortXL (link is external), Rotterdam’s start-up accelerator programme. “Why did we come to Rotterdam as a Cypriot start-up? Because this is where you can find the key decision-makers. PortXL has enabled us to build up an extensive network within a very short time span. And it allowed us to land our first client, which we are currently implementing: Clearwater Ship Management, based in Rotterdam. We’ve also been able to test our ideas against the insights of a large number of industry experts, which yielded a wealth of valuable feedback,” says Sofoklis.
Last summer saw another milestone, with the entry of the Indofin Group as a RadiantFleet shareholder. This investment firm, owned by the De Bruin family from Rotterdam, will not only be giving RadiantFleet stability, but will also be providing the Papasofokli brothers advice and support. Indofin Group is generally reluctant to invest in a start-up, but made an exception for RadiantFleet. “RadiantFleet is one of the few start-ups with a strong value proposition. They supply more than just an attractive product and they know how they can increase the added value of their clients. Costs savings start with getting insight into costs and a simplified efficient planning. For example, by providing digital access to all the information included in employment contracts, it becomes possible to make a precise prediction beforehand of the total costs for a ship’s crew. This allows ship management companies to make a financial planning and take proactive action,” says Hiltjo van Dam, who serves as a non-executive director of RadiantFleet on behalf of Indofin Group.
Working in consultation with Indofin Group, RadiantFleet has developed a vision for the future based on three product lines. The first product line is presently ready for market: the platform that allows ship management companies to organise the manning of vessels. And the team is already working hard on the second product line, which focuses on ship maintenance. To this end, the RadiantFleet platform will be expanded to allow the exchange of data with maintenance partners and the streamlining of maintenance and servicing processes. Right now, drawing up a planning that allows the technicians and parts to arrive in a port at the same time as the vessel is still a very complicated affair. “We intend to complete this product line by the end of 2018. We will be adding a third product line – which we prefer to keep under wraps right now – in 2019,” says Van Dam. Papasofokli adds: “In five years’ time, we will have a complete ship management platform that connects all the partners in the chain.”
Now that Indofin Group has given its stamp of approval and RadiantFleet has signed its first client, the founders are increasingly looking forward to what the future holds in store. “We’re currently in talks with another four clients, two of whom are based in Rotterdam, and two in Cyprus. We are also quite optimistic that our application for an EU grant will be accepted. We can put this funding to good use in the further development of our product,” says Papasofokli. Van Dam is counting on strong increase in turnover in the next two to three years. “These past few years have put considerable pressure on the shipping sector, leading to cost cuts in virtually every area. There’s a growing awareness that the manning of ships could also be organised more efficiently. RadiantFleet’s software enables cost savings that far outweigh the initial investments.”