P&Q Profile: Tread’s Sameer Bhalla

By |  March 19, 2024


Sameer Bhalla joined Tread in October 2022, identifying an opportunity to apply his skill set and experience in logistics and transportation management to the construction materials industry. P&Q recently sat down with Bhalla to hear how dispatch operations across the industry are transforming and what’s next on the technology front.

How did you ultimately find your way to Tread and into the aggregate industry?

I’ve been in technology for really the last 15 years now. I started my career in finance. I worked for an investment bank in New York, working primarily with technology companies. We covered the tech bellweathers: Google, at the time Microsoft. That was my first foray into corporate decision-making, strategy, corporate finance, M&A. I learned a ton. They really put you through the ringer in finance on Wall Street.

For the next three years, I actually moved out to San Francisco. That’s when I got my first exposure to high-growth technology and more of the up-and-coming emerging technology companies. I had the opportunity to work at a dedicated consumer internet fund, where we were investing in companies like Facebook, Netflix, Homeway and Zillow. We would write significant equity checks into these companies. We had a seat at the table in terms of understanding decision-making, talent bars and quality of output at some of the best companies in the world.

After three years of being in San Francisco, I caught the start-up bug myself. Rather than going to business school or continuing down the finance path, I decided to start a company. The first business I started, back in 2014, was a very similar dispatch platform called Swoop that served the roadside assistance industry. Swoop was a software system that had to serve [several] different stakeholders – the consumer on the side of the road, the towing company, the towing company driver, the insurance company that was offering the service [and] the call center agent who was handling the phone calls. We built that software for three years. I stayed with the company for five years. That software is now servicing the majority of the roadside transactions in the country and is probably second only to AAA.

When the opportunity came up at Tread, it was through mutual contacts in the venture world that kind of came to me and said: ‘We have this company in our portfolio that does some things that are very similar to what you did at Swoop. Would you have an interest in taking a look?’

One of the challenges I had at Swoop was roadside assistance is a relatively small market. It’s about $1 billion. When I started digging into Tread – call it about two years ago – I found all of the same problems that existed in roadside existed in aggregate logistics: visibility of truck; challenge with dispatch; communication and collaboration between producer and contractor. All of those challenges existed – and they existed in this ecosystem that was a $660 billion construction materials industry.

This was a massive market opportunity that had the same product pain points that I spent 10 years thinking about every day of my life. For me, it was almost a dream come true because I never thought I would be able to reuse any of the skill sets building this very vertically niche logistic software experience. It turns out it was almost directly applicable to what we are doing here – with a few notable exceptions.

I would say our industry is more complicated. It is larger. Because of the owner-operator and broker models within the trucking segment, it is a much more challenging segment, and that truly is the reason why no one has really won the category. It’s why people still struggle with this specific part of their business. It’s hard, but that makes it fun for us who like to tackle hard problems.

The producers have enough hard problems as it is. We want to take this one off their shoulders so they can focus on what they do best, which is mining and producing material and serving their customers with great service.

How do you convince an industry to break its traditional model and take on more software to modernize the business?

I think the industry finds itself at a very interesting time. For a lot of reasons, there have been things that have happened over the last three or four years that have forced everyone to think about the solutions they’re using to run their businesses.

As a result, everyone is starting to double-click in areas that they were just maybe previously fine to let run the way that they were running. In addition to that, the growth in our industry – and the forecasted growth in our industry – is such that people know they can’t continue to operate the way they have been.

Then, you throw in the current consolidation trend and the one thing that drives all business, which is the scarcity of excellent people. When you have a few great people to run more sites and plants, the only thing at your disposal is software.

As a results, producers are starting to look a little more outward. They’re realizing they can’t have the perfect GM at each operating company, so how can they build processes and stabilize them in software so the job is more manageable and scalable.

As a younger generation of management is starting to climb through the ranks and as current leaders are starting to identify their successors, fresh eyes are coming to the forefront and [saying]: ‘I came from this other industry, and they used this software – and, man, this stuff was easier over there. Why don’t we have anything here?’

As the industry gets larger and we pull people from other industries, people are starting to be more open-minded around what they can use to help solve their problems.

I would say industry trends, consolidation, outside talent coming into the industry, and a younger generation that’s open-minded to how technology can help are all things that are opening the industry’s eyes as to what’s possible. Not only how to make their life easier, but how to drive profitability for their operation.

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