Meet Erik Roelevink, founder of airhunters, a company offering transport solutions that aren’t just more sustainable, but also considerably cheaper. I met Erik earlier this year, when we were both part of the same panel on sustainable innovation. When we found out we were both attending the 360 inspiration event with Richard Branson and Al Gore, we met for drinks and for an interview about abundance, transportation and entrepreneurship for change.
An abundance mindset to unlock change
“A key ingredient for sustainable change is an abundance mindset. So much is possible, but people limit themselves and the potential for change by thinking of limitations instead of abundance. A second ingredient is in-depth knowledge about an industry or topic; insight to be able to identify where abundance is present. In the transportation sector, limited availability is not the problem. Many sustainability initiatives in the sector focus on limiting the use of fuel, optimizing the current system. I never saw that as the real potential for change in the industry. Instead, the focus should be on the abundance of empty space in trucks. Most trucks on the roads aren’t full, usually they are carrying just 50 to 80% of capacity.
Entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship
I realized that better use of that empty space would not just be better for the environment through CO2 and traffic reduction. It could also reduce transportation times and costs, as well as improve profitability of the transportation companies involved. I initially wanted to set up a new unit within the larger transportation company where I was working, but quickly found out that this was not possible. The main issue that got in the way? Conflict of interest within the company, due to owning transportation equipment. So together with a business partner, I left to set up a new company to provide more sustainable and more profitable transportation solutions. A new business (model) requires speed and guts, which almost never fits within the context of a larger company. But only a few large companies manage to create real space for intrapreneurship.
Leadership for positive change
It actually wasn’t too difficult to start our own business. It’s quite easy to learn from others, including people in completely different industries. I found that something successful entrepreneurs all have in common is a relentless focus on real client needs. Our client focused business model is built on organization and collaboration, rather than ownership. Therefore, the investment required to start our own business was much smaller.
As an entrepreneur, you do need a distinct proposition, persistence (and a bit of stubbornness) and the willingness to let go of many certainties. And to really scale up, collaboration with others. We broke all the conventions in the industry by starting our transportation company without owning any trucks. And by working with all parties in the industry. Our business model is based on our knowledge of transportation supply and demand and a strong conviction that the environment and all parties in the industry can be better off by making better use of existing truck capacity. We’re literally hunting for air in those trucks, hence our name: airhunters.
Communicating a simple transportation idea
Initially, we serviced mostly clients with smaller loads, eager to have us help them find empty truck space going in the right direction. This was quite an easy concept to communicate. We invested in our website and in raising awareness of our concept and name. In essence, the idea was clear and simple enough to sell itself. As the business took off, we leveraged our different way of thinking to service different kinds of clients as well. For many different clients, we optimize loads and routes and help them find partners to save costs and air in trucks. For example, we managed to connect a poultry business in the Netherlands with orange farmers in Spain, each making use of just one way of the same route of refrigerated transport. Today, we’re also servicing clients with much larger shipments. We’re helping them reduce the number of trucks they need by finding air in trucks that initially seemed “full”.
Inspiring industry change
From day one, our new company made money – for our clients, for the transportation companies in our network and for ourselves. This is sustainability at its best: improving the environment and the bottom line simultaneously.
What’s next for me? For now, I am really happy where I am, disrupting the status quo in the industry with positive change. I hope our air hunting concept is copied around the world in road transportation and elsewhere. Wouldn’t it be great if airhunting became a verb? That everyone was always looking for better ways to make use of abundance? In the end, change for a more sustainable future is all about getting things done. The sustainability movement has an abundance of thinkers. It needs more doers to really drive change. With my company and my personal commitment, I am part of that change and I hope to inspire others to do the same.”
Visuals provided by airhunters. Interview by Marjolein Baghuis (@mbaghuis) for Change in Context. To read about other interesting people, book reviews and other posts about change, communications and sustainability, please subscribe.