I had the pleasure of interviewing Ricardo Salgado the founder and CEO of Loadsmart, a New York-based technology company that specializes in automated freight matching. Raised in Colombia, Salgado moved to the United States to attend Georgia Institute of Technology. After earning his Bachelor of Science in Engineering, he was managing director at Goldman Sachs for over 13 years, where he led principal investing teams across London, São Paulo and New York.
Salgado identified an opportunity to transform a legacy industry by viewing long-standing barriers from a technology perspective. Following his career in global finance, he chose to roll up his sleeves and build a company. In 2014, he founded Loadsmart to minimize industry challenges through the use of technology. True to his roots, the company is comprised of 40% engineers and data-scientists — more than any of its competitors.
As a Georgia Tech alumnus and member of the GT Foundation — which is made up of distinguished professionals and leaders — Salgado provides strategic guidance in the Investments Committee.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Of course, happy to do so! I was raised in Colombia and moved to the U.S. to pursue an engineering degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, I relocated to New York to join Goldman Sachs where I worked in credit trading and investing before moving to London to focus on private distressed investing. Shortly thereafter, I founded Goldman Sachs’ capital structure investing team based in Brazil. I then went on to serve as managing director of principal investing before starting Loadsmart.
In managing the restructuring of large shipping companies, I saw first-hand the inefficiencies in the supply chain caused by a lack of technology. I’ve always been passionate about math, technology and finance, and consider myself an engineer by training. In 2014, I was able to draw on my engineering and finance background to found Loadsmart, which uses artificial intelligence to better connect shippers and carriers so that companies can allocate their most valuable resources — their people — to more intricate tasks that require human touch. My goal in entering the space was to leverage the power of data to optimize freight management.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When building a startup, there are plenty of mistakes to be made, but the key is always to learn from them. I remember one time when we were first starting out, we were trying to be as frugal as possible. There was an industry event coming up and we wanted the entire Loadsmart team to wear matching shirts. I had one person run to H&M across the street to buy a stack of plain black and white t-shirts. We then printed iron-on company logos and spent way too much time trying to get them as straight as possible. We quickly realized there’s a time to tackle new things and a time to outsource. Needless to say, we now order our company apparel.
While it may seem like an insignificant mistake that happened so long ago, I’m fortunate that I have a team that has the same mindset as I do — they’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
As an entrepreneur, I’m naturally curious so you can always find me buried in a good book. A great one for the business-to-business (B2B) professionals looking to rev up sales and distribution channels is The Challenger Sale by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon. It explores how the best salespeople are challengers and provides excellent empirical evidence that supports it.
My other go-to book is What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Own Business Culture by Ben Horowitz. It really resonated with me regarding the dynamic and innovative company culture I wanted to create at Loadsmart. A positive culture is an underestimated motivating factor for employees to stay with a company and feel a sense of pride in its accomplishments. With so few companies intentionally designing their culture, at Loadsmart, we’ve made this a priority. This leads to optimal retention, excellent NPS and amazing reviews, which accelerates the herd effect of an outstanding team.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company, what was your vision/purpose?
From day one, we saw a massive inefficiency in an often-overlooked industry that we knew we could improve programmatically. Loadsmart’s mission is to move more with less; we want to move 20% more goods with 20% fewer trucks. With fewer trucks on the road, there’s less traffic, fewer vehicles for potential collisions, less CO2 emissions, less time spent and fewer resources utilized to keep the country’s freight moving.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I have a few “number one” principles that help guide me as a leader. A key principle is simple: Founders are dreamers who make the impossible possible. Nothing is impossible once you set your heart to it. If you surround yourself with amazing people who share your vision, that will help you get through ups and downs. Often, the line in between success and failure is dependent on our will to make something happen.
As a founder, the buck always stops with you. If people want to complain, they come to you. If there is an issue with the customer, you are there to find a solution. Sometimes I call myself a permanent firefighter — always trying to figure out what issues need my attention so that the company is always protected.
Thank you for all that. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
All of us have been affected — we’ve had family members and friends that have had to go to the hospital. Many of my family members are back in Colombia, which closed its borders early on. Personally, I’ve had to make sure my parents remain socially-distant given their age. I make sure they have access to food and necessary medication with limited interaction but it’s hard not being able to be with them, especially when there is no certain end date in sight. I’m sure this is a challenge many people with aging parents or family overseas can relate to.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
When the pandemic first hit and everything shut down in March, we were quick to transition to a work-from-home (WFH) environment. Although we have team members all over the world, we weren’t 100% remote before this happened. However, we were fortunate to have the right technology systems in place to make the transition as smooth and efficient as possible.
Our HR team immediately started working with permanent WFH employees to outline best practices for the rest of the company. We were able to take the best parts about working in an office — happy hours, town halls — and make them virtual. Because of this, we were able to make the transition successful in a few short days without sacrificing culture.
Moving forward, whatever the reality may be, the new work format will likely be a hybrid of WFH and in office. Depending on people’s preference and specific health needs, we want to make sure we are maximizing productivity while taking care of our employees. We plan to keep issuing company-wide surveys to gauge their thoughts and adapt new practices as needed.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Notwithstanding the challenges around COVID, humanity typically unites and emerges stronger. Even though we are distanced, my family and I have set up weekly video calls, something we would never have done before all of this. It’s been a great opportunity to not only keep relationships strong but allows us to check in on each other at a particularly challenging time.
Above all, I remind myself to be empathetic. During these trying times, extra patience goes a long way as we don’t know what our colleagues might be going through at home. Acknowledging any uncertainty and keeping an open line of communication, even as we are still working through solutions/next steps, has helped reduce anxiety.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the post-COVID economy will look like, but we can, of course, try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume the post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time, the post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the post-COVID economy?
It’s hard to predict what a post-COVID economy will look like, especially as cases are on the rise, however, a technology revolution is almost certain. Pre-COVID, the long-overdue transformation was pushing a secular shift from analog to digital and brick-and-mortar to online. When COVID hit, it only accelerated that process toward digital. A transition that might have taken two years, happened in a matter of months. Those who invested in technology early were better positioned to weather this storm, and others must act now or be left behind.
People and industries need to re-invent themselves. They need to think of how they thrive in a hybrid work environment.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
It would be difficult for things to not change, especially in the workforce. I think company protocols and office dynamics will be largely revised, and companies as a whole will lean into technology for internal operations.
I expect to see a huge shift toward virtual conferences and industry meetings as an alternative to international business travel, at least when necessary. We’re also learning how to network effectively even when we aren’t afforded the luxury of being face to face.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the post-COVID economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the post-COVID Economy?
As a digital freight technology company, Loadsmart will help accelerate the digital transformation. Digitalization is the foundation to automation, which enables optimal pricing and streamlined efficiency for the movement of freight. During Q2 2020, we completed more integrations than we did all of 2019 combined.
As a company, this pandemic has shown us where we can improve internal operations, which will ultimately help us better serve our customers.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage others to reflect on how their sector will look in six months, one year and five years down the road. Make sure the organization is in a stable position to excel in that reality, whatever it may look like.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You don’t regret what you do, you only regret what you didn’t do.” I always have this mindset that I would rather try something — a new product, target new investors, go after new customers, build new teams, etc. — and fail, than to not try at all and wonder “what if?”
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