CEO Lily Shen Drives Transfix’s 76% Annual Growth

By Cheryl Robinson

Supply chains are a critical component of an ever-expanding economy. The global supply chain market size is valued at $15.85 billion. Yet, amid the pandemic, the U.S. and other countries have felt the impact of slow turnaround times, disruption to production, and a troubling forecast of future product deliveries. When it comes to shipping, it’s more than competing companies’ prices; it’s about the consumer demand and leadership within companies. Production and delivery still rely heavily on people. With the current workforce shortages, companies are having difficulty filling labor positions. Additionally, shipping rates play a significant role in the supply chain. For example, a 10% increase in container-freight rates can reduce industrial production by around 1%.

Lily Shen, president and CEO of Transfix, a digital freight brokerage startup, and her team use advanced technology to streamline shipment data to help shippers make informed decisions to optimize time and revenues. In a continually male-dominated industry, she paves the way for other females to rise through the ranks. The company’s latest ESG (environmental, social and governance) report stated that women hold 43% of senior executive roles and 40% of board members are women. Additionally, under her leadership, Transfix is the first digital freight brokerage to announce plans to go public this year via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) by entering into a definitive business combination agreement with G Squared Ascend I. The deal valued the digital freight startup at $1.1 billion, the latest deal shaking up the middleman freight brokerage business.

“So much for so long has been done so manually, with very few modern interfaces,” Shen shares. “Everything’s incredibly siloed, incredibly fragmented, very disparate. And so, in us building a platform, we’re really building that connectivity between all the constituents in the marketplace. Whether it’s a shipper that has something to ship or a carrier that has a truck that can move the product, we’re actually taking a network-level approach that matches and provides access and transparency and data and insights to both sides so that they can really manage and grow their businesses much more easily and better.”

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Shen began her career in fixed income asset management at Goldman Sachs. Then, realizing that she didn’t want to stay in finance for the rest of her life, she pivoted to eBay. Starting in strategy and finance, she quickly climbed the ranks to general manager in charge of many different verticals, including fashion and data solutions. That experience taught her the importance of driving community, the nuances between supply and demand, and thinking through the mechanisms to drive optimization.

After eight years with the tech giant, she decided she wanted to work in a small company. Transitioning to Wealthfront as chief marketing officer, she helped drive the launch of the company’s platform, product and brand. Shen was part of the team that successfully navigated the business to $200 million in AUM in the first year.

She then consulted for a couple of different companies and worked as an advisor for organizations such as Mercari and WeChat. During this time, she was also advising Drew McElroy and Jonathan Salama, founders of Transfix. They asked her to come to New York and help with the business. Almost two months into her consulting, they asked her to stay on.

“I was always a believer in the market opportunity,” she explains. “When I had the opportunity to talk to the founders early on, even talk to some of their customers, and really understand what it takes from a shipper perspective and a carrier perspective to be able to manage your businesses and, having also seen firsthand the lack of technology and connectivity and data that was available, I knew this was a huge opportunity.

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I believe that the way in which freight will move 20 years from now will also be very different. And it’s going to be fueled by the combination of technology and the best service. So when I had the opportunity to work with the team here directly, I think so many things struck me. I felt it [the opportunity] in a very meaningful way. I also deeply felt the impact that I could have on the company and the organization.”

Since becoming CEO in 2020, Shen has significantly scaled the company, highlighted most recently by announcing Transfix’s first-ever quarterly earnings report showing 76% growth in Q3 2021 over Q3 2020. As a leader, she understands the importance of a learner’s mindset and leading with integrity. Additionally, having a purpose will propel the company further.

As Shen continues to transition in her career and work with her team to innovate new products, she focuses on the following essential steps:

  • Understand the why behind your decision to pivot. What’s actually driving the pivot? Are you running towards or away from something?
  • Be open to different opportunities. Most career paths aren’t a linear line. You never know what experience will propel you closer to your goal.
  • Embrace the journey. Say yes to adventures that are authentic to you. Learn the lessons, help others and keep moving forward.

“I’ve worked for a lot of industries that are male-dominated,” Shen concludes. “I don’t know if there’s anything I did differently to prepare myself as a female leader. I’m constantly making sure I’m being authentic to myself. … Oftentimes, I think as you go into any new environment, whatever industry that might be, it’s understanding where people are coming from and where you’re at. … It’s important to find your voice and lead in an authentic way.”

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