Once homeless, SUDU Founder & CEO Amari Ruff has had a winding path to success. At just 16 years of age, he began working to help his mother make ends meet. In high school, his commute every day was two hours each way, which he balanced with homework, football practice, and work. Later, he helped grow a company to $4.5 million only to be let go from a senior role he was promised.
Today, SUDU, a trucking company, is a multi-million dollar enterprise that counts Walmart and UPS as its major clients. Launched in 2015, SUDU, according to Ruff, can be thought of as the Uber for truckers. A public speaker who speaks internationally at tech and entrepreneurial conferences such as the Nelson Mandela Fellows Panel at Georgia Tech and the Build Your Own Brand (BYOB) conference in Washington, D.C., Ruff is the recipient of the Atlanta Business Chronicle Innoventure Award and was named to the Venture Atlanta Top 10 Startups to Watch list.
Here, Ruff speaks to TNJ.com about the company.
TNJ.com: Tell us a bit about SUDU.
Amari Ruff: Sudu is a marketplace that leverages technology to connect small and medium sized trucking companies (which make up 90% or the trucking market) to corporations that ship goods. When we first entered the market our initial focus was on minority, women and veteran owned trucking companies. We work with all trucking companies, but we identified this group as the majority of the underserved market.
TNJ.com: What inspired the idea to create SUDU?
Amari Ruff: After exiting my previous company where I owned over 200 trucks, I had a vision to start a traditional asset based trucking company. The goal was to build a company that was heavily focused on company culture and create an environment that truckers (mainly owner operators) would want to be a part of. I connected with a local trucking associations here in Atlanta to gain more knowledge around the industry and discovered how fragmented and inefficient the industry was. 90% of all trucking companies had six or fewer trucks within their fleet and diverse truckers (minority, women and veteran owned) made up a large portion of that underserved market.
In order for the 90% to gain access to quality freight opportunities, they would need to have at least 100 trucks; access to capital; quality infrastructure; and be scaleable. So they go through freight brokers, which are glorified call centers with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people on phones making calls and sending faxes to complete transactions. Their only goal is to maximize margins off of every transaction with no value add back to the trucker or shipper.
Looking at this industry problem, I knew there had to be a better way to drive speed and efficiency. The plan was to harness diverse trucking companies and layer technology on top. This would help corporations with supplier diversity initiatives meet their goals, provide better pricing due to leveraging tech (rather than human capital), and also help an underserved market be in a better position to make additional revenue without having to do anything different. With this business model, I felt that it would be a no-brainer for both sides of our marketplace to choose SUDU.
And I chose the name (speed and tempo in Chinese) because I’ve always loved and respected the Chinese culture. It spoke really well to the speed and efficiency we provided the industry from a tech perspective.
TNJ.com: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about building your own company?
Amari Ruff: Being an entrepreneur building a business is like a roller coaster ride; there are so many ups and downs. But my toughest challenge was going through the evolution of our team. When you begin to scale your startup, sometimes the position outgrows the current employee and you have to make a change for the better of the company. I had to let people go that I really cared about and that were with us from the beginning. As hard as it may be as a CEO, those are the types of decisions you have to make.
TNJ.com: Your rough journey from high school to college to work exhibits a lot of tenacity. Then later, you were cut out of a company you helped lead to success. What takeaways did you gain from these experiences?
Amari Ruff: After I exited my previous company, I hit a real low. The deal didn’t work out the way I expected and I ended up losing everything. Surviving those trials and tribulations gave me the mindset that we as human beings can handle any situation placed in front of us – as long as we know it’s temporary. And that has been my mindset every since. My struggles early in life unlocked a drive and ambition in me that I never knew I had. It also taught me to never take things for granted, and always maximize every opportunity placed in front of you. I believe that’s the type of mindset you need to be a entrepreneur.
TNJ.com: What advice do you have for others looking to start their own business?
Amari Ruff: 1. Stay consistent.
2. Surround yourself with people headed in the same direction as you or that are already where you want to be.
3. Read Read Read.
4. Always out work the competition. Hard work beats talent every time.
5. Believe you can accomplish the goals you set. Half the battle is having the right mindset.
6. Don’t take no for an answer, especially from someone who can say yes.
TNJ.com: How is your business doing today?
Amari Ruff: Business is going great! In just three years, we’ve been able to partner with some of the largest brands in the world and raise over $3m in venture capital. And we have a team of rock star employees that really do an amazing job!
TNJ.com: Any short to long term goals?
Amari Ruff: Our long term goal at SUDU is to empower all small- and medium-sized trucking companies and have a positive impact on the Atlanta technology community.