Tag Archives: Zepol

Zepol, Part 4: Setting the Standard for Standardization & Success

In the previous three Zepol articles, I have extolled the incredible speed of their search engine as well as praised their elegant, well-designed user interface.  In addition, they seem to have consistently invested in product development and infrastructure.  Whereas they were initially the newcomer and rouge to the trade intelligence field, they have established themselves as elder statesmen.

Notwithstanding, in my opinion, there are two major areas of improvement needed, not only to withstand the onslaught of new competitors arriving monthly but also to gain market share among the other four top-tier TI providers.  Namely, better standardization of the manifest data itself as well as integration of other pertinent data sources.  These enhancements are not optional they are mandatory.

Presently, within the blindingly fast search results there are many iterations for the same shipper (foreign supplier) and consignee (U.S. importer).  In addition, NVOCCs and other transportation providers frequently show up as either the buyers (importers) or the sellers (shippers).  Hence, some potential business applications are askew:  validation of prospective foreign sources based upon shipment count, competitive analysis of U.S. importers, and trend analysis of shipments based upon any designated criteria.  These are distorted by the lack of rigorous standardization of the underlying data.

This issue is not limited to Zepol by any means.  Every Trade Intelligence Provider struggles with it.  Some have developed better methods than others. Only two companies out there do it with any measure of success. Both are utilizing third-party company databases plus advanced algorithms to refine the data.  Most don’t employ any advanced standardization procedures at all.  At CenTradeX, we developed arguably the best parsing, standardization and integration processes out there, but it took many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to accomplish this.  It was an obsession for a decade.  It’s not easy.

In the other area of improvement, integration of other pertinent data sources, Zepol is clearly heading in the right direction with TradeView.  Contrary to their initially held position to only serve up U.S. Customs data, Zepol has added U.S. Census (Statistical) data.  What is especially notable is that they utilize virtually the same user interface for TradeView as TradeIQ.  It’s a fairly seamless and painless transition from searching and reporting on manifest data to doing the same with statistical data. This is no small accomplishment since the two databases are vastly different.

The real key and subsequent challenge will be to connect these two disparate silos of data to one another in significant ways that provide additional dimensionality and richness.  There could also be some interesting results from marrying their new offering, Compliance Monitor with TradeView, but at this point, a potential relationship seems fuzzy at present.

I’ll end this series by recounting my comment about TradeIQ.  Did I mention how freakin’ fast the darn thing is?  I really can’t get over it.  Again, if you want an idea of just how fast, check out the videos on Part 1 of this series, Zepol, Part 1: Fast, Faster, Fastest… Freakin’ Crazy Fast Search Engine. If you are interested in discovering the features and respective pricing of each of their subscription options, feel free to download this Spec Sheet.

WorldTradeDaily.com maintains an extensive video library wherein a dozen of Zepol’s instructional videos can be found. Zepol also maintains one of the better blogs out there.

Trade View results screen shows how U.S. Census statistical data can be used to identify potential source countries for a particular product. 

Census Statistical Data can also be used to spot sourcing trends for products and components.

Zepol, Part 3: Trade IQ – An Elegant, Well Designed User Interface

TradeIQ is Zepol’s original, primary and best-known product.  It’s the searching and reporting UI atop the U.S. Customs data.  TradeView uses the very same utility, and has the same look and feel, except that it sits atop U.S. Census (statistical) data.  Compliance Monitor, their newest offering, is simply email updates on specified Harmonized Codes of all pertinent changes.  There is no UI attached.

It is obvious that TradeIQ has seen a lot of improvement over their initial product launched in 2004.  Besides being incredibly fast, upon which attribute I expounded upon greatly in this initial series, Zepol, Part 1: Fast, Faster, Fastest… Freakin’ Crazy Fast Search Engine, TradeIQ has an elegant, well-designed user interface.  Like, Paul himself, it’s very straightforward, clear and concise.  The logic is easy to understand and utilize.  As far as utility to search and fetch manifest records is concerned, it is my personal favorite.

The search array spanning the top of the UI is neatly organized. Each search field offers users the opportunity to progressively drill down to the specificity they require.  For instance, if I wanted to look up shipments of China manufactured mopeds, shipped via Shanghai to Charleston to consignees in Tennessee, it might look like this:

  • Product: Scooters, 50cc, Scooter, Motorcycle
  • Shipper: World (all) > Asia > China >
  • Consignee > North America > Southeast > Tennessee
  • Intl. Port> World (all)> Asia > China > Shanghai
  • U.S. Port> Southeast > South Carolina > Charleston

If I wanted to broaden the search, let’s say to include all shipments disembarking China headed for Tennessee via any Southeastern port, all I need to do is make 2 additional clicks. The first click back up the “Intl. Port” search tree (China) and the second click two steps back on the U.S. Port (Southeast).  In this method, users easily refine and change the scope of their search.  The logic has remained the same since Zepol first launched their product.  The only difference is that now there are cool buttons instead of links.

The overall layout, user interactivity, organization of search results and graphic displays have much improved.  Conveniently arranged tabs and buttons provide users easy access to various views of the retrieved data. As would be expected, searches (and corresponding results) can be saved and exported (Excel or PDF).  In addition, users can schedule updated reports to be generated and emailed as desired.  Four selected reports serve as the default view for a respective user’s Dashboard.

Sample refined illustrating Shipments of mopeds into the U.S. by various Chinese suppliers between 2003 through 2011.

TradeIQ Profile Report conveniently summarizes search results in “top five” U.S. consignees, foreign shippers, Ports, Carriers, etc.

Zepol, Part 2: Company Background, Evolution & Competitive Position

Zepol was the first company, other than PIERS of course, to offer a commercial searching/reporting utility to atop the U.S. Customs Waterborne Import (BOL) data.  Their voluminous database of 100,000,000 records extends back to January 1, 2003.  With only a smattering of sales in 2004 and 2005, Zepol really began to emerge as a player in 2006.

I remember meeting with Paul in Minneapolis early on.  He struck me as a solid businessman.  His style was clear, concise and savvy.  We explored cost sharing the daily expense of the daily Customs CD’s. On the surface, it seemed plausible.

Our business plans and prospective clients didn’t overlap much.  At CenTradeX our approach was developing custom integrated solutions (utilizing multiple statistical, company, transactional and referential databases) and Zepol’s straightforward business plan was to exclusively offer the U.S. Customs data with a superior search/reporting utility at 20% discount over PIERS base product (which at the time ran around $5,000 to $6,000 annually).  Their singular data product was/is called “TradeIQ”.

I also remember checking in with my business associates at PIERS.  At the time, they really didn’t think Zepol represented any competition whatsoever.  PIERS maintained a comfortable monopoly that they believed was unchallengeable.  My, how things have changed in just 5 years! Five years represents a whole generation, technologically speaking.

We (CenTradeX) never did the deal with them.  We couldn’t agree on the particulars of reselling processed data, and we already had a data partner in China.  I think the new management at PIERS closely monitors the comings and goings of all their competitors. Zepol, recanted on their position to exclusively offer U.S. Customs data.  Their “TradeView” product now offers their same user interface to search and report on monthly U.S. Statistical data (with data extending back into 2007).

Whereas Zepol first competed on price alone (and a slicker search UI). With the emergence of Datamyne, Panjiva, Import Genius along with dozens of ultra cheap competitors coming on the scene, they have been forced to evolve into a different company.  Paul emphasized that they have heavily invested in infrastructure and improving their product as well as in customer service in an attempt to bring additional value to the equation.

Most TI providers see that there is nothing to be gained by a “race to the bottom” wherein products compete on price alone.  It’s about bringing true value to the end-user.  It’s about creating solutions, not selling data.  It’s about looking farther and adapting faster than your competitors.

Zepol’s Home Screen. Entry points to Products TradeIQ and TradeView.

Zepol’s very cool Dashboard providing users four “big picture” graphic overviews of saved searches. Fully customizable by the respective user. Click on the picture to view a larger version.

Zepol, Part 1: Fast, Faster, Fastest… Freakin’ Crazy Fast Search Engine

In this first of four articles on Zepol, I will dispense of the usual company background, forego superfluous narrative that indirectly ties my extensive knowledge and experience in Trade Intelligence to the subject as well as and any other attempt to subtlety impress and go straight to today’s main point.   Zepol’s TI interface is fast.  It is really, really fast.  It is incredibly, spectacularly, spine tingly fast.

As is my M.O., during the product demo provided by Zepol President Paul Rasmussen, we dispensed with the canned presentation and went off the beaten path to look up Scooters with foreign suppliers and corresponding U.S. importers of under 50cc moped style motorcycles.  The default search scope is set to hunting within the last 30 days of Manifest records.  In a second or two we got the results.  O.K., not too bad, pretty fast.  However, I wanted to see how the search engine would perform when really put to the test.

I asked Paul to extend the search from the very first manifest record, back in January 2003 to the very last record in September 2011… that’s around 100,000,000 bills of lading!  Keep in mind we’re searching through multiple textual fields (“Products” and “Marks & Numbers”) for each BOL using text terms: “Moped”, “scooter” and “50cc”.  We’re not talking about numerical fields with a singular numerical criterion.

BAM!  3-4 SECONDS later we’ve privy to over 6,000 shipments – with corresponding detail if needed – on the representative international trade transactions involving imported mopeds.  WOW.

I refrained from inquiring about the specific alchemy that created the magic.  What combination of server arrays, multi-core processors, RAM, query optimization and full text indexing was employed to do this? Paul credits co-founder Jeff Wilson and his tech team.

A couple of illustrations come to mind that may communicate this amazing data feat better.

I went with my eldest son to the Brickyard 400.  I remember pressing our faces next to the racetrack fence as scores of NASCAR speedsters zipped by at 200 mph.  The visceral memory of sheer speed and power is unforgettable.

In the final scene of the movie Secretariat, the remarkable story of the 1973 triple crown winning race horse, said underdog (rather under-horse) soundly beats the favored “alpha dog” (alpha-horse) by an astounding 31 lengths (still holds the record for speed and margin of victory).

Other notable examples could include Bruce Lee’s unmatched speed performing various martial arts maneuvers, Superman’s counter clockwise planetary orbits to save Lois Lane, and the Enterprise when it hits the warp speed button.

Now maybe you get the picture of just how fast Zepol’s search engine goes.  Zoom, Zoom!

Evolving from Hungry Rogue Start-up to the Global Trade Intelligencia Elite: the Story of Zepol

Zepol is a trade intelligence provider created by two bright young lads from Minnesota a handful of years ago.  Back then, PIERS, for all intents and purposes, was the only game in town. They pretty much owned the market for U.S. Customs Manifest (Bill of Lading) data.  At the time, PIER’S interface was clumsy and antiquated, their products overpriced and their customer service negligible.  At least according to the string of disgruntled current or previous customers we encountered.

Zepol evolved and adapted

Founders, Paul Rasmussen and Jeff Wilson, neither of which had any professional background in trade, had a simple business plan: create a cleaner, more efficient search utility and undercut PIERS price by 20%.  They weren’t concerned with integrating other databases, added frills, or transforming the way people did global trade.  They simply wanted to woo business away from PIERS.  Typical to many start-up technology businesses, one guy (Paul) was the Marketer/Spokesman while his compadre was the Tech Geek (Jeff).

For the first couple years, they were disregarded as a pesky nuisance by the powers that be.  PIERS lost a few customers here and there.  Usually the story included a bidding war between PIERS and Zepol, wherein Zepol would ultimately win after several painful rounds of negotiation, particularly in the commercial side of the business.

Zepol kept evolving

Now-a-days, Zepol is not just two lone wolves, it’s a pack of twenty men and women equally divided between sales, technology and customer service.  Whereas they used to be considered a rouge company, now they are part of the establishment.  Their technology has continued to improve, their customer base grown in depth and breath and their various ways and means of telling their story has expanded.   For instance, their use of social media is exemplary in the industry, using blog, tweets, videos, promotional materials, downloadable report samples, internet advertising, etc. to get the word out.

At CenTradeX we once threatened to sue them for buying Google ads attached to our trademarked name; a practice that they repeated with other TI providers as well.  Anytime someone searched for CenTradeX, PIERS or Datamyne, as well as a host of trade related terms, Zepol Ads would be highlighted atop of the results with a competitive message.  Perhaps not Kosher but certainly cunning and aggressive.

Zepol transformed itself from being a Rogue to an established member of the TI Provider Heirarchy

Ironically, Zepol NOW faces the same challenge as they originally posed to PIERS THEN.  In the last several years, information providers selling U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Manifest (Bill of lading) data have proliferated.  There are now well over a dozen.  Cost of access is plummeting.  Whereas several TI Providers have been offering subscriptions at $99 per month, my latest research revealed two new ones on the scene; one with pricing at $49 per month and the other at $30.10.

Being accepted as a member of the establishment comes with a price.  Developing value-added features, expanding technology, improving customer service, and acquiring more personnel all accrue overhead.  Business strategy and tactics must adapt to the changing competitive milieu.

Will the burgeoning of competitors with the accompanying commoditization of data and tumbling subscription prices win out over the inverse force currently employed by PIERS and others to position themselves as “Solutions Providers”?  The next few years will tell the story.