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16 May 2024·5 min read

Stakh Vozniak

Co-founder and CEO of Cargofy

Lessons I learned as an immigrant building a logistics startup in the US

I had visa issues, little money, and poor English — and I still decided to move to the US seven years ago to launch my startup as an expat. I was worried I made a mistake.

But the US is — famously — a country of opportunities for those with grit. Immigrants here have created over 3.2 million businesses, and I’ve become one of them.

In 2017, I came to the States to launch Cargofy, an AI-driven logistics service. My ambition was to build a “Siri for shippers and carriers,” a virtual assistant that would automate freight matching, route planning, and shipment tracking.

Before me was a $700 billion market and fierce competition. But I nailed it: attracted almost $3 million in funding and made over 5,000 drivers use my services daily. The company has 42,000 trucks in its network, and the value of its deals hit $59 million in 2023 in the US alone.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned from my chasing the American dream.

Lesson 1. Do as much as you can from your home country

Don’t just sit on your ass waiting for the perfect moment to make your move.

While you’re still in your home country, start applying to US accelerators and reaching out to local investors. Identify, whose portfolio, focus areas, and stages of investment align with your case. Add them on LinkedIn or email them. F6S is a great source of funding, networking, and consulting with founders.

To register a company in America, you don’t necessarily have to be there in person. Companies like Stripe Atlas or Firstbase help startups remotely register and get legal support in the States. What do you need? I provided my passport details, email, a credit card to pay Stripe Atlas, and a clear idea of the company type I wanted to create in the US.

When I finally moved, I had already been accepted into the ISA Ventures accelerator and received $50,000 in funding. That gave me a lot of useful intros, office space, and advice from local industry players.

With more than 2,710 accelerators, this country has opportunities to find financing for any niche. The list is long, with Y Combinator, Techstars, 500 Startups, RocketSpace, Idealab, and countless other accelerators that are geared toward specific industries and stages.

Lesson 2. Choose tax-friendly states

Initially, any startup operates at a loss. New companies burn money and, as a captain of this ship, make sure it burns as little as possible.

Choose a state where you don’t have to pay taxes until you start making a profit. You don’t need to live or work from there — just register a legal entity. I chose Delaware.

The second-smallest state in the US is home to nearly 2 million companies, including Alphabet, Amazon, CVS Health, and Comcast. Approximately 68% of Fortune 500 companies are registered in Delaware. 

If my company doesn’t make a profit, all I pay is franchise and employee taxes. I hired a local accountant who takes care of all the tax-related stuff for me.

Delaware isn’t the only state that offers benefits to entrepreneurs. Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming collect no state income tax at all.

Lesson 3. Aim for real-world feedback, not perfection

If you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, it means you launched it too late. 

We spent too much time perfecting our user interface. Customers didn’t care. If you’re sitting there right now thinking you’re not ready to launch in the US because things aren’t perfect yet, stop it. Launch an MVP and figure it out on the spot.

Focus on the product, not its design. Launch, learn, improve — don’t try to make everything perfect.

Last year, we shifted to a subscription model. We launched an MVP quickly and made improvements based on user feedback. It was exhausting to work round the clock and fix bugs late at night. But this pivot — however imperfect — helped us survive the turbulent year of 2023. 

Lesson 4. Be your startup’s employee

Don’t just rely on customer interviews and market research. Experience firsthand the day-to-day challenges that your company is trying to solve.

Before launching, I conducted customer interviews at the truck stop. Posing as a student, I surveyed 100 truck drivers. The main takeaway was that, after training, many truckers find it challenging to find loads, deal with regulatory compliance and other business stuff. So, I created a tool that drivers can use without registering a company or obtaining a business license.

But what helped me even more in understanding the industry, was becoming a dispatcher for my startup. I made up to 60 calls a day and realized how difficult it is to close deals: while I was communicating about one load, potential opportunities slipped away.

That’s how I realized how dispatchers’ work can be automated and how, for example, I can use AI to make it 3x more efficient.

Lesson 5. Keep focused on core product

Inspired by Google’s success in creating multiple products within one, I decided to do the same. It was a mistake.

I came up with the idea of launching a navigator inside our platform. We spent a ton of money on development and design, but suddenly the software development kit doubled in price. We had to scrap the idea and take a hit – tens of thousands of dollars were lost. 

Same with virtual rewards for drivers. I thought it would be cool to provide them with some “digital gold stars” for completing rides. I poured time and money into their development, only to realize that drivers couldn’t care less about cute little virtual stickers.

Looking back, we should have focused on our main product. The US market is insanely competitive, and if you want people to use your product, make sure it is actually useful — not just pretty.

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