Smart fleet management fits on a beer coaster

The Haltern-based start-up ForkOn took second place in the Digital Logistics Award in 2019 – and then really took off with its software for modern forklift fleet management. Participation in the hub’s award has not only brought the founders valuable contacts, but also new customers.

A good two years ago, ForkOn founder Tim Klauke sketched his business idea for the digitalization of the forklift on a beer coaster and thus convinced his kite buddy and later co-founder Nils Herzing. Today ForkOn is a growing company with 24 employees at two locations in Cologne and Heidelberg and a base of about 30 customers. Medium-sized companies in the Sauerland region with 600 employees as well as multinational corporations with more than 7,500 employees use the manufacturer-independent software solution ForkX to improve the management of their forklift fleets to use them more efficiently and to save up to 25 percent of their costs. “Together with our customers, but also on the basis of our pilot projects, we are constantly developing the product further and react agilely to the demands of the market”, says managing director Tim Klauke, who brought eight years of professional experience in intralogistics to ForkOn.

With the vision of becoming “THE logistics platform”, ForkOn continues to develop day by day. Two promising flagship projects with two top players in intralogistics are currently in the pipeline. Flagships because a large number of forklift trucks have to be integrated in each of them. “We can already map this in our system and now we absolutely want to prove it in practice,” says the founder confidently.

Through the cooperation with the battery manufacturer Voltabox, ForkOn already achieved a real coup last year: Within the scope of the cooperation, a first addition to ForkOn’s product portfolio was made. As a new feature of the software, ForkX ENERGY offers companies the possibility to reduce their battery and energy costs and to operate the forklift fleet more resource-saving and sustainable.

Push through Digital Logistics Award

The logistics industry, at the very least, showed keen interest in ForkOn: In the pitch for the Digital Logistics Award of the Digital Hub Logistics at the Logistics Future Congress last autumn, they faced a large audience for the first time and secured second place, combined with a bonus of 8,000 euros invested directly in the company. The free tickets for the German Logistics Congress of the German Logistics Association (BVL) a few weeks later proved to be just as valuable. “Overall, the award was a great multiplier for us,” says Tim Klauke happily. “We made many important contacts at the congresses: to leading scientists as well as to representatives from the business world.

A company put its money where its mouth is: Heldener Metall Technik HMT from Attendorn, Germany, which specializes in the production of components and assemblies for the automotive industry, immediately secured ForkOn’s support for its fleet of forklifts. Another new customer is META Regalbau from Arnsberg: Its start-in META AND YOU is a member of Digital Hub Logistics and is specifically looking for strategic partnerships with young companies. Via startport – support partner of the hub – the connection to the hub is also strong.

Business model flexibility

However, the corona virus has recently put a damper on the founders. The speed with which the young company had previously grown and planned to continue growing slowed down – a completely new situation for a start-up company that relies on high scalability. However, ForkOn reacted to this situation as one would expect from founders: quickly and flexible. “We have seen that the market is currently focusing on short and medium-term savings potential in addition to the benefits of the fundamental optimization of the forklift fleet,” says Tim Klauke. “This is why we have expanded our business model and now also offer individual forklift fleet consulting with subsequent audit”. Afterwards, customers receive the software for four months free of charge.

The consultation takes Klauke a little bit “back to the roots”, because this is exactly how he started his self-employment. Today, however, ForkOn has a far greater expertise – not only through experience with different customers, but also through the progress made with the software. Many processes, which two years ago had to be painstakingly recorded and analysed by hand, now run fully automatically.

Sneakers instead of business shoes

The cooperation between start-ups and established companies is usually very straightforward: Many of the customers have a digital affinity – both in the company and in private life. They know what added value a start-up can offer them – from a consistent focus on customer requirements to the use of innovative processes such as rapid prototyping, which makes the development of new products faster. Only very few managing directors today need to be told that the cloud-based solution is as simple as online banking: the company itself does not need its own IT to benefit from it.

The start-up spirit of ForkOn is also well received: The owner of a conservative medium-sized company appears at the first meeting in sneakers instead of business shoes. But as soon as the start-up has its foot in the door, it doesn’t matter whether young people or old hands are at work here: Only the work counts! And it’s easier to do that if you’re on a first-name basis – at least on an operational level: the exchange of ideas becomes easier, the feedback faster and more honest – and somehow it fits the beer coaster story from the early days pretty well …