The Futurenauts: Adam Compain

Futurenaut_1k_AdamAs part of our mission to chart shipping and maritime’s technology-enabled future, we continue to profile some of the people shaping that future. Founded in 2014, ClearMetal is a Predictive Logistics company using data science to unlock unprecedented efficiencies for global trade.

Its team consists of shipping industry experts, operations researchers, and top software engineers from Stanford University, Google, and Silicon Valley and it counts top Silicon Valley VCs amongst its funders. That includes Innovation Endeavors, the investment fund of Google parent company Alphabet’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

ClearMetal has consistently demonstrated 30-60 per cent better prediction of true ocean container demand and supply, which represents the heart of asset allocation, pricing, optimisation, and overall trade management.

One top freight forwarder estimated ClearMetal predictions could deliver tens of millions in global profitability improvement across a variety of commercial and operational applications, from booking management and allocations, to per diems and volume incentives.

A former Googler himself, CEO Adam Compain founded ClearMetal following a spell at OOCL in Hong Kong where he shaped his vision of data as the future supply chain and intelligence as the competitive edge.

As one of Futurenautics founder K D Adamson’s disruption poster-boys in the ‘blue logistics’ space, Adam Compain is a worthy Futurenaut. Here’s what he had to say when they met for coffee recently in Singapore.


Futurenautics: What’s the ‘elevator pitch’ for ClearMetal – in a nutshell, what do you do?

Adam Compain: ClearMetal is a predictive logistics company that makes trade data organized, predictive, accessible, and actionable. We serve shippers, terminal operators, carrier/NVOs, forwarders/3PLs, and we offer two services. First, we offer our proprietary Data Intelligence Platform that enables a company to centralize, organize, cleanly structure, and make their data machine-readable and accessible via APIs so they can finally leverage their data for intelligent insights.

Second, we offer a set of applications that use industry-tailored data science and AI to drive profitability through better prediction—whether that’s predicting container flows for carriers or terminals, booking allocations for forwarders, or exceptions and ETAs for shippers—all delivered through cloud-based software. Once using our platform, companies can make use of our applications, others’ applications, or even build their own internally. ClearMetal provides true data intelligence.

Adam_002Futurenautics: You aren’t from a shipping background so what caught your interest about the industry and where did you learn about it?

Adam Compain: My first word was truck. I’ve always been enamoured by big industrial things, efficiency, and the scale of global trade. When I was getting my MBA at Stanford, I was given the opportunity to work for a few months in any country and any industry of my choosing. I chose container shipping.

I was fortunately introduced to the executives at OOCL who said they’d never heard of anyone from Silicon Valley and Google interested in container shipping but if I was as odd as I sounded, I was welcome to come learn from them in Hong Kong.

That experience validated my interest; I fell further in love with container shipping (odd, I know) and the opportunity to help improve how companies streamline their supply chains. My experience in Hong Kong eventually led to the founding of ClearMetal.

Futurenautics: You’re an ex-Googler and Eric Schmidt is one of ClearMetal’s investors, aside from the technology expertise what’s the main difference working in shipping as opposed to working for Google?

Adam Compain: At Google and across Silicon Valley, there’s a fundamental understanding that technology is an empowering tool. Here, people are as eager to gain advanced technology in the workplace as they are in their personal lives, while the shipping industry is a bit apprehensive.

But this is what makes the application of advanced technology in shipping so exciting— to help empower logistics professionals who have been burdened by an unfairly challenging industry is rewarding.

Futurenautics: How much of a risk was it to create ClearMetal? Is risk an integral part of entrepreneurship?

Adam Compain: There’s a lot of risk— including large, personal, financial risk—but we know we can help people and companies who could use what we do, and because we’re talking about global trade, we think it’s a worthwhile pursuit.

Futurenautics: Why the name ‘ClearMetal’? What does it mean?  

Adam Compain: My co-founders and I realized that for the past few decades, companies in the supply chain had essentially solved their problems through scale—bigger ships, larger port infrastructure… more metal—but we fundamentally believed it wasn’t the metal assets that were most important but the underlying data. We believed that if only you could see through the metal and clearly master the underlying data on customer behaviours, operational movements, and the market, then you could utilize assets most efficiently. The future of the supply chain is about data and software, not metal and hard assets. ClearMetal.

Adam_001Futurenautics: Do you consider yourself to be in the maritime/shipping business, or are you a technology company?

Adam Compain: We’re a predictive logistics business. And sure, we use technology to do what we do.

Futurenautics: I describe you as a disruptive company in shipping, where are the others (inside or outside the industry)?

Adam Compain: Companies that make scalpels are pretty disruptive because otherwise, brain surgeons would be using spoons. My point being: ’disruptive technology’ can overly excite or intimidate folks when all we’re really talking about is creating a different kind of tool that allows professionals to get their job done in a way they never could before.

Futurenautics: When it came to accessing funding was your idea hard to sell to investors?

Adam Compain: While Silicon Valley investors don’t invest in just anything, we had a unique insight about the future of the supply chain and how to help companies in the shipping industry gain profitability. More than that, our technology delivered highly compelling results after working with some of the largest logistics providers in the world—improvements of 30-60% and tens of millions in potential value creation.

Given global trade is a massive market with a large need for technology and we were well positioned to deliver it, investors partnered with ClearMetal to ensure we could equip the industry with what it needs.

Futurenautics: How would you characterise the industry’s attitude towards Big Data and big analytics right now? Are operators aware of the opportunities? What are the opportunities e.g. what savings/value is on the table in dollar terms?

Adam Compain: We’re happy to see the industry excited and curious about ‘Big Data’. Across the board, operators understand they can’t be solving problems in the same way they have for the past few decades and that things need to be done smarter (not bigger). They know the answer lies in data but are curious how to apply these advanced technologies. We’re helping deliver. And the opportunity is in the billions.

Futurenautics: SmartShips have become the focus for discussions around data and analytics. We’ve argued that where ‘ship efficiency’—efficient ships—focussed on cost reduction, ‘smart ships’ offer new opportunities to create value. What’s your view?

Adam Compain: There is massive potential for both cost-reduction and revenue-driving opportunities in the maritime space. Both are important but clearly all intelligent operators are striving toward a data intelligent supply chain that is differentiated for customers, marketing-focused, and revenue driving.

Futurenautics: The technology space is very competitive and innovation is key. Alongside your successes there must have been failures along the way—what’s your attitude to experimentation and failure and how important do you think that’s been?

Adam Compain: We’re learning all the time and make a point to. And when we fail, we try to fail fast.  The truth is that all of our experimentation has led to large new opportunities and any success you see is the result of us quickly cutting what hasn’t worked and investing more in what has.

Futurenautics: There’s a lot of discussion about how we make the shipping industry more innovative—perhaps through increasing the level and range of collaboration with other companies and industries—what’s your take on that?

Adam Compain: It seems most successful companies have an openness about them and, sure, it would behoove the shipping industry to increase its collaborative efforts as well. Even companies notorious for being ’closed,’ like Apple, show through their App Store that working with others is important.

Futurenautics: There’s also a lot of discussion about the infrastructure necessary to deploy new technologies. What kind of infrastructure would an operator need in order to use ClearMetal’s solution?

Adam Compain: It’s a misconception that large infrastructure overhaul is needed before achieving Predictive Logistics. Yes, data organization, accessibility, and usability is important but built into ClearMetal’s Data Intelligence Platforms are proprietary data ingestion engines that organize, cleanly structure, and make the data machine-readable. It was necessary for us to architect a system that first made sense of the data before running predictions or providing applications.

Futurenautics: We’re talking about the development of intelligent transport systems and what we’re calling Blue Logistics as part of the new Industry 4.0. Autonomy is a part of that, but what else does the industry need in order to play its proper role in the new Industry 4.0 supply and value chains?

Adam Compain: This is fantastic. But what’s needed is better understanding of the data. Transportation built on dirty data is a challenge. The industry needs organized, accessible, predictive, and actionable data. Of course this is what we’ve built our company around. But the data (the basics) need to be mastered to find true intelligence.


Futurenautics: What advice would you give to someone with a killer idea for the maritime market?

Adam Compain: Get it in the hands of maritime professionals quickly. They’ve been burdened by a complex and challenging industry and deserve relief through better tools.

Futurenautics: What will the next major technology disruption in shipping be? Who will it most affect?

Adam Compain: While biased, I can also objectively say it’s machine learning (AI). It will affect everyone, for the better, in the same way basic computing revolutionized the way the world did business. Besides ML, I’d say the widespread use of fully-automated manufacturing, whether using 3D printing or not. If centers of production shift away from where labor is cheap to where automation is accessible, it could shift trade flows, but this will be hard and take a long time.

Futurenautics: What was the last piece of technology – consumer, industrial or professional – which made you say “Wow!”?

Adam Compain: VR. It will fundamentally change the way we live, learn, and explore.


Adam Compain is founder and CEO of ClearMetal. Visit them at


Images courtesy © Getty Images/ClearMetal/Informa/JOC

This article appeared in the Q2 2017 issue of Futurenautics.

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