From Volunteer to CEO: How This Entrepreneur Started From the Bottom - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine July/August 2018 Issue

Would you be willing to volunteer to start over in your career? For Amari Ruff, the risky move proved to be successful. After working in the telecom industry, he noticed a technology opportunity in the trucking business. Now, as the CEO of Sudu, an Atlanta-based trucking company reportedly worth eight figures, he provides a platform that matches shippers and carriers based upon route optimization for mega-brands such as Walmart and Anheuser-Busch beverage and brewing company.

Ruff spoke with Black Enterprise on how volunteering helped him learn about a void in the trucking industry. Plus he shed light on the daily habits that helped him succeed.

Tell us about the aha moment that inspired you to pursue the trucking business.

After I left my telecom business, I saw the trucking industry as an opportunity to do something similar to what I did before. Previously, I started a business with only $300 and a truck (1990 Ford Ranger), but I had no degree or clue at how to run a biz—just pure will and guts. I was able to grow that company to almost 200 trucks and five locations across the U.S. But now, I knew I needed to engulf myself in the industry and learn everything I possibly could if this company was going to be a success. I became a member of a trucking association that had a focus on diverse trucking companies. I volunteered at the organization, answered phones and attended every single event I was allowed to. By doing this, I was able to interact with the trucking companies and understand their struggles—which was access to quality freight opportunities. Due to their size, large corporations would not work with them. So I decided to group them together (minority-women-veteran-owned trucking companies) and leverage the size of the group to secure freight opportunities. I understood that going into an old-school industry I knew nothing about would be a challenge, so I needed a way to differentiate myself. The technology was the way! So I searched for months to find the best technology solution for trucking and was unable to find anything. So I decided we needed to build our own!!

Sudu’s unique value proposition is the frictionless marketplace for shippers and carriers. Can you shed some light on this process?

A frictionless marketplace for shippers and carriers means that both parties can interact seamlessly without a middleman aka “traditional freight broker.” Sudu’s unique value proposition is that we leverage technology to make the connection between shipper and trucker unlike traditional freight brokers, which use human capital to make the connection. They produce higher prices to the shipper and less money goes to the carriers (trucking companies). Since our technology does the heavy lifting, we don’t have the same overhead costs as a traditional logistics company. Sudu lowers the cost for shippers and puts more money into the trucker’s pocket. We also take pride in not requiring truckers to change their behavior to interact with Sudu. We leverage voice technology to communicate with truckers and not just a mobile app.

What’s the most undervalued or underestimated skill for growing a company?

Patience is one of the most underestimated skills needed to grow a company. When starting a company, things almost never work out the way you plan. So you need to make sure you stay disciplined and exercise patience. Being nice is also a skill that most people undervalue. People like to do business with people they can work with and people they like.

What mindsets and habits have you had to adapt to grow your company? No matter what was going on with the company, I’ve had to:

  • Maintain a positive and optimistic outlook
  • Put emotions aside and make decisions that were for the best of the company
  • Understand my weaknesses and put people in place that are strong where I’m weak. I also needed to know where I’m strong at and make sure I place 100% of my focus on those particular areas.

As far as my habits, I work in sprints. I list every task I need to accomplish for the day on sticky notes color-coded by what’s most important. I work really hard for 2-2.5 hours then I make sure to take a break. A break could be a walk. Sitting outside in the courtyard or conversing with team members. I repeat this process until every task is completed for the day. I also:

  • Exercise 2-3 times a week
  • Practice healthy eating
  • Spend calculated time nurturing relationships and networking. Some relationships are worth more than money.

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