Ben Tschirgi, who leads a team of freight brokers in Sarasota, Florida, does not use Zyn. That doesn’t stop him from posting Zyn memes.

Series A funding secured for a new age ‘traditional freight brokerage.’

All cold outreach will be meme content shippers can relate to

Carriers will be paid in Bitcoin and Dogecoin

$500 monthly zyn stipend for employees

Office disputes will be live-streamed on twitch

— Ben Tschirgi (@BenTschirgi) September 16, 2023

In Scottsdale, Arizona, Reed Loustalot, a former freight broker, is also posting the Zyn memes. (Loustalot does confess he pops two Zyns a week when he needs “a kick in the rear.”)

Me meeting ppl irl: “you’re the please advise guy who posts pics of zyn and parliaments on Linkedin right?”

— Reed Loustalot (@lostisreed) October 2, 2023

OK, I will admit here that I too have posted about Zyn.

I believe corporate America has not crumbled as a result of the Adderall shortage because we now have Zyn pouches

— Rachel Premack (@rrpre) November 10, 2023

For the uninitiated: Zyn is a “nicotine pouch.” Picture a thin sac slightly larger than a fingernail stuffed with white powder. The flavors include spearmint, cool mint, peppermint and so on. To enjoy, you “park” the Zyn between your cheek and upper gum. The tin says you can keep it parked for up to an hour. (Do not do this.)

Reader, I must confess here that I have parked a Zyn. It was like drinking three Monster energy drinks then immediately getting on a roller coaster in the middle of a Skrillex concert. After 30 seconds, my gums were tingly and my saliva tasted like acid. After a few minutes, I felt my stomach acids gurgling up my trachea and my heart pounding. I unparked. My discarded Zyn, once a proud pouch, looked like chewed-up gum. As David Foster Wallace once wrote, “My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it.”

This burst of energy is seemingly why Zyn has become so popular in America’s freight brokerage offices. There, 13-hour days are the norm. A 22-year-old can pull six figures — if they’re willing to work for it. That means never-ending emails, calls, texts. Coffee alone probably won’t get them that big commission check.

Tschirgi doesn’t mind joking about the ceaseless culture of the typical freight brokerage, but believes it’s ripe for some overhauling. (He currently leads a team of about 100 employees at Cowan Logistics, a nationwide brokerage.)

“The way a lot of brokerages function and succeed is just pressuring kids right out of college to do everything and do it all themselves — and be locked in literally 24/7,” Tschirgi said.

“You have to be really good at your response time and things like always being in front of your screen,” he added. “How quickly can you respond to an email? How many calls can you make in a day?”

That’s all made possible by the power of Zyn (or whatever the stimulant du jour may be).

Zyn – or a Zyn equivalent – is a must for the humble freight broker

America’s $875 billion trucking industry runs on, essentially, three parties. There are truck drivers, who are the folks who spend weeks away from their families pulling freight. There are the retailers and manufacturers who need to send or receive that freight. And then, lurking in the shadows, we have freight brokers who connect carriers and shippers. 

Freight brokers didn’t really exist until the trucking industry was deregulated in 1980. That decade the industry morphed from a staid operation with a few hundred unionized carriers into a Wild West. Trucking today consists of hundreds of thousands of fleets, and most are very small. That’s created a need for freight brokerages, which are intermediaries that match empty trucks with freight, among other tasks. As of 2019, there were about 15,000 freight broker companies in the U.S., though only about 80 of them post annual revenues of more than $100 million. 

The five current and former brokers I spoke to agreed there’s certainly a vibe of what a freight brokerage office looks like. There’s the open floor plan, ping-pong tables, gongs to celebrate wins, headsets and monitors galore. “Hustle culture” is alive and well; one major brokerage has the words NO EXCUSES shouting from the walls. They’re loud too, with brokers shouting about their latest load gone awry or big enterprise shipper win.

A look inside a typical freight brokerage office. (Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Former freight broker Austin Stine (and several others) compared the freight brokerage office environments to the capitalistic bacchanalia portrayed in the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” 

“We had a ticker that went around our office that showed rates per mile and how much it would cost for certain lanes,” Stine said. “We would have boards where people would write their numbers. People were always yelling.”

Camaraderie is key, but that alone isn’t going to cut it for a job that starts around 6 or 7 a.m. and goes till, well, whenever. There’s another key part of a freight brokerage: stimulants on end. 

There’s free-flowing coffee at the minimum. Some brokerages offer vending machines stocked with energy drinks. Stine recalled he would down two or three sugar-free white Monsters a day, which equates to almost seven espresso shots. Another broker recalled a time when a colleague was carted away to the emergency room because he had downed five Monsters before noon.  

Nicotine is another boost. Grace Sharkey, a former freight broker and now my colleague at FreightWaves, said she picked up smoking as a college student, but working in freight upped it. “You get stressed out and you’re trying to find ways to alleviate it,” she said.

That could mean a good ol’ fashioned cigarette, but something smokeless might be best to keeping you tied at your desk: a vape, chewing tobacco or, now, Zyn. No freight brokerage is complete, I was told, without puffs of vape clouds wafting above the cubicles. Sharkey said her company had to instill a rule for brokers who left their plastic water bottles full of chewing tobacco spittle on their desks for too many days. 

There are more substances we could mention, but we’ll stop there. 

Checking in

— Zyn Capital (@zyn_addict) November 11, 2023

Let’s get back to Zyn. Swedish Match, a tobacco company based in (you guessed it) Sweden, makes the delightful pouches. Tobacco giant Phillip Morris acquired Swedish Match in December 2022. Since then, we Americans have been lucky enough to have the same access to Zyn as the Swedes. 

Zyn’s website states, “This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.” The brand did not respond to a FreightWaves request for comment. 

“They think that this is cleaner and safer, because there’s no tobacco and it’s just nicotine,” a former freight brokerage executive told me about products like Zyn. (They asked to not have their name included as they still work in trucking.) “But then, they get extremely addicted to it. I guess if you’re pumping nicotine in your system the whole time, that keeps you alert.”

One becomes a freight broker because, well, they need a job. Not everyone stays in it. 

A freight broker should typically be at his or her desk around 7 a.m. or earlier, my sources told me. 

From there, brokers are calling carriers and shippers all day. They’re constantly problem-solving. A driver might run out of hours miles from the warehouse where he or she needs to unload a timely shipment, or carriers might refuse to service a load that’s at a loading dock that’s unfriendly to drivers. On the open road, anything can go wrong at any time, and brokers need to triangulate what they’re hearing from multiple sides.

Much of a broker’s day consists of getting yelled at. 

“There were certainly days where I was driving to work where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna make it. I don’t know if I’m gonna make it through this day,’” Loustalot said. “I knew I was driving into just a world of issues, which is a big part of the job. We always say don’t shoot the messenger, but basically you drive in knowing you’re gonna be shot as the messenger — every single day because you gave information that was not good news to somebody, even if it wasn’t your fault and you had no control over it.”

Brokers do not really sign out of work. A driver or shipper might call (and probably will call) during the evening or in the middle of the night with an issue. Freight brokers tend to blow off steam at the end of the day at a local watering hole with their co-workers, who all happen to also be ready to complain about freight and share Zyn memes.

“I started with a bunch of other people that were also just out of college,” Tschirgi said. “You have that camaraderie and all that fun stuff. But then, after a couple of years you kind of realize, ‘Oh, wow, I can’t do this forever.’” 

Tschirgi wasn’t a freight guru before he became a freight broker. He studied film in college. But in his first few weeks on the job, he found he loved the madness of supply chain. 

“There’s a new, just absolutely crazy story that you’re trying to tell your friends and family about and they don’t believe half the stuff that you’re dealing with on a day to day is real,” Tschirgi said. “It’s this whole world that I did not know existed — was like this massive, massive industry.”

A freight broker who probably needs at least one more monitor. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

For how involved the job is, few freight brokers had childhood aspirations to work in logistics. Loustalot admitted he became a freight broker because he graduated college — with a philosophy degree — and needed a job. (He also enjoys maps, which is a useful interest in the freight world.)

The camaraderie and craziness of freight kept him in. So did the cash.

“You can make good money,” Loustalot said. “The job is not rocket science, you know what I mean? It is very, very, very simple. You could get complex about strategies and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, it’s a very simple job. If you can do it well and treat people well and get a good reputation and do a good job, then you can make good money. That’s what kept me in it.”

OK, the Zyn memes might be a bad thing

There’s no such thing as a work-life balance for a freight broker. Stine said, while he was a freight broker, his date nights with his significant other were constantly interrupted by calls. “I would constantly have to get up and check my phone or talk to a driver and try to book the load,” Stine said.

Those calls aren’t exactly fun, either. Brokers, as middlemen tend to be, get blamed for things gone wrong, even if it’s not their fault. 

“When you’re constantly blamed for stuff you can’t control, that’s just not conducive to mental health,” Loustalot said. “That’s probably a huge part of it. That contributes a lot to the stress and turnover and attrition.”

The ex-freight brokers I spoke with, like Loustalot, still regularly pull 60-hour workweeks. It’s a hard habit to shake. Stine is the same way. 

“I still have co-workers say, ‘You know, this isn’t really that important,’ but I struggle with not doing something instantly because I worry about the repercussions on the back end,” Stine said. “I still typically work 11- to 12-hour days and I don’t have to do that. But in my mind, it’s what I’ve been basically wired to do. I’m always stressed about not meeting numbers.”

Reject modernity, embrace tradition

— Man, I Love Freight (@freightcaviar) June 5, 2023

That never-ending stress, for many brokers, gets mollified by substances and the camaraderie around the stress of the job. (Such stress is apparent in the health risks seen by truck drivers, too. One study found that about a third of truck drivers smoke cigarettes, compared to 11.5% of all American adults.)

“I feel like it’s joked about because it feels better to make fun of it than to realize the toxicity of it,” Sharkey said. “I love the memes and all that stuff, but then if you really look at them, it’s like, yeah, that’s pretty damn toxic for that to be how these places work.”

The Zyn memes bring the freight brokerage camaraderie online. The former freight broker executive finds them particularly distasteful.

“These memes are coping and they’re meant to help make light of something, so that you don’t feel so shitty about the fact that you’re doing it,” the anonymous executive told me. 

Memes won’t save freight brokerage. Probably better management will.

The pressure to hit certain metrics isn’t exclusive to freight brokering. It’s pretty much endemic to most of the American economy. Doctors, warehouse workers, human resources staffers and practically every other kind of employee have experience with demanding, numbers-focused environments.

Demanding workdays are also pretty common among the typical entry-level worker with a fresh college degree. I can certainly vouch that most journalists who graduated college, say, after the Great Recession probably had a job in their early 20s that involved writing three to five blog posts a day. Most of our workdays eventually simmered down after a few years, though. (And some of us are lucky enough to now write lengthy features on Zyn.)

In freight brokerage, working really hard means you make that much more money. But some think there might be a better way to succeed in the freight brokerage world that also allows you to, say, go on a date or sleep for eight uninterrupted hours. The answer is just slightly better organization from the top down — and technology. 

“That’s why I’m excited honestly around the tech side,” Sharkey said. “I think technology can help with a lot of the bull—-, really actually improve what some of us are doing on a daily basis and stop us from working until midnight some nights.”

That’s the kind of management Tschirgi (jokes about Zyn and energy drinks aside) advocates. 

“Between nearshoring, technology and AI, [you’re telling me] that we can’t figure out a solution,” Tshigri said. “It’s just the lazy way to do it, and the way it was done in the early 2000s and the way brokerages have been successful. They don’t want to go away from that.

“We know we can hire people right out of college, give them all-you-can-drink energy drinks and coffee and beer at the end of the day and rooftop happy hours,” Tschigri said. “There was something fun about that for a couple of years and then you realize that’s not sustainable at all.”

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The post The disturbing truth behind the Zyn memes appeared first on FreightWaves.

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