How Amari Ruff overcame homelessness to build a multi-million dollar trucking company

BY Preta Peace Namasaba May 13, 2024 4:57 PM EDT
Amari Ruff. Photo credit: Harlem Capital

Growing up, Amari Ruff did not necessarily envision himself as a tech founder. He was always on the move to a different city or country every few years from being in a military family. As a teenager, he had to balance studies and work to help his mother make ends meet. Ruff was once homeless, moving between homeless shelters and other temporary living and it seemed like the odds were stacked against him. Overcoming these early obstacles, he has built a multi-million dollar trucking company.

“Surviving those trials and tribulations gave me the mindset that we as human beings can handle any situation placed in front of us as long as we know it’s temporary. And that has been my mindset ever since. I believe that’s the type of mindset you need to be an entrepreneur,” Ruff said about how his early struggles influenced his entrepreneurial success.

Ruff had to commute over four hours a day to continue going to high school. Although he was accepted to college, he was unable to cover the costs and was forced to forfeit further education. He took a job as a cable company technician where he quickly moved up the ranks. Ruff leveraged the skills he learned from constantly moving around such as making friends fast and adapting quickly to make the best of his situation. He was soon negotiating significant enterprise contracts.

He was so good at his role that he helped the business grow to annual revenues of $4.5 million. However, Ruff felt underappreciated as he was not promoted to a higher rank than he was promised. He knew that his potential extended beyond working for someone else and was inspired to pursue entrepreneurship. In possession of neither a college degree nor business experience, Ruff decided to bet on himself.

With only $300 and a 1990 Ford Ranger, Ruff launched a telecommunications company in 2010. He grew the business to over 200 trucks but soon realized there was a larger problem to tackle. He saw that technology could allow many minority, veteran, and women-owned businesses to compete favorably. Ruff exited his company and set out to realize his vision of starting a traditional asset-based trucking company. His goal was to build a company that focused on company culture and creating an environment that owner-operator truckers would want to be a part of.

“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,” Ruff explained how he created his own business success.

In 2015, Ruff created SUDU,  a marketplace that leverages technology to connect small and medium sized trucking companies to shipping corporations. He chose the name because it means “speed and tempo” in Chinese and speaks well to the speed and efficiency of the company. Ruff focused on leveraging the size of minority, women and veteran owned trucking companies who make up 90% or the trucking market to secure freight opportunities. He tried to differentiate his product by searching for the best technology solution for trucking but to no avail. He consequently decided to build SUDU’s technology in house.

Within three years of its launch, SUDU managed to raise over $3 million in venture capital. The company landed Walmart as its first enterprise customer and subsequent deals with P&G, Delta Airlines, Georgia Pacific, and UPS. It grew to have over 300,000 trucking companies within its network, generating millions in revenue. By the time Ruff successfully exited the company, SUDU was a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

A serial entrepreneur, Ruff has since co-founded Memik – an augmented reality dance and social media platform. The app allows content creators and brands to reach and engage with their target audience using innovation and creativity. It has secured partnerships with leading music distribution outlets and was accepted by the crowdfunding platform Start Engine. The company has also launched influencer programs that have reached over 20 million people.