We talked to Hugo Garcia-Cotte of Cypheme about its Smartphone-based anticounterfeit solutions and CIVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Hugo Garcia-Cotte: Thanks for asking. These are trying times for everyone, and I am so grateful that everybody around me is safe. I have tried to use the situation as an opportunity for self-reflection and spending more time with my family. I am also thankful that the company is standing firm.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Cypheme.
Hugo Garcia-Cotte: I have always had a knack for entrepreneurship. I started my first company straight out of university. It was a consulting firm that mostly focused on IT development and big data analysis. Through this company, I became the CTO of various tech startups in France, China, and Silicon Valley. Before that, I spent a fair bit of time studying. I hold a master’s degree in computer science from both the French Grande EcoleSupélec and Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Now, for the idea behind Cypheme. When I met my co-founders, we wanted to create a company that would make a real difference. We wanted to have an impact. A few years ago, one of our loved-ones received medical treatment using what was later discovered to be counterfeit medication. It is this heartbreaking anecdote that led to the launch of Cypheme. Our goal has been to defeat counterfeiting ever since.
How does Cypheme innovate?
Hugo Garcia-Cotte: First of all, our product itself relies on cutting-edge technology.
Indeed, we provide a disruptive authentication solution leveraging state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to identify and trace branded products uniquely. Our algorithm can identify an authentication label incorporated into the product or packaging. The authentication can be performed using only a standard smartphone. Moreover, our labels provide a triple layer of encryption through the combination of proprietary security features to tag original products, a patented neural network algorithm, and a cloud-based database for image storage. Our innovative solution has been recognized multiple times with numerous awards.
Furthermore, we also pride ourselves on being an innovative, forward-thinking company by continually investing in R&D and continuously bettering our technology. For example, in an unprecedented development, our algorithm can now directly determine whether products are real or fake by analyzing their existing packaging in the absence of an authentication label.
For us, innovation is in our DNA. We always offer product improvements to customers if our product is not exactly what they need. We go on a limb to provide ideas to customers for anything achievable. We try to make products that customers want rather than the products we believe the customers wish. That’s how we innovate.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Hugo Garcia-Cotte: At the beginning of the year, when the pandemic started, all our big contracts got delayed, and 2020 was set to be our worst year in business.
But in every crisis, there is an opportunity. Very quickly, the pandemic highlighted, even more, the threat of counterfeiting and the urgent need to fight back. Many industries were not hit by counterfeiting and are now being hit as a result of the pandemic.
Counterfeiting indeed exploded as many counterfeiters exploited the COVID-19 crisis. For example, criminals have been manufacturing and selling fake drugs and faulty surgical masks to vulnerable and worried consumers. The upsurge in the number of face masks that did not comply with applicable standards was such that a large portion of mask deliveries to Europe had to be destroyed. Likely, future treatments or even vaccines will also be affected by counterfeiting. It is precisely against this situation, which endangers users worldwide’ health that Cypheme is taking a stand.
In this regard, the coronavirus pandemic gave us extra visibility. For example, last March, the European Commission launched a call for ideas to tackle the coronavirus epidemic. The idea was to fast track ground-breaking innovation through the support of game-changing startups and small and medium-sized enterprises with funding to develop their designs. At the end of a challenging and competitive selection process, we were granted more than €1,400,000 in blended finance to fight the plague of counterfeiting as part of Europe’s recovery.
2020 is now the best year we have had so far.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Hugo Garcia-Cotte: Aren’t all choices difficult?
One thing that comes to mind is that we recently realized that we were innovating too much. We just had too many product lines, too many versions of our tech, so much so that we couldn’t remember them all. We decided to refocus our product line.
Recently, we also decided to change our lead acquisition strategy, which was a long process. We now focus our efforts on digital marketing and inbound marketing.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Cypheme in the future?
Hugo Garcia-Cotte: On a personal level, I do sports every day, which helps with anxiety. When there is a stress surge, I take some time off: even just half a day can be super beneficial. I treat myself to my favorite restaurant from time to time.
As to the company’s future, there is no limit to what can be achieved. 3,3% of the world’s trade is counterfeit, and we have a solution to that. Ultimately, our goal is to become the world’s leading provider of anti-counterfeit solutions. It’s now just up to us to be able to achieve our goal.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Hugo Garcia-Cotte: At the moment, and in terms of product authentication, a few solutions are already on the market, but each one has flaws that Cypheme has managed to overcome. Existing solutions are either weak in terms of security and product authentication or expensive to integrate.
The leading product authentication solutions available are QR codes, NFC chips, holograms, and RFID. Unfortunately, both holograms and QR codes are weak solutions as they are easy to copy and counterfeit. In contrast, RFID and NFC chips are more secure but very expensive for companies to integrate. The Cypheme solution is 50 times cheaper than RFID, and NFC chips are 50 times safer than QR codes.
Your final thoughts?
Hugo Garcia-Cotte: Let me tell you something I am immensely proud of. During the year, Cypheme had the chance to work for a pharmaceutical company and protect anti-cancer medicine. Thanks to our tech, we prevented people from taking fake medication, and we effectively saved lives, which was our original goal when we started the company. When you create something with a genuine intent of making a difference, it is achievable.
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