TheNextWomen interviews Catherine Bouthiaux, a French entrepreneur whose long-term passion to fight counterfeit goods drove her to create the Product Passport which is changing the way businesses protect their brand identity, and helping consumers ensure they are buying real products.
Q: Tell us about your background – when and how did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I have over 25 years’ experience in the traceability and authentication sector, so finding a new innovative solution in this area was a natural step. I have worked extensively with wine and spirits producers in France, who have become increasingly frustrated at not being able to certify or protect their products, as well as being unable to act against producers of counterfeit goods. My idea was borne out of this experience in the wines and spirits sector. I wanted to create a solution that would address all the problems they face.
I have also always embraced technology and when I patented my idea 10 years ago I incorporated into my solution the use of smartphones that would enable consumers to check if a product is authentic (using a 2D code). This technology is now in place and sufficiently widespread. My decision to go it alone occurred when my father was lying ill in hospital and I realised I had to take the plunge, go it alone and try to be the pioneer my father believed I could be.
Q: Why Infinity Pass? Tell us how the idea was born and how it turned into a business, and how do you stay ahead of competition?
I have always strived to make life as simple and pleasant as possible for everybody. I became the foster parent for a seriously handicapped little girl in the 1990s and have always held children close to my heart. From doing all I can to stop the exploitation of children, to providing consumers with a way of guaranteeing that a product is authentic, my aim is and has always been to help people do things more simply and more efficiently, and ? I know it may sound corny ? but to try and make the world that little bit better. There will always be people producing counterfeit goods. I wanted to create a channel of goods that are certified as genuine. The Product Passport stays ahead in the market since it is completely unique and innovative. It consists of a number of different securities, a random product-unique number and a 2D code. It can be applied to any product and allows anybody along the supply chain to check a product’s authenticity using a smartphone. The third-party certification provided by state-contracted printers is also a key part of my concept. I am a firm believer in innovation and the product passport fully embraces modern technology in a way that no other player in the market can.
Q: What is your business model, and when have you started to build revenue? Have you tested various business models, and how did you decide on the current one? What is your exit strategy?
Given the complex nature of this sector, my main concern was to decide upon a business model that was as simple and flexible as possible to enable the business to grow as efficiently as possible
My keywords are simplicity and straightforwardness. This simplicity has enabled the Product Passport to grow quickly. The size and scope of the project is currently expanding exponentially. Once the product passport has reached a point where I am satisfied with it, I then plan to work on the other patents that I hold, which are centred on products in the field of childsafety.
Q: How did you fund it to date? When did you reach break-even (if applicable)? Are you planning to raise capital, and if so for what (scalability? International expansion? Other?) ?
Funding it has not always been an easy task. I am indeed currently looking for investment to further develop on an international scale, with the implementation of international development centres. We already work with state-contracted printers in a wide range of countries across the world. My aim is to have a state-contracted printer in each country producing the Product Passport for all goods produced in that country. The objective from the outset was to enable countries to exchange goods that can be verified as authentic.
Q: How did you build your team, and how big is it today? Do you have advisors on your board, and do they hold equity?
My team consists of people I have complete trust in, with whom I have worked previously and people who believe totally in the product and share the same values as me. In my business dealings and choice of staff ? as well as in life in general – I really trust my instincts. In terms of advisors on the board and equity holders, for various reasons I prefer to not to go into too much detail.
Q: What have been your main challenges growing the business to date, and what are your plans for the future? How do you expect your industry to evolve and what do you expect will be your main challenges in the next 5 years?
From the outset, I wanted to create and implement a system that allows all countries to communicate with each other securely. Certain countries were more receptive than others to this concept and getting across my idea wasn’t always easy, but most countries have now reached the stage where they view brand protection as a real necessity. I was also very keen to boost consumer spending power. Just as loyalty points are gained when you buy goods at a supermarket, the idea of earning points when you buy genuine products is very appealing. I think the next few years will see a real concerted effort to fight against producers of counterfeit goods. Providing manufacturers with the tools to do this will be key.
Q: What would you have done differently while starting out? What do you wish you had known at the beginning, especially while dealing with governments and regulation entities across the European Union?
In hindsight, having greater financial power from the outset would have made it much quicker to advance to the stage we are at now. However, had I had extra finance at the beginning there is always the risk that I may have lost part of my creativity and philanthropic outlook. These values are at the very core of my business.
Q: How would you rate being an entrepreneur in France as opposed to the US or other parts of Europe? Any advice for founders looking to expand to France or across Europe?
In France, we produce a huge amount of ideas, we are an extremely creative nation, a nation of thinkers and designers. Whilst each country and its people has its own qualities, countries like the USA have a culture of reacting quickly and making big decisions swiftly and effectively, which is not always the case elsewhere
Q: Any female heroes?
Grace Kelly, for all her charity and humanitarian work and her feminine vision of the world.