Hi Niall, great to meet you. Can you start us off by introducing yourself to our readers, please?
I’m Niall Murphy, I’m the CEO & Co-founder of EVRYTHNG.
I’m a serial technology entrepreneur and computer scientist by trade. As you can tell from the accent, I’m South African and originally Irish from birth.
I founded EVRYTHNG with Dominique Guinard in 2011 and we launched the company in 2012. Prior to that, I co-founded a business called ‘The Cloud,’ a pan-European Wi-Fi operator in 2003 with George Polk. We grew that business to become the largest public Wi-Fi operator in Europe with the hypothesis that the mobile internet would become a thing; and we sold the company to British Sky Network in 2010.
Before that in the mid-90s, I founded one of the first internet providers in Africa in a joint venture with Sprint which was acquired by Uunet in 1998. Before that I did technology policy for the ANC in South Africa in the early ’90s.
Quite a diverse background! With EVRYTHNG, can you tell us why you founded the company and what you’re aiming to achieve?
I’m a bit of a “futurologist” and I like to look at future states of the world and think backwards. What I was interested in, going back about 10 years, was looking at the emerging trend of the ‘Internet of Things’ and the inevitability that every physical thing in the world become connected to the web.
Assuming that could happen, the question was “How are they connected to the web and how is the information from all of these things organised?”
My interest initially peaked after a talk by Bruce Sterling at SXSW in 2007. Bruce Sterling made a throwaway comment of “why can’t I Google my shoes.” I was very interested in that statement and asked myself, “why can’t you Google something physical?” I was very interested in the idea that every physical object in the world would have a digital persona on the web just like a human being has a LinkedIn or Facebook profile.
That was the basic idea. Soon after I came across a couple of computer scientists at MIT, Dominique Guinard and Vlad Trifa, who invented the ‘Web of Things.’ The Web of Things is a framework to connect physical ‘things’ to the cloud through a digital identity.
I developed a collaboration with Dom and Vlad and another business partner, Andy Hobsbawm. Together we put the thesis of EVRYTHNG together based around the idea of connecting every physical thing to the web with a digital identity and more importantly, giving the world’s product manufacturers a way to apply the data generated to inform business strategies.
Why do you think it’s important for brands to adopt digitisation?
There are two key reasons.
The consumer products industry is a $13.5 trillion industry and it makes 4 trillion ‘things’ per year from cans of soda to shirts to shoes. It has the biggest environmental impact on our planet with huge containers being shipped around the world to carry all of these physical things.
Yet, surprisingly, there’s a low level of visibility about the flow of all of those things through the supply chain. Without being connected — it’s difficult to know where things are coming from and going to.
Lack of visibility into the supply chain has created a lot of inefficiencies for the consumer products industry. EVRYTHNG brings digital intelligence, data science and analytics to that whole ecosystem. I’ll share how in just a moment.
The brand owners that make and sell the world’s consumer products are facing big challenges, including changes to their sales channels as consumers move away from traditional brick-and-mortar retail to e-commerce. Brands also face challenges like, counterfeiting and parallel trade, which have grown every year.
$1.4 trillion in headline revenue is lost every year to counterfeits. These are big opportunities for digitization. Digitization allows brand owners to use the real-time data intelligence collected directly through their products to gain end-to-end supply chain visibility, tracking each individual product from point of manufacture to the consumer to recycle.
That makes perfect sense. Could you tell us a little about EVRYTHNG’s core offering and do you have real-world examples of how it works in practice?
EVRYTHNG is a product data management cloud. We enable brands to create products that are born digital. Our platform is fully scalable, giving every product a unique digital identity in the cloud the moment it is produced. As a result, products are smart, interactive and trackable from the factory floor to the consumer’s home to the end of the product lifecycle.
I’ll give you a couple of examples:
Mowi, one of the world’s largest providers of processed seafood, is one of our customers. If you buy a pack of Norwegian smoked salmon in the supermarket then you’re probably buying it from Mowi.
Mowi launched the seafood industry’s first end-to-end supply chain traceability platform powered by EVRYTHNG. Mowi is also the industry’s first mass-scale application of the new GS1 Digital Link standard that upgrades the ubiquitous barcode to make every product smartphone-interactive and web-connected.
Consumers simply point their phone at the QR code on a package of Mowi smoked salmon to learn where that specific piece of salmon comes from, where was it farmed, when it was harvested, etc. and they can also authenticate that product.
We organise all of the data about the journey of that piece of salmon from the salmon farm right up to the shelf in the supermarket so the consumer can access full product life cycle information about each individual piece of salmon
Our product data management platform provides the ability to collect and organise prominent information about each individual product and connect that data with the digital identity on each physical package.
Another example is a global launch we just announced with Ralph Lauren, one of the most prominent premier luxury apparel brand-owners in the world. What we’re doing is digitizing 100% of their product portfolio that consists of 100s of millions of units of product. We are doing this for two reasons. Firstly, so Ralph Lauren can have real-time traceability of all of its products throughout its supply chain. Specifically, this visibility allows Ralph Lauren to deal with counterfeiting and parallel trade head-on. Taking a proactive stance. By giving every apparel item a Digital Product ID, Ralph Lauren can authenticate its products across 100s of factories around the world.
I can imagine it’s a huge issue for them, when you go on holiday, you’ll always find counterfeit Ralph Lauren products.
Exactly! Secondly, Ralph Lauren can connect with consumers who are buying those products. Those consumers can access e-commerce, pre-ordering or buying additional products directly from Ralph Lauren through the product they’ve already bought, authenticate that product, access styling information and services that Ralph Lauren provides.
In both cases, our role is to provide the individual digital identity for each product, integrate that identity as the item is made, collect and organise the data about the journey of each item and then apply data science so we can personalise the experience for the consumer and/or authenticate the apparel item.
There’s a lot of companies who claim to do Data Science, but it tends to be more basic data analysis. How do you use Data Science at EVRYTHNG and what value can your team offer your client base?
We are generating pretty granular information on the tracking and traceability of individual product items as they flow through a supply chain.
Firstly, we’re gathering data throughout the product’s lifecycle. Where is the product, who’s got it and what are they doing with it?
Secondly, we derive patterns from that data. We assist our brand customers in understanding trends. Those might be around consumer behaviour, supply chain patterns, or where a distribution or quality problem occurs, and then we develop heat maps of those considerations.
Thirdly, we’re able to use machine learning and real-time logic to identify very specific issues. For example, if a product is involved in a parallel trade scenario we’re able to flag that for the brand. We can identify if a product that is supposed to be sold in Singapore is being interacted with by somebody in Paris. By applying machine learning we identify patterns and immediately alert brands if those patterns indicate something is going wrong with shipping or distribution.
Has this ever been done at this scale before?
Not until now. Essentially, switching on the world’s consumer products is one of the last remaining huge frontiers of digitalisation. Social networks, for example, have digitised human identity while the mass digitization of physical object identity is new territory. That’s pretty exciting and the ability to gather and apply data throughout the product’s supply chain journey is new territory, too.
Typically, very few brand owners actually make, distribute and retail their own products. As a result, the direct connection to their consumers is lost.
With huge amount of jumps throughout the supply chain…
Exactly. Historically what this has meant is that companies only receive a subset of information as products travel through the supply chain.
For example, if a brand owns its manufacturing process then they’ll know what’s going on in the factory but once the product leaves the facility, they don’t know what happens to it. By giving every physical product a digital identity connected to the web at time of production, data can now be integrated across the supply chain providing brands with a complete view of the product’s journey – from the factory to the consumer to recycling and reuse.
When a consumer buys a soft drink – they can now interact with the brand via the can using their smarphone to scan an on-pack code. Brands are using our platform to create all kinds of personalized, direct-to-consumer experiences. Everything from loyalty rewards to provenance data. For the brand, this also creates a direct channel to gather consumer data such as where the product is being consumed and/or how it is recycled.
It’s a brand-new era of ‘crowdsourced traceability intelligence’ that hasn’t been done before.
That’s really interesting. Do you foresee any data protection issues with that?
There are big data protection issues, of course. Obviously, we’re dealing with global brands and there are different regulatory requirements all over the world.
In the USA, for example, you have different states all with different laws!
That’s right; in Europe, we have GDPR requirements and China has its own special requirements and so forth.
There’s a lot of considerations. Generally speaking, this is no different from gathering data through a website. Think of it as every individual product now has a mini-website. Obviously, the brand requires consent from the user to gather the data anonymously and then it can explicitly ask the consumer for data like location and identity and then map that back to the platform.
It’s important for us to enforce that regulatory compliance because, otherwise, everybody’s in trouble. We help brands deal with both local and global regulatory compliance requirements.
It sounds like you’ve got some pretty ambitious plans, and I’m assuming you’ll be looking to work with some of the world’s biggest brand owners. How long do you think it’s going to take and how scalable is the model?
The ultimate ambition is to digitise all of the $4 trillion worth of products that are made and sold every year!
It turns out there are about 300 brand owners who make 60% of the world’s consumer products; these are companies like Unilever, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola who are making hundreds of billions of units of products per annum. There are around a million brand-owners, in general, contributing towards the overall $4 trillion of product, but there’s a small number that dominate in terms of volume.
We have also been building integrations with the world’s leading packaging and supply providers. For example, we have a partnership with Avery Dennison, who label and tag 1/3 of the worlds clothing items. We just recently announced an agreement with Westrock who does a large proportion of the world’s cardboard package product. By building those supply chain integrations, we’re able to operate at a pretty large scale.
This is about achieving a role as the de facto toolset for the world’s brand owners to digitise their products, and to that end, we’ve embraced standardisation and open-sourcing in a large way.
For instance, EVRYTHNG co-chaired the GS1 standards development process that yielded GS1 Digital Link and is now the first platform to allow consumer product brands, like Mowi to utilize the codes at mass scale. The key words being mass scale. What’s more, the upgraded codes are scannable by any smartphone, meaning over two billion smartphones around the world can now connect with products to access and share information.
That was ratified last year and now literally every product in the world is going through an upgrade of their barcode to get a web address.
That’s amazing. That’s the long term ambition and you guys have had a very successful 2019 being named in the Top 50 Disruptive Companies. What does next year look like?
We’re in the phase where we’re doing major rollouts with big brand owners like Ralph Lauren and by the end of 2020, we’ll be in a place where all of their products worldwide are digitised alongside rollouts with other major brand owners.
We’ve seen the market has matured a lot in the last two years. As just shared, the fact that smartphones now automatically scan standard codes on products with the built-in camera application is huge!
You can pretty much live your life through your smartphone now, and it’ll be interesting to see further developments in the next couple of years.
Yeah, we’re seeing a real acceleration.
We’ll substantially grow the number of digital identities that we have across the world as brands adopt our technology at mass scale. We currently have over a billion active products in the world.
Sounds exciting. In the last 8 or 9 years or so, what have you and the team been most proud of?
We’ve been pioneers and, arguably, we started a bit early!
The exact science of the timing of an emerging market is a difficult thing. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve pioneered core technologies that are affecting the whole ecosystem, like the GS1 partnership I mentioned earlier, and we have also standardised with the World Wide Web Consortium with the ‘web of things’ as a technology framework.
I’m proud that we are putting fundamental pillars in place for the whole ecosystem. We were selected by the World Economic Forum as a technology pioneer for that reason.
I’m also proud and excited about the work our team is doing implementing ground-breaking programmes with major brands. For example, Carrefour’s nationwide recycling programme in Spain where consumers can scan products and understand where and how to recycle products and gain rewards.
These programmes are cutting edge but also meaningful in terms of benefitting the world and to the consumer.
Finally, as a founder of multiple successful companies, what advice would you give someone who is looking to start up a tech company in London now?
Pretty old-fashioned stuff! Make sure you understand your customers’ needs really well.
There’s the danger as a founder, particularly if you’ve got a strong technology vision, that you’re very focused on your own mission rather than your customer. If you’re not making your customers happy then you will never grow the company.
Number two would be to understand the stage-gates and milestones that you’ve got to get through to create proof points. You’ve got to be confident that you’ve got your product-market fit right.
Obviously, the UK is in an interesting place right now with it’s access to talent and its relationship with the international market. It is important to think about how your business is intending to serve customers in both Europe and the US.
Finally, be focused and organise accordingly. We’ve got increasing complexity in international trade and you have to plan for that.
Anything else that you’d like to add?
I think the only other point I’ll make it is the success of every business is ultimately about people. You asked me earlier what I’m most proud of and clearly, my team is one of the things I’m super proud of.
My advice to entrepreneurs, focus on how you build a great team around you and how that team defines your ability to get things done, that’s the only way you’re going to achieve your vision.