Product verification and track-and-trace: The projects from which our two founders jumped into the cold water of start-up founding came from very similar directions. Only the two didn’t know each other. Nevertheless, they met in an Irish pub in Frankfurt a. M. to realize a common idea: tracekey.
It is over ten years since Stefan Hoffmann and Gerald Wenzel decided to found a company focusing on product verification and supply chain tracking. We asked ourselves, what does Chat GPT have to say about a start-up in the Ruhr area that is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary? Chat GPT writes, “A decade ago, in the picturesque setting of the Ruhr region, a spark of innovation ignited a flame that grew into a radiant success story.” Right, she is, the AI. However, the initial spark for tracekey solutions came in an Irish pub in Frankfurt am Main. A logo was quickly found, and a basic software version was purchased. The name should have something to do with track-and-trace: thus, tracekey. The industry in which the start-up was to operate also soon crystallized. In 2013, the European pharmaceutical industry was preparing for major changes, with discussions centered around track-and-trace and securing global supply chains. So it’s no wonder that the world of pharmaceutical serialization came into focus for tracekey. Soon tracekey was ready for its first pharmaceutical customers. Only, they weren’t quite as far along as expected or announced.
From kiwis and marine diesel to pharmaceuticals
Our founders, Stefan Hoffmann and Gerald Wenzel, have experienced a lot since then. They started in an apartment that had been converted into an office. With a coffee machine, a pool table, and just one employee. The latter have remained until this day, as have some of the other employees from the early days. “The first years can be well titled of `searching and waiting`”, says Gerald Wenzel: “The anti-counterfeiting directive for the pharmaceutical industry in Europe was actually supposed to become effective as early as 2014. However, it was not finally implemented until 2019, which is why we have tried out a lot in the meantime.” Although verifying product authenticity and tracing delivery routes have benefits, few branches have implemented these measures on a large scale, as the pharmaceutical industry has done. Nonetheless, many industries continue to recognize the value of these practices and remain eager to explore their potential applications. Over the years, tracekey has thought about various projects with many different potential partners and customers. After all, whether it’s powdered milk for babies, marine diesel, or kiwis, counterfeiting exists in nearly every product sector.
Ultimately, however, pharmaceutical, and other highly regulated industries, such as MedTech, remained the most important markets for tracekey. Initially, tracekey implemented a serialization solution at the European level, then came the USA and Russia. Nowadays, tracekey covers regulations from the UAE to Australia, and with each new target market of our customers or new legal requirements, there is more to come.
We have kept the living room feeling
Despite customers from India, the UK, Malaysia, Sweden, and Poland and a lot of remote work, tracekey has always kept the closeness to customers and employees. “We started with a family living room atmosphere and always carry that feeling forward,” explains Stefan Hoffmann, “even though we’ve grown a lot in the meantime, both in terms of customers and team members.”
At tracekey, this means that the office door of the managing directors is always open, and they are only a Teams call away from everyone. ur long-standing customer relationships are also built on this open and uncomplicated communication.
Today, the former apartment where the tracekey journey began is still part of the office. Even though further space was added. A sofa in the kitchen, a lounge corner on the balcony – places where breaks are just as possible as creative meetings. In this way, the original living room character is preserved at tracekey.
Everyone should feel comfortable, and the offices should be a place where everyone likes to stay for a sausage from the grill after work. The fully equipped kitchen, which was hardly used for a long time, now has a function beyond housing the coffee machine. Our cook whips up delicious Nepalese dishes here three times a week. “It all sounds so cliché, like at other start-ups. But we are much more down-to-earth, just appropriate for the Ruhr region,” says Stefan Hoffmann.
Chat GPT sums it up quite well: “In the past ten years, tracekey has not only achieved technological milestones but has also retained the spirit from the beginning. From a meeting of two people in an Irish pub arose a global success story based on innovation, proximity, and perseverance. The future may bring us more markets and regulations, but one thing will remain constant: our commitment to authenticity, transparency, and customer connection.”