Ashifi Gogo thought he had the perfect product for vigilant foodies: scratch-off stickers for organic produce. The idea was that you would buy some fruit, scratch to reveal a code, and then text it to Sproxil, Gogo's company, to verify the food's organic authenticity. Only problem: "Nobody wanted to buy it," he says. Even Whole Foods customers didn't care for that level of verification. By 2006, Sproxil was foundering, as Gogo puts it, "like a hammer looking for a nail."
That's when he began to think big. The pharmaceutical industry presented an ideal customer base, especially in countries where pharmacies and the drug supply chain can't be fully trusted. The International Policy Network estimates that 700,000 people die each year from counterfeit tuberculosis and malaria drugs. And yet, even in remote areas, cell phones are ubiquitous.
Gogo reached out to manufacturers, who began attaching Sproxil stickers to pill bottles. Consumer response was immediate: By the beginning of 2012, two years after the first stickered bottles went out, the system had been used 1 million times; seven months later, the number was 2 million. Now Sproxil is expanding into other fields and discovering that customers for all sorts of products are eager to confirm that they got what they paid for, from agricultural goods to auto parts to the copper in electric wires. "There are lots and lots of uses for our services," Gogo says. And this time, finally, everyone else agrees.
[Photo by Jason Grow]