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We make products transparent, not consumers.

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Thomas L. Rödding talking to Thorsten Kambach from the Münster Stadtgeflüster.


I am especially looking forward to today's interview. I am meeting Thomas Rödding - an entrepreneur, programmer, and inventor from Münster. With his first invention, he solved a "small" Microsoft Word "problem" and turned it into a huge success: people from all over the world use his technology to print books, flyers, letters and more online. Does it sound familiar? It is. But today, we are talking about his second invention: Narravero. It lets products speak with customers. Why? Transparency! And it's not just important, it's now mandatory.

Thomas (lacht):

Du kommst direkt auf den Punkt! Die Karte wird älter sein, damals war das okay. Wir können beruhigt unser Essen bestellen.

Apropos Herkunftsnachweis: Thomas, deine Geschichte ist den meisten auch nicht bekannt. Das ändern wir. Fangen wir mit einem Knaller an: Deine erste Erfindung nutzt jeder, der online ein Fotobuch drucken lässt oder Hochzeitskarten bestellt.

Zunächst: Ob es schade ist, dass mich kaum einer kennt, sei dahingestellt. Aber was die Erfindung angeht: Meine Idee war es, Unternehmen zu ermöglichen, bei Druckprodukten statt einer großen Auflage viele kleine zu drucken. Dass letztendlich Fotobücher dabei rauskamen, war erst nicht geplant.

On the menu it says where the potatoes, salad and meat come from, but the menu itself is made of leather without a origin certificate! Should we still eat here?

(Laughs )You hit the nail on the head! The menu will be older, that was okay back then. We can safely order our food.

Speaking of origin certificate: Thomas, most people are not familiar with your story. We are going to change that. Let's start with a bang: Your first invention is used by anyone who orders a photo book online or wedding cards.

First of all, whether it's sad that hardly anyone knows me, is up for debate. But as for the invention: My idea was to enable companies to print many small print products instead of a large print run. The fact that photo books came out of it was not planned at first.

Like Flyeralarm?

Exactly, they now do that as well. But we existed before the online era, in 1991.

You've since sold the company?

My shares, in the summer of 2008. The company still exists.

What did you do with all the money? At first, nothing. I went traveling, wanted to find out, in peace, what I want to do with the rest of my life. I was in Asia and South America, later via Sydney to Argentina, Chile and Ecuador.

First class or more of a backpacker style?

Different. Not staying in hostels. I wanted little contact with others, neither business travelers nor tourists. I was there to gather new impressions only for myself and to experience solo travel. That was very calming. If you're somewhere, no one calls you anymore, you don't talk to anyone you know.

Did this peace bring you to a new idea?

Not directly. Before I came home, I went on a tour through the wilderness in Kenya with a Massai, I wanted to see how nature works when people don't have an influence. One day we encountered buffalo who were taking care of two young ones and communicating with them. The next day we met lions. From three meters away, we experienced and heard a lion crushing the skull of a small buffalo calf, it was brutally loud, it crackled, smacked and boomed. Beside them were three small lions watching and calmly waiting their turn.

What did it do to you?

This has made me feel strange. You thought about the buffalo from the previous day and how they would mourn one of their own. On the other hand, the small lions would have starved if the outcome was different. It's about how the system survives. When you got back to Germany, you set out to find a hunting school, wanted to know how what you saw in Africa works around the corner at home, how things are connected, specific "ecosystems".

Obviously you're not a vegetarian

No, but I am an animal lover. Vegetarianism and veganism are too extreme for me. I don't believe that humankind will stop eating meat. But I wondered if animals would be helped more if they were treated in a species-appropriate manner. I thought I could achieve this if people have the choice, if they start to ask themselves whether the meat they are buying comes from good farming practices. And that's not so easy right now. I have noticed that at the meat counter, only young bulls from Germany or steaks from Argentina are offered. I have never heard the question with "a schnitzel please" - "From which brand should it be? A, B or C?" That seems strange to me.

Hasn't come to my attention yet..

Most products give us the choice between organic yogurt from brand X or a cheaper brand Y. You can go through everything and always have a choice, except at the meat counter. You don't know where the steak comes from, what its journey was like, is it full of antibiotics, was it raised in a humane way? In summary: does it come from a good or bad source?

This brings us to your new invention: Narravero. What is it?

It allows products to speak to you, in a sense. We have invented a technology that allows customers to learn about what they are buying directly in the supermarket, complete with its product biography.

How do you get products to speak?

Technically speaking, it's quite simple: We attach an NFC chip to the product label, and that is the key to the complete product history. You can think of the NFC chip as a tiny USB stick - as small as that dot. When I now hold a phone near it, all the information about the product appears on my screen. I don't have to install any app beforehand.

And is it now attached to meat?

It's on the label. Depending on the product. On a battery, directly on the battery, just like it can be attached directly to a suitcase. It's versatile.

Also on shirts?

On the back labels. Or on a shirt button.

So in the future, I'll have a computer in the back of my neck - does it have a battery?

No, it draws its energy from the radio waves of your phone when you hold it near it. That's enough for it to work. You're familiar with bank cards with contactless payment, they also have NFC chips inside.

Doesn't that exist yet?

The idea of sticking a chip with data on a product is simple. But it's not secure: You could steal it and stick it somewhere else - for example, one from an expensive wine on a cheaper one.

How did you solve this problem?

We now use the NFC chip not only as a memory, but as a unique key. This only leads to the data, which is securely stored in our cloud.

And that's your invention?

Yes, this coding of the chip, which we have designed, programmed, and tested - this is our utility model and our patent application. This allows us to store much more data securely than fits on an NFC chip, and this data can also be added to. A product not only has a history, but there is also time after the purchase - not necessarily with meat, but take a car for example. There is information about the origin of the battery, the rubber of the tires, the leather of the seats. After the purchase, it continues, because at some point there are new tires. So new information! We store all of this information and show it to the customer via the NFC chip.

„We make products transparent. Not the consumer.“ Thomas Rödding

Now I can find out at the supermarket if my meat is super and in the workshop where the rubber for my tires comes from. But just because it is possible, does not mean that all manufacturers participate. Why are you optimistic about that?

Firstly: We are already using Narravero. We have been working on the idea for five years and the technology has been in use for three years. We are on a very good path with wild meat and we are becoming more and more active in other industries as well. The second reason for my optimism is the EU Supply Chain Due Diligence Regulation that has started. This makes it mandatory to digitally prove the origin of all product details. Narravero offers exactly that and exactly where you expect it, namely at the product.

What is that word monster?

The term is not very accessible, but that is not its task. Its purpose is to describe what is now mandatory. This includes manufacturers having to prove where each of their products come from, what they consist of, where the components come from and what stages they have gone through.

You are annoyed that the information about where certain meat comes from is being kept from you, so you invent Narravero, bring it to the market and suddenly your idea becomes a European obligation. That's what I call luck - or can you predict the future?

(Laughs) As you say it, it sounds like that. But that's a simplification. When I had the idea five years ago to more detailed and smarter prove the origin of meat, there was no talk of this law. But for two, three years it has been foreseeable for me. I have been part of some DIN committees for a few years now. And that was about...

Wait, do you mean the famous DIN - the all-determining German Institute for Standardization!?

It is not all-determining, but it sets standards. And these are important. For example, one tells you that a certain paper format is DIN A4 format. But it does not tell you what material DIN A4 must be made of. This means that there is a framework and only partly the concrete implementation.

Can you simply participate in DIN committees or how did you become a member there?

Anyone can participate. You can sign up in Berlin. I did that a few years ago - as I said, I have always been interested in connections.

What did you do in the DIN committee? I mean, DIN A4 already existed ...

(Laughs) It was also about digital origin certificates for agricultural products. Basically the same as now on a European level, where the CEN and standICT are. I am also in committees and it is about transparency of animal health data and digital product passports.

That means you define for the European Union what must be depicted in the supply chains - but not how?

Not me, the EU Commission and EU Parliament do that. But otherwise, yes, I contribute my expertise.

And with Narravero, do you then have the "how"?

Exactly, we have the solution for the "how". And with Narravero, we have proven that it works."

Sounds like Silicon Valley and a big business. Every product needs that, and if I calculate...

But it's not in California, it's in the middle of Münster. And as for the big business: it's true, we are very optimistic because it affects every product and we offer a solution for each product that is simple, secure, and smart. And above all, limitless scalable through our technology. That turns things around, makes products transparent and not the consumers.

That changes a lot. Thank you, Thomas. I'm looking forward to talking to the products in the supermarket.

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