Ok, let’s face it. The world is trying to digitized everything! First, we saw how MP3 killed CD (Compact Disc). Then, email outran snail mail and fax. Later, came along PDF that shredded paper document’s future to pieces. Now, smartphone is in the verge of exterminating desktop, but what about something as humble as a printed business card? Had some smart digital techs came and destroyed the little 3.5 x 2 inch piece of paper you very so often give to someone when you first meet over business? Perhaps, you still do keep a few pieces of your name cards tucked in your wallet or handbag, in case you bumped into someone important.
So, many had indeed tried to stop you from doing that but many have died. So, here’s the lowdown of the “so near yet so far” case studies of startups that thought they could kill Mr. Business Card.
I start with Bump on the top of my list because they were probably the most high-profiled startup that attempted to get rid of your physical business card. In 2008, Bump started in Silicon Valley as an app for people to exchange their business contacts by “bumping” their phones. Yes, I bump my phone to your phone (or rather, place my phone near yours) and if both of us are Bump users, your contact will appear in the app on my phone and vice versa. They raised $19.9 milion in 3 rounds from 11 investors like Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz and barely 5 years later got acquired by Google on September 16, 2013, reportedly for around $35 milion. During their popular existence, they were on App Store’s top 10 iPhone apps list of 2009 and eventually garnered 125 million downloads for their iOS and Android apps, by March 2013.
Please understand that Bump did not fail as a company. They just probably failed in trying to replace business cards. If you read most of the articles about Bump, including their own blog, many reported that they were successful in sending millions of photos, NOT millions of business contacts. This article by Venture Beat reported that,
“Intuitively, it might seem that Bump is best used as an alternative to swapping business cards. But it turns out that the company’s traffic hits a peak on weekends, suggesting that it’s more of a casual or social app. The company recently launched a Facebook integration that lets users friend each other on the spot to take advantage of that. A Twitter integration that lets you follow a person will come shortly.”
Business people sharing contacts on weekends? Really? And where’s the Linkedin integration? Something is amiss about this app that supposedly made to exchange business contact info.
Tomio Geron wrote on Forbes.com that
“The app was designed to let people share contact information by just bumping their phones together. The company also evolved to let people share things like photos through bumps.”
Sounds more like a pivot to me. Then, we have this infographic below (courtesy of Bump) that shows that 267 million photos were sent with Bump, again not number of contacts. It does suggest that Bump, “is not all about contact info” as written below in the heading “How do people bump?”.
Even online tutorials on how to use Bump emphasized on teaching you how to use the app to share photos, rather than contacts. So, my educated guess is that Bump failed to kill business cards but succeeded in helping the world to share files conveniently. Even after their acquisition by Google, we’ve not heard or any similar products from Google that supposed to replace Bump.
My Name is E
This service is surely dead because if you visit their website www.mynameise.com, it appears that the company has morphed into a Japanese wallet manufacturing company (at least that’s what Google Translate said). By digging back the past, I found this article introducing them as an upcoming startup that won The Next Web Rising Sun Startup Competition 2009. Apparently, this service was made in Holland by a company called CardCloud (also defunct). The service supposed to be a one-stop shop that collects all your social and contact accounts (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) and you could share them in real-time via a USB device called the “Connector”. Tech Crunch’s Mike Butcher doubted this service will work, but said it’s an interesting product to watch. I guess we watched it died.
This product is pretty simple. It converts your business contact into a QR code, period. It aims to be like a bar code to your business life. Now, how often do we snap a QR code from a person’s business card? Based on a 2013 survey, 83% of North American consumers are aware of QR codes, and 47% of those have scanned at least once, but almost half did so from a magazine (49.8%), in-store sign (49.3%), or packaging while shopping (49.2%), while 17.7% did so from a newspaper and 8.7% from a transit ad. Although this service aims to complement printed business card in a way, (since you still need to print your personal QR code) it failed because QR code technology failed as the medium to exchange digital business cards.
Catchy name for a digital business card startup that doesn’t have a profile on CrunchBase. Well, it’s an iPhone app that lets you create a virtual name card using its 40 existing templates and when you want to share your “card”, just ask the recipients for their Snapdat usernames and you just send your digital card over, via the app. Oh wait, what if the recipient is not on Snapdat? Or another wait, what if they’re using Android phones (No Android version was ever built). The chicken and egg problem could probably be the key reason of its failure.
A Bump wanna-be that also turned out to be a flop. Similar to Bump, but the difference is you get to design your nice digital business card using their selection of themes. Comparable to Snapdat, you need to sign-up to use and it only works with others that have the same app. Although the app is still available on the app store, but I doubt anyone is downloading it.
The tech world is teeming with startups and apps that came and tried to bring paper business card down to its knees like BeamME, BeezCard, Contxts, Dud, DooID (now PixelHub), Fliq, Handshake, TwtBizCard, uME but all faced the same fate.
So if someone comes along and tell you that he or she found the silver bullet to kill Mr Business Card, you’d probably might want to share this article with them. Perhaps entrepreneurs should not be too far fetched with their ideas and should instead try to create a new digital culture that complements the 300-year-old business card.
Please leave your comments below about other tech companies that failed to change the enterprise culture.