Tuesday, August 9, 2011
New phone app scans, organizes business cards
An Israeli company is offering business people a digital answer to the Rolodex.
In the late 1990s, at the height of the dot.com boom, a single-purpose portable scanner called the CardScan was all the rage. Users fed in all their business cards, and the software turned those cards into editable text files.
The timing couldn't have been better. With high-tech conferences spreading like digital daisies, startup executives found themselves drowning in pocket-sized pieces of cardboard. However, users had to wait until they returned to the office, or schlep the scanner in their carry-on.
Fast-forward 10 years. A small Israeli startup, ScanBizCards, has taken the premise of CardScan and put it on the smart phone. Using the iPhone or Android's built-in camera, ScanBizCards immediately converts cards to text and delivers them straight to the device's address book.
It's a neat trick that has generated close to 500,000 downloads, placing it as the 18th most popular business app in the iTunes store, CEO Patrick Questembert says. Not bad for a company started entirely with the founder's personal savings and consisting of four people - two in Israel and two in New York.
Most of the downloads have been of the free "lite" version, but there are also tens of thousands of downloads of the full version, which costs $6.99. The Android version of the app has been downloaded about 80,000 times since its launch in February 2011 (the flagship iPhone version hit the market in October 2010).
'Scanning is only the beginning'
ScanBizCards was not the first, nor is it the biggest, business card scanning app. The competition consists of companies with clever names such as CardMunch, Shoedboxed, CardSnap and BizSnap. CardMunch was acquired earlier this year by LinkedIn as a way of increasing the number of contacts that flow into the popular business networking website. The full version of the CardMunch app is now free.
ScanBizCards hopes to compete based on features. The company's slogan is "Scanning is only the beginning." Perhaps the most useful of ScanBizCard's 17 features is the auto-respond function. As soon as you've scanned a card, the app pops open an email window offering to follow up with the contact and send your contact details.
Contacts can be imported into the iPhone's built-in address book, of course, but ScanBizCards also creates its own groups, which can then be integrated with Microsoft Outlook. Other hooks include quick calling via Skype; export to LinkedIn (Questembert says LinkedIn has no desire to dump alternate ways to get data in, despite its purchase of CardMunch); automatic follow-up reminders for Google Calendar and Apple's iCal; and synchronization with the popular Evernote data collection and outlining app.
ScanBizCards even has its own "web sync" function, which ensures that cards are instantly backed up to the "cloud" in case your phone is ever lost or damaged. Double-sided card support is nifty and there are some fun features too, such as a "cover flow" display that lets you thumb through cards like you would album covers in iTunes.
Unique among all the mobile business card apps, ScanBizCards can scan in 22 languages. And one more feature, which Questembert says is popular yet "mostly useless" - if you enter an address, a pushpin will show on a Google Map where that contact is located.
And, as if to demonstrate the company's agility in pushing out new features, Questembert coded a very simple app, Contacts2Excel, which exports any contacts on your phone to Microsoft Excel. It was downloaded 20,000 times in its first week, jumping up to become the No. 3 business app in the US and the No. 1 overall app in France for iPhones.
The winning card
Questembert is no newcomer to high-tech. He has degrees in engineering from Tel Aviv University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Questembert worked at both Microsoft and Intel in Israel before moving to New York to receive his MBA at Columbia University.
The 46-year-old French immigrant to Israel (he moved with his family when he was nine) raised an impressive $6 million for his first company, DigiCash, which created a virtual "loyalty" currency that websites could hand out to customers for discounts on goods and services. The company hired a staff of 16 who worked out of offices in Netanya.
The business card scanning category is hot, and Questembert believes he is in the right place at the right time. So before tossing or relegating that card to the desk drawer, never to be seen again, fire up an app. Questembert is betting that he can play the winning card.