Perspectives on entrepreneurship, startups and venture capital from K9 Ventures.

CardMunch: Business Cards Solved

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I am super excited about today’s launch of CardMunch, Inc. CardMunch is a K9 Ventures portfolio company. In fact, it is one of K9’s first concept-stage investments — where the co-founders and K9 ventures worked together to develop the idea before the company was formed.

I have already been using the CardMunch app for several months while it has been in beta. Having been an early user (even though I have an obviously biased opinion) I can state with confidence that CardMunch is simply the best way to solve the business card problem. Here is a video explaining CardMunch in 21 seconds!

Business cards are a core part of our everyday business interactions. When someone hands you business card, you feel the stock of the paper, you look at the shape of the card, the color, the logo, the typography — all of that says something about the person whose card you received. Business cards are often the first introduction to a company’s brand or to a person’s brand. As such, I firmly believe that business cards are here to stay and that they serve a social and a practical purpose.

There has long been chatter about electronic card exchange solutions — from beaming someone your contact information using IR on a Palm III, to using Bump on the iPhone today. However, the electronic card exchange suffers from “you can’t clap with one hand” problem, i.e. both parties must have the application installed to use it. Furthermore, electronic card exchange applications break the social protocol — if I meet someone important, I’d be happy to take their paper business card and slip it in my pocket. I’m not really going to say, oh, “let me Bump you instead.”

The exchange of business cards is a ritual at the core of the social protocol for business. This is especially evident in Asian cultures where knowing how business cards are given and received are an important part of the cultural training to do business in those cultures. Bottomline: The paper business card is here to stay for the forseeable future.

However, that leaves us with the Business Card problem, i.e. the problem of getting information on someone’s business card into electronic form. For years that problem was solved by having an assistant type it in, or by using a desktop business card scanner. However, even the best Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is not 100% accurate and makes mistake. Heck, even the assistants — if you’re fortunate enough to have one — sometimes make mistakes.

In addition, there has been one more shift. The shift to mobile. The center of our contact universe is no longer the Outlook running on our desktop. Instead, it is the mobile phone — that’s where your contacts need to be. In your hand, or in your pocket, at all times. That’s especially true for the true mobile warriors — the business user.

This is where CardMunch comes in. CardMunch is a mobile business card transcription service that allows a user to scan a business card using just their mobile phone. The service delivers the highest possible accuracy of the business card transcription by using a human workforce to transcribe and verify the information on the card. The transcribed information is returned to the mobile phone as a contact. Round trip, from the phone to the phone, with the highest accuracy. Can it get any better?

CardMunch, How it Works

Yes, it can. The CardMunch team (Bowei Gai, Sid Viswanathan and Sudeep Yegnashankaran) is an all Carnegie Mellon team (my alma mater) that is deeply committed to building the best user experience. The app has been in beta since March and has gone through several iterations to fine tune the interaction design. To use CardMunch, you open the app, click on camera icon and hold the phone above a business card. CardMunch automatically recognizes the card, captures it and submits it to the server for transcription. Within minutes, the card is returned to the phone as a contact. All this happens with no additional clicks or user intervention.

Of course not every business card you receive belongs in your phone’s address book. Therefore, CardMunch lets you choose which cards you want to push to your phone’s address book and which ones you just want to keep within the CardMunch app — in your mobile rolodex. That way you still have it for the rare occasion that you may need it in, but don’t end up cluttering up your phone’s address book.

Here’s the best part, once you push a contact through to your phone’s address book, it will automatically get synced to whatever service your phone is synced to, whether it’s Outlook, Google Contacts, Mobile Me. In addition, CardMunch will sync and backup all of the contacts in the CardMunch address book on secure CardMunch servers. You will never lose a card or anyone’s contact information again! If you lose your phone, or get a new phone, simply install the CardMunch app and it will pull down all the cards you scanned back to your phone.

Since CardMunch uses a human workforce to ensure the highest accuracy, it is a premium service. However, it comes with some very distinct advantages:

  • I don’t need to buy a ~$300 business card scanner
  • I don’t have to be at my desk when I want to scan a business card
  • I don’t need to tether my phone or wait for it to sync till I can get the information from my laptop/desktop on to my phone
  • I don’t need to verify/correct each card manually
  • I don’t have to worry about losing my invaluable rolodex since it’s always backed up
  • I don’t have to clutter my phone’s address book with every card and can keep all cards in the CardMunch app and chose which ones to push through to my iPhone address book

CardMunch credits (one credit is one business card) are priced at 10 credits for $2.99 via In-App purchasing, or you can buy 40 credits for $10 on the CardMunch website and set it to Auto-Recharge (like Skype).

Currently the CardMunch app is available only for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 running iOS 4.0.x. If you’re using an recent generation iPhone with an up to date OS, definitely go download the CardMunch app (CardMunch Free w/5 credits, or CardMunch Pro w/10 credits for $2.99) from the AppStore and give it a spin.

The CardMunch team has a lot more cool stuff in the works and I can’t wait for some of the new features they have on their roadmap.

I want to say a special thanks to the team for all the hard work and long hours they’ve put in. I’m proud to be involved with such a fun company and a stellar team. And I finally have a solution to the sea of business cards on my side desk.

P.S. You can follow @CardMunch on Twitter or become a fan of CardMunch on Facebook.

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  • BusinessCards

    As you have stated, printed business cards will always have a place in the social and business world. This app sounds like it successfully allows for printed business cards to be incorporated into the digital, mobile world without trying to eliminate them altogether. You can still exchange business cards in the traditional way, and have the easy access that we love about mobile apps.

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  • DesignBusinessCards

    Great app. Perfect for those odd shaped cards as well – and you don’t have to spend time entering in the information for each contact.

  • Will Cheung

    Congratulation on the launch! Bowei et al definitely worked hard on this. Wish I have a new iPhone to take it for a test drive.