Features, STARTUPS

E-cards Exchange

Looking for a business card may often become a laborious quest. Having searched all hand bags, drawers and ultimately pockets, some people absolutely loose all hopes and start browsing social networks, but usually with little success. Spotster is a startup which intends to have the problem sorted out once and for all. Instead of traditional paper business cards, project founders suggest to exchange digital business cards which are never lost, quickly and easily amended and, most importantly, absolutely free of any charge. The service providers have set for themselves quite ambitious goals. In their plans, Spotster should become a global standard for exchanging contact details just as Instagram has become standard for a network photos posting.

Ciera Holzenthal | Flickr

Absolutely online

What is the best way to advise friends, colleagues and partners of a new job, phone number or office address? The options are sending out SMS or e-mails or making a Facebook post. That is fine, but purely theoretically, Ilya Kondratiev, Development Director at Spotster, believes. In reality, such an approach will result in a loss of important contacts, or, at the very least, in a wasted time.

It’s much simpler, he states, to store all contacts at Spotster as electronic business cards, just making online amendments thereto. It is little difficulty to make up a digital business card, altogether, it will take not more than five minutes, but it will include a photo, all contact details, a job description, and different confidentiality and access levels depending on various parameters (an electronic business card may, for example, be visible in a certain region only).

Looking for business partners will ultimately be easier and faster too, since in e-cards one can list the broadest possible range of data which will help a prospect customer to find the one who is really needed. Digital business cards can certainly be exchanged at business meetings as well, after the details of the companion are found in the mobile application of this service.

We examined and analyzed regular business cards for a long time and were amazed that despite all the advanced technologies, to enter a contact even in a mobile phone one needs to manually type in all the details. The paper business cards often get lost and you can never find them when you really need them”, Ilya Kondratiev says.

That will never ever happen with Spotster. All you need to remember about your contact is the name and the fact his or her digital business card is loaded in the application. By the way, a person may be found in Spotster by a unique number of an e-card.

Australia to Russia to elsewhere

Ilya Kondratiev and his brother Dmitry Kondratiev conceived the Spotster service when they worked in Australia. The company founders have no involvement with the IT industry and have spent recent years working in metallurgy. Nevertheless, the two brothers faced the problem of business cards whenever they contacted a new company to offer a contract.

Initially they merely intended to develop a program which could just read traditional business cards. The program was developed by local specialists but it turned out to be a failure. A new stage in the project advancement coincided with Dmitry’s return to Russia in late 2015. When talking to some friends, he mentioned the idea, which had by then taken the format of an online platform for digital business cards generation. All of a sudden, in its new version the project was financially and otherwise supported by common friends.

Few people got inspired by the idea. Roman Gribanovsky, our old friend, joined the team as well. So the three of us are now promoting the project with some financial support from some other people”, Ilya Kondratiev explains.

Dealing with IT developers in Moscow was a more fruitful experience. Ilya and Dmitry made contact with Moscow-based Arcsinus whose customers included Panasonic, Kaspersky Lab and DodoPizza.

By now, investments in the project have acceded RUR 3 mio ($ 52,000) including the founders’ own savings. The service is now available as a web-platform or as a mobile application for IoS and Android.

Ads wanted

The idea of the startupers is to make the service free for private individuals. That idea, they believe, will attract wider audience to the project. Spotster’s monetization is anticipated via commercial advertizing on the platform.

Most likely, that will be some embedded advertising, or possibly paid demonstrations of business cards, or priority demonstrations, but certainly not banners”, Ilya Kondratiev says.

The project enthusiasts intend to launch Spotster+, a separate product for large businesses, too.

Our corporate solution will operate on the basis of the main platform”, Ilya explains. “We use Spotster but adjust it to trade dress and corporate colors. Most importantly, it is functioning at the corporate server and is not connected to the main database”.

Ilya specifies this corporate product will be offered as a special design on the basis of prepaid orders. In fact, that will be a corporate phone book which includes all contact details of the employees and is localized at a corporate server. A special application will make the phone book available at mobile devices, for the employees to use it both in and out of office. Some employees may have access to external contacts with traders’ and sales managers’ business cards visible in the main Spotster application. As an option, a company can grant access to its contact database to the interested parties – as a paid service.

The startup sees as its key customers the companies with lots of employees, operating in retail trade, insurance and services.

Based on our own experience, we know how many business cards they print and hand out. But 9 cards out of 10 are lost within the first week”, Ilya Kondratiev stresses.

Spotster believes its products may be of interest to government agencies, charity and volunteer organizations, too. The service can be useful to small businesses as well. Small-scale business project are often promoted via social media. For such projects, a business card at a Sporster platform may be sort of an entrance gate for the prospect customers.

Even if your phone number is posted in Instagram, it still needs to be copied and dialed. With our service, all you need is a mouseclick”, Ilya Kondratiev explains.

The startup tried working at various exhibitions and corporate events where the problem of exchanging business cards is quite acute. The results, according to Kondratiev, were quite positive.

Business friend’s friendly changeover

Spotster, its founders claim, has no immediate competitors in the market, even though some functions of the service have no doubt been implemented by various players. Corporate web pages, for example, are present in some services such as 2GIS, but they are not updated on a regular basis there. In the market, there are many services for business cards scanning too, but such services do not offer an option of exchanging contacts.

The project founders discovered the major hardship is users’ disinclination to employ it. Many people, Spotster team says, fail to comprehend why they need such a service at all, or are skeptical about its functional capacities.

I often hear them saying, ‘Why should we leave our contact details? What will happen to them?’ Even though the very same people with no hesitation display their details in social media”, Ilya Kondratiev notes.

At the moment, Russia is seen by the project as its major market. Yet the service will also be promoted in Australia where Ilya is now stationed. A joint project involving several local print shops is underway. The customers who print their business cards in these shops will be offered to order an electronic business card designed by Spotster and to use its advantages.

Attracting customers to such services is the major challenge nobody has successfully addressed so far, Stepan Danilov, founder of MeYou networking service for conferences, says. His company offers a service of communication for conferences, ballots and sponsor chats. Over the past year, 700 clients have used the services of the platform.

Nobody is willing to fill in profiles and make public his or her contact details”, Stepan Danilov explains.

More so, in his opinion, nobody wants to load any additional applications to use them for exchanging contacts thereafter.

Every six months, there is a new application in the market, offering exchange of business cards on the basis of different mechanisms and interfaces. In half a year’s time, such a startup still has no sales and is doomed to die”, Danilov complains.

The idea of e-cards has been in the air for a long time, business surgeon Vyacheslav Semenchuk (his interview you could read here – IF) states. But the projects which attempted to promote it have not demonstrated any success. Exchanging contact details by merely a touch of two smartphones was made possible by Bump project which was even bought at some stage by Google. Still, it was ultimately abandoned due to various problems, including its monetization difficulties. True, the project managed to raise some $20 mio before that.

The idea of common phone books follows the path of Yellow Pages, so popular in the 1990s. But we already have social networks and LinkedIn which helps to effectively find the people we need. I therefore do not see any prospects for a project like that”, Vyacheslav Semenchuk claims.

Business angel Alexander Rumyantsev believes the project is interesting from the investment perspective. There are over seven billion users of mobile phones worldwide, which potentially is a huge audience. According to Rumayntsev, the project should not limit itself to the Russian market – due to its apparent tightness. The number of users there is just 120 mio. Besides, some similar services are already present in the market and will have to be competed anyway. Yet the main challenge for the startup, in his view, is attracting users, so if the number of its clients starts growing, the project will have good chances to succeed.

By Olga Blinova

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