Paper Business Cards Live On, Defying Technology; Actor Damon Wayans Promotes an App to Let Users Share Contacts Phone to Phone

Paper Business Cards Live On, Defying Technology

Actor Damon Wayans Promotes an App to Let Users Share Contacts Phone to Phone


March 2, 2014 7:53 p.m. ET

Actor Damon Wayans last week in Barcelona, where he was promoting an app that lets users create and share digital business cards. Ryan Knutson/The Wall Street Journal

BARCELONA— Damon Wayans, now a smartphone app developer, was handing out business cards here last week at the world’s largest mobile-phone conference, trying to drum up interest in his alternative to one of the most enduring artifacts of the old economy: the business card.

“It’s annoying,” said the actor and comedian, referring to the irony of having to use a business card while touting an app aimed at killing them off altogether.

The app, called Flick Dat, would let users share contacts phone to phone with a flick of the thumb. The final version of the app hasn’t been released yet, so to stay in touch with the people he meets, he does what everyone else does and gives them a card.

Mr. Wayans, who once joked he grew up so poor that he ate sleep for dinner, is serious about his idea. “I don’t want this to be the funniest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.

American technology has put people on the moon, invented the Internet and delivered fully functioning cars that drive themselves. But it has thus far met its match against a business tool rooted in the Chinese invention of paper, Gutenberg’s brainstorm with the printing press and insurance salesmen’s mastery of the cocktail-party buttonhole.

Mr. Wayans is just the latest techie claiming to have found a better way. But he faces long odds.

Jack Dorsey, who founded Square and was a co-founder of Twitter Inc., TWTR -1.54% is notorious in Silicon Valley for his drive to eliminate unnecessary paper, which he finds wasteful. Most people at his payments startup don’t have business cards.

That works fine for Mr. Dorsey, who doesn’t need to be so readily accessible. But it wasn’t great for Kay Luo, who as an investor and former spokeswoman for the company was in the business of swapping contact information.

“I was essentially Jack’s business card,” she said, only she didn’t have any cards to give out.

Once she took a bunch of stickers bearing Square’s logo and wrote her number and email address on the back. “It’s awkward when you need to give your contact information to someone,” she said.

David Morken, chief executive of telecom firm, which makes technology that enables Internet phone calls, recently gave up business cards. But it wasn’t always that way.

After co-founding the company in 1999, he tried to save money by printing out his own cards on stock paper from OfficeMax. The problem was that the cards had perforated edges. To fix that, he spent hours waxing the edges on at least 50 cards with either dental floss or candle wax—he couldn’t recall which—to smooth them out.

“You can’t have a fuzzy edge,” he said. Back then it was a matter of credibility: “If I don’t hand out a card, it means I’m not a legitimate business,” he added.

These days he doesn’t care. “I got to a point where I feel stupid” handing out cards, Mr. Morken said. He said the habit suggests self-consciousness about status. “The person who hands out the business card first, loses.”

The French telecom giant Orange is going the another direction entirely. Rather than get rid of business cards, the company’s public-relations department decided to outfit some of theirs with a so-called NFC NFC.LN 0.00% chip, which can transmit radio signals to a smartphone.

It’s about “being dynamic,” said Jeff Sharpe, senior public-relations manager at Orange, formerly France Télécom. “NFC is a big trend in the industry now.”

Nobody was making the enhanced business cards when Mr. Sharpe and his colleagues came up with the idea a year ago. So he spent at least an hour sticking chips to the back of about 200 cards by hand. He buys them for nearly a euro, or around $1.38, apiece. That makes them costly enough that he also carries a batch of old-fashioned paper cards. But Mr. Sharpe figures the experiment is worth it.

“You can use [the technology] as a gateway to more information,” he said. “I think it definitely makes the business cards more useful.”

That said, Mr. Sharpe rarely gives out the new cards. “I usually text [people] my details,” he added.

Mr. Wayans, known for his roles in the early 1990s TV show “In Living Color” and the movie “Major Payne,” got the idea for his app after attending the Digital Hollywood conference in 2012. “People came to me all the time and gave me these business cards,” he said. “I left the conference with about 100 business cards, and I thought, ‘What do I do with this?’ ” he said.

Within days of the conference, it hit him. “I said, ‘It would be really cool if someone could just do this,’ ” Mr. Wayans said, flicking his right index finger up his left palm. “As soon as I thought of that I said, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be my first app.’ ”

Until the latest version of his app is released, likely later this month, Mr. Wayans probably will be limited to handing out paper version of his card—a small, black rectangle about the size of a stick of gum—but just to a lucky few. He gave out only about five during the first two days of the Mobile World Congress.

“I really kind of save it for things where I think I would like to connect with this person,” he said.

More than two years after leaving Square, Ms. Luo wishes she had never given out her contact information in the first place. She still gets calls on her cellphone from people hoping to reach Mr. Dorsey.

“I would love a business card that would self-destruct,” she said. “Like a Snapchat business card,” she said, referring to the app known for its disappearing messages.

The cardless lifestyle has grown on her. In her new job building houses, she doesn’t have any. But she can’t escape them entirely. The cards are entrenched in the culture and are piling up on her desk.

“It’s a pain that you live with,” she said.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: