Business cards

HiHello Tackles the Professional Networking Problem: What to Do With All Those Business Cards?

Recently, I’ve begun doing a bit of KonMari’ing in my home and eventually it led me to several boxes unnecessarily taking up space. In them were hundreds of business cards that have accrued over the years. Parsing through them, filtering out outdated cards, and trying to remember where I met people, I wished for a way to make networking easier.

For years, I’ve had an affinity towards receiving business cards—they were a badge of honor, a physical takeaway to remind me that I met someone important that I’d like to learn from. Yes, the same could be said for something digital like an email, but this was for more sentimental reasons. But now, after meeting so many people, the need to purge, and a yearning to make data available anywhere I’m at, the question becomes whether there’s an efficient way to put it all in the cloud.

A decade ago, CardMunch launched to tackle this problem and was joined by Evernote. The former was eventually acquired by LinkedIn in a move that could have been a great move—scan the business card and LinkedIn would store that data and make the network connection. In this reality, the data would then be pushed to Microsoft’s Azure cloud and people could have access to that data within a single database they could access from anywhere. But alas, that’s not where we’re at and the business card problem continues to persist.

Although CardMunch has been mothballed, its founder and K9 venture capitalist Manu Kumar hasn’t given up the fight to streamline productivity and networking. In 2018, he debuted HiHello in the hope it’ll catch on in the market because it doesn’t require any app to be downloaded—it largely relies on the camera technology in your smartphone. After releasing several features designed to make networking easier, the company is going after the big struggle people have: what to do with all those physical leave-behinds?

…If you receive a business card from someone, that piece of paper is not very useful since it has digital information presented in paper form. A paper business card doesn’t enter your everyday workflow (i.e. in email for most of us) and doesn’t get captured in the address book on your desktop or your phone easily. Any time you want to contact that person, you’d have to shuffle through all of your business cards to find that one card. 

HiHello describes the current workflow we have with business cards.

In an email, Kumar explained that the quality in today’s smartphone camera now has great quality. “When we launched CardMunch, that was a real problem that the images were not high quality enough unless you had the latest device. Now everyone’s phone is good enough for the task,” he wrote. “[Optical character recognition], [machine learning], and [artificial intelligence] are way better than what they used to be in 2010 (but still not good enough.”

With the next-generation of HiHello, a user scans a paper business card to add the information into their contacts. They’ll also receive a copy in their email. The magic behind the company’s card scanning is its human workforce which is tasked with transcribing the business cards into contacts. HiHello explained in its release: “Despite all the buzz you’ve heard about AI and ML, you want your contacts to be accurate and unfortunately even the most state-of-the-art automated solutions simply haven’t proven to be good enough.” Because of the human component, card scanning is available through one of HiHello’s subscription plans.

Users can scan up to five business cards each month for free, but if you’d like to get additional features besides an increase in the business card allotment, such as premium templates, syncing to Exchange, G Suite, and iCloud, and additional human-verified scans, that’ll cost you more—up to $20 per month.

Kumar told me that all transcribed card information will be available within the HiHello app, the phone contact list, and in the email address book. Currently, only those on iOS can take advantage of HiHello’s contact integration, but Android support is planned “in the near future.”

For those curious about having an unknown human reviewing your scanned business cards, Kumar explained that those doing the legwork are HiHello employees and the data stays on the company’ servers. It does not employ third-party workers to do the transcriptions and Kumar claims that HiHello “do not use/share/sell people’s contact information.” “That’s simply not the business I want to be in,” he said. “My goal is to deliver value to users and have them pay us directly.”

What HiHello offers isn’t a novel solution, but there are some things working for it (and against it). Kumar is correct that the way we use the camera on our mobile device has vastly evolved since he launched CardMunch and there is an opportunity for such a service. We’re already using the camera to post our expenses, leverage augmented reality to be better informed about the world, and to communicate with other people, and camera technology will likely only get better.

The use of humans to power the transcriptions to ensure accuracy is a necessity and even many large technology companies have acknowledged that AI won’t necessarily solve every challenge (e.g. Facebook and Google). But what’s potentially problematic is how does HiHello’s offering scale once it begins receiving business cards en masse (at one point CardMunch was reportedly handling 50,000 cards daily). It’s definitely a good sign that the scanned data can be integrated into productivity tools such as the phone’s contact list and also our native email address book.

In the current state of tech, the question about privacy remains at the forefront of how we use apps and services. Scanning business cards may seem innocuous, but what if you’d like to scan one from a healthcare professional, lawyer, or someone with whom you’re having sensitive communications? Kumar pointed me to its privacy policy and also said that the company’s business model is not “and will never be” based on selling data, so the hope is you won’t start to be targeted by who you network with—that’s LinkedIn’s job.

In a way, HiHello is Kumar’s second bite at the apple, offering him an opportunity to do what he wanted to at CardMunch, but what LinkedIn wasn’t able to do before shuttering his startup. But will the market recognize this as the future of networking, finally eradicating a pain point in connecting with each other?