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With the recession in full swing, industries across the charts have been laying off hundreds of employees — making the job market increasingly competitive. So what’s a freshly unemployed tech professional to do? Hit the streets and start networking. As the hordes of job-seekers descend upon trade shows, conferences and meetups around the country, a few mobile startups could be poised to profit from their misery: digital business card services. The last few months have seen the launch of a number of services, delivered via mobile technologies from iPhone apps to text messages, that aim to do away with the business card. Previously, companies may have pitched their product as a “green” alternative to dead-tree info swapping, but in today’s market, the dynamic nature of the digital business card could prove to be a more powerful selling point — at least for a startup that can dispatch updated, social media-connected personal data securely across the range of mobile devices.
The iPhone has been a key driver of the market for digital business cards, at least in terms of visibility. Gabe Zichermann, CEO of rmbrME, says his company, which had previously offered an SMS solution with about 1,000 users, had 10,000 users (and even more downloads) of its beamME application in the first 10 days it was available on the App Store. Other apps include Nameo, Handshake, FriendBook and iCard. Most of the services work roughly the same way: Bring two iPhone users together, pull up the app, and a simple touch command sends information between their devices.
However, Nameo, Handshake and iCard are limited to contacts with an iPhone. But what about those of us without iPhones? Dub, which was launched in beta in June of this year, is another option for the BlackBerry set, and as of this week, its service is also available for Android phones (currently that’s just the T-Mobile G1). (The company says service for the iPhone and Windows Mobile are due out in December.) Perhaps Dub’s biggest claim to fame is that it offers integration with common business services. Data can be beamed to a Salesforce.com contact management system, as well as to mobile devices, and Dub users will soon be able to sign into the service using their LinkedIn login and password.
But even Dub, which allows for limited cross-platform sharing, requires that both users have a smartphone and install the app. For on-the-go information sharing, the “Do you use this app?” conversation can add an extra layer of awkwardness and time. For universal sharing, users might be better off with an SMS service from players such as Dropcard, TextID and rmbrME. Even iPhone app-addicts have an option: While most iPhone apps rely on Wi-Fi networks and geolocation, rmbrME’s iPhone app, beamME, allows users to send personal data from their iPhone to any phone, whether it has a data connection or just a simple voice connection.
I’m still slogging along with a Nokia 2610, so I’m partial to technology that doesn’t leave me (with my pesky insistence on multiday battery life) out in the cold. I’ve found services like rmbrME and Dropcard to be simple to use, and I could easily send my data to smartphone-carrying folks via shortcode. Better yet, people could send info to me, without even knowing that I still carry a Stone Age-era device.
While there hasn’t been much venture investment in the space just yet, Zichermann says rmbrME has raised just shy of $1 million in angel investment, and DubMeNow has reportedly raised $1.1 million in angel funding. DreamIt Ventures provided seed funding for Dropcard. But the startup founders are optimistic: Zichermann says VCs are exactly the kind of social, tech-savvy users that “get” services like rmbrME, which should make it easier to raise funding when the time is right.
Also promising in this market: None of the services is dependent on advertising revenue. Most of the services use a “freemium” model, and several are working to add enterprise-level functionality. DubMeNow’s BlackBerry-focused, Salesforce.com-integrating app seems aimed squarely at the business-to-business marketplace. Zichermann says rmbrME also has its eye on premium services aimed at the enterprise market, such as offering a branded, customized look and feel for user cards.
You probably can’t throw away your business cards just yet. But if you’re in the market for a new job, sign up for an SMS service and head out to the trade shows.
Image courtesy of rmbrME
This article also appeared on Businessweek.com.