The business card is a flawed technology. No one knows this better than people like Tony Conrad. As an investor in companies like WordPress, MakerBot and Blue Bottle Coffee, he's the kind of individual strangers want to network with -- sometimes a little too fervently.
"Inevitably it's always the super-aggressive person I'd never want to give my cell phone number to who always asks, 'Do you have a card?'" says Conrad, a partner at True Ventures.
This happened to Conrad so often that for settings where he expected many such requests -- for instance, speaking on panels at tech-industry events -- he developed a little trick. He had three different sets of business cards printed, bearing different degrees of contact information, and carried each in a different pocket. That way, if Conrad bumped into an old friend, he could reach for the one with his cell number and personal email on it; if buttonholed by an annoying personal space invader, he could produce the one with only his About.me page. And, crucially, no one would ever have to be the wiser. "I never want to be an asshole," says Conrad. "I'm a kid who grew up in a humble upbringing in Indiana."
That humble Midwestern kid is also the cofounder and CEO of About.me, a startup launched in 2009 as a place for users to manage and curate their online identities. Drawing inspiration from Conrad's three-card monte, About.me launched an app called Intro a few weeks ago.
Intro is a sort of digital business card, with a couple of key advantages over the ink-and-paper original. For one thing, you can choose which bits of your contact information you want to share each time you send an Intro. It also includes a link to the sender's About.me profile page. That solves the problem of what you might call business card amnesia. As Conrad puts it, "I get these cards and pull them out and I have no idea who any of these people are."
For all of its shortcomings, Conrad doesn't think the business card is going away, and he's not looking to kill it with Intro. "I don't have a personal mission or jihad against physical business cards," he says. "People will always find value in them."
Given that most face-to-face meetings now take place in the presence of the parties' smartphones, however, they might find more value in Intro. I've been using it instead of business cards for the past month and I consider it an upgrade.
It's also been a boon for About.me. If you want to use Intro, you have to have an account, and, while that wasn't the purpose of creating it, "the impact on customer acquisition has been kind of crazy," he says.
In Conrad's vision, About.me will grow into a top-10 Internet company over the next two years by serving as the primary form of digital identity for all the people for whom a LinkedIn profile doesn't quite do justice. That includes people like college students, who haven't had time to build a resume yet, and "gig economy" workers like artists and performers whose accomplishments don't fit neatly into chronologically ordered bullet points.
"My dad has a lot of corny sayings, but there's one I love," says Conrad. "It's the old adage: A hundred years ago, you only got one chance to make a first impression. Today, you only have one chance to make a first impression, and 100 years from now, you'll still only have one chance to make a first impression."