Turning Business Cards Into Opportunities

You’ve had a successful week at a trade convention. You’ve collected dozens of business cards and connected with other professionals with whom you’re sure to build strategic partnerships. Now comes the hard part — importing the information from their business cards into your contact-management system. As the cards pile up on your desk, you start to think that there has to be an easier way. Enter Dexter Sealy, the creative mind behind CardScan, the business card scanner and contact-management software.

Sealy, 40, and business partner Jonathan Stern founded CardScan Inc. in 1993 as a company devoted to unifying traditional business card exchanges and computerized contact management applications. Today, CardScan boasts 650,000 users worldwide.

CardScan’s technology revolves around portable, easy-to-use scanners and scanning software that allows users to transfer contact information from business cards to an electronic database. “The customer experience is very important to me,” says Sealy, CardScan’s chief technology officer and vice president of research and development. “Other companies see it as selling a scanner. We saw it as solving people’s contact-management problems.”

Over the last 13 years, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company has managed to work many of the bugs out of the device’s technology, making it one of the most accurate card readers on the market. All users have to do is insert a business card into the scanner and the machine does the rest. It’s capable of interpreting hundreds of fonts and layouts and organizes information into their proper fields, thus aiding in productivity by eliminating manual typing and increasing the accuracy of the data entered.

Sealy, who studied computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is responsible for leading the technical vision and direction of CardScan. Prior to starting his own company, he held positions with Digital Equipment Corp., Index Technology, and ON Technology. Today, Sealy writes code to continually perfect CardScan. “I believe in designing products that are easy to use,” he says. “Technology shouldn’t be complicated.” Sealy’s commitment to customer service has paid off. CardScan boasts that 99% of its customers keep the product without returning it.

The market wasn’t always kind to CardScan. Sealy recalls that the first version of the product, released in 1994, was far from flawless. An early review claimed that the software wasn’t ready, says Sealy, who thought they were absolutely right. “I hung the article on the wall as a reminder,” Sealy says. “We had a lot of technical problems to overcome, such as perfecting the optical character recognition, but we worked at it.” Apparently, CardScan’s focus on quality has aided in the device’s longevity and led to subsequent favorable reviews.

Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst for Nucleus Research Inc., describes how most professionals “let business cards pile up on our desks before we bother to enter the information into our contact management systems.” However, a reliable scanner makes it a lot less daunting. “CardScan is a solid product,” says Wettemann. “Data entry by hand has the potential to result in a lot of errors, but CardScan has a high rate of accuracy that