Jarrod Webb, founder of digital business card app Blinq, has ambitions to own the networking market — and the network effect.
Physical business cards might seem quaint in the digital age, but they have a few things going for them beyond sharing contact info. Well- designed cards on quality stock convey status and credibility — and the simple act of exchanging cards is an important sign that you welcome the new connection. Rituals and etiquette were invented for this act alone. But extracting that information is a manual process. Even some of the popular business card apps of recent years were still based on a one-time handshake between people with the same app — until UberEats software engineer Jarrod Webb hacked a more elegant solution in 2017.
Remember your first code?
Webb learned to code at university, often challenging himself with weekend hackathons building apps from scratch. “Coding is a really great skill everyone should learn,” he says. “Even if you don’t want to be a coder, it teaches you how to think in a structured way.”
In 2017, two years after graduating from university, Webb’s skills put him on the fast track with Uber’s Sydney team, disrupting food delivery and point-of-sale businesses. The company logo and his role changed twice that year, so the business cards on his desk were soon useless.
He remembers well the excitement of Apple including native QR code scanning from the camera in November 2017’s iOS 11 update, which triggered an idea for an app. “I thought this was really cool — you could transfer details to someone without them having to have a QR code reader app,” says Webb. “I built the first version of the business card reader app over a weekend. It wasn’t supposed to be a company.”
Called Blinq, the app allows people to combine the elegant designs of traditional business cards with digital profile info, then share some or all of it via QR code, NFC (near field communication) card, short link, email signature or video call background. The other receiver doesn’t need the Blinq app, although there’s motivation to install it because its secure system adds contextual data such as the time and location you first met (along with any notes). It also updates mutually agreed information between contacts from then on.
Android phones began supporting QR scans natively in late 2019, then, with the arrival of COVID-19, Blinq also went viral.
In 2020, Webb was inundated with requests from businesses whose employees preferred Blinq to cards. They wanted extra features, such as a centralised way to update their employee information or quickly switch in the new company logo. Webb’s attitude was that was all well and good, but Blinq was actually a free product. “They said they’d pay me for it, so I built the business version in about two weeks and Blinq took off,” he says. “I realised it was a pretty good business model. Every use of the product is a share of the product, so it has this natural referral loop. Then it’s got bottom-up SaaS (software as a service) to it, so I don’t need an outbound sales team. People use the product, then upgrade to the team or business product.”
Business-focused features such as integration with platforms like Salesforce, HubSpot and Microsoft Azure AD, and lead-generation reports, have helped drive adoption at companies such as Tesla, Airwallex, RE/MAX, Uber, Google and Patreon. Blinq says 90 per cent of its business stems from the US.
But Webb is adamant Blinq will stay focused on simplifying networking for all users. “In a sales-led culture, you might have large enterprise clients willing to pay a lot of money for custom features, but then you could end up putting all your development resources into building those features rather than focusing on long- term growth,” he says. “Blinq is a product-led growth culture. I’d rather focus on building product features that help the greatest number of people and give compounding returns over time.”
Uncomplicated business model
No doubt, COVID-19 check-ins via QR helped, but Blinq’s ease of use means it gains most of its users through a network effect. “The total addressable market is huge, but I knew that already,” says Webb. “Then in 2020, the growth for Blinq was exponential, so when I left Uber in January 2021, I was pretty sure it was a good idea. I still had to prove the numbers would continue growing, but it was a good enough bet to leave a really comfortable job to work on this full-time.”
Webb’s exit from Uber wasn’t unexpected. The firm knew about Blinq and didn’t seem to mind his moonlighting, because he’d already brought innovative ideas to Uber while leading its new (product) verticals incubation and point-of-sale integration teams. “Uber is a really good place to understand how a company can grow quickly,” he says. “It’s attracted a larger number of people with entrepreneurial ideas than other companies I’ve seen, so I don’t think they mind
Unlike Uber, which clips a percentage of every transaction, Blinq makes most of its revenue with a simple subscription model. There’s a free version with basic design features for individuals who want up to two digital business cards (you mightn’t want every contact to see your personal social media activities); a “premium” $2.99/month plan that lets individuals design up to five cards with different logos and colour themes (useful for people in the gig economy); and a $2.99/month per card plan for business teams that adds CRM features, 24/7 support and centralised controls for updates.
Blinq is now the top-rated QR code business card app on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store, so the pricing model is clearly popular. “Fundamentally, subscription models are better because you’re more aligned with actually serving the needs of the user or customer,” says Webb. “We get paid to improve the product by the people using it. We build features for them, not advertisers. We have a good recurring revenue model that scales well internationally. It’s better than the ad- based model, which is an old mindset — that everything should be free on the internet and users are the product.”
Five million reasons to go big
In May 2022, Webb met with venture capitalists to talk about funding his rocket ship plans for Blinq. His approach was fairly unconventional — he didn’t prepare a pitch deck, didn’t hype things up, he just told his story. “It helped with the fundraise that I’m a technical founder and actually built the product,” he says.
Five days later, Blinq had term sheets from Australian venture capital funds Square Peg Capital and Blackbird Ventures for $5m seed funding. Blackbird and Square Peg had co-invested at seed stage only once before — with Canva — and Blackbird co-founder Rick Baker rates Blinq as one of the fastest-growing platforms he’s seen in recent years. “Just as Twitter and Airbnb took off at events such as South by Southwest, it’s exciting to see Blinq do the same this year,” he says.
Getting the deal done in a short time frame was important, explains Webb, because startup founders should be focused on growing their businesses, not just fundraising. Instead of chasing crazy evaluations, they should focus on improving the core product for their customers to bring in more revenue.
Seed funding certainly helps startups hire great talent to accelerate innovation and product improvements, although as Webb notes, the benefits of partnering with Square Peg and Blackbird are much more than money. “As a solo founder, they’re very helpful,” he says. “They share a lot of advice about building the business. I have access to the Founder Network and they’re incredibly well connected. They’ve helped so many companies grow and have a lot of tangible examples about scaling up, including basic things like how to hire and what sort of roles you really want at different stages. We’re focused on building our product and it’s become apparent that digital business cards aren’t all we’re doing. We’re making it easy for people to share this snapshot of who they are, which helps them form real connections. That gives us an obvious growth cycle. People use the product, they share it when they use it, and the scale of our recurring revenue grows — with a good margin.”
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