Wednesday, September 07, 2005


The Hidden Value of Business Cards

I haven't read too many business books but the ones I have read have emphasized that startup companies shouldn't skimp on business cards. The well-regarded and generally intelligent authors claim that because a business card is part of the first impression, you should take care to make sure that it looks very professional.

In my humble opinion, business cards are almost worthless. I have collected hundreds of business cards and I have never needed to dig one out. I generally know whether I want to keep in touch with someone I have met. If I do, it is worth the investment of my time to take out a pen and write down contact information. That action expresses my genuine interest in the other person.

Back in the mid-90's, a lot of man-years of research effort were spent on an internet protocol called RSVP. The focus of the research was answering the question "How do you reserve Internet bandwidth to meet the needs of a bandwidth intensive application like video-conferencing?" Maybe around 1999, I learned that RSVP was serving the exact opposite purpose for which it was intended. The main Fortune 500 clients that wanted to use RSVP didn't want it so that they could protect real-time applications like video-conferencing but so that they could prevent those bandwidth hogs from stealing the bandwidth away from more important things like email and web traffic.

Business cards seem to serve a similar unintended purpose as RSVP. They are not quite worthless. For someone you never intend to contact again, they serve as a polite acknowledgement without expending the effort of writing down contact information.

My old Rolodex has turned into a drawer filled with business cards. At least once a week, I dig through the mess to find at least one person's phone number for some invariably crucial phone call. I have never been organized enough to store the info in my e-mail address book - especially at work where they make us use Novell's e-mail client. My electronic address book is a total mess.
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