While there’s a perennial debate on the West Coast about whether and when business cards might become irrelevant, they continue to be at the center of business customs in China and Japan.
It’s just basic etiquette when meeting a new contact to offer your card with two hands and a slight bow.
That’s why it’s natural that a Chinese company — not an American one — might be able to dominate this market and behavior globally. LinkedIn’s Cardmunch had scanned 2 million business cards a year after their 2011 acquisition, and hasn’t released stats since.
But Shanghai’s CamCard boasts 10 million monthly active users, with 50 million registered in total. About half of them are outside of China.
The company is part of a new wave of Chinese startups that are either run by very internationalized Chinese founders or foreigners that are able to build and design consumer products and apps with global appeal.
Intsig, the company behind CamCard, originally launched the app back in 2009 and has quietly grown it since.
They use a freemium model that caters to both consumers and enterprises. On the consumer side, there’s a free version of the app. And then there’s a paid version, which costs about $2.99 in the West or $11.99 in Asia. It feels like price discrimination but Intsig justifies it by saying it’s more technically different to do optical character recognition for Chinese and Japanese and because Asian consumers may be willing to pay more for a business card service.
The paid version has a cloud syncing service that lets people save cards across all of their different devices.
On the enterprise side, companies pay for extra security features to make sure their client and business partner lists stay safe. In China, the vast majority of smartphones are Android devices and Chinese consumers are much more concerned about getting viruses.
As for the parent company itself, Intsig has raised roughly $10 million from investors including Matrix Partners in China and other local investors. The company’s CEO Michael Zhen had a long career at Motorola, where he says he picked up the skills and ideas necessary to start his own company.
I’ve seen one other regional competitor, Japan’s Sansan. They’re an older rival that is transitioning to a smartphone-centric world through a card-scanning app called Eight. Before that, they were actually leasing scanners to local Japanese businesses.
Line, a free messaging app made by NHN Japan Corporation that’s competing with the likes of WhatsApp and Viber, has pushed past 150 million registered users globally, up from 100 million in January. Line launched back in summer 2011 in Asia, and is especially popular in Japan, but has been pushing outside its home region, expanding into the U.S., Europe and Latin America.
It’s worth noting that Line’s user metric is registered users rather than active users — the company does not break out the latter but Line’s U.S. CEO has previously told TechCrunch the proportion of registered to active users can be as high as 80% in its Asian markets.
For some comparative context on Line’s user figure, Viber announced it hit 175 million registered users back in February. While messaging giant WhatsApp doesn’t break out registered users but earlier this month said it now has more than 200 million active monthly users – claiming more monthly users than Twitter.
Line said its global growth has been helped by the more than 10 million registered users it has acquired in Spain since launching Spanish iOS and Android apps late last year. It has also kicked off a TV ad campaign to raise Line’s profile in Spain. Add to that, Line said it’s seeing “steady growth” in the Spanish-speaking South American region, having added French and Brazilian Portuguese versions of its apps in March.
Line offers free messaging and social networking services on its platform, focusing on the youth market with games, stickers and kawaii mascots also part of its platform — the latter now have their own cartoon show (called Line Town) in Japan.
Line said the combined download figure for 16 of the games it offers on its platform was more than 100 million as of March. While its official camera app, Line camera, passed 30 million global downloads this month.
Huawei, the world’s second largest telecom gear marker after Ericsson, said that its U.S. growth will be hindered this year by U.S. security concerns. But Bob Cai, the Chinese company’s vice president in charge of wireless-network marketing, told the Wall Street Journal that Huawei still expects its key wireless-network business to gain ground in Europe and Asia.
Huawei has been dealt two major setbacks in the U.S. over the past half-year. In October, a U.S. congressional report said that Huawei and ZTE’s “provision of equipment to U.S. critical infrastructure could undermine core U.S. national-security interests,” a claim that both companies disputed. Then last week, Sprint Nextel and SoftBank pledged not to use gear from Huawei after they merge.
Huawei is counting on other overseas markets, as well as its domestic market in China, for revenue growth. In 2011, Huawei’s wireless network business accounted for 45.91 billion yuan (about $7.4 billion USD), or 23 percent of the company’s total revenue of 203.93 billion yuan. Seventy percent of its group revenue is generated abroad and the company says that its biggest markets are in Western Europe and emerging Asian markets like Indonesia. In Europe, Cai told the Wall Street Journal that Huawei has “already built trust” with carriers.
Like smaller rival ZTE, Huawei is also pegging its domestic growth on China’s nascent LTE network. The country’s big three mobile carriers–China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom–are all busy building out their LTE infrastructure. Together, the three companies will spend 345 billion yuan ($56 billion USD) on expanding their 4G networks this year. Cai told the Wall Street Journal that last year Huawei made $1 billion in revenue from its LTE network business, and that the company expects that figure to double to about $2 billion this year.
Overall, Huawei expects its mobile infrastructure unit to grow by at least 10 percent this year, after 11 percent growth in 2012. Despite the added challenge of U.S. security concerns, Huawei’s competitors like Ericsson have also had tough time over the past few years thanks to the poor economic climate. For instance, Ericsson’s 2012 group revenue was 227.78 billion Swedish kronor ($35.1 billion USD), almost flat when compared with its 2011 revenue of 226.92 billion kronor.