It’s been exactly 6 months to the day since we launched HiHello on August 18th, 2018.
Our initial launch focused on some simple things: recognizing that we all have multiple roles and wear multiple hats, which means that a single business card just doesn’t do us justice. The HiHello app made it easy for everyone to have multiple digital business cards readily available on their phone that they could easily share with people they meet in different contexts. For example, I have a HiHello card, a K9 card, and even a “Stella” card for people I meet when I’m out walking my dog.
Our initial launch was just the tip of the iceberg; a “Phase 1” for a much longer and grander vision of what we want to build. Phase 1 of HiHello focused on Contact Sharing — making it really easy to give people your contact information. Today, we’re ready to tell you a little bit more about our plans for Phase 2 of HiHello, in which we move from contact sharing to contact exchange and contact management.
Back in the 90’s contact management was its own product category. Most of the companies that started out doing contact management grew up to become CRM companies (Act! and Goldmine were some of the original contact management companies, which are still around today as CRM companies). They changed their focus to become sales tools focused on business users. Salesforce was started in 1999, and it has become the dominant CRM platform for businesses of all sizes. In the meanwhile companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and Apple started to provide services for managing our personal email and contacts. Contact management became a feature of Outlook and GMail rather than something that was purposefully built. It became another box to check.
Fast forward to today, almost 25 years later, we’re in a state where contact management is broken. There is not a single tool out there that I as an individual would like to use. My network is a complex graph and the only view to it that is available from the tools that exist today is an alphabetical listing of names — a vestige of the days of the whitepages. Outlook hasn’t changed a whole lot in over 20 years. There are over a billion people using Google Contacts (GMail has over 2 billion users but I’m guessing half of those users have never actively used Google Contacts), and it’s still a mediocre product at best. Salesforce is overkill for what any normal person would want to use every day.
And don’t even get me started on LinkedIn; LinkedIn should have dominated this space, but LinkedIn is mostly a recruiting platform and has taken steps to increase lock-in to their platform. LinkedIn has made it harder to get the contact information of the people you connect with and instead is attempting to encourage people to move all their communication to the LinkedIn platform. I see so many people complaining about LinkedIn; about how they don’t even know most of the people they are connected to, how many connection requests they receive from random people, and how terrible their introductions feature is. Here’s a TechCrunch article that I swear I didn’t place: LinkedIn sucks.
There were glimmers of hope along the way. Companies which tried to innovate in this area. Remember Plaxo? Although the company developed a reputation for excessive spam, Plaxo pioneered the idea that if I update my contact information, it automatically updated for everyone who has me in their address book. That is a brilliant idea, but alas, it died when Plaxo was acquired by Comcast. Yes, your read that right, Comcast. I’m still scratching my head over that one.
And remember Bump? Bump was a cool app that allowed you to literally bump your phones together to exchange contact information. Bump had a great novelty factor, but the social behavior of bumping your phones together didn’t feel appropriate in a professional setting. Furthermore, it required both parties to have the app. But to Bump’s credit according to Wikipedia, the Bump application had 125 million downloads (woah!). Bump was acquired by Google and shutdown. (Although the founder and CEO of Bump, David Lieb, has gone on to do an amazing job in bringing us Google Photos. Thank you David!)
And then there was CardMunch. I co-founded CardMunch to solve the problem of getting the thousands of business cards that I have sitting in boxes, accurately converted into digital contacts. We launched product in August 2010, and CardMunch was acquired by LinkedIn in January 2011. LinkedIn claimed it was going to bring CardMunch to its 500 million users. Instead they proceeded to ruin it by not putting enough resources behind it and letting it wither away as an orphaned project within LinkedIn. They eventually gave it to Evernote to save face. Even till today when I meet people they keep commenting about how much they miss CardMunch.
Plaxo is dead. Bump is dead. CardMunch is dead. And my problems with contact management, that I have been lamenting since the 1990’s still haven’t been solved. That is why I co-founded HiHello: because there simply isn’t a solution out there that is doing this right.
HiHello is cherry picking and bringing back the best ideas of Plaxo, Bump, and CardMunch, while at the same time being careful to address their limitations. Bump required both parties to have the app to do an exchange. We’ve designed HiHello such that only the sender needs to have the app. The receiver can receive a contact from the sender without having to download HiHello — either by scanning a QR code (over a billion iOS devices can now do this using the native iOS camera!), by text message (without revealing your mobile phone number), or via email.
If both parties do have the HiHello app, then there is a lot more magic possible. They can exchange contacts with each other based on proximity by using dual opt-in. Each user will be able to see the other user on the Nearby screen of the HiHello app, and they simply need to tap the user’s name to opt-in to complete a two way exchange of the users’ chosen cards. Not only will the users have each others cards, but just like Plaxo’s best feature of keeping cards up to date, their cards are live synced such that if one user updated their card with new information, that information will also updated for all users they have shared that card with using Nearby.
Privacy of user data is of utmost importance to us and something we take seriously. Privacy considerations are built right into the very architecture of our system. Unlike Plaxo, we will never spam a user’s contacts and we have no intention to ever sell users’ data. In an age where companies small and large alike have abused user’s data by selling it or using it for spam, we wanted to go in the opposite direction. We will only ask for access to your contacts once we’ve gained your trust that we won’t abuse that privilege and only use it to provide value to you. HiHello therefore currently does not ask for any permissions to access your contacts.
Your contacts belong to you. You should be able to access them from any device. To enable this, we’ve also built HiHello as an address book provider. You can add the HiHello address book to your devices (a few taps on the iPhone, also support desktop address book apps, with Android support coming soon). All your HiHello contacts will show up in your phone or computer address book. By setting up HiHello as an address book provider as opposed to asking for address book permissions we’ve ensured that your HiHello contacts can show up in your address book, but still remain isolated and separated from other address book sources in your phone. Put simply, we don’t mess with your contacts.
CardMunch was simply the most accurate way to transform a business card into an electronic record on your phone. In the near future, we will be introducing a very similar functionality to HiHello. As I noted in our launch blog post, paper business cards are the cockroaches of information exchange. Eradicating them is unlikely, despite our best efforts. HiHello makes it possible for you to give your digital contact to anyone (even if they don’t have the HiHello app), and will soon make it possible for you to receive their digital contact information even if they hand you a paper business card.
So for Phase 2 of HiHello, we’re focusing our energy on contact management. We want to build the best mobile-first contact management platform you have experienced. We’re going to do this both by bringing back the best features from products like Plaxo, Bump, and CardMunch, and also by innovating with today’s technologies to create a magical experience. That’s our goal. We’re not there yet, but we will get there.
I firmly believe that who you know is often more important than what you know. And I also believe that there are a lot of people out there who will agree with that statement. Then why don’t we have better tools to help us manage our contact and nurture the relationships that help us professionally? That’s what we’re building.
Some of the features above will launch as paid features. We will maintain a free level of service, but we also want to make sure that we’re a sustainable company so that we never have to sell HiHello to an acquirer who will then proceed to ruin the service and kill it.
To help us achieve this mission we’ve raised a Seed financing round of $2.5M that was led by August Capital, with participation from K9 Ventures and TenOneTen Ventures. Prior to this seed round HiHello also raised $250K in a Pre-Seed financing round from K9 Ventures. That brings our total capital raised to date to $2.75M.
As part of the Seed round Villi Iltchev from August Capital joined our board. I’ve known Villi for many years and he is someone I have always had an incredible amount of respect for. We both also happen to love dogs, and as luck would have it, our first conversation about HiHello happened while our dogs were running around with each other in the backyard at The Kennel. Having worked at Salesforce before, Villi totally understood the problem we’re trying to solve and also recognized that if we’re able to solve this the right way, it can be a big business in a massive market. I’m excited to be able to work closely with Villi as a board member on this journey for HiHello.
I’d encourage you to download and try HiHello. Be sure to setup your multiple cards. Add the HiHello widget to your lock screen. And also test out our magic phrase of “Hey Siri, show my code.” The next time you meet someone new, the right card will be right at your fingertips in your phone. We welcome your feedback and read every email you send us at firstname.lastname@example.org.