‘Here’s My Card’ Goes Digital with NFC

As professionals resume conferences and face-to-face meetings, Moblio's smart business card is enabling users to share contact info with a tap against a phone.
Published: August 27, 2021

New York technology company Mobilo has developed a Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled smart business card that is designed to leverage the old-fashioned method of presenting cards to new contacts, while providing automated digital exchange. The solution, which is being rolled out as businesspeople resume travel and meetings, provides a touch-free exchange of information without recipients having to download apps or select a series of terms and prompts.

The electronic card is composed of wood, recyclable plastic or stainless steel, and it can be carried in a wallet and then be presented when a user wants to share information. Recipients can tap their smartphone on the card, receive the owner’s contact information and share their own cards if they so choose. The technology resulted from a need that Pieter Limburg, the company’s founder, identified at conferences after collecting paper printed cards.

The card can contain a person’s contact info, as well as a QR code and a logo.

Limburg’s background is in computers and programming, and he opened two retail sites in the Netherlands, known as Foto Weert and Foto Horst, that combined online and offline camera shopping with local click-and-collection options. He then joined 3D printing company  Shapeways, located in Eindhoven, before moving to New York, where he began seeking new entrepreneurial opportunities.

Around that time, Limburg says, he had been pondering the variety of RFID-based cards and passes that individuals carry, including office access cards, public transit cards (such as for PATH trains) and other contactless payment systems. While the various protocols and chip types made a universal access solution unlikely, he noticed the need for RFID in the long-held practice of business card exchange.

Limburg recalls that he would return from a conference with around 90 businesses cards. The stack of cards, he says, would be “staring back at me on my desk, and I was thinking, ‘If only there was a way to put this information in your CRM [customer relationship management system].’ That bothered me a lot. I wanted to follow up quickly with contacts.”

Pieter Limburg

Although there are numerous contacts-sharing apps available that enable users to exchange contact information directly from a phone, Limburg describes an awkwardness to the process of pulling out phones to open the apps. “Apps lack the magic,” he states. “I personally think an app is a momentum killer.” When two individuals each need to take a phone out of their pocket, then open an app, they are often distracted with text messages, e-mails and other notifications vying for their attention. However, he says, the process of taking a card out and tapping it against another person’s phone could mean less distraction.

So in October 2019, Mobilo built its first minimum viable product and demonstrated it to a few interested parties. In December of that year, Limburg met with an executive who wanted to order multiple cards. “I pointed out ‘You only need one,'” He recalls. The next day, however, the executive ordered a large number—one for each employee at his company. Then the COVID-19 pandemic paused the technology’s development.

Mobilo’s team wondered whether business meetings and conferences would be impacted permanently, so it found another way to use its product: with the QR code printed on the back of each card. During video calls, individuals can hold their card up to a screen and other participants will then be able to use their phone to scan the QR code. According to Limburg, the cards have been used half million times in 170 different countries, mostly involving QR code scans.

With NFC, however, the system is more seamless, Limburg says, as people return to having face-to-face meetings. Each card comes with a built-in  NXP NFC RFID chip that stores a unique ID number linked to the owner’s account, and that person’s contact details are stored along with that ID on the Mobilo server. The system can be used in four modes: share, exchange, a personal landing page that could share a company’s information, or a direct link to a URL. Users can modify the settings as needed, based on how they will utilize the card.

Those who wish to simply share contact information can tap their business card near a recipient’s cell phone. The phone’s NFC reader receives the data, after which a user can simply tap it to store that information in the phone’s contacts, without requiring an app. Alternatively, the system can be used for two-way sharing, even if a recipient lacks a Mobilo card. This function, Limburg says, resulted from feedback received from early deployers. “The feedback we got from the real estate brokers,” he states, “was ‘It would be great not only to share contact information, but also receive the other individual’s information.'”

That led to what the company calls its lead-generation tool. Users can tap their Mobilo card against a recipient’s phone. The tag ID is thus captured by the phone’s reader, opening a link to a Mobilo form in which they can input their name, phone number and e-mail address. Once the user selects “submit,” the information is sent to that individual via the Moblo server in the form of a text message, and the user also receives a text message containing the card-holder’s contact information. The data is encrypted and stored in Mobilo’s software, with up to 256 bits encrypted.

Users who purchase the card do not need to download an app. However, they can opt to use an Android- or iOS-based app to organize their leads with the patented lead-generation tool and update their profile information. To date, those using the card with the NFC function have indicated they liked the low-touch functionality compared to handling paper cards. Those purchasing the cards, Limburg reports, are often mid- to large-sized businesses that buy cards in volume and set them up according to company and individual requirements.

Most companies purchase a few cards and experiment with them before placing large-scale orders. So far, Limburg says, 4,500 businesses are using the technology, including employees from Google, Target, Aramco and Compass. The card comes in three finishes—plastic recyclable, stainless steel or wood—with each wooden card purchase prompting Moblio to plant a tree. The firm has conducted several years of engineering to ensure reliable card reads within a few centimeters of a phone, even if a card is made of metal. The non-metal cards can also be read through a wallet.

If a business card is lost, the user can employ the app to shut the card down. In addition, the system can include an NFC key fob that still serves as a business card even if users forgot their wallet. A smart sticker on the phone is another option. In the future, Mobilo intends to offer a feature for the fast exchange of data between two people who both have the card. However, the phone will still be required to provide the link between the NFC chip and the server.

In the long term, while businesspeople may eventually transition to fully digital data exchange between their devices, the business card provides a bridge that Limburg expects to be desirable to companies for many years. “People still value the physical aspect of business cards,” he states. “Our cards can play a role as a bridge” as technology evolves.