Take a picture of your business cards with your smart phone, and ScanBizCards converts them to text, stores them and much more.

ScanBizCards app

ScanBizCards lets you scan, store and organize paper business cards onto your phone.

It’s a familiar problem for anyone who’s ever been to a professional conference or business networking event. You spend hours pressing the flesh, making valuable new contacts and, inevitably, you exchange business cards. You arrive home with tens, maybe hundreds, of pocket-sized pieces of cardboard, and what do you do with them?

Most probably, you stick them in a drawer, where you’re unlikely ever to find a particular card you may be searching for in the future.

ScanBizCards offers a better alternative – and 500,000 downloads already suggests many agree. Before tossing or relegating that card to the desk drawer, fire up the ScanBizCards app on your iPhone, line up the business card and snap a photo. The app’s sophisticated OCR (optical character recognition) software converts the business card image into text that can be stored, edited, manipulated or moved at will.

The card details can be automatically deposited in your iPhone’s address book or synchronized with a web database. The image of the business card stays with the text.

Patrick Questembert, 46, is the founder and CEO of ScanBizCards. A French immigrant, who moved to Israel with his family when he was nine years old, Questembert earned degrees in engineering from Tel Aviv University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, worked at both Microsoft and Intel in Israel and then moved to New York to get his MBA at Columbia University.

Entering a red-hot market

Questembert founded his first company, DigiCash (no connection to the digital credit card company of the mid-1990s), right out of business school in 2000 with the aim of creating a virtual “loyalty” currency that websites could hand out to customers for discounts on goods and services. Questembert raised $6 million and hired a staff of 16 who worked out of offices in Netanya. The company, unfortunately, failed. “We received only one check, for $750,” Questembert says without any apparent bitterness.

ScanBizCards founder Patrick Questembert

Patrick Questembert, founder and CEO of ScanBizCards.

That “live and learn” attitude led Questembert to start ScanBizCards a few years later, this time entirely on sweat equity and personal savings. His new company is comprised of two people in New York (including himself) and another in Israel. A fourth person, also in Israel, ported ScanBizCard’s software to work on the Google Android platform; he pays ScanBizCards a royalty for every copy downloaded.

The market for business card scanning software is red hot and ScanBizCards has some formidable competition, including apps with catchy names like CardSnap, WorldCard, Shoedboxed, BizSnap and CardMunch. Business card scanning programs usually place prominently in the top 20 apps in the business category of the iPhone app store. ScanBizCards is currently No. 18.

As an under funded startup with a limited advertising budget, ScanBizCards is not the biggest of the bunch, but Questembert says it is the most feature-rich, referring to the company’s tag line, “Scanning is only the beginning.”

User-friendly features

Perhaps the most useful of ScanBizCard’s 17 features is the auto-respond function. As soon as you’ve scanned a card successfully, the app pops open an email window offering to follow up with the contact and send the user’s contact details.

Contacts can be placed into the iPhone’s built-in address book, but ScanBizCards also creates its own groups, which can then be integrated with Microsoft Outlook. Other hooks include quick calling via Skype; export to LinkedIn; automatic follow-up reminders for Google Calendars and Apple’s iCal; and synchronization with the popular Evernote data collection and outlining app.

ScanBizCards has its own “web sync” function, which ensures that cards are instantly backed up to the “cloud” in case your phone is ever lost or damaged. Nifty features include double-sided card support and a “cover flow” display that lets you thumb through cards like you would album covers at iTunes.

The app can scan in 22 languages (unique among its competitors). And one more feature, which Questembert says is popular though admittedly “mostly useless” – if you enter an address, a pushpin will show on a Google Map where that contact is located.

The full version of ScanBizCards costs $6.99 (of which Apple takes a $4.20 cut), but a free “lite” version lets you scan two business cards a week. Of the 500,000 downloads, Questembert estimates there are about 50,000 active users of the lite version and several tens of thousands of downloads of the full version. The Android app has about 80,000 downloads since its launch in February 2011 (the flagship iPhone version hit the market in October 2010).

As if to demonstrate the company’s prowess and market savvy, as this story was being written, Questembert coded a simple app, Contacts2Excel, which exports any contacts on your phone to Microsoft Excel. It was downloaded 20,000 times in its first week, jumping up to become the No. 3 business app in the US and the No. 1 app in France – not only in the business category, but for all iPhone apps.

By keeping costs and staffing lean, Questembert is hoping he has a winning card.