5 reasons why your business card is like a paper clip


Product Development was one of my favorite courses in business school. And one class I remember particularly well was when Prof. Robertson challenged us to a seemingly impossible task: improve on the design of a paper clip.

One would think that, having the paper clip design not changed in almost 150 years, it would be ripe for innovation, yet improving upon it proved incredibly challenging. We are, in fact, surrounded by objects and tools that, like the paper clip, resist unchanged in the face of phenomenal advances in technology, materials and computing. The business card is one of them.

There have been countless attempts at replacing the quaint paper rectangle with NFC-enabled devices, mobile apps, social applications, QR codes and more. Yet, even among technology professionals, the business card remains an essential business accessory.


  1. Universal interface. To transfer a business card to someone, you use your hands. Since (most) everyone has hands, there are no “interface interoperability” issues, so to speak.
  2. One gesture. It takes about 1.5 seconds and one gesture to hand out a business card to someone at a tradeshow. That ergonomic efficiency is hard to beat.
  3. Power-less. They work perfectly well in the absence of electrical power, when Wi-fi is down, Bluetooth is off, etc…
  4. Personality. Unlike standard app UIs, business cards convey the attributes of your personal and corporate brand. Choices of size, cut, weight, typography and content create, and communicate, personality with an immediacy otherwise impossible to achieve.
  5. Expectations. Business professionals the world over have been conditioned to expect to exchange business cards when they meet. The cognitive barriers in switching to a different behavior are phenomenal.

Next time you think about disrupting an established product category through new technology, it may be worth thinking long and hard why it has resisted change for so long in the first place.

Image by CieraHolzenthal/Flickr


Italians spark electrical aviation records

In aviation circles, the span of time between the two World Wars is remembered as the Golden Age. A global race to speed, range and performance records pushed the limits of technology and pegged countries and manufactures against each other.  It was a great run for Italian engineering too, culminating with the 1934 Schneider Trophy speed record that Francesco Agello established on a Macchi MC 72. His 709 km/h (440 mph) remains the fastest speed ever attained by a piston engine seaplane.

As an an aeronautical engineer, I was very excited to learn that, on June 12, 2009, Maurizio Cheli established another speed record and aviation milestone on an Italian built craft. Continue reading “Italians spark electrical aviation records”

Breaking down a crowdsourcing business model

Logo Tournament Social AdI have been in looking into crowdsourcing business models for the last couple of months. Personal and professional interest. As often the case, when a subject is on your mind, you stumble upon it. So, when ads like this one started popping up on my Facebook page I clicked through.

The ads send you to Logo tournament (LT), a crowdsourcing play on logo design services. It’s quite straightforward. Company needs a new logo, it submits a “contest” to LT and sets a price. Designers send in one or more designs. The best design wins and the designer gets paid.

I tried to figure out how a business model like LT’s would look like.


LT charges designers a 15% transaction fee. Companies set the price they are willing to pay in advance, with a minimum allowed of $250. Paypal transaction fees are passed on to customers.

Note that LT will take the money from companies in “escrow” and select and pay a winner at the end of the contest even if a company does not select a winning design. That means that if a contest is listed, the money will be paid and the commission earned.

LT lists all open and closed contests at any given time. I counted about ~165 open concurrent contests with an average age of 5.1 days and ~1,800 closed contests. I sampled 100 contests at random and calculated an average prize amount of ~$315. Assuming a steady flow of contests, that means about ~1000 contests a month (i.e. 30/5.1*165=971).

With commissions at 15%, that adds up to a monthly revenue of close to $50,000. The estimate is obviously highly sensitive to the monthly contest count estimate. Here’s a back of the envelope revenue estimate (with lower and higher estimates to test for sensitivity).

Logo Tournament Revenue

Continue reading “Breaking down a crowdsourcing business model”

Tips from personal experience

During the recent Mind the Bridge 08 series of events in San Francisco, I had the pleasure to meet the great finalist companies and their representatives. It was humbling to be part of the roster of presenters with Giacomo Marini, Vittorio Viarengo and the other speakers. Here are my slides from the day. I posted my two cents on doing business in the US from an Italian perspective on Slideshare.

A Silicon Mind

LA7, a major Italian television broadcaster, has produced a Silicon Valley reportage that is now available online. A sweeping view of the opportunities, challenges and motivations of Italian entrepreneurs and professionals in Silicon Valley, including startups, BAIA, SVIEC, Google, Stanford, Tim Draper, John Hennessy,… Interviews and reportage by Frediano Finucci and Damiano Ficoneri, LA7 News. Note: the video is in Italian. la7-video1