Looking around my desk I have several boxes of business cards, some boxes are still sealed and contain my own, while others are filled from those collected from meetings and events. Even in the days of LinkedIn this is still a challenge as I seek to understand who I know from different companies.
Sansan are a Japanese company that provides a solution and has recently received S$24.2 million (US$19.9 million) in a series C funding round. The round was led by Menlo Park based DCM Ventures, and participated in by both Salesforce ventures and Nissay Capital. DCM Ventures also invested in the Series B funding round in May 2014 but it’s the addition of Salesforce Ventures that makes this interesting and one wonders whether this might become a potential acquisition target for Salesforce itself.
Sansan has developed what seems a simple solution to the age old problem of business cards. With no easy way to exchange contact details electronically Sansan aims to fill that gap while retaining the knowledge within corporate systems rather than the personal ones like LinkedIn.com. Sansan allows its users to scan in Business Cards and will then have that data transcribed accurately into a cloud based database.
Sansan are not the first vendor to try and solve this problem. Business card scanning systems that allow users to import lists into contact databases have been around for decades. However, while scanning technology has improved it is still not perfect and users still need to check that details are correct. This is where the cloud-based transcription solution from Sansan comes in.
This data can then be analysed or downloaded in CSV format to be imported into other solutions. There is a free trial available but pricing starts at $50 per month for 2000 cards for up to three users. While this may seem like a large commitment the time spent in having business cards and the relationship linkage imported into a CRM solution is likely to be far higher. Sansan already has an impressive client list of over 3000 companies that includes SAP, Toyota, Brother and Intel security.
Sansan targets Singapore and USA after Japan
While initially aimed at smaller business Sansan is hoping to enlarge its platform to be capable of supporting large businesses. Interestingly Sansan is still only available in English though they are hoping to soon support Chinese and Japanese in 2016. The funds raised will be used to initially open up markets in USA and Singapore.
The Singapore office was opened in 2015 and it is in this Asia market that Sansan will be making its first investment. Chika Terada, Founder/CEO of Sansan commented :“The world is getting smarter and businesses that create and add the most value will thrive
“Sansan’s mission is ‘creating a resource from everyday business encounters and transforming the way the world works.’ From the newly raised capital we will invest S$4.2 million (US$3 million) in the Singapore market in 2016 to reach out to more companies that could benefit from using our platform. In Singapore, we pin our hopes on tapping a large pool of SMEs that are rapidly going digital and adopting cloud-based solutions to enhance productivity, better manage costs, and most importantly to effectively engage their customers, build loyalty, and ultimately, grow the business.”
According to Singapore statistics there are 189,000 enterprises within the nation, of which 99% are SME’s. At the end of 2014 these SME’s made up 48% of the GDP of Singapore and is a market opportunity that Sansan are keen to take advantage of.
Terada added “Sansan wants to seize this extraordinary market opportunity and this fresh funding will help us move with faster strides in realising our vision and passion. With the infusion of new capital, we want to place mobile as our top priority, as well as enhance our platform ecosystem to integrate with more CRM tools that can be used by MNCs and governments.”
Sansan is looking to build on its success in the Japanese market and will no doubt soon announce the opening of an office in the USA as well. While there is no comment from Salesforce Ventures, Osuke Honda, General Partner at DCM Ventures commented: “Since our last financing, Sansan has been rapidly growing in Japan market, and raised brand awareness in the US and Singapore”
“DCM is confident that with Sansan team’s expertise and product set, Sansan can certainly be the leader in contact/business relationship management space. DCM will continue to support Sansan’s global growth.
What Sansan has is an interesting mix of on-premises technology with their dedicated scanner, cloud-based storage and human interface with their transcribing service. There is no doubt a market for the service but there are some gaps within the solution. It will be interesting to see whether in 2016 Sansan builds an integration in Salesforce and other CRM solutions.
One also assumes that while they have people transcribing the on screen images they also have OCR technology assisting with that exercise. One wonders how scalable the solution is and whether there will come a point where transcription wage increases start to have an impact.
There will also be some who worry about the security of the data being transcribed. Business names lists continue to be a thriving market and success for Sansan will give them a highly curated set of data. It will be important that they provide transparency around how they are keeping data secure.
S$20 million of the new funding is not being invested into Singapore, this will no doubt be used to expand the company in the Japanese market but also to launch in the US and build enterprise integration solutions. If the integration to Salesforce is completed quickly and marketed this product could be a success in the USA.
There is not the only solution, Shape.AG already has a business card reader app for iPhones that integrates into Salesforce, what is different is the transcription service which brings a level of accuracy and flexibility. It is interesting the Shape.AG does not list the app as one of their main products on the front page, if Sansan manage to improve the awareness of such products though it will be interesting to see if Shape.AG responds.