Dub Me Now Turns Business Cards into Bits and Bytes
It's been a good week for Manoj Ramnani.
He's a man with a plan. Actually, he's a man with a lot of plans and that's just one of the reasons why Ramnani has become one of the D.C. area's most successful tech entrepreneurs.
Today's plan is to cultivate a new business that trades business cards via text message. Ramnani is building Dub Me Now and has the likes of LinkedIn and some of the Washington area's tech glitterati banking on it.
Ramnani has put about a quarter million dollars of his own money into the effort and is about to close a round of capital funding for his new Tysons Corner, Va., firm.
We met this afternoon for lunch after one of Ramnani's back-to-back meetings. He's been signing deals all week. He just inked a partnership agreement with Microsoft. In a few days, the software giant will help his four-person firm with marketing and software development.
This week he secured $400,000 from two angel investors based in Oklahoma and the D.C. area. Ramnani makes it all look effortless. I'm waiting on the corner across the street and see him drive up in his black Mercedes for our meeting and right into the corner spot. But some days, when it's the big money you've got it's the small money that's elusive. He doesn't have any money for the meter so I fish four quarters out of my purse and we're off to lunch.
Ramnani picks up his napkin, which reminds him how it all began. He was flying to Seattle and planned to enter the data from the 40-some business cards he held in his pocket into his laptop. When its battery died, his brain lit up. When the flight attendant asked him if he'd like a drink, he said "No, just bring me a napkin."
He wrote out the business plan and screen shots for Dub on the napkin and today has it framed in his office. Ramnani says that the company is still following the basic premise he outlined that day 35,000 feet up.
"Any VC will tell you with a team, timing and technology you can be successful. They're all saying you've got to be T-3," he says, with an accent revealing his Indian background. He came to the United States about 10 years ago and studied at George Washington University after obtaining a degree at a National Institute of Technology in Surat, India.
He also expects to double Dub Me Now's staff this fall.
Ramnani is stepping aside from his role as president of Astegic and duties as founder of Mobile Spectrum, both of which are located in the Tysons area. Astegic also has offices in Texas, London and India. His wife has taken over running Astegic and from the way Ramnani describes his bright 3 1/2 year-old daughter, she may be running a business before we know it.
"I'm ready to take on Dub Me Now full time," he said. "Everyone in the tech community is talking about mobile, 'green' and social networking. Dub is at the center of those and we fit into the current ecosystem well."
The premise of Dub Me Now is simple: "When you meet someone new you exchange business cards, but the process is a problem. People change jobs, information becomes stale and there may be no context of that person when in six months you look at that card and think 'Who is this? Why did I talk to him?'" Ramnani said.
The firm has developed a software application that sits on a mobile device using Microsoft Windows Mobile or the Blackberry platform and currently is working on a version for the Apple iPhone along with Nokia and Palm mobile devices.
It works something like this: When Bob meets Sarah, he ask her for her cell phone number, e-mail or if she's a registered "dubber" and adds her to his Dub network using his mobile phone. Once Sarah agrees to become connected through the Dub Me Now service, Bob can access her contact information on his cell phone, on the Web and in any e-mail program like Microsoft Outlook. If Sarah changes her contact information with Dub, the new entry is automatically reflected in Bob's contact list.
The Dub technology also can be integrated into a business's sales tracking tool so that a corporation can keep contact information up-to-date.
"You don't have to carry business cards and don't have to worry about mistyping. The information won't become stale and once I update my information everyone who is connected with me will get my updated information," explained Ramnani.
Dubbers also can specify whether the contact will receive personal or professional contact information.
Ramnani has set up a top-notch advisory board including current and former top executives at America Online, Aptela, Corporate Executive Board, Mobile Posse and mPortal.
The firm has just finalized a deal with popular professional networking site LinkedIn. Soon LinkedIn members will be able to use the Dub network without creating a new Dub account.
He considers LinkedIn a rival and so is pleased with their new relationship. He also sees a competitor in digital business card firm Plaxo, which was recently acquired by Comcast Communications. "I think that purchase really validates our business model," said Ramnani.
CardScan, which offers a card-scanning service, "could be a possible competitor," said Ramnani, but he added that he believes there's just too many flaws in scanning technology and optical character recognition, or OCR, doesn't work 100 percent of the time.
So what's on his agenda for next week? He's geared up for a trip out West to meet with Facebook, Google, Microsoft and LinkedIn.
When asked where he sees Dub Me Now in five years, Ramnani chuckles and says: "We started in a very systematic way and I think the company will be acquired before five years. If we're around, we'll be the mobile business card exchange platform for the nation and internationally."
As for other aspiring entrepreneurs, he says it's a great time to start a business. "I started Astegic when the economy was down and that's the perfect time to start a business. You can get good talent at a reasonable price and attention from the VC's," he says. "Most people don't get enough courage to talk to VC's or come up with a business idea, but if you look at other companies like Google, they were founded during a recession...and from where I sit, we're already in a recession."
At the end of our meeting, I tell him I feel silly giving him a traditional business card. "How about if I dub you?" he asks. Sounds good to me.
By Sharon McLoone |
August 1, 2008; 3:19 PM ET
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