In a world where connections are crucial, networking is vital for personal and professional growth.
Whether you’re networking at a conference, meeting a potential client, or simply trying to stay ahead in the competitive business landscape, your business card is often your first point of contact.
But what if your business card could do more than carry your name and number? What if it could bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds?
Meet Swapkaart: Bridging digital and physical world
Meet Swapkaart, the ingenious fusion of technology and networking revolutionising how we share our digital identities.
The Amsterdam-based startup bridges the gap between the physical and digital world, ensuring that professional identity stands out in the crowded marketplace.
What makes Swapkaart even more remarkable is its origin story. This startup has grown from humble beginnings, relying solely on bootstrapping to bring its innovative vision to life.
Founded by Nikolay Tsanev and Aleksandar Terziev, Swapkaart has defied the odds and carved a niche for itself in a competitive market.
To delve deeper into Swapkaart’s mission, bootstrapping strategy, and challenges, Silicon Canals talked to Nikolay Tsanev, the founder of the company.
He shares valuable insights into how the platform was conceived during the Covid-19 pandemic, its unique features, the challenges faced, and the secrets to successful bootstrapping.
Born during COVID-19 pandemic
Tsanev recounts how the idea was born during the COVID-19 pandemic when traditional paper business cards became impractical.
“Our team didn’t have any business cards, and printing companies couldn’t deliver them on time due to tight deadlines,” he recalls.
They recognised the limited usefulness of paper business cards in the digital age and the need for a more efficient solution. This led them to explore the concept of digital business cards and eventually discover the potential of NFC technology.
“The next day, I talked about it with my business partner Aleks, who quickly built a prototype on a blank NFC card. I built mobile landing pages for our team, and this is how we could attend the event,” he adds.
“With 200+ people attending the event, everyone was handing over paper business cards, except us. We were tapping blank NFC cards on mobile phones and looking into people’s reactions. It proved to me that we are on the right track, and I should invest more time into building a future-proof solution for digital business cards,” he explains.
The Swapkaart journey
Swapkaart’s journey began as a bootstrapped project with the founders dedicating their weekends and free time to its development.
“One thing that helped us quite a lot is that we had the experience and technical knowledge to begin. So we didn’t have to hire external developers to build the platform, not marketing people to promote it,” he mentions.
“Together, we were able to build our MVP version and launch it to the Dutch market without any external funds,” he adds.
This hands-on approach allowed them to minimise external costs while maintaining control over the development process.
Digital business card powered by NFC
Swapkaart is a smart business card that allows users to share contact details, social media links, and attachments using NFC technology or a QR code.
The platform offers comprehensive features, including contact exchange, lead generation, analytics, and seamless integration with third-party CRM systems.
Furthermore, Swapkaart serves as a personal CRM platform, simplifying the tracking of meetups and connections.
“Sharing contact details has never been easier than now,” he elaborates.
Furthermore, Swapkaart also serves as a personal CRM platform, simplifying the tracking of meetups and connections.
“We don’t have fancy unused features that users don’t need. Before each feature release, many user interviews and testing are done to verify the demand for it,” he affirms.
Challenges during bootstrapping journey
The journey of bootstrapping came with its own challenges, recalls Tsanev. One notable hurdle was the production of NFC physical cards. Printing high-quality NFC business cards required expensive equipment and experience, which the team initially lacked.
“We faced many issues during this process – from printing, detailing, sending, and transporting the physical NFC business cards to our clients. We didn’t have the experience, and it was quite costly for us initially,” says Tsanev.
“One pivotal decision we took from the beginning is that we will focus on where we are best – technology. We believe that in the long-term, our Swapkaart platform will bring more value to our customers, so we decided to invest there instead of focusing on printing NFC business cards,” he continues.
They sought reliable suppliers for printing NFC cards and outsourced the printing process to ensure high-quality results at affordable prices.
“After testing hundreds of different suppliers, it wasn’t easy to find the right one that could deliver high results for our customers for the best price,” he shares.
This allowed them to allocate their resources effectively and concentrate on developing the Swapkaart platform.
In their bootstrapping journey, Swapkaart faced another challenge when competing against well-funded companies within the same industry.
“Many companies started to scale fast in the same industry, backed by Y Combinator and giving pressure to small bootstrapped companies like ours,” he explains.
One way of dealing with this challenge even nowadays is to listen to our customers, according to Tsanev. The Dutch company consistently prioritises its users by exclusively developing features in high demand and frequently requested by the Swapkaart community.
“We involve our users regularly by asking them to participate in user interviews and provide feedback. It helped us build something useful before we invest resources,” he explains.
External funding or Bootstrapping: Choosing the right choice
“Initially we started Swapkaart with our resources. However, we noticed the pace was relatively slow, and we were behind competitors. In these moments, we were considering if we should rely on bootstrapping or seek external funding,” he shares.
The advantage of bootstrapping is that it provides entrepreneurs with greater autonomy in shaping their business strategies and making critical decisions. However, it does limit the scope of deliverables and execution capabilities.
“What influenced our decision to continue bootstrapping and investing with our funds was that we found a good way of working and delivering results to our users without rushing or requiring external investment. Our goal was never to scale rapidly and make risky decisions that put more pressure on our team. Instead, we wanted to grow slowly but steadily long-term. And this is how we grow at the moment,” states Tsanev.
Minimising costs without compromising quality
Swapkaart implemented several strategies to minimise costs while delivering high-quality products and services.
“When bootstrapping, we were always looking into what users want, how long it takes to build it, and how we can deliver the same experience without compromising quality,” reveals Tsanev.
Furthermore, to ensure a balance between cost efficiency and product quality, Swapkaart built clickable prototypes and conducted user tests before full-scale development.
“This is how we keep our users involved in our development process and provide them with valuable insights of what’s next in Swapkaart,” he adds.
Organic growth strategies to rely on during bootstrapping
According to Tsanev, Swapkaart focused on organic growth and employed various strategies to attract and retain customers without large marketing budgets.
“The two biggest strategies we use for organic growth are growth hacking and user testing. We seek ways to reach potential customers online without spending on marketing budgets and test our hypothesis with real-time users,” he explains.
Additionally, the company capitalised on word-of-mouth marketing by encouraging existing users to share their positive experiences with others. By building a reputation for delivering value and innovative solutions, Swapkaart organically expanded its customer base.
On future growth and seeking external funding
As Swapkaart continues to grow, it sets its sights on catering to enterprise customers and expanding its services.
“We also have other exciting rebranding news, business model updates, and other changes that will be launched very soon this year, so we hope this will give us more power and resources to fulfil the needs of our customers next year,” he reveals.
While currently bootstrapped, the company is actively seeking partnerships and exploring opportunities for external funding to accelerate its growth further and better serve its customers.
“We have the product-market-fit, good traction, and are ready to scale beyond our limits in the upcoming years. We can’t predict the future, but at least we are ready to face it and invest more in Swapkaart’s growth to serve our customers better,” he explains.
Advice for bootstrapped entrepreneurs
Nikolay Tsanev offers sage advice to fellow entrepreneurs considering the bootstrapping route.
“As someone who has walked this path, I’d like to share some valuable advice to help you make the most of your bootstrapping experience,” he says. They are:
- Start Lean and Stay Lean: Begin with a minimal viable product (MVP) and only essential features.
- Gather feedback: Gathering feedback early on helps entrepreneurs avoid wasteful development and ensure that their product meets market demands.
- DIY, but Know When to Delegate: One should be prepared to take on multiple roles. However, it’s important to acknowledge when it becomes necessary to delegate tasks that fall beyond one’s area of expertise.
- Bootstrap Culture: Create a culture of resourcefulness and frugality within your team. Encourage everyone to think creatively about how to achieve more with less.
- Embrace Slow Growth: Understand that bootstrapped startups often grow more slowly than those with external funding. Patience and persistence are your allies. Sustainable growth is the goal.
- Learn and Iterate: Every challenge is an opportunity to learn and improve. Embrace setbacks as valuable lessons that can propel your business forward.
- Seek Mentorship: Find mentors who have experience in bootstrapping or entrepreneurship. Their guidance and insights can be invaluable during tough times.
Key takeaway from Swapkaart’s bootstrapping journey
“Our most important message to you, our readers, is this: If you’re nurturing a brilliant idea that keeps you engaged and fills you with belief, nothing can stand in your way. It’s a journey where you’ll need to continually challenge your limits, discover inventive ways to bootstrap and engage in meaningful conversations with potential customers,” says Tsanev.
“But here’s the essence of it all—perseverance and belief can carry you farther than you ever imagined. Swapkaart’s bootstrapping journey underscores that while external resources can certainly accelerate progress, an unshakeable commitment to your vision, coupled with the resilience to overcome challenges and the willingness to evolve, can be your greatest assets on the road to success,” concludes Tsanev.