I’ve met a lot of startups trying to get rid of business cards. Because they seem old and create obstacles.
I often gather several business cards from events and days later will go through them, pulling out the people who are the most relevant for something we talked about, someone whom we have a next step. That friction makes sense. It causes an opportunity cost: by making me take several steps, I am more selective.
There’s this concept of an efficiency tax, that sometimes we want friction. It helps the experience. Business cards are one of them.
In truth, sometimes when I run out of or have forgotten business cards at an event, I’ve taken to just directly emailing someone from my phone right there with person who wanted to be in touch with me. In those moments, that level of direct connection is a reminder of how many steps business cards create.
But they persist exactly because they create friction and sometimes that’s good.
Other times, when I direct email someone from my phone at an event — “Hello! We just met, email me back with what you requested of me in person” — I’m reducing friction almost entirely. That person simply has to slip into her email inbox and respond to get their ask to me.
And yet they still sometimes don’t do it. Sitting here, I’m amazed how many specific people I can remember really wanted my business card and told me they had a specific ask. Yet even when friction is entirely removed, they don’t.
By contrast, I’ve been in moments when I’ve met someone I’ve wanted to connect with separately who didn’t have a business card (or was disinterested in sharing it with me). Since most people also tend to be less willing to be as direct as I am (by sending an email to me on the spot), we’re simply stuck.
Of course, it’s my suspicion that that is exactly what that person wants. Often it’s a high-ranking executive of some company who simply doesn’t want to be bothered with a founder hounding them.
So I recognize that in that case, the friction is helping them. So that’s very much the point: business cases to reduce friction only make sense when both parties want the friction gone.
In lots of settings, including business cards, only one side of the equation wants the friction removed.