How startup Cubr might kill the business card and foster dangerous liaisons

Rolling with Cubr. Photo courtesy Sébastien Leidgens.

Rolling with Cubr. Photo courtesy Sébastien Leidgens.

SAN FRANCISCO — Sébastien Leidgens wants to put a new angle on the business card.

His invention, Cubr, is a six-sided die that connects people through private mobile web chat. When a red, blue or green Cubr is tossed your way, you hit the website or download the app, then enter the code to start your instant message convo or share photos with the person who gave you the die. The enterprising Belgian, a former project manager at a digital marketing agency, is taking a gamble on the idea that people are tired of handing out one-dimensional cards.

“It’s a business card for non-business people,” Leidgens says in an English heavily influenced by his native French. “Young people don’t have business cards. This you can use for private situations in everyday life. It’s a lot more fun and outside of the usual public circles.”

Sébastien Leidgens of Cubr Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Sébastien Leidgens of Cubr. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Cubr, which made its U.S. debut at a recent SF New Tech showcase for Belgian startups, faces plenty of competition.

Dozens of apps like QikShare and CamCard help people exchange contact details from smartphones or scan business cards, but none have achieved critical mass. Forerunner Bump, which allowed smartphone users to exchange pics and contact info by touching devices, was shelved after being acquired by Google in 2013. CardMunch, prized for its human parsing of hard-to-read business card graphics, met a similar fate after getting swallowed up by LinkedIn.

The race is on to connect people who meet IRL at the ever-growing number of conferences and meet-ups. The goal is to find a more tech-savvy way than a piece of paper that ends up crumpled in a pile at the bottom of your computer bag.

Leidgens, who is 29, single and handsome in a former-boy-band-member kind of way, likes to recall his favorite test case with Cubr. While waiting at the airport in New York, he started chatting with a woman but their conversation was cut short when his flight was called. “I really wanted to see her again, so I gave her a cube as a way of saying, ‘Let’s extend this discussion,’” he says, showing an exchange of messages between the pair on his iPhone.

Suspicious minds imagine the advantages for Cubr in the cuckolding arena. Anonymity is one draw for the product, which Leidgens says may retail at four cubes for $6 or $7 dollars. Further aiding Don Jons and Joannas, these private interactions can be erased and the cube reset for the next conquest. “Wellll, yes, sure, I guess,” Leidgens admits, laughing. “But that’s only one use. I would like to think of it more like Tindr, in a dating situation — you know, for flirting.”

While the flirting comes easily, the project has a few strikes against it. Leidgens ended up in San Francisco with only a few prototype cubes in hand on the night of his demo. The resin dice are made in Taiwan and 2,000 cubes he’d ordered weren’t good enough to hand out.

“It’s a lot like a business card, in so far as if it’s not perfect, you don’t want to give them to people,” he says. Leidgens plans to return to the United States in the fall with the cubes ready to roll.

After his pitch about Cubr bringing digital conversation to real life, the audience of tech enthusiasts and fellow entrepreneurs had a lot of questions about how the cubes work because they weren’t able to test them out.

“How do you write on the cube, I mean, how do you get your message or photo in there in the first place?” asked SF New Tech organizer Myles Weissleder. Leidgens explained that it works like cross-platform mobile messaging app WhatsApp. Each cube has a unique code or a QR code that you can scan to get started. Once you pass it on, the recipient does the same, opening up your private chat room.

The business model is also still TBD, though Leidgens, who survives on Google Adsense revenue from a Pinterest-like home decor website, sees two ways to propagate his idea. Cubrs could retail at basically any store that carries gift cards — drugstores, coffee shops, newsstands — or partner with companies that want custom cubes to spread their message virally as the cubes pass from person to person, giving them all access to the chat room.

“The main thing right now is to create community and test it,” he says. “There are a lot of fun things you could do with it, selfie challenges and so on, to create a snowball effect.”

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Nicole MartinelliNicole Martinelli heads up Cult of Mac Magazine, our weekly publication available on iTunes. You can find her on Twitter and Google+. If you're doing something new, cool and Apple-related, email her.

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