Brisbane startup Haystack lands global deal to supply Vodafone with 100,000 digital business cards

Ran Heimann Haystack

Haystack co-founder Ran Heimann. Source: Supplied

A small Brisbane startup has scored a deal with Vodafone to provide digital business cards to the teleco’s 100,000 employees worldwide, in what could be the first of a series of global deals with leading brands.

For Haystack co-founder Ran Heimann, landing such major partnerships is all about “perseverance and belief in what you are trying to achieve”.

Described by Heimann as “putting your contact list on autopilot”, Haystack operates an online platform for users to distribute digital business cards, offering customers a streamlined, auto-updating online solution to the hundreds of cards that clutter their wallets and desks, while also reducing the volume of printed business cards that go to waste.

The Haystack platform was founded by brothers Ran, Matan and Nir Heimann along with Brian Gillespie in 2014, and officially launched from beta testing in 2015. It now has over 3 million unique digital cards across 200,000 companies worldwide, with more than 100,000 new cards created each month, according to Ran Heimann.

Vodafone will be implementing the technology across 26 countries as of today, Heimann says, and it isn’t the only Fortune 500 company set to use the service. Loreal and Pizza Hut are also testing the digital card technology, according to Heimann, as part of a growing move towards more sustainable and paperless businesses in the future. 

“Vodafone is the first one to make a global decision across the whole business that this [going paperless] is the way of the future,” says Heimann, who says there are on average 20 billion “antiquated and wasteful” paper cards printed every year, which require the felling of roughly 1 million trees to produce that paper.   

This major partnership comes off the back of Haystack raising $1.1 million in seed funding last year, in a round led by Brisbane investor David Tucker. An additional seed-extension round closed earlier this year from Sydney-based venture capital fund Follow[the]Seed brings the total funding raised by the startup to date to $1.7 million.

For Haystack, this Vodafone deal is the tip of the iceberg and Heimann says the startup is “just starting”. It is now looking to build a global sales team, and “if things go to plan”, expand its current team of eight to at least double in size over the next 6-12 months, according to Heimann.

“Success starts with four years of really hard work”

So how did a team of eight manage to land a global deal with Vodafone? By offering a unique product that filled a market niche, and staying true to their beliefs, according to Heimann. 

“Setbacks in startup world are a daily occurrence, and perseverance is one of those things you need,” he says.

“Early on some of my closest advisors said ‘this is not going to work’, and now half of them are investors in the business. You need a real belief in what you are trying to achieve.

“We believed and persevered in our vision, irrespective of any deal.”

Heimann says startups need to identify how their core offering solves a problem within a partner’s business if they are to have any success securing major deals

“Success starts with four years of really hard work,” he says.

“We identified the needs of large companies, and did strong research into what the various [business card] solutions are, and what companies are looking for.”

By starting with a foundation of research that informs the product’s vision and execution, Heimann says startups can stay focused and reactive — something that is crucial in the ever-changing startup ecosystem.

“The challenges are endless; I cannot stress enough the importance of being able to execute and execute well,” Heimann says.

“It’s all about doing good research, getting the execution very specific about the key benefits [your startup can give to potential partners], and making a really differentiated key offering.”

Heimann also suggests startups go through a “feedback session” with partners after submitting a pitch or tender.

“Whether you’re successful or not, running a feedback session at the end to understand what worked well and what didn’t work well is a very valuable exercise,” he advises. 

While startups are often typified by a relaxed t-shirt and sneakers vibe, Heimann says being perceived as unprofessional can be a key stumbling point for founders when approaching big corporations.

“Be 100% professional — rock up on time, send documents on time, make sure there are no grammar or spelling mistakes in your materials: I cannot stress enough that little things [like grammar] can make a lot of people fall on something so small,” he says.

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