Gastown-based Ovou gives the business card game a long-needed update
The company has benefited from the sweat and tears of its founder.
Reza Varzidehkar has been hustling since he was seven years old selling posters and trading cards to his friends at school in Tehran, Iran. The grandson of a well-known Iranian entrepreneur, Varzidehkar had no idea what to do when he came to Burnaby as a teenager.
“I remember telling my mom, my biggest dilemma from day one is that I’d go to school and these kids have everything,” he recalls with a hearty chuckle. “I didn’t know what to sell to them.”
But the hustle never stopped, and Varzidehkar never stopped looking for things to sell. After graduating from Langara College with a marketing diploma, Varzidehkar did some freelance gigs while jotting down company ideas in his phone’s notes app.
When Apple announced it would expand NFC (near-field communication) capability for iPhones, Varzidehkar decided the time was right for his idea of a smart business card.
“I said, ‘Okay, this is the time.’ I didnt even think about it, I just said ‘I'm doing it.’” In September of 2019, he moved into his grandmother’s house to save money and was running the startup out of his bedroom. “I couldn’t fit a queen-sized bed,” he remembers, “because I needed room for the workstation and the printer. I was printing, encoding and packaging and selling the cards.”
Later that year, Varzidehkar embarked on a journey to go to 100 networking events in 100 days. “All of my connections were not tech or business related,” he says. “I realized I was very lonely on this path, so I just pounced on every event I found—government event, marketing, tech, anything. It did so many things for me and really built my connections.”
Of course, COVID came to Canada about two weeks after Varzidehkar officially launched his smart business card company Ovou. “I was questioning the whole thing, like why am I even doing this? Maybe I lost all my savings and I screwed up.”
And then he gave it all up and moved on.
In the summer of 2020, Varzidehkar decided to target car dealerships to meet people in person and give them a glimpse at his cards. “There is no dealership in Greater Vancouver that hasn’t seen Reza,” he says with a satisfied grin. “I went to every single one of them, pulled their names off the websites, and printed them a card with the general manager’s name on it.”
Through that, Ovou was able to score brands like Ferrari Maserati, Porsche Vancouver and Mercedes-Benz Surrey. “It gave us a lot of credibility on social media, and it gave me that motivation that we were going somewhere.”
It worked. By fall of that year, Varzidehkar had already seen results. By early 2021, he had graduated from his grandmother’s place to a townhouse in Burnaby. And last August he started bringing on full-time staff. Now, as he sits across a computer screen from me comfortable in a Gastown office with four full-time employees and a dozen contractors, it’s clear the hustle has paid off.
“We did 10 times the revenue last year compared to 2020, and we’re profitable,” says Varzidehkar, who notes that the company is looking for investment in order to hire faster. “Most people from the outside think we’re selling individual cards, but we are dealing with some bigger organizations, for example the US Army Recruiting Command—they have a little over 500 cards that they use, and we have law firms that have offices all over North America and the U.K., lot of mortgage companies, too.”
And while Ovou does sell smart business cards (basic ones start at $79 and can be accessed with a QR code that brings you to a profile), Varzidehkar doesn’t view it as a business card company.
“We see ourselves as a software company, as a tech company that tries to find the best product that empowers people to make better connections,” he argues. “At the end of the day, the focus is to help people make a better in-person connection. Today, the QR code and NFC is the best tool that we have to do that. If tomorrow AR glasses come and the metaverse, we want to be there, it doesn't limit us to the card.”
That’s the main reason Varzidehkar chose Ovou (pronounced O-VU) as a name. It doesn’t stand for anything in particular, but that’s part of the appeal. “When you have a name that means something, it's a pre-painted canvas that you need to paint on top of,” he says. “When you have a brand new name that has no meaning in the dictionary, you’re giving it a meaning. It's a blank canvas you're painting on. If we were smartbusinesscard.com, that limits us to the card. This enables us to expand.”
As for his own personal journey, Varzidehkar is happy to report that he now feels much more at home in the Lower Mainland. “I feel way more confident,” he says. “If there is something I get stuck on, I know a few people to call, I have some support around me. When you become an entrepreneur, not that many people understand what you’re going through, so it's really important you find other entrepreneurs at the same level and that was invaluable for me.”