Scanning a QR code

Kaywa, the QR Code Conquistador

Text by Melanie Picard

A Swiss startup has led the way in developing information-packed QR codes and bringing them to Europe and the United States.

QR stands for “quick response.” Your smart phone can read these square digital codes and then quickly deliver the information they contain back to you. You might scan a QR code on a DVD to see a trailer or on a restaurant menu to order a dish. You might also use it to check in at an event or get a discount in your favorite shop. QR codes are popping up in the US like mushrooms in a fertile forest, and they deliver more information every day to our phones, and to us.

But where did QR codes come from? The company that brought this technology to the West happens to be a participant in the US Market Entry Camp at swissnex called Kaywa. Though QR codes might seem rather new to us, they are not in Japan where they have been common for many years. Kaywa, which means “discussion” in Japanese, was the first company to introduce these codes to the West.

Kaywa allows companies to create and manage their QR codes via its website. “Kaywa links reality to digital,” says Roger Fischer, Kaywa’s CEO, and he proudly lists major companies such as Fox, Universal, and Citibank among his clients. As the QR code becomes more mainstream, Fischer’s challenge is to find ways to bring it to smaller companies and help them understand how to use it.

Roger Fischer is Kaywa’s founder, and he leads a team of about twenty people located in Zurich, Switzerland, and Belgrade, Serbia. But his path to the mobile software world wasn’t direct, as he studied audio-visual media at university. After spending ten years in Paris working in this field, he returned to Zurich. Frustrated by how static Zurich’s media business was, he turned his eyes to the blooming world of the Web around 1997. He started programming and worked for several years in the software industry.

In 2000, he co-founded Bitflux (now called Liip), a open-source content management solution, with fellow software developer Christian Stocker. Fischer quickly realized that he could “change the world in software with small touches.” At that time, he saw that mobile technology would be just as big in the West as it was then in Japan. So in 2003, driven by the development of this new and exciting field, a mobile blogging solution evolved at Bitflux and then was launched as a new company: Kaywa.

When he discovered the wide use of QR codes in Japan at a conference in 2003, he knew that their usefulness would be one of those “small touches” that could make a difference, and Fischer went from running a mobile blogging platform to becoming a QR code evangelist in 2005.

Kaywa is now a startup with a market, but Fischer happily remembers the first-ever Kaywa QR codes in 20 Minutes, a free daily in Switzerland, in 2006, and then the giant Kaywa QR Code in Zurich’s Main Station in 2007, a collaboration with a major Swiss newspaper called Neue Zürcher Zeitung, or NZZ.

Kaywa owes much of its success to Fischer’s role as a serial networker. He constantly meets new people in any way possible—a benefit of living in San Francisco. “I came here to get out of the comfort zone,” says Fischer, explaining how he has decided to use AirBnB and move several times during his stay to meet as many interesting people as he can.

Being near Silicon Valley has also allowed him to understand the differences between Switzerland and California in how business is done. Gioia Deucher and Cyril Dorsaz of swissnex’s US Market Entry Camp team have been very helpful in this shift in thinking. One big difference Fischer has noticed is the speed at which advances in technology become mainstream. “The iteration of the innovation is much quicker here,” he noted. That’s why he knows for sure that his startup can only benefit from the entrepreneurial spirit in the Bay Area.

What’s next for Kaywa? For Fischer, being in San Francisco is not only a great opportunity but also a necessity. Ninety percent of his paying web clients are based in the US, so building a US-based team is the next step.