Passion Project - teen creates contactless business card start-up during COVID-19 lockdown

  • 16/04/2021
  • Sponsored by - Dell

When he was just 18 years old Austen Thomas took his passion for innovative technology, creating KIS Cards. Inspired by the rise of ‘contactless’ connections and payment methods Austen developed this technology to be used with business cards. 

It took months of hard work and research to bring his passion project to life, and all this was achieved by the teenager during last year’s national Level 4 lockdown.

The end result is a KIS card which makes an everyday exchange more environmentally-friendly, during a time when Kiwis need to be extra careful about germs. The cards guarantee the transfer of contact details to another phone, in one quick and easy tap. 

Austen is recognised as the first Dell Passion Project recipient, and will receive a Dell XPS laptop. Dell and The Project are recognising passionate people who turn their side-hustles into a full time gig, while also maintaining a day job.

It might seem strange but the long, boring days of lockdown became a reason and motivation for Austen to start a side hustle project, and he used this time creatively to aim big, and has never looked back. 

By all accounts 2020 was the year Austen was supposed to find a job within the media industry he loved, after completing film school. But unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and like many other Kiwis Austen’s plans came to a grinding halt.

From lockdown to launch

"I didn't really have anything going on. I wasn't studying at the time and I was unable to work from home - so the days became long and boring. I desperately needed a project to help me keep busy," he says. 

"On social media you could see there was so much going across the globe. Everyone seemed to have a new hobby or talent."

"I knew I needed a project but I never knew it would lead to something like this. I had absolutely no experience setting up a business. But I thought let’s see what I can do, and I thought I can always learn along the way."

Austen admits he’s a doer by nature, and saw the opportunity to launch KIS Cards after the lockdown. "It was the perfect time for a contactless business card. And before too long contactless business cards will be the new normal."

He runs his side hustle out of his bedroom where he has a computer, desk and printer next to his bed.

After attending Long Bay College Austen was just 17 when he started training at South Seas Film School. He says he’s always been technically minded, plus his parents run their own business so have been mentors for him too. But the rest of it, he’s learnt along the way by doing it all himself. "I’ve always been interested in media - website development, videos, design and graphics - and spent most of the lockdown doing these things anyway."

Passion Project - teen creates contactless business card start-up during COVID-19 lockdown

So what is a KIS Card?

It’s a stylish plastic card and inside it is a little chip with an antenna. You just need to tap the card with another smartphone, and it will receive the information very quickly. Within a second all the information inside the card transfers to the phone. It’s super quick with no apps or downloads needed. 

The technology has been around for a while but Austen says it has not been used to its full potential.

He did a lot of research before launching the card. “With the existence of COVID-19 QR codes became a big thing, and now everyone seems to know they exist.”

In future years Austen believes phones will become even more compatible with QR codes. “The cards are completely contactless, which is a huge thing right now too. The card doesn’t even have to touch a phone at all,” he says.

What does the name mean?

KIS means ‘keeping it simple’ and Austen has endeavored to make the whole process from start to finish, as simple as possible. You get access to a design studio, where you can choose your images and text, print them and pay for them. It’s a quick turnaround time from placing an order to receiving your cards. 

"I send everyone an instruction pamphlet," he says. "The feedback I’m getting is people love the cards, and how easy the process is."

Asked what advice he’d give to others looking to start their own passion projects, he says "don’t just think about it, and keep thinking about it. Get up and do it. Do your research, talk to people, get opinions, and reach out to family and friends for information and ideas," he suggests. "You never know what will happen next."

Future plans

Austen says he still has dreams to get into media and do live TV, but for the meantime he’ll keep building his business up. "I’ll keep KIS Cards going, and grow it more. There are many different pathways to take. Similar technology could be used for luggage tags and pet collars - where you just need to tap a phone to access the relevant information."

He currently has a 'day job' with Vodafone, and then works on all the KIS Card orders during his evenings. But the future looks bright for Austen and he recently hired a full time salesperson. 

"I do think I’ll need a bigger printer and desk soon," he admits. "And eventually a bigger space for production."

"The feedback has been great so far, people are loving it, and using the cards. It’s been a great journey so far."

This article is brought to you by Dell