John Valiton is the cofounder of FinderCodes , which wants to reinvent lost and found for the digital age. FinderCodes shipped its first major retail order to Office Depot last week, and is poised to announce a new partnership with FedEx  later this month.
FAST COMPANY: How do you describe FinderCodes?
JOHN VALITON: FinderCodes is a lost-and-found system predicated on using QR codes. You purchase a kit, which retails around $24.99, and inside each kit you get seven to 10 smart tags. They come in the form of a keychain tag, or a sticker, or an iron-on tag for clothing. You set up an account and tag all your valuable items. If you lose your car keys, say, upon finding it, someone will scan the QR codes, and then it will send a text and email to you, the owner. That includes the exact location of where the scan takes place, but it keeps both people’s contact information private and hidden, until it’s time to share information with each other.
Any success stories yet?
So far we’ve gotten about 60 successful returns already. For example, one gentleman was flying out of Seattle and left his Barnes & Noble Nook at the airport. By the time he landed, someone had already scanned it, so he had an email and text as soon as he landed, and the person was able to go ahead and mail the Nook right back.
How’d it occur to you to try to reinvent lost and found?
It started when my partner Blake’s dog got lost. He had just moved to a new home, and he hadn’t put new contact information on his dog’s collar. The dog was lost in this new neighborhood, and he thought, “I’m not gonna get the dog back. They might take it to the old address.” By happenstance, an hour later, a person had gotten the dog and was driving around the neighborhood looking for its owner. Blake saw the person with his dog in the window and flagged him down. But that spurred him to take a look and see. Maybe there was something here, and we could develop a system around this.
The account FinderCodes users set up allows them to update their address but keep the old codes?
Yes. Blake and I thought, there’s gotta be a better way to do this. After you register with us, you can go back at any point in time to change your address, and to increase or lower the reward. A large part of what we do is database management. The cool thing about what we’ve built is you can take it and apply it to different industries. For the pest control industry, for instance, instead of a technician walking around handwriting reports at each location, we’re building an app where they scan a QR code and that takes them into the system to write up information. There are applications in animal health, like cattle tracking.
You’re going to brand cows with a QR code?
We’d use the ear tags lots of cows have now. You’d scan it with an iPhone or Android and it takes you into the database management system. It’s sort of like QuickBooks for cows. You can add information through the cow’s life cycle, and even as a consumer you can scan a steak and learn about the cow that came from.
I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to scan a QR code.
They’ve been misused for a long time. If I’m flipping through a magazine and see a QR code that just takes me to a retailer’s website, I can type Macys.com faster than I can scan the code. Whereas if the QR code is able to make something functional and usable, that adds extra value, then you have a reason to do it.
[Image: Flickr user Jelles ]