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The pizza delivery messenger service is clever and hilarious.

Back in the day, some friends of mine were stuck walking home from the movie theater after the buses stopped running. As they were walking past a Domino's, one of them had the idea to order a pizza delivered to their house and then hitch a ride with the driver. It worked.

A startup waiting to happen! ;)

The problem is you don't need fast physical deliveries of short messages that often. For example, a few days ago I was pondering how to reach a particular person on very short notice; I had an address, but nothing else, so I couldn't call them, and while I could spend like $50-100 on international mail, it wouldn't get there faster than 3 days from sending. Ultimately, the best solution I could find was... telegrams. Specifically, their modern email+courier incarnation. It would cost like $70 and probably get to the person in a day or two.

I thought this sounded outrageous, but then it occurred to me: when was the last time anyone ever used telegrams? There can't be many uses of them - I've never used one in my entire life - and all the regular costs of a business still need to be paid and the couriers have to be paid and so on.

Japan spends far in excess of $500 million on telegrams a year, the overwhelming majority of it because it is traditional to send one if you're invited to a wedding and cannot attend.

There exist a variety of circumstances where a business has to put a piece of paper in someone's hand within about 24 hours. It's doable between virtually any two endpoints in the first world. It also costs whatever FedEx/DHL/etc think they can get out of a business which needs to have a document hand delivered on the other side of the world immediately, which is "a lot." (e.g. It's presently midnight on Wednesday in NYC. I can walk next door to a store in Tokyo and hand FedEx a letter. It will arrive at the New York Stock Exchange before the opening bell on Thursday. That will cost ~$125 but it will almost certainly actually work.)

The amazing observation in your example, for me, is that it's one of the few things you can get cheaply, fast, and reliably. The holy trifecta of impossible requirements.

Some 60-70 years ago, you could not get it done for any sum of money. Maybe the military could do it, on a good day. A few years later, it's not just possible, but cheap.

I did not know that about Japan, but apparently here, as with the fax machine, Japan is an exception. Japan may spend $500m on telegrams (which incidentally, doesn't seem like very many telegrams per person per year - if each is cheaper than I was quoted by quite a bit, say $50 total, and there's 127m people, then that's one a month on average. I'm also not sure they spend that much since I can't find any quick hits in Google discussing it recently; perhaps you could blog about it sometime.), but nevertheless what delivery services in Japan do or people do in Japan is not that useful, in terms of amortizing fixed costs and realizing economies of scale, to American or Australian delivery costs, nor is it informative about how often Americans or Australians send telegrams.

I also didn't bother to check Fedex/DHL because I figured while they probably did have faster deliveries than USPS, they always charge way more and we were unsure we really needed within a day delivery (which is the only place on the Pareto frontier the private companies would be for general document delivery).

As it happened, we were unsatisfied with our options so we kept digging and eventually came up with what we think are the phone number & email address of the person we need to reach, so hopefully it all turned out to be moot.


Or send flowers, or even old school telegram... ?

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