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HelloFax (YC W11): Sign And Send Faxes From Your Browser, Without The Hassle (techcrunch.com)
213 points by ssclafani on Feb 22, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments

YC has switched over to HelloFax and we love it. With 250 companies we have to deal with a lot of faxes, because every later funding round or acquisition means we have to sign stuff. So not having to deal with actual paper faxes makes a big difference for us.

I dont' want to come off as a naysayer - I can see this taking off - but I do have some real questions. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

Don't you keep hard copies of these documents? Just wondering. For us, if it requires a signature, we usually need a hard copy (original) for our records.

Since we are printing it out (or receiving via fax in the first place), it seems just as easy to walk over to our $40 fax machine and send it (via our $9/mo Vonage fax line).

I am sure I am missing something here.

No, we just use Dropbox.

If Dropbox looses your data, all company documents are gone? Or just all faxes you sent?

There is no end to what if's.

What if Dropbox screws up? Data is gone!

What if your building catches fire? Those documents will burn with pleasure!

What if your hard-drive decides to get a heart-attack [crash]?

What if world ends?

Paper is so 90s thing. Even in offices, yes.

Don't be silly. It's reasonable to plan for disaster scenarios, especially in this case where it's something important, and the probability of disaster is unknown. Do you look both ways across the street, even if you have the walk sign?

We have copies on local machines too.

Is the plan to get acquired by Google for integration with Voice?

Or get acquired by Twilio?

Or to maybe, y'know, just be an awesome business on its own and not feel pressured to sell out?

Oh wait, this is the Valley we're talking about, my bad. Carry on please.

At least we heard about this one before it got acquired by and then shut down so that the founders could work on companion technologies in their new company.

Kudos to HelloFax, this is exactly what I've been seeking for a long time. I've been making do with MyFax's intermittent free trials but this service is worth paying for.

Hmmm streamlining this very functionality accounts for a fraction of what my current project does...

Perhaps I should apply to ycombinator...

Having more functionality isn't necessarily better. Laser-sharp focus on doing one thing better than the alternatives just shows that you really understand what your users want and can sometimes make you stand out more in a competitive environment than having more features.

Guy Kawasaki always brings up the story of Tam's Art Gallery in Hong Kong. In one of the markets there, there are dozens upon dozens of shops selling all kinds of souvenirs from shirts to toys to electronics. But the store that gets the most business is Tam's Art Gallery, which is well-known and stands out because it only sells stone stamps.

That store example is flawed. They stand out because of a well-executed marketing strategy built around being a single-product shop, but in the end it is a matter of execution rather than of just not selling more products. In other words if they were selling three products, and if they were well-known, they would've still gotten most business.

I definitely understand that. :)

The focus of my project is "laser-sharp" and streamlining things like faxes are just background processes that don't get in the way of the actual user functionality at all. Users take less than 30 seconds to set that part up and never have to think about it again. So if anything, in my particular case, it actually only makes me stand out more in the competitive environment as you say.

There is of course no way you would have known that, so excellent post otherwise. Everyone here should know that too many features can definitely break an application (coders' brains too lol)... the only time tons of features are beneficial is when they don't get in the way.

I love HelloFax. Really, I do. Started using it a few weeks ago, and discovered undocumented features that were EXACTLY what I wanted. Before when I ran a web dev company I had to sign contracts all the time, and this was my process: save from email -> word -> enter text / insert image (signature) -> print to pdf -> efax. Now I can do it via HelloFax in about 1 minute.

+1 We got a chance to use HelloFax very early on, and we never actually sent any taxes - we were using it to sign documents: vastly superior to my old way of scan&convert to PNG, open in Gimp, paste my signature, merge layers, convert to PDF... Ughh. So it's not just about faxing.

I second that. HelloFax makes what used to be a huge pain really easy. I've tried other options in the past (borrowing someone's fax, other clunky e-fax systems, or a trip to Kinko's) and I'm happy I'll never have to do it again.

So the only thing that differentiates it from the thousand-odd online fax services that have been around since the 90s is that it lets you skip the "photoshop my signature onto this image" step?

I'd say this would be a tough business to be in, unless of course you had the schmooze power of YC behind you. Amazing how that can transform a site like this that would otherwise live out its life in a little crack on the 3rd page of Google for "online fax" into a viable business.

(I suppose it also helps if all your competitors stop improving their products in 1998.)

As co-founder of an online fax service[1], I'll be watching HelloFax closely. It's a mature market, but most of the existing players are crappy, so I think there's a big opportunity here. It's a difficult marketing problem, though. AdWords advertising for fax related keywords is very expensive, and there are services out there that offer completely free faxes (even if they are cluttered with ads). Perhaps the signing functionality offered by HelloFax will give them enough differentiation to generate good word-of-mouth awareness.

[1] https://www.faxfresh.com/

Perhaps the signing functionality offered by HelloFax will give them enough differentiation

I think the editing capability is key. The signature feature might work for a device with a stylus but is difficult with a mouse. I opened up an image editor and wrote my signature with a mouse. The result wasn't legible (at all), and more importantly, it didn't match what I consider to be my legal signature. So users would probably need access to a scanner to upload the signature image.

Hey nhebb, Joseph here, co-founder of HelloFax. Check out the third option for signing, which is taking a picture of your signature and emailing it to sign@hellofax.com. Then, we automatically place it on top of your document. That skips the scanner :)

Yes, a thousand times, yes. This is great, I hate having to dig up a fax machine when I want to fax something. Unless I can find one at an office, I have to go to Kinkos, because I don't even have a phone line.

Every time someone asks me to fax I have this same problem. Though it is normally a paper form someone has given me to fax, and without a scanner I would still be stuck.

You can generally get away with using a digital camera to "scan" your document before "faxing" it via email, or with one of these online services.

Faxes, almost by definition, are just one notch this side of unreadable. People who are used to receiving faxes are used to receiving Faxes, so your crappy digital camera work with visible shadows and wood table behind might actually be a step up from the norm.

I am terribly sorry but due to the need to get a green image my company has forbidden the use of paper. It's totally stupid but my boss is a complete environment nut and I could get into real trouble if I broke the rules.

I sorry the fax machine is busted. We are required to attempt to have it fixed before we can get a new one, but the repair guy won't get here until Monday.

Big companies do stupid stuff all the time. Take advantage of this.

Sure that would cover 1% of the reasons I have to fax. Normally I am dealing with someone like a real estate agent or a government department or something I have to have witnessed etc I can't do that.

Just a comment on HelloFax.com: the headline says "Throw away your fax machine!"

I don't have a fax machine. I'd guess lots of visitors don't either. Just saying, maybe there's a better headline to be written.

Good luck guys, efax is terrible!

Possibly they could go with something along the lines of "Never have to find a fax machine again", as I see it useful for when your dealing with some large company one off with crazy old processes that require you to fax something through.

How about "Goodbye Fax Machine, HelloFax!"

I know... way too corny and confusing :)

I upvoted you, but that won't let others know which part of your comment I liked (the "Goodbye Fax Machine, HelloFax!" part), hence this reply.

ha, thanks. I'll leave out my opinion on my own slogan idea next time.

I agree - something like that. Something that every visitor would identify with and say "Ohh, cool."

This is great. I have a fax/printer/scanner at home for this purpose, but I am lucky if I send 5 faxes a year. Plus, if I ever drop the landline, it won't work. I really like the idea of paying per fax. None of the subscription services make sense for a casual user. Good luck HelloFax.

If the casual user has to ever receive a fax, then I don't see how to get around a subscription, after all, you have to have your own fax number to receive a fax, right? There isn't some technology by which users could share a number and use an extensions as a discriminator, right?

Sure there is, as long as the reciever can give instructions to the sender. It wouldn't be too hard to OCR a customer number.

Or, more likely, very short term number rental. Pay $1.95 to be able to recieve faxes on a particular number for a period of an hour.

If you could allow me to receive fax with the same kind of pricing, that'd be awesome.

Whenever someone ask me for my fax number, I start sweating. It rarely happens, but when it happens, I'm stuck.

Let me buy a "disposable" fax number for 12-24 hours for $2. I don't want to pay monthly for something that I rarely use, but I'd be happy to pay a flat fee to receive a document.

This is a very crowded and somewhat mature space, which makes for an interesting marketing problem. I'd love to hear about how you guys approach it in some future blog posts!

For starters, their marketing strategy included:

- not requiring a 37 step signup process

- not requiring a user to choose between a dozen different monthly plans before being able to sign-up

- not requiring a monthly subscription just to test and send the odd fax

It's been a while since I looked at the available options, but the few I previously evaluated required far too much overhead to make them effective.

I use eFax today, and it's a terrible service IMO. Very sloppy interface. IAAL, and I'm constantly presented with the problem that hellofax solves. I'm current using RightSignature as a way around it, but it's not an ideal solution since I have to upload and template every incoming document that needs my signature. Otherwise, I have to deal with paper, which cramps my style,

Little misleading... it says "throw away your fax machine" but has no support for receiving faxes.

I'd love to use a service like this, even at $1.99 per fax, but without receive support (so sad that companies sign first and want to fax to you) it's no good to me....

That's coming very soon, I believe. I just nagged them to launch when they had a quantum of utility.

Yep, that's coming very soon! We'll keep HN updated :-)

Are you using freeswitch to send & receive faxes? I've been using it for almost 6 months now and it feels much more robust than asterisk's system.

Hey, we're actually using Asterisk. Out of curiousity, what are you using your fax server for?

we use it to send & receive faxes because we don't want to buy a fax machine :-)

I have a small 50 line ruby script that converts attachments from emails into outgoing faxes, and a 10 line ruby script that converts incoming faxes into emails with a pdf attachment.

You should try freeswitch instead -- the rxfax thing from Asterisk would sometimes truncate incoming faxes. Not sure why.

If you're like me and looked to cancel your eFax subscription, here is the related URL: https://www.efax.com/cancelLiveChat.html

Congrats on the launch! HelloFax is a fantastic product, and an excellent example of launching an MVP when you have just enough features to make some group of users very happy.

The ability to sign documents within the app alone has been an incredible time saver. It makes you think "How is this not the default way to send faxes yet?"

This is awesome. Now if we could just get people to accept these electronic signatures reliably, things would be golden.

Yes, I'm talking to you, Wells Fargo.

That's one of the problems we solve. That's a big differentiator between us and other electronic signature companies. With HelloFax, the other party doesn't have to accept electronic signatures - just faxes.

We've actually used HelloFax ourselves to fax Wells Fargo.

Yes - it just occurred to me after I wrote that that my good friends at Wells probably would never have known...

Good stuff. This is a major annoyance for me.

Congrats guys - huge moment and just a sign of bigger things to come

Not to be a downer, but this brings to mind Fred Wilson's warning the other day about bridge-technology startups: "Most of the time they do really well while the transition pain [from old- to new technology] is high but once most individuals and enterprises have made the change, their business slowly disappears." http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/02/bridge-technologies.html

We plan on bringing some innovation to the electronic signature side of this as well. We won't be resting on on laurels. :-)

Will you guys have an API? Also I guess the problem for the infrequent user who wants to receive a fax is the id problem...Say for example that I want state farm to fax me a document. If you go with a pool approach and match by phone # expected, then there could be interceptions. The safest way seems to be to have a dedicated # (if it were always from a savvy source, you could have them post a unique code that you could ocr to identify, but you can't rely on that for the general case)....How much does it cost for that? The other difficulty is what happens if I use the service, get my state farm fax and stop using the service. If the number is then recycled, then if state farm decides to fax me something else without notifying me, it then goes to someone else (and may have data in it)...A difficult problem. Good luck!

These guys really identified a pain point. This is hands down the most useful application I've used.

Really one of the most useful startups I've seen in a while. I would definitely use their service.. but, unfortunately, I usually need to send faxes to non-US numbers and that is, at this moment, still not supported. Still, great job, you guys, I wish you all the luck!

Everytime I have to fax something, it used to be such a huge hassle.

Here's the heuristic:

1. Find the nearest Kinko's/FedEx Store

2. Find my old or get another Kinko's card Kinko's/FedEx Store card

3. Put 1 dollar on it

4. Fax for $0.25

Two or three months later, repeat the same process.

HelloFax is a great example of a solution to serious pain point.

Good luck and congratulations!

Hey guys, I love how each page has a clear goal. I'd suggest to add a call to action at the end of this page: http://www.hellofax.com/content/learnMore

You absolutely right. I think in our rush to launch, we missed out on some important polish.

We used HelloFax to sign our incorporation documents- was a real timesaver!

What's a fax? Wasn't that my grandmother's email provider or something?

Fun fact: Where I live, to sign up for Apple's iOS developer program, I had to fax my personal/creditcard details to Apple. That requirement was so bizarre it took me a while to wrap my head around it.

(To their credit, I got a confirmation email from them in about a single day)

ha me too. I couldn't believe it as well. A trendy technology company requiring an outdated technology!

The article didn't mention it, but you can also sign and send the document via email (with the document as a PDF attachment). Or just download it as a PDF. We eliminate the print/sign/scan steps.

Is there a "generic" e-mail address (like "plans@tripit.com") or is it a unique / obfuscated e-mail address per user (like "2V6CFI@hellofax.com")?

The last time I bought a house we had to fax the contracts back & forth (with the estate agent as middleman, of course) until we agreed. It's not like any of us want to use faxes, but sometimes you have to. And if we hadn't had a fax machine at work, I'd have paid a few dollars for a temporary fax number.

Looks like a promising start. Hope things go well.

My company spent maybe $1500 last year in fax marketing.

Isn't fax spam illegal in the USA? Or are you elsewhere?

Legal loopholes.

Did it work?

It depends on what you are selling. But I have seen a response rate higher than any other form.

D'oh. I was excited that I might actually be able to throw out my fax machine. I just sent a fax through HelloFax and the service seems to be very useable. I went through the interface trying to figure out how to add a credit card to my account and determine how expensive the service is. But they don't have pricing yet.

My small business uses Packetel for incoming fax-to-email and a real fax machine for outgoing faxes. I would love to get rid of the fax machine and the stupid copper phone line it requires.

All I have to say is, Thank God! I look forward to using this the next time I have to deal with sending a fax. And once you can receive faxes and do everything in one place...For the dedicated fax #, do you have any plans to do this for infrequent users who don't need a regular #?

I used hellofax recently for the first time, much better than pamfax, and no hidden charges like efax.

Amazing looking service. However, there's a typo on the "About us" page, which I thought I'd bring to your attention.

"Joseph Walla Enterepeneur with a soft spot for the public sector."

Good luck with everything though, you guys are going to kill it.

I love how this could essentially be used as a way to bypass physical signatures which are still required by some painfully-useless laws. I shall keep this in mind if I'm ever required to fax something.

I have previously used the subscription-less http://payperfax.com

Anything I should know to make me use hellofax? (20 free faxes is definitely a nice start!)

We're great for when you need to fill-out or sign a document. You can upload it (we support all common file types), sign it, fill it in, and fax it within minutes. Much faster than printing, signing, and scanning.

I hope you get to give it a try soon. Let us know what you think!

Is it possible to print directly to the fax service? That's what we've did once for a very similar service: Provide a server using the Internet Printing Protocol (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Printing_Protocol) that clients configure as remote printer (this works fine in Windows and Linux, we didn't test OS X at this time). The things that a user has printed are stored in an "outbox", where the user can just click on an item and specify where it should be sent. The advantage of this method is that you don't need the upload step and that you are able to support any application (without requiring users to convert the data to PDF first).

I just tried that out. Online PDF form filling, signing, and saving would be a worthwhile product in itself in my opinion.

Edit: And of course there are a couple of those sites already (just for forms). All of which could use some polishing.

You know the "Try it" in the learn more section, I found it a little bit annoying that it takes you to the homepage instead of back to the learn more section.

Yep, I hear you. It was a late addition to the site and we didn't have time to fix the issue. We'll fix it soon :-)

signed up for the 20 free fax! would last me a lifetime :)

Aren't web to fax gateways a 'bridge technology' as recently discussed (interms of avoiding investment) on HN?

Ie, immediate use, dwindling long term prospects?

Will it send faxes internationally, i.e. outside the states?

As a specific example, if I'm in Australia, and I want to send a fax locally, can I use HelloFax?

Unfortunately, not yet. But we do have an eye on the international market and would love to support faxing internationally.

It will work to send a fax to a US number from another country, right? I only need to send 2-3 faxes a year, and currently do it from a dial-up modem on an ancient computer over my US VoIP line that I have overseas. I very rarely need to receive faxes, so sending is all I'd need. This would really take the pain out of those occasional faxes!

Yes, you can send a fax to a US number no matter where you are located.

mbox.com.au had a great casual plan (pre-paid $10 and then just use as required)

I think they got acquired - I'm not sure what happened to the pre-paid deal... might be still there

Have you figured out your pricing yet? It bothered me that I couldn't find any pricing info before signing up for the service....

You have a typo on your sign-up page:

"Get 20 fax fages free"

Otherwise, cool idea.

Nice catch! Thanks!


great job guys! btw.. another typo at the bottom of the learn more page "now do do both".

Thanks for catching that! Clearly we need to be checking our copy more carefully.

Congrats! This is awesome. Looks like a GREAT idea and looks like you executed really well. High five!

thank god i don't have to worry about buying that blasted fax machine!

Neither did I send any faxes in the last few years nor did I use any other online fax services, so I refrain from commenting about your site but please do change the favicon to your site logo. :)

It will take a lot of work to steal me from Faxzero.

We've built the editor/signature tool to try and add value. Are there any other features you'd like to see that might persuade you to switch over?

You know what - I concede. I had a 2nd look, and I don't think I fax more than 20 pages per year, and with your editor, there is zero reason not to use you over faxzero.

I'll have to test out the validation process, but on 2nd glance, it looks good.

does it have google docs integration like echosign?

faxing? talk about early adopter!

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