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HelloFax (YC W11) kills the fax machine, but it's really about e-signatures (xconomy.com)
59 points by waderoush 2125 days ago | hide | past | web | 20 comments | favorite

In my ideal world I wouldn't need to futz with "e-signatures" or any sort of visual representation of my signature. I fail to see what's wrong with standard public key encryption - why can't I sign a document the same way I sign an email - with my keypair.

When it came time to renew my lease for my St. Louis apartment, but I was still in San Francsico, I had to do exactly what is described in this article. Sign a blank paper, photograph my signature, paste the photo into the PDF on the signature line, and send it back via eFax. How dumb is that? Its not secure in any way, and there's absolutely ZERO proof that it came from me. On the other hand if I sign it with my private key, there may not be a pretty handwritten copy of my name on the line - but there's fairly strong proof that I am the one that actually submitted the form.

Maybe there needs to be a fancy GUI on top of all of it that somehow links PGP signatures to images of handwritten signatures to satisfy people that are fixated on them, but to me, electronically signing documents with an honest-to-god handwritten signature is something that needs to die: yesterday.

as visual representation of the signature isn't a requirement as a matter of law. places like docusign, etc., use it because it makes people feel safe and secure, as if they're hand signing paper documents. imagine if the question as to whether you signed a document came before a court. you're right: the question would be, what evidence shows that thecoffman signed this? and public key encryption would be stronger than an image of a handsigning.

My understanding is that electronic signatures are actually legally binding, and an electronic signature just means anything that signifies intent to sign (e.g. no crypto required). So the patent office accepts your name in slashes, as I recall.

Of course the real problem is that the organizations that require faxed signatures don't have any real idea as to why they're doing that or whether they need to do it or even whether it's legal, it's just "that's the way we've always done it"

The real trick is to drag along just enough of the old world that it feels familiar to people. That's exactly what HelloFax is doing, and I believe it will be a key factor in their success.

Agree... I like what HelloFax is doing, and will definitely use it next time I have to deal with "one of those companies"

How can it be legally binding if it's not proof in any way? A traditional signature can be analyzed on paper to make sure it is genuine, but everyone can copy/paste your signature under a document digitally. It needs a cryptographic signature to have any value.

Because it's pretty easy to fake a traditional signature as well? Particularly if it only needs fax fidelity!

Because of that problem most organizations prefer 'digital signatures' which have a cryptographic component.


Free faxing isn't revolutionary, you can send one with www.freefax.com or with www.faxzero.com and they have been around for years.

yes but they suck. the world is littered with examples of established companies being upset by teams who do a better job.

I'm not convinced HelloFax doesn't suck. I tried it a few days ago for a form* I needed to sign, and it destroyed the quality of the PDF to the point of unlegibility.

I wound up futzing around with iAnnotate on the iPad, which required a bit more effort but actually worked.

* http://dok.dkb.de/pdf/rekla_kk.pdf

Hi TillE, Joseph here, the cofounder of HelloFax.

Sorry it didn't work out for you. We had a day where we redid our document converter. It's possible something happened while we were pushing out changes. If you have a moment, mind trying it again and pinging us at support at hellofax dot com?

Today, I had to print out, sign and send a work agreement. It took an hour, 12 miles of city driving at $3.75/gal, and it cost $10.85. I'm VERY interested in this company. Self employed people need to watch every penny they spend so a way to save over 80% is great. Next time I need to send a contract back, I'll be using this service. Thanks to YC for shedding light on a great idea.

This (signatures not faxing) is a much more difficult problem than simply sending a piece of paper with an image of your signature on it.

Basically, if I'm moving all my faxes through your startup's servers, what exactly proves that it is me signing up for credit card offerings, trips to Venice and discount car loans, and not your 2 month employee that is pissed at you for making him work late.

e-signatures bring up so many issues that can cause a world of hurt. To move from fax to e-signature support is a large step.

See here for more information: http://www.recombo.com/digital-signature/

(I'm not endorsing this product or company, but it provides some background.)

"And as soon as people realize that it’s possible to sign a document without printing it out first, they’ll abandon their fax machines. The only question is which software or service they’ll use instead."

What question is this? Of course they use government issued ID-card and sign documents digitally using free, government backed, official (and open-source) software for that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estonian_ID_card

I've been waiting for Google to "kill the fax machine" since their voice program launched. Sending faxes for free hasnt been a problem--at the least most public libraries will send a few pages at pennies (or free) per page. Most services to receive faxes cost 10 bucks a month to get your own number. I dream of giving people my Google voice number, and whenever a fax comes through I get it in my inbox as a PDF attachment. sigh Someday...

Well done Joseph, congrats on the continuing growth!

People mulling startup ideas take note: A great way to build something people want is to find a process that has become entrenched and stagnant and identify and remove points of friction (like signing digital documents without a physical fax machine).

I had the opportunity to meet the two founders the day they got accepted to YC and when they were telling me what working on, I was already canceling my efax account in my mind. Yesterday when I had to fax documents to a bank and Scottrade, it was actually a pleasant experience. The only thing I wish I could have done was prepare a fax and have a link to send to my wife so she could sign the documents as well.

Will there be as much money in the e-signature business as there is in the e-fax business? The latter seems to be saving the user from a bigger hassle, hence the obvious monetizability. What happens if google docs adds the ability to add physical-esque signatures?

I would love to use HelloFax, but most things that I actually need to sign these days are, almost by definition, sensitive or confidential.

E.g.: Investor agreements, stock plans, contracts, etc.

Would anyone else feel uncomfortable about handing over copies of all this to a startup?

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