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Outbox Makes Your Snail Mail Digital, Launches in SF (techcrunch.com)
42 points by bkohlmann on Feb 28, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

What a brilliant idea, all the way from 1999! Back then it was called PaperlesPOBox. EarthClassMail came several years later (2008) and offers additional conveniences.

The iPad makes everything better! (sarcasm)

On a more serious note: I think the USPS should offer this service. Why trust a private company with it?

On a practical note: good luck trying to prove your residency for public schools if your snail mail is forwarded to an address in another state.

Amen. I think it might have been 1998 even :-) It keeps getting rehashed every 2-3 years. Lets see if this one sticks around.

You don't forward your mail. They pick it up at your mailbox.

(You actually can't forward your mail for very long; you can get a half year, and sort of a year, but the post office really doesn't apparently want to be in the position of being a routing system.)

Which is really a shame, actually.

I would love to have a virtual address, such as

    Mr. Beagle3 Esq
    742 Virtuality Road, Suite #3971
    c/o Monopod Iridium Violet
    Cyber, NY 19997
And would happily pay a few tens of USD per year for that to be forwarded to an address of my choosing, and also last-mile routing (e.g., if this address "resolves" to AZ, I accept paying for the NY->AZ resent -- even though, if properly managed, this would be resolved at a stage where a resend will not be needed).

Oh, and in case you wonder - the address including suite, c/o, city and zip code should together form an error-correcting code, so that e.g. a one digit error could be automatically corrected -- because otherwise, a one digit error would reach AZ instead of NY and vice versa.

All other problems aside: how can they afford to send someone to my apartment 3 times a week for $4.99? Seems like gas alone would be exceed that.

My assumption is that they can't, and the plan is to burn through VC money with the hopes of getting some sort of eventual deal with the postal service.

Not if they have the right density. I think their business model is viable at scale.

Assume they pay their pick-up guy $20/hour. Each customer is paying $5 for 12 pickups = 60 cents a visit. To break even they will need to do pick-up 33 mail boxes/hr. This seems like a lot in a suburb but it's possible in a dense city. They will probably need to tweak their model but it's not unreasonable.

That's just to pay the pickup guy. You have to pay for gas. And the costs of operating a batch scanning facility for mail. And most mail is not of uniform size and does not have uniform contents, so you end up having to manually open and scan the items.

It's totally unreasonable. The only place it makes even a hint of sense to do this is at the Post Office, before it goes to the actual customer. The customer could then choose scan, shred or deliver.

Maybe I'm just not clever enough to get it. But this just seems ludicrous to me.

Their idea is to make revenue from additional sources other than just the monthly fee.

What might those be? The check cashing and bill pay mentioned are already offered for free by banks. Diversion of junk mail marketing $ into "effective methods" of marketing is pretty cryptic. I think creating some online equivalent of postal mail would be interesting (there are things like notarized letters, etc that still seem to require snail mail), but I don't see how this service as currently implemented really does anything novel. Scanning your postal mail is tedious and cost ineffective...whether it's done by a startup or not.

Most mail is junk. What happens to that?

Are you going to scan a single catalog and throw the rest away? That won't work because some have specific codes required, so you'll have to know which those are or perhaps scan every catalog cover. Some catalogs are going to be hell. Just to name a few: Sweetwater has a fairly long one; Blick's art supply catalog is bigger; Both are free and have wide distribution.

Where do you draw the line between package, parcel, and letter? What do you do when it is filled with confetti? What if it contains cash. Seriously.

Musical Hallmark cards anyone? Are you going to record them? No? Ok, then.

This is a neat idea and works for some things, but is also very seriously impractical and insecure for the customer, and a terrible mess on the business side.

Add to that that people (especially women I'm told, but I know of no studies to prove that) enjoy real magazines. I personally enjoy getting things in the mail. It is like a gift. I don't enjoy getting email.

I have used VirtualPostMail.com for several years and this is how it works. They scan the front and back of the envelope (front only for a parcel) and email you an alert. You view the scan and decide whether to scan the contents. For instance, you would not scan obvious junk mail, but click on the recycle button. For large catalogs, they stop at 35 pages and ask you if you want the whole thing at an extra charge. For parcels, magazines, or documents you want the original for, like musical valentines or credit cards, they will ship it to you at your physical address. If you receive a check, they will send it to your bank's PO box for depositing. Check their website for more inf.

I use a service like this in Sweden (abuni.se). You change your government-registered mailing address to a virtual PO box number with them, and all the companies and agencies that pick your address from the government database (probably 80% of them in Sweden) will start using it.

Then they scan all your mail and send it to you as PDFs, as well as archiving it on their site. I've also authorized them to do direct debits with my bank, so now they automatically pay any bills I get on paper for me automatically on the due date.

I've been living out of the country for over a year (I haven't even had an apartment in Sweden), and this system has worked great.

What happens if I send you a false invoice, would they still pay it?

I have to approve each payee separately (by checking it off on the site)

I've been using Virtual Post Mail [0] for about 2 years, it has been excellent. It's a bit more expensive and the implementation is different but the end result is similar.

[0] http://www.virtualpostmail.com/

I'm another VPM customer, for a little over a year. I like it and I plan to continue using it, but the website is definitely a little clunky and could use a redesign. Still, it's better than all the competing services (at least as of a year ago when I did my research).

This service makes so much more sense than Outbox. Easy to scale, allow you to mask your real address, relatively cost-efficient, allows people outside of the US to have a US address...

Anyone know a similar service that has an address in the east coast, preferably NYC, Boston and/or Massachusetts?

Another happy customer of Virtual Post Mail since 2009. Great service, great team!

I've also been using VPM for about one and a half years and it's been great.

This idea just doesn't seem to want to die.

I saw an investor presentation for Earth Class Mail back in the day. They would scan the front of your mail, and then you could choose which items to have them open. They would then have to manually open and scan the items you instructed them to open at additional cost.

Earth Class Mail blew threw most of their funding (http://blog.oregonlive.com/siliconforest/2011/01/earth_class...) and rebooted with a different focus.

I don't see how this company plans to run a courier service to collect your mail from random places, then scan it, for $5 a month. The economics make 0 sense.

More importantly, snail mail is dying off. This is like building a business to make your horse and buggy move faster just as the automobile is being developed.

Faxes are also dying out, but there are plenty of companies making a living off of e-fax services.

Although I agree the economics of picking the stuff up out of your mailbox makes little sense... Mail forwarding or PO boxes would be far more efficient.

Any business is about balancing cost structure with revenue potential. For an e-fax service, once you invest in the initial infrastructure (and these days, there might not even be much fixed cost investment.... link together Twilio and a website for example), you are probably making money at $10 a month per customer. So it doesn't really matter that fax usage may be decreasing...there are still lots of people using fax machines and you make more money than it costs you to run the service.

My point with the mail pickup thing was that they could never make it scale. Their costs will kill them in the short and long term...even if they get a lot of customers. That is why the e-fax service works and the mail service doesn't.

This is a mass credit and identity theft waiting to happen.

First of all, they're not gonna be able to do the collection themselves, they will contract it out. Then any contractor has power over all the mailboxes under their management. The contractors, their employees, or anyone who reverse engineers any single route & collection times can carry out mass credit applications, online shopping and everything.

This is truly some next-level stuff. Very compelling price, and it seems like a very well thought out revamp of an existing paradigm.

Obvious concerns:

  - security
  - confidentiality
  - how easy is this to set up? to cancel?
  - how timely is this?
  - how accurate?

In addition to not using the anti-credibility keyword "beautiful", Earth Class Mail (which I currently am using) seems to be a much more useful service offering (as it doesn't rely on people attempting to obtain your mail from your current address, nor does it rely on the idea that your current address even has relevance or permanence).

It seems like a lot of work for them to swing by your physical address multiple times a week.

The other services that do this allow you to have mail delivered to a mailbox that the company controls and then mail that you actually want can be forward to your home mailbox.

When I first read this, I was thinking, "Wow, cool idea!". Now I feel kind of sad – the need for this service really highlights the inefficiency and waste of paper mail.

I'd be curious if USPS could acquire them (they still have resources), and then roll out this service much faster? I'd pay $5-10/month for this from USPS.

similar to EarthClassMail which had a documentary: www.hulu.com/start-up-junkies

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