December 13, 2012 in Business

Startup takes snail mail high-tech

Gary Dinges McClatchy-Tribune

Evan Baehr, left, and Will Davis stand outside of their Outbox office in Austin, Texas. Outbox employs a team of drivers who check people’s mail and then scan it in so it can be read online, taking the mailbox out of clients’ lives.
(Full-size photo)

For $4.99 a month, Outbox has one of its “unpostmen” retrieve your mail three times a week and scan each piece into images viewable anywhere in the world via a secure website or iPad application.

The service was rolled out in its hometown of Austin, Texas, about a month ago. The company expects to get another round of financing next year, allowing it to expand to 10 or 15 additional U.S. cities, most likely including San Francisco and New York.

“The pain point we solve is for the frequent traveler, those individuals with cluster mailboxes far from their homes and people who want to be better organized,” said Will Davis, who co-founded the company with Evan Baehr, a former business school classmate. “There are things in your mailbox you love, and we want to give people better access to that.”

There’s also a bunch of junk mail – unsolicited credit card offers, ad circulars, postcards from auto shops and real estate agents, etc. – that postal workers deliver each day. Outbox is out to stop that, Baehr said.

“People hate junk mail because it’s not something they’re interested in,” he said. “Sorting through it all can be a really unpleasant experience.”

The Outbox app and website use proprietary technology – the firm has nearly two dozen patents pending – to flag junk mail. With just a couple clicks, users have the option of requesting to be removed from a sender’s list.

“We’re getting people away from our paper-focused world,” Davis said. “It’s better for the user and for the environment.”

Outbox customers can still receive items such as magazines and birthday cards that they decide they want via doorstep deliveries made by the unpostmen each Friday.

Future enhancements to Outbox’s technology, the company says, will include the ability to instantly pay bills that are received and an option to request catalogs and samples its customers actually want from companies they patronize.

“We’re building a shadow postal network, helping customers take their mail back,” Baehr said.

In 2011, the U.S. Postal Service reports it processed 554 million pieces of mail each day and brought in $17.8 billion in postage fees from companies sending advertisements.

“Right now, you have no control over who sends you mail,” Baehr said. “The sender has all the control. We’re out to change that.”

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