Outbox un-delivers your mail
I have seen some crazy startups that try to bring paper mail into the modern, digital era. My longtime favorite is Earth Class Mail, which I first saw in 2007. It’s essentially an alternate inbox for your physical mail: You have your mail sent to their address instead of your house, and they scan it all and send it to you electronically.
Crazy. But “Not crazy enough,” says Evan Baehr, the CEO of Outbox. And he should know from crazy.
Outbox is the bizzaro service that sends a “reverse postman” to your house to pick up your physical mail after it’s already been delivered to you, whisk it off to the Outbox processing center, and then scan it and send it to you electronically.
If you want a piece of mail for real (like a greeting card from a relative), Outbox can send it back to you. Packages and samples never go to the processing center.
What it adds in delay it’s supposed to make up with customization of delivery, automatic filing, and less hassle in dealing with junk mail.
The service is designed for densely-packed cities, where most customers have mail slots or apartment-style mailboxes, not the suburban mailboxes-on-poles that would be easy for Outbox collectors to open up and access. So Outbox provides new mail lockboxes that literally intercept US mail before it hits the customer’s own mail slot.
It’s worth it, say Baehr. “I’d be willing to give you a whole new front door,” he told me. “This is an inroad to a really vibrant marketplace.”
In other words, it’s not just about the end user. Baehr is trying to pull a Facebook on physical mail. The business is about learning users’ mail habits and preferences, and then profiting from that knowledge with marketers. Baehr even talks about building the “mail graph.”
Outbox watches what mail users open and respond to, and sends that data to marketers. Baehr says that this intelligence is otherwise unavailable. Paper mail is a marketing black hole. He says Outbox can help reduce junkmail and even help marketers “deconvert” people from recipients of paper mail to electronic mail.
Unlike Earth Class Mail’s expensive infrastructure, which involves automated warehouses and robots, Outbox can be run for a lot less money. The trial, in San Francisco, has required so far only about $40,000 in capital, for scanners and cars. Furthermore, Outbox fails gracefully: If the service goes out of business, your mail still comes to your house.
I admire the audacity of Outbox, although I still think it’s crazy. Baehr says I’m the crazy one. Physical-to-electronic messages delivered through the system generate more and better responses than plain old mail, he says. And his real goal, I gather, is to integrate into the Postal Service to improve the customer experience, gather marketing data, and lower costs for everybody.
All he has to do right now is convince users that his $5 a month service that sits on top of the postal service is better than the US Mail itself.
I’ll tell you this: Whether Outbox works or not, the team is going to learn a ton about mail, consumers, and marketing. What crazy idea are you learning from?
Pro Tip: If Outbox is a little too extreme for you but you would like to make your physical mail a little more electronic, I’d recommend trying out the bill-tracking service PageOnce, or, for Evernote users, FileThis, which downloads bills and transaction reports from your service providers directly into Evernote notebooks.
Audio version of this column
A message from Evernote
Build knowledge. Share ideas. Get things done. Evernote Business.Back to Top