A start-up plans to digitize your postal mail

A glaring omission in the list of services transformed by the Internet: Postal mail.

A start-up, Outbox, try to change this by scanning your mail. For $ 5 a month, you can skip trips to the mailbox and sorting and recycling your mail, and instead view and organize all your correspondence on one app and eliminate junk mail with a swipe. on point.

The postal service is particularly vulnerable, mired in debt, ending the Saturday delivery and desperate for change.

The outbox starts out small. It operated in Austin, Texas, where the company is based, and this week expanded to San Francisco.

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“From anywhere, anytime, you are exposed to your postal mail for the first time, so the postal network should be built in the 21st century,” said Will Davis, co-founder of Outbox , which calls the postal service. the original social network.

With the app, browsing your mail becomes easier and more convenient. Your letters and envelopes are collected from your mailbox and scanned so that they are accessible on a beautiful application. You can unsubscribe from junk mail, organize mail into virtual folders to find it later, and form to-do lists to respond to urgent mail.

Email is broken, said Davis and his co-founder, Evan Baehr, which is one reason about a fifth of people choose to receive their bills electronically. That’s why they created an app that allows users to interact with postal mail separately from their inbox.

If there’s any mail you physically want, whether it’s the J. Crew catalog or a hand-drawn card from your niece, you can ask Outbox to deliver it. Otherwise, Outbox destroys it and recycles it.

It all looks very elegant to the user, but things get a lot more complicated from a business perspective. Outbox has spent months interviewing 100 families about their mail habits and desires.

Identity theft can occur when thieves go through recycling bins and steal paper mail. So how can you protect yourself when paying someone to pick up your mail and open it? The founders of Outbox said the company carefully screened employees, even performing credit checks to make sure they had no grounds for stealing a customer’s identity, and had a policy of million dollar insurance to protect customers if its guarantees don’t work. Scanned mail is on a secure site and paper mail is shredded.

For now, Outbox is sending employees door-to-door “non-postal workers” to physically pick up your mail and take it to a warehouse. (If your mailbox has a lock, you send them a photo of your key and they recreate it, a technical feat in itself.)

The idea of ​​sending people door-to-door seems impossible to scale up nationally. That’s why Outbox starts out in dense cities, the founders said, and only picks up three days a week.

Its master plan is to partner with companies that send mail, such as retailers and cable companies, or with the postal service. Then catalogs, invoices and other mail could be sent directly to the outbox.

In rural areas where Outbox can’t afford to operate, people would at least have a lot less mail in their mailboxes because most of it would be digital, Davis said.

Mr Davis and Mr Baehr met at Harvard Business School and worked in Washington, where they said they developed the urge to try to solve big bureaucratic problems faster than bureaucracies do.

They spoke to the postal service before they started, they said, but it was too slow for them.

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About Sam R. Flowers

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