Outbox Wants to Revolutionize U.S. Mail
As the U.S. Postal Service announced a controversial plan to make snail mail even slower (first class would take two to three days instead of one), several start-ups are looking to make getting mail easier–and faster.
One of them, Austin-based Outbox has received $2.2 million in funding. The weeks-old company, which was founded in October by Evan Baehr and William Davis, two 2011 Harvard Business School graduates, plans to digitize postal mail and deliver it to your tablet. The service would be free, with mail opened, scanned, and stored in a digital mailbox users could then tag, search and archive. They’re trying to work out a plan with the post office where mail would be delivered direct to Outbox, instead of users needing to forward it.
The company would make money through advertising that would be shown when the mail is displayed. Their target audience: busy mothers. Baehr, who has degrees from Princeton, Yale and Harvard, is the father of a two-year-old; his wife is a lawyer. He recently worked at Facebook, and before that was a special assistant for technology and politics to PayPal founder Peter Thiel.
"Now [moms will] have immediate access to their mail on the go, making it possible to flip through it in the car or at the kitchen table," Baehr told the Austin American-Statesman. "You can still request to get physical copies of anything—such as party invitations or holiday cards."
The lead investor was Floodgate Fund, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm founded by former Austin software entrepreneur Mike Maples Jr. Maples, who like the company’s two founders is a Harvard MBA, founded broadband software company Motive in 1997. It went public in 2004. Outbox had five other angel investors, including Josh Baer, a fellow Austinpreneur, as Baehr calls himself.
Why Austin? The pair considered Silicon Valley, Baehr told The Statesman, but chose Austin for its community.
"There’s a real sense of passion and loyalty among technologists in town," he said. "From the first time we visited we were welcomed by local entrepreneurs. [They] have essentially been our welcoming committee to Austin—plugging us in around town."
Of his work, Baehr wrote on his blog that he and Davis were "bringing disruptive innovation theory, cutting edge mobile UX, digital marketing, and U.S. Post Office reform together in one company in order to create a new channel for content delivery."
He added: "In a given week [I chat] with magazine publishers, warehouse experts, tablet UX gurus, and the world's largest printers."
The company’s competitors include Seattle-based Doxo, a Jeff Bezos-backed "digital file cabinet" and Los Angeles-based Zumbox, which targets businesses, non profits and governments. The Hearst Corporation also has leaped into the fray, launching its digital mail service Manilla in June.
Outbox will use its newly acquired cash to hire its first employees and finish product development.
Mail volume has fallen by more than 43 billion pieces in the past 5 years and is continuing to sink. The Post Office is trying to save up to $3 billion per year with sweeping changes that include cutting its network of processing facilities and laying off as many as 35,000 employees.
Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.