Everyone wants to think that their idea is the next big thing, but the reality is that most internet startups focus on one tiny area, one problem that needs a solution. Occasionally, though, someone comes up with an idea that could truly revolutionize the way a huge number of people go about their daily lives.
I think that’s what’s going to happen with Outbox, a new mail-focused startup out of Austin, Texas.
Do you remember the term “snail mail?” (Does anyone still say that? I totally do, but I’m a huge dork and not afraid to admit it.) Well, it exists for a reason: with constant instantaneous communication and the United States Postal Service threatening to cut back service because the government is broke, physical mail seems more and more obsolete every day.
But the reality is, despite the fact that it’s kind of a pain in the ass, Americans are still sending millions of pieces of mail a year: almost 168 million pieces in 2011, to be exact. And the guys at Outbox have come up with a way to capitalize on that while simultaneously making your life easier.
Currently only available to a few guinea pig customers in Austin, Outbox plans on launching nationwide within the next year. Let’s see what we have to look forward to when they get there.
Outbox has secured the first ever partnership with the USPS. When you sign up for their service, Outbox will contact the USPS and from then on all of your mail will go directly to Outbox instead of to your house.
It’s kind of like when you move and you sign up for mail forwarding, except it won’t take as long because it doesn’t have to stop anywhere between the sender and your place.
Then what do they do with it?
Once Outbox receives your mail, they’ll scan it, encrypt it, and send it to your iPad, where you’ll be able to read it, tag it, and store it for as long as you want. No more shoeboxes full of old bills and catalogs stuffed under the couch.
Their very well designed program (seriously, go look at it, it’s beautiful) even has sections where you can organize your mail. You’ll be able to store personal letters in one section, magazines in another, bills elsewhere.
Speaking of bills, the app even includes “To Do” tags, which keep those important payments front and center so that you don’t end up without light because the electricity bill somehow got stuck between the wall and the table. Awesome, awesome feature if you’re scatterbrained or a procrastinator like me.
But what about packages?
No worries, they thought of that too. If you order books from Amazon or buy a new iPod online, Outbox will send the package to your house in the same amount of time as if it was sent from the company directly.
Um… I’m not so sure I’m down with people going through my mail…
What happens to your mail when you’re done with it? We all know we’re supposed to shred everything we get, but come on. I’m going to guess that very few people do that on a consistent basis. I know I don’t.
Outbox is actually more secure than whatever you’re doing with your mail, as you can choose whether you want the physical copy of each item or you’re okay with it being shredded.
If you prefer to hold your magazines in your hands to read them or you really, really want that letter your grandma sent you, Outbox will pass them right along. On the other hand, if you’re cool with just having a digital copy of your phone bill, they’ll just shred it and dispose of it for you.
They might even help save the world…
Outbox hopes that, as they gain popularity, they’ll be able to make deals with mass mailers and companies sending out bills. Instead of creating their advertisement on a computer, printing it and mailing it, Outbox hopes those products will be sent to them digitally and then they’ll send them on directly to the customer, potentially saving millions of pounds of paper a year.
My dad is one of the more techy people I know and he does everything he possibly can on his computer/iPad/iPhone, but he’s a landlord which means that once a month he has to go through a massive stack of bills for each of his houses. It’s a long, laborious process and I do not doubt that he will be one of the first to jump on this service once it’s available.
I also don’t doubt that he won’t be the only one. Keep an eye on Outbox; they’re going somewhere big.