AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) - A new service offers to digitize your snail mail and reduce waste at the same time.
Outbox was created in Austin and has grown to 500 customers in just a year.
Co-founders Will Davis and Evan Baehr sat down for a little Q-and-A to explain the novel concept to those unfamiliar with the idea, as well as the skeptics.
Q: Basically you get people's mail, sort it out and put it online for them. Is that how it works?
Davis: "We're building a network of 'unpostmen' that literally do the work of USPS. What we do is we go in three times a week and collect the mail on behalf of our users and then scan it or upload it to their iPad or desktop. So they have full control. Here's the kicker: We actually give users, for the first time, full control over who sends the mail."
Q: Who's the user here? Who's going to be buying this service?
Davis: "It's $5 a month, and essentially we're asking people to subsidize what is a very complex and complicated process. They can unsubscribe from junk mail; they never have to receive catalogs they never wanted again. They can file away their banking statements or credit card statements; they can email it to their spouse to pay a bill. They can set it to do all sorts of things they've never been able to do."
Q: You look at the Postal Service -- we know it's hurting. Last year they reported $18 billion in postage from fees of companies sending out advertisements. You're stripping out those ads, so is that going to gut the Postal Service even further?
Davis: "Our main priority right now is to deliver an incredible service for users. So right now, the receiver of postal mail has no control over who sends them mail. And whether that's good or bad for the USPS, we know that's really, really good for our users."
Q: How do I guarantee the security? And you're putting it online?
Baehr: "Safety and privacy is the No. 1 issue for us at Outbox. It's the No. 1 concern that potential, and even current, customers have. A few things come to mind. First of all, we like to say that Outbox is safer than your mailbox today.
"Anyone who interacts with your mail has gone through a stricter background check than workers for the USPS. That's anyone touching the mail, intercepting the mail, etc.
"Once we get into the digital world, we employ what's called 'two-factor authentication.' It's actually what people who manage millions of dollars of assets use to log into their brokerage accounts. That's how sophisticated the technology is.
"And third, what we realize is that the No. 1 source of ID theft is physical stolen mail of people throwing away your bill in your kitchen recycle bin. What we do is shred all of your discarded mail -- protecting your identity so that it never gets stolen in the first place."
Q: So once it's uploaded, it's shredded -- gone?
Baehr: "Exactly. One thing we do allow users to do is request mail. So as a user, you can request any piece of mail that you see -- a Christmas card from your grandmother or important tax document. What you do is say, 'Send this to me,' and an Outbox 'unpostman' will bring the mail in a beautiful envelope directly to your door."
Q: You're hoping to expand this to 10- to 15 cities?
Davis: "We're hoping to prove out the model here, and then we're going to take it to cities like San Francisco, New York, Atlanta -- you name it."
Q: Who's using this exactly? Do you have a couple of examples of the trusting soul who's put their mail in your hands?
Davis: "There is no one particular stereotype, but we do know that a lot of travelers are using it. But also busy moms who are tired of taking their kids out to the community cluster box a block, two blocks, away."
Q: What do you compare this to 10- to 15 years ago -- something that we're used to now?
Baehr: "An analogy that our users often bring up is the cellphone to the landline. It seems pretty anachronistic to sign up for a landline for your telephone. Just like today, people get a cellphone to take with them wherever they go, we want to do the same thing for postal mail."
Meanwhile, the United States Postal Service didn't offer much comment on Outbox -- only saying it does not have a business relationship with the company.
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