Business

Outbox now willing to open anyone’s mail in San Francisco

Above: A sample of Outbox's iPad interface

Image Credit: Outbox

Back in the days of the Wild West, bandits intercepted mail trains and used dynamite and guns to rob them. Today Outbox launched publicly to intercept your mail, but with a far less sinister intention.

Outbox has built an alternative to the “old system” of mail delivery. The startup collects your physical mail for you, digitizes it, and makes it accessible online. You can then manage it like you manage your e-mail, unsubscribe from junk mail, and stay more organized than throwing envelopes into the back corner of your closet (which I do).

The private beta launch kicked off in San Francisco in February. The Austin, Texas-based Outbox then announced a $5 million round of funding in July that supported opening the service to up its wait list in the Bay Area, before expanding across the country next year. The private beta test attracted 1,000 people and put over 300,000 pieces of mail online. It helped Outbox figure out the logistics of scaling the company to wider group of people.

Outbox’s team of “unpostmen” will empty your mailbox three times a week and bring it back to a secure warehouse. The company puts its employees through multiple background checks and interviews and claims to be more secure than the U.S. Postal Service. It discards and shreds physical mail after 60 days, and Outbox uses strong 512-bit encryption to digitized m prevent mail from falling into the wrong hands.

The electronic age has caused some major issues for the U.S. Postal Service. In 2011 it teetered ominously on a financial precipice and was in danger of shutting down unless congress took action. The Postal Service began closing locations, laying off workers, and talked about cutting Saturday mail delivery. It has already lost $3.9 billion this year.

Outbox cofounders Evan Baehr and Will Davis told VentureBeat that 10 percent of the U.S. economy flows through the Postal Service and that despite the mass exodus to Internet communication, demand will always exist for delivering physical items. However,  the traditional delivery mechanisms are “dusty,” and Outbox aims to “reinvent the postal service” and “disrupt volume mail delivery.”

These lofty ambitions have attracted skepticism. Some say the startup won’t be able to make a substantial dent in the entrenched USPS and that consumers will likely be reluctant to allow someone else to open their mail. Outbox’s model raises concerns about privacy, identity theft, and mail fraud despite its assurances of protection (it has a $1 million insurance policy against identify theft). From an entrepreneurial perspective, some have questioned whether this is a problem worth solving and how the company will make money if it charges just $5 a month.

Outbox isn’t the only company innovating on traditional mail delivery. PaperKarma lets people block junk mail by snapping a photo. Earth Class Mail has raised over $20 million in venture funding to turn your snail mail into e-mail. And startup called Zumbox will digitize your postal mail and deliver it online.

Outbox said it stands out for its focus on security, and it claims consumers can trust that sensitive financial or health documents are safe. It learned a lot during the beta period, and the city-wide launch in San Francisco is the next frontier. This experience will help create a “playbook” for the company to guide its national expansion.

Outbox has raised a total of $7.25 million from Floodgate, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Correlation Ventures, TDF Ventures, Expansion VC, Peterson Ventures, and WTI. It is available in Austin and San Francisco.


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