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Will Davis - Outbox

Will Davis

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Will Davis set out to disrupt the outdated snail mail industry when he co-founded Outbox. The company digitizes postal mail and delivers it to a digital mailbox which users can then tag, search and archive. It takes the power from the sender and transfers preferences to the receiver. Davis says it gives consumers control over what they do or don’t want to receive (no more trash mail!) as they create the postal experience that consumers want. Think of the implications—control the catalogues you don’t want; unsolicited vendors will have to rethink their mailings. You could become paperless overnight!

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Russ: This is the Businessmakers Show heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com. On the road today in Austin, Texas and with me my guest is Will Davis, co-founder and CEO of Outbox. Will, welcome to the Businessmakers Show.

Will: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Russ: You bet. Tell us about Outbox.

Will: Well, it's a special company because we do something that no one's ever done before. And that is we completely make you paperless overnight from your postal mailbox. So as seeing your postal mailbox as a very vibrant, but old platform that really has no innovation in it, we decided to take that on and make it a much better experience for you.

Russ: My goodness. Okay.

Will: Yeah.

Russ: Well that is a huge undertaking I would think. Does it feel that way from your perspective?

Will: Ya' know, sometimes we wonder if we're being disruptive for disruptive sake or disruptive for innovation sake, but it is a monumental undertaking. We have gotten into various things and key making and routing and logistics, image scanning, processing, you name it that we never thought that we would be into when we started the business.

Russ: Okay. So let's say that I'm a customer.

Will: Mm-hmm.

Russ: Today I get my mail in the mailbox. I open it, I read it. So next day let's say I'm an Outbox customer. Tell me what I would experience.

Will: It's not like e-mail. It's image based. So, what you would have is a stack of images of your postal mail that you would flip through much like you would on your kitchen table.

Russ: Okay.

Will: But you now have a different level of control over these images. So you can file them away, sort them, e-mail them. If you want to, you can even unsubscribe from junk mail. You can even request physical pieces to be sent to your house so that anything that you need physically, like a special wedding invitation, you can have the next day. So really what we are doing is so fundamentally different from the current use case of postal mail that it takes a lot of people some time to figure it out, but we flip the model on its head and instead of all the senders having control, you now have all control of your postal mail. Who sends it to you, what things you get physically, where you store it, et cetera.

Russ: Wow. Well right up front that sounds like a huge improvement. That's gotta be pretty difficult though for your company to get from where we are today to that point

Will: Right. Well, it is difficult. There's no question about it. To make the experience good for you there is no other way to do it though. So you sign up for Outbox and the next day, imagine, you never have to go to your mailbox again. Every piece of paper that was going to come to you, we have now collected. We have imaged it and stored it in your account safely and securely and now we've given you full control. Now in order to do that, we've had to build what we call the un-postal network or a shadow postal network of un-postmen, who are doing incredible work out in the field who are driving around these fun little Prius's and they are literally undoing the work of the USPS. They're doing it on behalf of our users because our users, for various reasons, want to be free of their postal mail, but really it's not being free of anything. It's just having more control. So we re-imagine a postal experience the way that it should be if it was invented in the 21st Century.

Russ: This force that's driving around in Prius's, do they drive to my house, take my mail and go scan it?

Will: They do. So there's a long story behind why we settled on that strategy. So we have a fleet of cars that we built a hyper local distribution network. We built our routing logistics software soup to nuts. They go and they collect your mail. As crazy as that sounds, there's also another guy who's doing the same thing, but just in reverse every single day, but what happens when you employ us to do that is that we enable you to sort of play around with this monopoly power that's been putting mail and putting sometimes unwanted mail in your mailbox; junk mail, mail that you can't unsubscribe from, mail that you lose, mail that you don't know where you filed away.

Russ: Right.

Will: And by us doing all the hard work, it makes your life just painless.

Russ: Sure. Absolutely. I get that. So when you say somebody else is doing it in the reverse order, you're talking about the Post Office guy, the postman that delivered it.

Will: Right, right. The thing is is there are really two different competing visions here. One is a world where senders have control of everything that you get. There's a do not call list, there's a do not spam list. There is no do not mail list.

Russ: Right. Right.

Will: And we think that is because there are fundamental flaws in how the marketplace works.

Russ: Right.

Will: But on the flip side, what if you could control who sends you mail?

Russ: Right.

Will: Or what if you could control what you actually get physically? What if you could reduce that by 99 percent? And the vision, like I said earlier, the vision that we're going after is for those mailers to never print and post in the first place.

Russ: Right.

Will: It costs a lot of money for Bank of America or American Express to print and post something to your house. On the flip side, they're begging you to go paperless.

Russ: Right.

Will: But most people don't go paperless. In fact, paperless adoption for bill presentment is only around 17 percent. Of course all of us pay online or through direct deposit or direct draft, but sometimes you still get these vestiges of your online statements or your bank statements not online, but in the paper world.

Russ: Sure.

Will: And it's because it's so difficult for you, the user, to go paperless for every service or to call every catalog and say, "I want you. I don't want you." Our vision is to create this new firewall between you and all senders of mail and then go to Bank of America and go to Pottery Barn and say, "This user wants to go paperless. This user, in fact, doesn't want your magazine or they would like it in a new format. And by the way Pottery Barn, this new format is actually really good for you because you can reach 1,000 people and instead of $1.00 a pop, you can reach them for free."

Russ: So you're gonna proactively take the position that you're gonna try to convert, ya' know, users to just hey, just take the digital version and don't get the paper version --

Will: Correct. Our early adopters, they are doing this as best as they can on their own.

Russ: Right.

Will: But what they're finding is they can't do it all.

Russ: So let's go back to this workforce driving around and picking up our mail. I'm sure you did consider the alternative of get everybody to do a change of address and come to you. I would suspect maybe that slows everything down too much.

Will: It slows it down a lot. We've tested the postal system every way but Sunday. When you change your address right now it takes anywhere from 14 to 20 days to get all the moving parts working.

Russ: Right.

Will: A lot of people don't recognize that because they're moving. When they change their address their life is chaotic anyways, but when we tested it on people it's very disconcerting to stop getting something in your mailbox and have nothing in your new Outbox application

Russ: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Will: And then, oh, trust us. Just wait on USPS to get it figured out in the ether somewhere.

Russ: Right.

Will: In this approach, we are really -- and what we've decided to do is build our own value channel.

Russ: Wow.

Will: And it is only when you build your own value channel that you can then control the content that comes on that channel. So if you think of it as we are in a fact disrupting last mile delivery. When you disrupt that one part of the chain, then the user has the ability to say who gets it, who I get it from and who I don't wanna get it from, but then we also have the ability as a platform maker to create new and interesting advertisements that are more relevant to you or to block those from coming to you or to be a store house for lots of information for all your statements where you can imagine pure digital alternative, maybe converting American Express or Bank of America, but they'll never convert your lawn service.

Russ: Right.

Will: They will never convert your dry cleaning service. Imagine a world where those are automatically converted together and then this very long tail is what we're calling for of --

Russ: Okay.

Will: -- slower conversions to our platform that --

Russ: Okay. So your mission is conversion. I would assume maybe you wouldn't want a customer that never converts and gets some kind of statement from investments that's 40 pages long and big, thick envelopes that would expect you to scan it all.

Will: Ya' know, we want everyone.

Russ: Right. That's good.

Will: So come one, come all. We can handle any type of volume mail, you name it. We've built our own imaging processing machines essentially from scratch.

Russ: Wow.

Will: But if you get an Edward Jones statement that's 100 pages long, we can scan it up for you and have you be able to search it, but it doesn't serve Edward Jones or you --

Russ: Right.

Will: -- well for that to be -- 'cause remember. We're not converting anything. What's happening is it's first converted from a digital image or a file or a format of some kind to paper.

Russ: Right.

Will: That's crazy. So we're de-converting it from the original format. So Edward Jones has it. Bank of America has it. It's better for all. It's cheaper. It's safer. It's more secure. There's an audit trail. We think that we'll be able to get those folks.

Russ: Okay. So I did a little research and I know that you've been heading down this path for how long now?

Will: About a year.

Russ: Okay. And what's the status of the company today? Are there people that are customers today?

Will: Oh, absolutely. So we have been incubating Outbox sort of an open secret in Austin, Texas. We have a little over 600 beta users in the city across 46 zip codes and really been baking and perfecting the service here as an incubator of sorts and we've loved it. We are servicing travelers, young people, old people, soccer moms to the busy college student and we've learned a lot about our service.

Russ: Oh sure. Absolutely. Well let's say we've got somebody watching right now very interested, what might one expect to pay for this service when you really get it going --?

Will: Well one would expect to pay -- I don't know. Pay us in gold bars.

Russ: That's what I'm thinking.

Will: Maybe silver medallions.

Russ: Right.

Will: It's such a remarkable, revolutionary service, maybe your first born child, but we are offering the service right now for about 5 bucks a month.

Russ: My goodness.

Will: And what we are going after is learning right now. So the good thing for our early adopters is that you're getting an amazing service for very, very cheap.

Russ: Right.

Will: And we're not looking at that as revenue for profit. It's really revenue for subsidizing the building of our network.

Russ: So you might expect it to cost more.

Will: We think there is a barrier in the $7.00, $8.00, $9.00 range of great consumer facing products. So you think Netflix. It's about 7.99 a month or Amazon Prime. You pay 78 bucks per year. That shakes down to about 6-7 bucks a month. We think that we could deliver the service in that sweet spot because there's lots of little black boxes out there for revenue for Outbox and we'll find those and we'll figure those out, but right now we're just focused on delivering a great ground game to our users.

Russ: Cool.

Will: And really, think of it as a white glove, concierge type service where our first few thousand early adopters in the cities that we're gonna be in are just gonna get the best of the best. Heck, if you call us up you'll probably get Evan, my co-founder, or me on the phone talking about what went wrong, how we can help. Every day we get better and it's a really fun product to work on.

Russ: Well, cool. Well, Will, I really appreciate you --

Will: Yeah.

Russ: -- sharing your story with us and wish you good luck.

Will: Thank you.

Russ: You bet.

Will: Thank you very much.

Russ: You bet. That's Will; Davis, co-founder and CEO of Outbox. And this is the Businessmakers Show heard on the radio and seen online at the businessmakers.com.

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