I ran into some folks from Zumbox at Web 2.0 or another conference (it’s all a blur lately). It’s a pretty audacious idea: a digital mailbox associated with every US address. The idea is to tie the digital mailbox geographically, physically to offline locations rather than to email, which could be anywhere in the world.
The company just raised $8 million after a successful trial in a town in Illinois. Zumbox describes what it is seeking to create (or has created) as “a nationwide paperless postal system.” It literally aspires to replace conventional mail.
To work it needs massive adoption. This is perhaps the biggest “chicken and egg” challenge I’ve seen to date. It won’t have credibility unless it has widespread usage but it won’t have widespread usage unless or until it has credibility. Yet if the company succeeds or partly succeeds (I’m not sure what that means right now), the spoils are potentially huge:
- Fees from senders/mailers (less than USPS) but massive at scale
- Control over direct mail
How much is direct mail worth? By some estimates between $50 and $60 billion annually. Yes, but in electronic form direct mail would be easier to avoid. But targeting algorithms, demographic data and other tools would make it potentially more relevant. And in one version of this company’s future consumers specify the kinds of “offers” they want to receive. Rather than the 1% traditional direct mail response rates you start to see 5%, 10%, 20% or more hypothetically.
For marketers costs would be a fraction of what they are today — and it’s “green.” Everybody’s happy, right?
These guys are climbing Mt. Everest but I admire the ambition.