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NetTrends: New E-Mail Service Eliminates Paper Mail Wed Feb 20, 1:03 PM ET

By Andrea Orr

PALO ALTO, Calif. (Reuters) – For all the explosive growth in e-mail in recent years, plain old paper mail has never seemed to be in any immediate danger of going away completely. Personal touches like hand-written notes just do not translate well electronically.

One company is trying to change that. PaperlessPOBox offers a new way to deliver 100 percent of your mail electronically, whether it starts out that way or not.

The company, which was formed two years ago, has built up a small but growing base of more than 100 corporate and individual clients who want to rid themselves of paper mail altogether.

Although the business is still small, people who have so far adopted the service say the conversion has been simple and relatively seamless.

The way it works is customers who subscribe to the service have their mail forwarded to an outside post office address, where it is picked up by PaperlessPOBox, scanned, and then forwarded on to the recipients’ e-mail accounts the same day it is received. The finished product sent to customers’ in-boxes is not just a condensed text version of their mail, but an exact image of what was sent, whether it be a scribbled message or photos.

“Personal notes translate very well,” PaperlessPOBox President David Nale said in a recent interview. “We use state-of-the art scanners.”

The company says it takes every precaution to protect customer privacy and stores all the information that it scans in a secure data center.


Before forming PaperlessPOBox, Nale worked at some other Internet start-ups, including the online ad serving company Engage Inc . But he said that the inspiration for his current venture came from an earlier job as vice president for information systems for a utility company, where he a developed the company’s billing system.

“I became very familiar with envelope extraction machines,” he recalled, adding that his own experience as a business traveler helped him understand the frustrations of being unable to access important mail.

While interest in PaperlessPOBox peaked last autumn following the scare surrounding the anthrax that had been sent through the U.S. mail system, Nale said most of the company’s customers are seeking added convenience rather than responding to fear.

Typical of its customers is Wayne Levin, who lives in Florida but finds his work in the restaurant business takes him on the road frequently, leaving him challenged to keep on top of all the mail he received at home.

“I heard about it and I got it the next day, and I have no complaints,” Levin, a customer of a few months said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I had expected there would be some hitches along the way.”

PaperlessPOBox has avoided some obvious hitches by storing the mail it scans, so that customers can retrieve it at a later date if they receive mail containing cash or anything else of value.

For larger corporate clients, PaperlessPOBox is also offering to install the mail extraction and scanning machines on site.

“It is just more efficient,” Nale said. “And it is quicker than having to go through a big pile of mail.”

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