"They face a lot of challenges that are not of their own making," said John Payne, chief executive of Zumbox, a digital mailbox company that deals directly with large companies. He agrees that the Postal Service needs to innovate to stay relevant and thinks they're starting to try harder to partner with innovative companies.
Outbox isn't waiting on the Postal Service's call. New, nimble and relatively tiny, the startup can begin experimenting with new ways of handling mail that would take time, and possibly congressional action, for the Postal Service to do.
"We've done what they can't do without trouble, Davis said. "We're able to play by different rules."
Making money off mail
Just because the USPS isn't making snail mail a profitable business doesn't mean it can't be done. In addition to charging $4.99 a month, Outbox has plans to eventually deliver ads through its apps. They wouldn't be banner ads, but rather would appear just like another item of scanned mail.
The company would be in a unique position to know what catalogs, fliers and brands a customer likes or marks as junk, and could charge companies that wanted to reach specific demographics.
The companies currently filling up mailboxes with fliers have already been experimenting with online alternatives. If Outbox attracts enough customers and its ads are effective, it could become an alternative to sending ads through the U.S. Mail.
"As time changes the marketers evolve," said Jerry Cerasale, a vice president at the Direct Marketing Association. "The more precise they can be means less waste, less money spent on advertising, and more response."
Outbox's Davis also believes that once his company has saturated an area, it will be in a great position to handle same-day deliveries for e-commerce companies like Amazon. Eventually Outbox will also try tiered pricing for work addresses, and extra features such as forwarding individual pieces of mail to other addresses, he said
For now it's focused on polishing its service and logistics. The company has big-name backers like venture capitalist Peter Thiel and is planning on closing a "sizable" second round of funding in April. After San Francisco is fully staffed with unpostmen, Outbox plans to bring its service to New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington.
Davis isn't worrying yet about competitors. "No one is crazy enough to do what we're doing," he said.