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Max Gladwell Founder Joins Zumbox, the Paperless Postal System

September 21st, 2009 by Max Gladwell · 9 Comments

Max Gladwell founder Rob Reed joins Zumbox as VP of Marketing and Government Relations. Our second one-on-one interview.

We’ve covered Zumbox several times since the site went live in late December of last year. The so-called Paperless Postal System was featured in our posts on True Innovation, the New and Improved Matrix, and most recently in our third 10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media. During much of this time, Max Gladwell founder Rob Reed was consulting for the company. In July, he joined the company as VP of Marketing and Government Relations.

To shed light on this new development, the following is our second one-on-one interview with Rob Reed.

Max Gladwell (MG): How did your joining Zumbox come about?

Rob Reed (RR): They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Which is to say I was quite compelled by playing a key role in building this company. Zumbox represents a new online platform and communications medium. It’s truly a nexus of Web 2.0, sustainability, and entrepreneurship—the core principles of Max Gladwell—so it made sense to commit myself to the mission.

MG: What does this mean for Max Gladwell?

RR: I still have the flexibility to blog for and represent Max Gladwell. For example, I spoke at the Sustainable Stakeholder Engagement conference in New York last week on behalf of Max Gladwell. My presentation just happened to include Zumbox because some of what I’m doing at Zumbox is engaging stakeholders through social media. [See presentation below.] That said, I don’t have as much time as I’d like to blog for Max Gladwell. So I’m starting to recruit more guest bloggers. In particular, I’m looking for thought leaders in Web 2.0, sustainability, and entrepreneurship who have an appreciation for the Max Gladwell ethos.

MG: Which means they should have read Atlas Shrugged?

RR: Exactly.

MG: So what is your specific role with Zumbox?

RR: Despite the title, I’m pretty much the company’s Chief Evangelist. I’m the one promoting how Zumbox will change the world and pushing to make that happen. This includes marketing, public relations, and a bit of evolving the product toward a more consumer focus.

MG: Now that you mention it, there has been some concern about coming up short on the consumer value proposition. How are you addressing that?

RR: First, you have to understand the magnitude of what Zumbox seeks to accomplish. It’s no small task to build a parallel postal system online, and one could easily get off track in trying to do too much all at once. So the bulk of the infrastructure, the platform and actual postal system, is in place. There are more than 150 million Zumboxes—one for every street address in the U.S.—which enables mail to be sent online just as it’s sent on paper. Every residence and business in the U.S. it digitally connected and networked via Zumbox. Now it’s time to build on this and make it truly useful.

Currently, I’d describe the Zumbox user experience as passive-reactive. You register your Zumbox, wait for mail, and react when it arrives. So the first thing we’ve done is to launch PaperlessPlease.org.

Paperless Please

This is the proactive element of Zumbox. It’s the campaign. The site enables people to invite their friends and share “the campaign for paperless mail” through social media. It features a unique letter-sending tool that uses the Zumbox API to send Paperless Please requests to some of the largest senders of mail in the U.S. You can then use Twitter to notify these companies that they’ve received this letter in their Zumbox. It’s a grassroots push. We’ll soon add a set of community features, where you’ll be able to login using your secure Zumbox ID, build a profile, and do some networking. There may also be additional tools that use the Zumbox API.

MG: This site seems to serve the paperless evangelists, if you will, but what about the actual value and usefulness of having a Zumbox?

RR: That’s the next step. I can’t say too much right now, but we’re looking at Zumbox as a new platform for publishing, media distribution, connecting or networking locally, and various types of applications that will add a lot of value to the experience and to having a Zumbox. Your Zumbox will become a central part of your online life; getting mail there and going paperless will only be part of that.

MG: So it will be more than just an e-mail inbox for your house?

RR: It’ll be much more than that. But the e-mail comparison is worth addressing. Zumbox is really designed for everything e-mail wasn’t. E-mail is a great messaging tool for personal and business use. We use e-mail to communicate with one another. Anything else amounts to an interruption. So e-mail wasn’t designed for bills. You don’t get bills via e-mail; you get a notification that your bill is ready to view, which I find annoying. When an e-mail hits my inbox, it better be a message from someone I know or who knows me. Otherwise, it’s a distraction. Perhaps some people use an alternate e-mail addresses for this stuff, but, again, e-mail isn’t designed for it. E-mail also wasn’t designed for media, content, and running applications, and it has no geographic relevance.

MG: What’s up with government relations?

RR: I’m also working with municipal and state governments on ways they can use Zumbox to better connect and communicate with their residents. I’ve always been a big fan and supporter of Government 2.0, and Zumbox clearly serves the goals of more open and efficient government. It’s pretty compelling for a mayor to be able to instantly communicate with all of his or her residents electronically and exclusively for free. This is possible, of course, because paperless mail (i.e. that which gets sent via Zumbox) can be sent to an entire city using street addresses as the criteria for delivery. Plus, these municipalities have the potential to save on printing, paper, and postage costs while reducing the  waste and environmental impact caused by paper mail.

MG: How exactly can they save money and reduce waste?

RR: One of the key features in Zumbox is the “Paperless Please” button, which notifies the sender that you wish to go paperless. This assumes the mail was sent in parallel via Zumbox and the USPS. Provided the sender honors the request, you’ll no longer receive the paper version. Over time, a city can realize considerable cost and waste savings by encouraging everyone to go paperless on public notices, tax bills, parking ticket reminders, utility bills, etc. The bigger picture, though, is the amount of paper mail that arrives in these cities each day and then enters the waste stream. Some of this gets recycled, which is OK, but the bulk ends up in landfills. The ideal scenario is that this paper never arrives in the first place because it can all be sent via Zumbox. It’s the first of the three Rs: Reduce.

MG: Any big news we should look out for?

RR: Indeed, we’re about to launch a national rollout that will focus on select U.S. cities and regions. This will take place throughout the rest of the year and into 2010. Several of these cities will be fairly recognizable.

MG: Any reservations about interviewing yourself for this?

RR: None whatsoever. I think more bloggers should embrace the format.

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Tags: Max Gladwell