The Blog of Kendall

Observations and Interests of Kendall Schoenrock – Web 2.0, Startups, Technology, & Other Fun Stuff

September 19, 2007

Shoeboxed.com: Company in Review

Written by
Kendall Schoenrock

A week ago I was contacted by Alexandra de Oliveira, Chief Marketing Officer, for the Durham, North Carolina based startup company Shoeboxed.com. It was requested that I review this new startup company and I am honored to comply. Alexandra linked me up with Dan Englander, a Duke University young buck who’s taken the title of VP of Communications at Shoeboxed. I grilled him on a couple of occasions about the team, the technology, and what the heck they are trying to do. He was very helpful in answering my questions. Here is my review.

sbxlogo.gifShoeboxed.com is a startup founded by Duke students who are trying to shift the way users interact with online shopping and increasing organization of receipts, both digital and paper. After registering for an account at shoeboxed.com they give you a new email address that you can now use whenever you purchase something online. These online purchases get sucked into the shoeboxed system which then allows you to “digitally organize” any of your online purchases.

Based on their website and additional information collected, here are the value propositions, as pitched by Shoeboxed.com:

* Less Spam in your inbox
* Identity theft protection
* View, organize, record, analyze your purchase history

When you buy something online you’re now supposed to use your “@shoeboxed.com” email address. This is what helps reduce the spam in your inbox, secure your identity and allows you organize and review your receipts online. The system is smart enough to extract important information from the email interactions with online merchants. You can then log into your shoeboxed account to group all of your amazon.com digital receipts into one online shoebox for better organization. You can then create as many digital shoeboxes as your want. Make sure to take your OCD medication before you start. In the prefect world your inbox is clean, online identity further protected, and after a few tweaks in setting up digital shoeboxes one is ready to organize and study all the junk they buy online. Woohoo!

History:

Shoeboxed was started in late 2006 by students at Duke, and the team rapidly grew during the early months of 2007, and nearly 30 people work here currently.

The team is headed by Taylor Mingos and has secured funding from Michael Brehm who made bank with the German Facebook clone StudiVZ.net. There is a strong German connection to this group as apparently four members of the team speak fluent Deutsch and they decided it would be fun to cram a number of people into an apartment in Berlin for the summer. As far as strategy goes, I have to give them props for this move. It’s an excellent way to recruit bright talent from Duke for a summer internship abroad (probably without paying them very much for their work). This is the type of entrepreneurial bootstrapping that brings a smile to my face.

They also have a great passion about what their doing and I admire their ability to take risk and try something new. Kudos for the 24/7 help line. I’m sure this is pumped to someone’s cell phone. Hey, go buy that guy a beer. I published my cell number when I was at Wallhogs.com and I know what a pain this can be. This is great to see and makes me want to follow their progress in the future.

My praise for the company ends there. I’m confused by the pain points they are trying to solve and I’m tired of hearing the classic web2.0 business model of Advertisements and Partnerships. I don’t think the value add here is strong enough to go with a paid subscription model (nor has it been mentioned by anyone on their team.) I think they are missing a mantra and by pitching anti-spam, identity protection, and organization they dilute the real reason I think someone would use their technology; organization and analysis.

I played in the anti-spam world when I was at TurnTide, so I can speak with a limited amount of authority when I say that shoeboxed.com is not an anti-spam company and shouldn’t pitch it as such. The vast majority of people who are buying things online do not consider interaction with the merchant they just paid money to as spam. In all actuality, the purchaser desires email interaction with that firm and now that a relationship has been established future emails from that company enter into a gray area for spam classification. This could cause increase false positive classifications at shoeboxed.com in the future.

What if I want marketing emails from Orbitz? Ahh, here is the crux. Shoeboxed won’t block or trash these emails, instead a user has another inbox to sort through instead of their primary one. The idea that limiting your normal email address exposure by only buying online with a shoeboxed.com email address doesn’t hold water. Email addresses are meant to be used and there is stronger anti-spam technology on the market backed by lots more than 30 Duke Students (regardless of how smart they are). By using a shoeboxed.com address I am not reducing the amount of unwanted email I receive, I’m sorting it and I think this is fundamentally different than what they’re pitching. Perhaps I’m missing something here. The added value to me is not in their anti-spam, it’s in the ability to organize. Most likely a person will now have 2 spam buckets to sort through and new tweaking of white/black lists – ugh.

Identity theft protection: The shoeboxed team is making the claim that by using their issued email address your identity is now safer online. Guys, you’re not lifelock.com, don’t pitch this. If I’ve just made a purchase with a company, they most likely have my name, email, credit card info, credit card billing address (for verification) and perhaps a few other things that might be juicy to someone looking to steal my identity. If shoeboxed is making the point that it might be possible to buy something with only your name, email address and a PayPal account then perhaps they’re onto something for avid PayPal users. Their point is lost on me because 99% of my online purchases are made with a credit card and the merchant I’m giving my info to knows a lot more about me than just my name and email address (I have to pay them, remember?). Replacing that address with a shoeboxed.com address does little to protect my identity. I won’t even touch the topic that you guys are now holding some pretty sensitive data about my purchasing habits and what I do online.

The true reason someone would use shoeboxed? I think it’s the self discovery and organization built into their receipt tagging system. It might be very interesting to know that I spent $460.08 at Amazon and $2,590.75 on airfare. I know it’s a startup and there are a ton of smart people working for the company, but after my review I’m left scratching my head. Is this a big enough pain point in my life to want to redirect my email? Let me dig into mint.com and then we’ll see. Currently Shoeboxed is a free system and it’s something that I’m going to continue to look into, but overall I’m looking for a little more from a web2.0 company.

Talk to me guy, what am I missing? I openly invite Taylor, Dan, Alex, or anyone else at the big blue box to clarify anything that I’m missing here. I admire their spirit and hope my review doesn’t bring them down.

12 comments for this post.

  1. Comment from Dan Englander on September 19th, 2007 :

    Kendall,

    Thanks for taking the time to write such a thorough review; we love getting feedback, and are happy to clarify some of your questions.

    So I guess I’ll just jump right in. With regard to what our marketing focus should be, I don’t think we are necessarily promoting one kind of value-added over another. Shoeboxed offers benefits in several different areas, as you mentioned, and we have found that people join Shoeboxed for different reasons. Some use us to get their purchase history into a manageable, digestible format, and others use Shoeboxed to reduce the number of impersonal mailings in their inboxes or stay safe from identity theft. Of course, lots of people use Shoeboxed for all of those reasons.

    Indeed, there are lots of great things about the service, and it doesn’t matter why you join; you will still benefit from all of our core services.

    There were a couple of specific things you mentioned that I wanted to clarify. When you say that Shoeboxed has your “name, email, credit card info, credit card billing address (for verification) and perhaps a few other things that might be juicy to someone looking to steal my identity,” you are missing an important part of our philosophy and service. The only information we collect is your name and e-mail address. We never ask for or otherwise have access to your credit card info, Social Security number, bank account information, or other steal-able identity components. Legally, a receipt can only have the last five digits of a credit card number, which is impossible to trace back to an individual. This kind of information just never comes to our system, so there’s no way anyone could ever steal it from us.

    We also just wanted to mention that while our product is useful and time-saving already, we are really excited about where Shoeboxed is going in the future. Receipts are just the beginning, and the extendable nature of our product will allow us to grow in a lot of different areas. We have hired about 15 new team members in the past two weeks, and have moved into a brand new office to accommodate our rapid expansion.

    Let us know if you have more questions!

    Dan

  2. Comment from Kendall on September 19th, 2007 :

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for the healthy discussion. Here is where I’m confused with the identity theft protection.

    The key line here is that my info is already out there with the company that I’m buying something from. I’m no pro here, but wouldn’t a possible theft take place between me < -> company < -> my inbox… if you replace that last piece with shoeboxed I don’t see how anything has much changed, has it?

    How do you protect my identity online?

    -Kendall

  3. Comment from Dan Englander on September 20th, 2007 :

    I think the important thing to remember here is that identity theft protection is a benefit of using Shoeboxed, not necessarily the main function of the service. In our marketing and in my conversation with you, I don’t think we’ve overstated the benefits of what we’re offering there. And remember, there’s a LOT more coming soon, so don’t give up on us if you wish we were doing more right now!

    Dan

  4. Comment from Kendall Schoenrock on September 20th, 2007 :

    As Dan Heath discuss in his book Made to Stick (www.madetostick.com), “If you say 3 things, you say nothing.” If you’re true value add is organization and analysis, that’s where I would focus.

    The ancillary benefits shouldn’t be the focus. I am sure your future is bright. Keep rocking it!

    -Kendall

  5. Comment from Jared on December 27th, 2007 :

    Questions about the organization Shoeboxed does:
    1) How does it do for hand written receipts, & shinny paper receipts (like gas stations)? Does it do them or not?
    2) Is the receipted data available to stay on my computer? If not, where does it stay if I discontinue the monthly service?
    3) Let’s look beyond receipts. What else will it organize and “tie together?” Will it do research papers on a subject? Class notes? Will it do hand written sales contracts like when you buy a car, or lease one, or buy service from the local lawn company or pest company?
    4) Speaking of the 1200dbi for the scanner… What will this do besides a sharper image? Will it pick up hand written data like mentioned in (3)above? What will this increase of dbi vrs Neat Receipts scanner do?

  6. Comment from Kendall on December 28th, 2007 :

    Hi Jared! Thanks for reading. I’ve emailed Dan to review your questions and respond. Drop me a line at schoenrock @ gmail.com and I’ll email you directly (and post the answers here) when I hear back.

    Kendall

  7. Comment from Dan Englander on December 28th, 2007 :

    Jared,

    Thanks for your questions. I’m happy to answer them, and I guess I’ll just go in order. I know we’ve already been in e-mail exchange for awhile, I thought other people might be interested in hearing the answers to your questions.

    1. Any scanned receipt can be scanned in and uploaded into your account. As long as it is readable once you have scanned it in, it should be fine, and everything will work properly.

    2. All your receipt data is exportable to Excel, so you can keep a back up of your data on your home computer if you want.

    3. Right now, Shoeboxed is just for receipts and is not designed to organize other kinds of paper.

    4. The scanner does give a very high resolution scan, and is optimal for use with Shoeboxed. As far as its quality vs. Neat Receipts: as far as I am aware, it is the exact same model that NR sells. And Shoeboxed’s software is free!

    Let me know if you have any other questions!

    Dan
    dan@team.shoeboxed.com

  8. Comment from Kendall on December 28th, 2007 :

    Thanks Dan!

  9. Comment from nate on March 19th, 2008 :

    yes, drop the stupid id theft angle. and the dumb email thing…. who the h** wants to change their email to @shoeboxed.com?? and focus in on the meat: functionality to email text or photo receipts, + character reading (how come shoebox doesn’t even mention character reading capability??), and sorting!

  10. Comment from Rick on April 24th, 2009 :

    Just found out about this service.

    Replying to the previous comment, consumers are interested in the technical functionality (the “how”) unless that’s what you’re selling. Consumers are interested in the benefit that will be derived from using the service – centralized organization of receipts, no more taking paper receipts home, ease of use.

  11. Comment from Tanya on January 29th, 2010 :

    As a small home based business owner I am overwhelmed with the amount of receipts that are waiting for me at the end of the year. It’s tax season and just thinking about the gathering, organizing and storing of these little pesky pieces of paper, called receipts, shoeboxed sounds like a small business owners dream come true. Minimizes the stacks of binders and boxes I have full of receipts in my garage and I can finally park my car in there or put my clothes away where it rightfully belongs. And, a wonderful way to stop receipts from fading. Have you ever noticed how those “fade proof” papers happen to fade faster than any other receipts you have. Thanks shoeboxed for creating this service for unorganized small home based businesses like myself. And, for $20 to $60 a month, gosh, that beats paying a book keeper or a college student to keep my books in order. Saves me a lot of money and time. This is a no brainer. My question, are there any other programs like this available besides shoeboxed.com? Just wondering.

  12. Comment from Jim on April 8th, 2011 :

    Actually tried this service recently, uploading scanned reciepts was buggy at best first few uploaded fine, however after about the 10th reciept the web page started not saving and i was having to reupload reciept after reciept. After fighting with the website for about 3 hrs to get it to take a handful of reciepts i decided i was better off using my own scanner and storing the reciepts myself. Either this service is very bugged or they intentionally made it work like this to encourage you to send your reciepts to them and pay a fee.

    Another very noticeable thing, if you do happen to sign up for a subscription there is absolutely no way to cancel it through the web page and you end up having to call them. Only to spend 30 minutes waiting for the 1 guy that they have doing customer support to call you back.

    Also god forbid that you are 2 hrs into your next months subscription they will want to keep the money that you have sent them. You’ll end up having to dispute the charges on your credit cards to get any satisfaction from these people. If i were to describe this service in a few words i’d have to say it’s nothing more then a “Cash grab”.

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