Virtual Mailroom Launch

ImageWhen I went looking for some service to receive, open, scan, and show me my US postal mail online, and then shred it when I wanted, I found like Earth Class Mail back in its early days. I had already been used to mail drops (forwarding services) since 1986, and had been using service since 1997 that allow me to write letters online, which they mail for me. In 97, you created contacts as unique e-mail addresses that corresponded to postal addresses – now it’s a web-based interface and contacts. As I go increasingly location independent (not merely “mobile” – but as I separate my location from local obligations), I’ve become quite ready to pull the trigger on something like Earth Class Mail.

Back then, the price was high enough to wait, but ECM had a serious price hike since then. I called them today, and I do like that I got a human being on the phone who gave me a free consultation, and answered all my questions – which is unusual. They’re based outside of Portland, and I like that vibe, too. But I project it’ll run me $500/year (possibly eventually $600+) for getting something I fundamentally don’t want – physical, paper mail – so I had to look around.

I compared a whole list of services, but reduced it to 4 that I felt reasonably secure with, had my questions answered through their web sites, and took seriously enough when I read the details, to keep considering:
  1. (the cadillac of virtual mailrooms – which I particularly favor, because it has NYC addresses & PO Boxes available (although, now they charge additional monthly fees for choosing your city!). The city selection is the largest anywhere, of course. And they have an actual store front in NYC, where you can pick up mail in person if you’re in a hurry. I have a feeling I may still choose these guys when I’m in NYC, because it’s just an unparalleled option. BUt they charge a setup fee (though they’re running a coupon where they’ll waive the 3rd month’s base fee, which kind of makes up for it). Except the fee really is a base fee – they now charge for every piece they open and scan, with an additional monthly fee for shredding. And it’s $20 to deposit a check, their newest cool feature. I want a certain number of included scans and shreds, and I would really like them to shred by default. It was $20/mo plus $5 for unlimited shredding, $5/mo for an NYC PO Box (would have been $30 for the street address), and $1.50/scan. Forwarding was priced nicely at $1+postage, and extra items received were only .35/each. But overall, this is really a price point that, while I can understand, I don’t want to hit. It should be said that where they stand alone is in the emphasis on security of no storage devices go in, and nothing but what you bring goes out, of their facility. That is perhaps their most attractive feature.
  2. (the most feature-rich alternative to ECM with the most professional web site, they are running 2 great promo pricing schemes, based on whether you think you’ll scan more or receive more – I chose to scan more). So at $20/month, I get 50 letters/mo and 25 pieces scanned (up to 10 pages), plus 2 free recipients, and I’ll get 2 more at $1.50/each, with very low costs for extra mails and scans .35 and .30 respectively, and ALL mail that is discarded is automatically shredded FREE. They have check deposit like ECM but at only $5 to deposit. , and California registered agent service in case one needs foreign entity status in CA – it would not be my choice of states for forming a corp or LLC if you didn’t have to). Plus they have the best online reviews in the form of real blog articles by real people next to ECM. They also discount the first 3 months, have no setup fee – opposite of Earth Class approach, and the most extensive help and support system, plus a contact number. I wish I could get an NYC address, but I’d rather get all this. Mail storage is the longest at 60 days. Forwarding the letter to me is $2/each or 2/$3 (it pays to do more than 1). The address is a street address in Walnut, CA (in LA County), but you can address it to Los Angeles with the Walnut zip code. I can receive packages there from all couriers, including FedEx and UPS this is the service I chose for the moment.
  3. (the best price point at $15/mo, this includes 40 letters and 10 pieces scanned. Additional mail is cheap at .25, but additional scans are $1/item (at least it’s not per page like some services). Forwarding is .75+postage, so figure $1.40 – again the best price point. Their killer feature is that they provide a free shared toll-free fax line (so all your hard copy is going to one place and becoming digital), which makes this a superb value package deal, and they offer a dedicated toll-free fax for $9/mo. Addresses are in Michigan, or for an extra fee you can get Los Angeles or Pompano Beach, FL. Shredding is unlimited, and this one has unlimited recipients, all of which makes it really agonizing not to choose these guys. I think if they’d had a phone number, I might have done it. They can be found and contacted, but I just felt more confident with VirtualPostMail.
  4. (these guys are the most unusual, but their pricing is good – about $20/mo if you elect to get mail scanning + 60cents/piece to open the mail for scanning. And they have an attractive partnership with a well known shredding company that picks up all the discards for professional shredding, with everything kept locked up and surveilled. They’ll also do custom mail services, which is an attractive feature. The main drawback was that the info isn’t as well organized as I’d like (opposite of virtualpostmail) and that inspires less confidence. They are a family business though, with a photo of their bunch on the site, and their attitude in that regard breeds lots of confidence. I’d like to see photos of their facility, employees, the real people in the real jobs – that might have made me choose them. I like them. I’d try them, but I liked LA as my 2nd choice of address after NYC, too.

I’ve got to file my required notarized postal form 1583 (back in the 80s they started requiring a special form whenever you use a mail drop service or rent a PO Box – I hate it – it’s invasive – but the last of the resisters who tried to hold out and not go along with the law were squashed during the Clinton administration – you don’t want Janet Reno mowing down your mail processing room with a squad of tanks and those guys that deported “Alien” Gonzales, do you?). At least VPM filled it out for me – that was cool! Once that’s done, I can update all the people still sending me paper, or who might once a year, and then (optionally) put a postal forwarding order in effect to handle the rest – or just let the rest lose me, if I want to risk starting clean.

This is part of a whole trend of location independence we’re working on:

  • I got really serious about location independent online banking, check deposit (via scanner), and remote bill pay, by switching my business over to an online bank.
  • Switching personal banking is about to happen.
  • We did phones long ago (haven’t had a land line in years).
  • My work is location independent – but even if it wasn’t, I have a plan to make changing municipalities superfluous (by choosing one that has everything any other would have and more).
  • Renting instead of owning, and ditching the car for superb mass transit coupled with Zip cars and a bike is coming up.
  • That only leaves the internet, and that’s coming eventually. Slower than fudge in the United States, but still coming. The advent of little cards that convert 3G to wifi are one sign, and if Cricket would make their unlimited CDMA internet compatible with something besides the PC, and make it router-capable, we might eventually consider a version of that, or if satellite ever stopped being high latency (no air cards for us – we need our big files to be the same on both ends). We’ll probably have a utility-based internet like cable until meaningful video stability, telephony stability, streaming, and download speeds can be obtained in wireless, but eventually we’ll want something that goes with us. 3G just isn’t it – it’s too expensive and crowded.

Several things have really supercharged my life as an adult:

  • All the incompetencies attributed to me as a child were mitigated by the world wide web. Anything I can’t know now, can’t be known.
  • My work is now independent of the cubicle (or similar environment), where I never was comfortable, and for which I was never suited.
  • The ubiquitous web made me my own boss, and gave me a venue for testing, and reaping the rewards of original ideas, and observations lent by others.
  • The web allowed me to collaborate with others in ways I never could have done before 1992. It gave me colleagues, peers, friends, business partners, and associates, and strenghtened and preserved those relationships even when they began face to face, while letting us ditch each other for practical purposes, if we wanted to, because the rest of our lives weren’t tied to one context.

This is very close to what Ayn Rand described as freedom. She said freedom is freedom from one another, freedom from the crowd, freedom from other people – the height of freedom, as she put it, is privacy. Applied here, it’s freedom of location, independence of movement, work, education, and the areas of life that depend on broader inquiry. The virtual mail room ‘experiment’ is part of larger, currently very successful experiment of freeing me from location. The other components have been working marvellously. This is one I’ve been longing to try.

Update: This is great. I’m saving time handling mail, and the mail I normally scan to PDF is scanned to PDF for me. Lovely. Mailroom experiment: success.

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