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Recyclebank’s Quest to Help Zumbox Lead the Digital Mail Market

Raz Godelnik
| Friday February 3rd, 2012 | 0 Comments

If you still think about RecycleBank as a recycling reward program, you’re thinking about the old Recyclebank. The new one is looking ahead far beyond recycling, striving to find more ways to reward people for taking everyday green actions. In a way, Recyclebank wants to become the Amazon of the Gconomy, which Ron Gonen, co-founder of Recyclebank, defined as “a place where communities, companies and individuals are financially rewarded for positive green actions that create economic efficiencies.” Just like Amazon became an online one-stop shop, Recyclebank wants to reward you for any green action you take, whether it relates to energy, water, transportation or mail.

Yes, even mail. On Monday, Recyclebank and Zumbox, the world’s first digital postal system, announced that Zumbox is joining Recyclebank Ecosystem, a network of companies working with Recyclebank to motivate and reward people for taking green actions. Launched last October, this Ecosystem already includes partners such as Barnes & Noble, Preserve, Macy’s and UncommonGoods. Zumbox will be joining them now, rewarding its customers with Recyclebank points for various uses of its system and hoping this incentive will encourage more people to become Zumbox users.

This collaboration looks like a classic win-win strategy, where both companies benefit from it. Let’s look at the reasons behind the match between the two, starting with Zumbox. Zumbox is everything USPS could be, but isn’t – a sustainable business model that found the way to make money from the transformation of mail into a digital format. As my colleague Paul Smith described it here in 2009, Zumbox is much more than a paperless mail option – it’s a platform that can connect companies and government agencies to consumers for the delivery and storage of digital postal mail via the Internet. Customers get a virtual secure mailbox at no cost, where they can receive important correspondence and keep it in one organized place they can access anywhere. The mailer, on the other hand, saves money on printing and handling mail and instead of paying 70 cents for a typical bill, pays Zumbox only 20 cents. As you notice, it’s also an eco-friendly process, saving paper, energy and CO2 emissions. The only loser here is the postal service.

The business potential is huge – according to the San Francisco Chronicle there are the nearly 48 billion bills, statements, account notices and offers that companies send to households every year that can be digitized. This is probably why Zumbox managed to secure an impressive amount of $17.7 million in venture funding from private investors, including Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Walt Disney and Rick Braddock, the former CEO of Priceline.com.

This is also why Zumbox is not the only company that wants to offer you a digital mailbox. Today you can find a growing list of start-ups that offer similar products, including Hearst Group’s Manilla service, Pitney Bowes’ Volly service and Doxo, which is backed in part by Bezos Expeditions. One thing that is common to all of these digital mail services is the fact that they’re offered to the consumers for free. Since there is no fee, the fight between the service providers is concentrating on the value customers generate of it.

Therefore don’t be too surprised to find that Zumbox has a giveaway, where customers can win six prizes of $1,000,000 cash each and many other expensive prizes. In total, the prizes combined reach almost $7 million, which is a bit rare in green space – usually companies spend their money on the development of their products, not on giving $1 million cash prizes. If anything, it shows you how intense the competition is and that the revenues at stake are high enough to justify such prizes.

Although started operating in  2009 and is available now through partnerships with 3i Infotech, Computershare, DST Output, KUBRA, Ricoh Production Print Solutions and others, Zumbox is still in the start-up phase. The company is trying to get a lead over its competitors and clearly hopes that the partnership with Recyclebank will give them further advantage. It will be interesting to see if they’re right and if the rewards can become a substantial incentive when it comes to moving to digital mail service, just like it was for increasing the recycling in households.

From the point of view of Recyclebank this partnership is another way to scale their presence in the green marketplace. Ian Yolles, Recyclebank’s Chief Sustainability Officer, explained it in an interview with Yoxi with regards to reaching a sustainable future, ”there has to be a significant engagement with consumers…from Recyclebank’s point of view, that is the opportunity. We’re really focused on building at scale a very large community of engaged users and what we do is we educate them, we inspire them, we motivate them and we incentivize them, reward them.”

We already saw one example of this approach in Recyclebank’s collaboration with Transport for London (TfL) to encourage Londoners to walk and cycle more by offering points  that could be redeemed later on for discounts reward partners, such as Marks & Spencer or Cineworld. The creation of their Ecosystem is supposed to be another way to scale their efforts and reach “by connecting Recyclebank with communities of other like-minded, eco-conscious brands.”

I’m not sure if you can call partners like Barnes & Noble and Macy’s eco-conscious brands, but they’re certainly powerful partners. Zumbox, on the other hand, might be less powerful at the moment, but is definitely more eco-conscious and has the potential to reach millions worldwide, helping Recyclebank to spread the idea of Gconomy and become the Amazon of this new rewarding green space.

[Image credit: Zumbox]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Department of Business Administration, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.


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