Friday, October 10, 2008
Interview with SendMeHome
Most people have had the unfortunate experience of losing a portable electronic item -- a cell phone, iPod, or some other device -- while out and about. How do you get those items back? Santa Barbara-based SendMeHome (www.sendmehome.com) is looking to solve that problem, with a free service to print out labels which attach to your item, and where you can register items in case they are lost. James Tamplin and Andrew Lee are the co-founders of the company, and sat down with us last week to talk about the company's service, and how it came about.
How did you come up with the idea?
James Tamplin: The idea originally was a mobile payment system, but that ran into trouble when we found out that a mobile payment system would have to rely on the cooperation of the credit card networks. They're pretty risk adverse. Then, I was visiting a Madison, Wisconsin college and I lost my cell phone. The batteries were low, so someone calling home or a number on the phone was not a possibility. So I thought of some ideas about getting the phone back if the battery wasn't present. I did some market research, found that companies were offering a similar service, where you pay for labels, but you have to pay a pretty high fee, and it only works for a finite amount of time. I pursued the idea, and ended up with SendMeHome, and we've become the first free service.
How do people go about using the site?
Andrew Lee: The front page is designed for people returning items, and is easy to use. If you found one of our user's items, there's a Google-like search box, which leads to to a form where you can describe how you found the item, or how the owner can pick it up or arrange for shipping of the item. For an actual user to register, there's a link to create an account. All you need is an email address. You give us your email address, and register each of your items. We give you a number, that you can then write on a label or put on the device, or in the case of something like sporting equipment you can write directly on the object.
Why not just write your phone number or information on an item?
James Tamplin: There's a couple of reasons. One, is it's anonymous. Putting your name and address on your house keys exposes yourself to risk. Your credit card, and other things depend on that information. Second of all is convenience. You don't have to write a novel--an address is much longer than our two to three digit code. It saves a lot of real estate with our labels--they don't take up much space, and with our microlabel it's just the breadth of a pencil. the last reason is it's easy to update. If you change your name and address, or change your phone number, that would be a pain to change on every valuable you own. So, with this, you can do it all in one place with a stroke on your keyboard.
What had you been doing before starting the company?
James Tamplin: My background is, I graduated with a masters from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in Industrial and Systems Engineering. I always wanted to start a company. After my degree, I traveled for a year, and stopped by Santa Barbara, where we are based. I had friends there, and we were always interested in founding a company. I had made plans to come back and get one together, we worked on the company in the mobile payment area, and turned it into this one.
Andrew Lee: I'm from Minnesota, and went to college in Indiana at the Ross Holden Institute of Technology. I have an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science degree, and always wanted to start a company. I had been making a list of ideas I'd come up with to start a business, and had been keeping track of them and making notes. I moved out here to California to take a job at Green Hills Software. Once I had enough experience there, I started to go for this mobile payment system.
How long have you been working on SendMeHome?
Andrew Lee: We launched on the 15th of September. It's been a few months in development. We started putting this together in July.
What's the business model behind this--is it the sale of labels?
Andrew Lee: Right, our only revenue source is the professional labels.
How's the company funded and backed?
James Tamplin: We're funded on our own at the moment. If the need comes and we need to launch a large advertising campaign, we'll do some funding and figure that out.
You're relying on the goodness of strangers -- does that actually work?
James Tamplin: The local Santa Barbara paper deliberately lost 10 items, and we've gotten three back so far. We're waiting on the other seven. We'll see. But, to answer the question, some of our competitors claim a 75 to 85 percent return rate. We'll see how we stack up to those.
What's next for the company?
James Tamplin: We're improving the existing system, and we have some merchant tags coming out, and ware talking to OEMs to actually get them to have labels proactively included on their products. So, when someone buys a portable hard drive, they can see the SendMeHome tag on it and register their item.