If you are like many people in the US, you are probably sick of seeing junk mail stacked up inside your mailbox. For many people, it just means taking an extra trip the the garbage can to throw it all away. However, a unique service has popped up to help you stop the junk before it can get to you.
The service is called SlotGuard. For a low annual fee, you can pick and choose which junk mail providers you would like put on your stop list. Once your list is complete, they go to work for you. They contact each company on your behalf, and get them to take you off their mailing list. It won’t take long before you will see a great reduction in the amount of junk you receive. You can say goodbye to credit card offers, catalogs, and even phone books from major companies.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Steven Rosson and Paul Ingram a couple questions about their service and the inspiration behind it.
Tell us a little about SlotGuard.
SlotGuard is a junk mail reduction service available to United States Postal Customers. It allows individuals to selectively reduce the amount of junk mail they receive by opting out of overall junk mail categories or mail from specific senders. End users can purchase the service for $9.95/year, or apartment complexes can purchase a community-wide contract that allows them to offer a “Junk Mail Reduction Service” as a free amenity to their residents.
How does it work?
The mechanism behind SlotGuard is simple: we ask the companies to stop. The direct marketing industry prefers self-regulation to government legislation and generally honors opt out requests. We automate this process for our customers so that rather than finding contact information for dozens of companies they can simply manage their preferences within their SlotGuard profiles and have requests sent automatically through our site.
What inspired it?
The impetus for starting SlotGuard was our own problem with junk mail. Paul and I were both frustrated by the amount of mail we received and, being privacy-conscious individuals, took issue on principle with the trafficking for profit in our personal information. When we began discussing potential solutions, our initial idea was a service that would allow users to send postal mail from their computers to help them send their own do-not-mail requests more easily. Through hours of discussion and planning we came to a more finely tuned idea that tackled the real problem head-on.
Will this have an effect on any mail or catalogs that people want to receive, but might be considered junk?
Our process leaves very little room for mistakes. While our categorical opt-outs are fairly inclusive, we also have separate “STOP” and “KEEP” lists that allow users to override their categorical preferences. For example, a user can opt out of coupons and would thus be removed from the mailing lists of many coupon providers. However, by adding a particular establishment to their “KEEP” list, that mail would not be affected. It is also worth noting that our process would never affect the ability to receive bills, account correspondence, etc.
What goals do you hope to accomplish over the next year or so?
Our plan for the next year includes some pretty bold initiatives to market our service and increase its visibility nationwide. While we cannot go into too many specifics at this time, the strategic partnerships we are currently developing will be vital as we move forward.
What separates your service from the competition?
SlotGuard takes existing opt-out mechanisms and services to the next level by expanding the scope of our service and offering simplified access to mailing preferences. Our unique “List Manager” feature lets customers edit their settings with us in real time without the need for human intervention. And unlike services offered by industry trade groups, our effectiveness is not restricted to member companies of specific organizations. We can assist any Postal Customer with any request, period.
What are some lessons your business has taught you?
Steven Rosson: One of the most important lessons we learned from SlotGuard is the fusion of in-depth planning with openness and adaptability. Paul and I spent hours developing our core business model and deciding on a path. Rigid adherence to our plans guided us well at certain times. But sometimes a new idea comes up that takes us in another direction, and it becomes necessary to set a part of the plan aside and make some changes. One of the biggest challenges for us has been identifying the ideas worth changing our model for. The apartment contracting angle, for example, was not a part of our original business plan.
Paul Ingram: Another big lesson was the importance of concise and accurate communication. Given how much we’ve learned about junk mail, it’s easy to forget that the average person knows very little about its mechanisms and industry. Although we perceived the SlotGuard offering as very straightforward, we received several inquiries and responses from people who thought we were talking about SPAM email or worried about whether we would keep them from receiving their electric bill. We worked hard to develop concise ways of describing our business and its benefits and we now have our “elevator speeches” down pat. Having a product offering that can have its spirit and purpose conveyed accurately, effectively, and quickly can be a big factor in how quickly it will grow.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
One of the things that has surprised me most is the intricacy of issues surrounding the use of direct mail, its effectiveness, and its role in sustaining the United States Postal Service. The issue as not as simple as it looks when we pull mail out of our boxes and either keep it or discard it. There are small fortunes being spent on lobbying activities by a wide variety of groups with vested interests on both sides of this argument, and millions of jobs hanging in the balance between self-regulation and government intervention. Ultimately the issue becomes one of political ideals and personal values, and it is important for us to keep in mind as individuals and business owners that our company is exists only to provide a service to consumers and not to take on a political agenda or adopt a stance on legislative topics.
Do you have any advice that you’d like to offer fellow entrepreneurs that are just getting started?
Fellow entrepreneurs should seek advice from people they trust – and never be afraid to ask for help – but always place special weight on their own instincts. And when times get tough and the plan seems questionable, do not let business decisions become clouded by emotional reactions. Sometimes it becomes necessary to take a few steps back, relax, and come back to the problem later with a different mindset. Find a good way to clear your head and repeat as needed to keep your mind fresh.