Friday, September 28, 2007 - Think Inside The Box

Most of us receive hundreds of emailed receipts each year. The team behind, a startup based in Durham, North Carolina, promises a way to safely store them. Anyone can sign up for the free service. Once enrolled, users receive an email address which they can give to merchants when buying online. The receipts then go to their Shoeboxed mailbox, where they’re safely stored. Better yet, the service allows members to organize their receipts by creating virtual shoeboxes, for a recent vacation or a series of tax-deductible home-office purchases, for example. Result: no more hunting for receipts in shoeboxes of the cardboard variety, or in a regular email inbox. Shoeboxed recently added a feature that allows users to scan in paper receipts for storage on the site.

All students from Duke University, the Shoeboxed team launched the service from a Soviet-era East Berlin apartment, during a study-abroad stint in Germany. Shoeboxed’s founders hope to eventually sign on 11 million users or 10 percent of US online shoppers. Next step: going global. As the number of users grows, so will the value of their enterprise to potential advertisers and those who wish to offer scaled-up pay versions of the service. Shoeboxed isn’t currently monetizing their product, and is operating on money from their angel investor. In the future, Shoeboxed aims to have several revenue streams (none of which involve selling personal information). They’ll likely offer a premium service at some point, but the core functionality will always be free.

Organizing purchase receipts is just one example of the hassle-filled bookkeeping tasks everyone is stuck with. Creating an online application to smooth out the process is the digital age’s version of the proverbial better mousetrap. Lesson: identify a hassle, do a great job at solving it and grow rich. Immediate opportunities include partnering with Shoeboxed to launch the service in other countries, or coming up with an equally simple solution to a common administrative problem.

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