Raise your hand if you love your printer. For most of us, printing is a chore to be avoided at all costs. Faxing is even worse. Who even still owns a fax machine? Okay, if your hand is still raised, you can stop reading. Everyone else, rest assured that the long-promised paperless office is on its way to becoming a reality. There are still a few holdouts who keep dragging the rest of us back to printers, scanners, and fax machines for contracts, legal documents, and HR forms (hello, AOL!). At this point, whenever you have to print, scan, or fax a document, that creates friction. One startup trying to eliminate that friction is HelloFax.
Don’t let the name fool you. HelloFax is more than just about digitizing faxes. The Y Combinator company launched in February as a way to send and receive faxes via email, as well as sign documents electronically. It now stores 20,000 electronic signatures on behalf of its users, and handles tens of thousands of documents a month. Starting today, users can request electronic signatures through the service as well, which should help create more viral growth (if someone requests your signature, you have to use Hellofax to sign the document). But these are just the first of many steps.
“We are tackling the paper problem,” says CEO Joseph Walla. “If you want to go paperless you need all of this hardware and software to make it happen.” He is going after faxing first and making it easy to sign documents in the browser (HelloFax converts back and forth from 30 different file types, and delivers it as a fax if that is required on the other end). Think of it as a cross between eFax and EchoSign or DocuSign. But even if you get rid of your fax machine, sometimes you still have to print, sign, and scan documents. What if you could get rid of those as well?
In order for the paperless office to become a reality, these friction points need to be eliminated. “The next major part of the puzzle will be scanning,” says Walla. He is working on mobile apps that will turn your phone into a scanner and upload the documents to HelloFax. Document storage and search in the cloud will follow. “The big vision is that we become a repository for all of your important documents,” reveals Walla. Right now, HelloFax works with DropBox and an integration with Box.net is under way.
Already, one-third of all signed documents going through HelloFax go through email. The company charges for sending faxes (the first 20 are free) and requesting signatures. TechCrunch readers who sign up here through Friday can get a 50 percent discount on the subscription plans) which normally range from $5 to $70 a month). The company is targeting lawyers, accountants, realtors, and other small businesses, as well as internal departments in larger corporations where nothing gets done unless a half-dozen people literally “sign off” on something. Y Combinator is using the service for all of its legal documents, and partner “Paul Buchheit has stopped using a printer, scanner and fax machine all together,” reports Walla.
So why limit the name to HelloFax? For Walla, it is about awareness and customer acquisition. He says that there are 16 million searches a month for the word “fax,” versus only a few hundred thousand for “electronic signature” and 18,000 for “paperless office.” If the name turns out to be too limiting, he already owns the domains for Hello Contract, Hello Signature, and Hello Document.