Earth Class Mail CEO slams online mail startup Zumbox

An Internet startup called Zumbox is rolling out a service today that promises to transform the way people send and receive postal mail online. Sound familiar? Earth Class Mail also is trying to reinvent postal mail.

But Earth Class Mail Chief Executive Ron Wiener dismisses any similarities between the two, calling Zumbox a “joke” and predicting that it will be out of business in six months. “It is basically an online advertising scheme billing itself as a green alternative to the postal service,” said Wiener.

Zumbox president Glen Ward — the former president of Virgin Entertainment Group North America  — said Wiener is ill-informed. “I find that surprising to hear,” said Ward in response to Wiener’s remarks. “I am not familiar with his business and I don’t think he is familiar with ours.” Ward said he’s never met Wiener, though the two had a brief phone conversation a few weeks ago.

Told that Wiener predicted the demise of Zumbox within six months, Ward said it might be worthwhile to have a “follow-up conversation” to better explain the business.

Earth Class Mail and Zumbox are attacking the same market in different ways. As reported earlier this week by TechFlash, Seattle-based Earth Class Mail is shifting its focus from a consumer-and-business offering to one that provides the back-end technology so that national postal systems can transition to online delivery. Historically, Earth Class Mail scanned letters, bills and direct mail pieces before placing the items online for its customers.

Westlake Village, Calif.-based Zumbox, on the other hand, is creating a paperless alternative to the U.S. postal system that assigns every street address a free digital mailbox — a “Zumbox” — so that users can receive bills, catalogs and other mail online. It does this without scanning, relying on the senders of the mail to send digital formats of the newsletters, bills or other correspondences.

“It is so unique and deceptively simple,” said Ward.

While Wiener and Ward say their companies don’t compete, both are trying to solve the same big problem. That is, revolutionizing the postal mail system with a more environmentally-friendly online alternative.

At least in marketing materials, they sound pretty similar. Take, for instance, these descriptions from their respective Web sites.

Earth Class Mail is changing how postal mail is delivered, for the betterment of individuals, businesses, national post offices, and the planet. Instead of making physical postal deliveries that are so dependent on fuel for planes and trucks, we deliver postal mail online, where people can manage it instantly, anywhere in the world.

And this message from Zumbox.

Zumbox is the first all-digital postal service that is free for both consumers and senders of regular mail, such as billers, government and the community.

Zumbox plans to make money by charging bulk mailers 5 cents per message, one of the reasons why Wiener expressed skepticism. “It is an online email in-box for people to send you ads,” said Wiener, adding that major companies won’t use it unless it is sanctioned by the government.

Ward said they have already received good feedback from businesses and government agencies, adding that more announcements along those lines will be released in the coming weeks. He said the closed-loop system is safe and secure for both senders and recipients, noting that consumers have the option to block any online mail they don’t want.

Even though marketers can send a constant stream of electronic junk mail, Ward believes a “balance” will occur since people can shut off any advertisers that abusing the system.

Founded in 2007, Zumbox has raised $4 million in angel financing. Earth Class Mail is backed with $21 million from Ignition Partners, angel investors and others.

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