HelloFax Lets You Ditch Your Fax Machine and Sign Everything Electronically

This is the third in a series of profiles of Y Combinator Winter 2011 (YC W11) startups.

You don’t run into many startups that are already planning for their own technology’s demise. But that’s the case at HelloFax, part of the Winter 2011 batch at the Y Combinator venture incubator.

Ostensibly, the company’s service is all about helping people send and receive faxes electronically, without having to find an actual fax machine. Once you’ve uploaded a digital document to HelloFax.com, you can send it off to any fax number (the first 5 pages are free, and after that you pay $1.99 per fax, or sign up for one of several premium plans). But co-founder Joseph Walla says the company knows that faxing is a dying form of communication, and that HelloFax was actually built to serve an underlying need that isn’t going away anytime soon. To wit: signing documents electronically.

After all, nobody voluntarily sends faxes anymore. The only reason most offices still have the 1980s-era machines on hand is to exchange documents that require signatures. And as soon as people realize that it’s possible to sign a document without printing it out first, they’ll abandon their fax machines. The only question is which software or service they’ll use instead.

“Faxing is still huge today—it’s a billion-dollar-plus market,” says Walla. “But it’s not the future of communication, so we’re building for people’s present needs and adding all these tools that we are confident they are going to need in the future. We want to be the new way people sign documents.”

It turns out that people really like the simplicity of the startup’s faxing-and-signing service. Since launching in late February, HelloFax has signed up 7,500 users and is growing that number by 30 percent per week, according to Walla. Most simply send faxes, but a growing number also sign them by uploading a scan or photo of their signature or drawing it with their mouse or trackpad.

Walla conceived last year after giving up on his previous software project, a Website landing page optimizer. “Somebody needed a signed Google document from me,” Walla recalls. “The fax machine was broken, and I didn’t want to replace it. I remember having to print out the document and sign it and scan it and e-mail it. So here I had eliminated the fax machine, but I still needed a printer and a scanner.”

Working with a designer-programmer friend in Minnesota named Nate Uri, Walla built an in-browser editor that allowed users to upload documents and send them to a fax number—in much the same way that established services like eFax allow, but without having to download software or sign up for a dedicated fax number. “All of a sudden you didn’t need any hardware or special software to send documents,” Walla says. “At the time I don’t think we realized how big of a pain point we were solving.”

He’d find out soon enough—but not before the fax project almost got derailed. It turned out that Uri had too much other work to help Walla found a startup, so Walla applied for a job at Google, and even got as far as an interview at the … Next Page »

Single PageCurrently on Page: 1 2

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

Trending on Xconomy