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how they have to make two or three trips a year to California just to retrieve items from storage,” he says. “That was their life. At the time, I was using Dropbox a lot, and the idea just clicked.”
Last year Matthews stepped away from his training in mechanical engineering and a job at an East Bay semiconductor company to turn the idea into a company. He thinks several big trends are putting wind in the venture’s sails. One is urbanization: the more people who move into cities, the smaller and more expensive the average living space becomes. Another is consumerism, which seems unabated despite the sputtering economy.
Third is the mobile revolution. Because consumers can get so much done using their smartphones, they have a new appreciation for the value of time, and they don’t want to waste it on moving stuff around, worrying about which hours their storage facility is open, or borrowing a car so they can drive there. “Boxbee is at the center of all those things,” Matthews says.
It’s also at the center of the actual pickup, delivery, and storage process, in the sense that it’s a classic middleman. Boxbee doesn’t own any storage facilities, trucks, or cars, and it doesn’t employ any drivers. What it has actually built is a bunch of Web and mobile software for taking orders, tracking inventory, dispatching drivers (mostly from mom-and-pop moving companies), renting warehouse space, and making sure all parties get charged and paid correctly. Boxbee makes money by keeping its own costs low, which means Matthews and his developers are spending a lot of time optimizing around logistical matters such as the routes drivers follow.
Boxbee’s user base is still small—in the hundreds, according to Matthews—but people are already using it “for all sorts of different reasons,” he says. A typical customer might be a single woman living in a small Nob Hill apartment who doesn’t have room in her closets for both her summer clothes and her winter clothes, and uses Boxbee to swap them out every six months.
Another might be a sentimental parent who lives in a house without an attic, and doesn’t really have room for old family mementoes, but can’t bear to discard them. “My own mom still has homework assignments from me with gold stars on them from third grade,” Matthews says. “She says ‘I am going to read it someday.’”
We’ve all got stuff like that—the report cards and the old Star Wars figures and the refrigerator art make up the stories of our lives, after all. Boxbee knows we’ll never throw it away, but it’s betting that urbanites are coming to value uncluttered living space even more.
And down the road, there could be more to Boxbee’s business than just storage. When Matthews talks about Boxbee as a “stuff management platform,” he’s serious, and he’s not just talking about your stuff—he sees Boxbee as part of the burgeoning sharing economy.
“Imagine the not-too-distant future where we have a feature in the interface where someone can browse what kinds of objects their friends have in storage, and they can have that delivered to their house and sent back, like a lending library,” Matthews says. “It turns storage into something that is not just a poor excuse to hold on to your stuff, but a dynamic thing that is useful to a lot of people.”
In this scenario, if you needed a hammer, you wouldn’t go to the hardware store to buy one—you’d just look on Boxbee to see if your neighbor has one in storage. It’s not an idea that Home Depot would like, and it may not fit with traditional American consumer culture, but it would certainly save money, cut back on waste, and help the environment.
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