There are lots of people who enjoy their jobs, who find that their jobs give their life meaning, or who think that wage labor is the natural order of the universe and that it’s their duty to be employed by somebody else.
On the one hand, I’m not in the business of judging other people’s priorities. On the other hand, the obsession with “employment,” with laboring for someone else, has consequences that I do care about very much: air conditioner factory employees who choose to vote for someone who promises to “bring back their jobs” have helped bring us to the present crisis, while I believe a society of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship might be more resistant to these kinds of reactionary appeals.
I don’t think everyone should be an entrepreneur, but I do think more people should be entrepreneurs than currently are, and that situation is made worse by the ways we talk about work. When someone is laid off, we have programs to retrain her for a new job, but no programs to retrain her to run her own business, let alone provide startup capital. You can get trade adjustment assistance to go back to school, but not to create your own job.
That’s why I’m introducing this periodic feature, which I’m calling “Free Business Idea.” I have 2-3 ideas for new businesses each week (sometimes each day!), but I already like what I’m doing, and am not too interested in starting a new business. If you don’t like what you’re doing, but don’t have a business idea, feel free to take one of mine — they’re free!
Mailstream: Your Home Away From Home
Moving is a pain in the ass. Moving overseas is even worse. Mailstream is the answer.
If you’ve ever lived overseas, you probably know what I’m talking about. None of your banks, credit cards, or insurance companies will deliver to you overseas, so you need to find somebody stateside to have your mail delivered to, or risk missing something important. If you’ve got an accommodating parent or sibling, you might use their mailing address, and if you know something important is coming ask them to watch for it.
But what if something important comes that you don’t know to warn them about? A tax notice in a plain envelope, a replacement credit or debit card, a check from a class action settlement, a jury duty summons, the list is endless!
And what if you don’t have anyone whose address you can use? No parents, no siblings, no address at all in the United States?
The solution is Mailstream: Your Home Away From Home.
Mailstream is a physical address where all your mail is delivered, opened, scanned, and made available to you online within 2 business days of delivery. When you log onto Mailstream from anywhere in the world, you can view each piece of mail and decide whether to keep or toss each physical item (digital copies are stored indefinitely).
Every 30 days, all the physical items you’ve decided to keep are packaged and sent to you anywhere in the world by your choice of carrier (availability depending on destination country). You can also request expedited shipment of any items that might be time-sensitive.
Mailstream has a simple fee structure:
- a flat monthly fee (with a discount when you pay for a year in advance);
- a shipping and handling fee for your 30-day international shipment (waived if you decline to receive any physical mail during the 30-day period);
- and an express shipping and handling fee for any deliveries you request expedited.
Nuts and bolts
To implement this free business idea, you’ll need a storefront address and a moderate amount of storage space. To start with you can probably handle all the work yourself and simply use a Dropbox account to upload and share each client’s Mailstream, with subfolders clients can drag “keep” and “destroy” mail to.
Once you have some more clients you might consider hiring someone to design an online interface for clients and an interface for you to use to easily sort physical and digital copies to make your life easier. You could even license the software to other Mailstreams for an additional source of revenue!
Mailstream will be most appealing if you set it up in a state with no individual income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Washington, Wyoming, or South Dakota. That’s because the federal government shares federal income tax data with the states, and your clients might be subject to state income tax liability if they use a Mailstream in a state that levies a tax on income.
On the other hand, each state should have a Mailstream to help people maintain their state residency, and you’ll have plenty of customers even in states that do levy income taxes: students, people on temporary assignments abroad, etc.
You should consult a lawyer to draw up your user agreement so it covers a few key points:
- every single piece of mail has to be opened before being repackaged, so Mailstream doesn’t find itself mailing contraband internationally. Mailstream won’t mail any fruits, vegetables, organic matter, or pornography;
- Mailstream isn’t liable for destroying anything the client accidentally elects to destroy instead of keep;
- if a client’s payment is overdue their mail won’t be opened and will be marked return to sender.
You can surely come up with a few more exigencies you’d want clients to agree to.
RV full timers have used these services for years. Here is one example:
Another service Matt suggested is Traveling Mailbox. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m trying to provide suggestions for businesses anybody can start!
Um… they are mailbox services like this already.
Surely there’s other businesses that haven’t been done.
Of course, Michael. But the saying “there’s nothing new under the sun” doesn’t mean that there are not newer and better ways to do things, or that there are enough vendors for any particular service available.
Entrepreneurs rarely come up with radical new ideas. Rather, they take existing ones and best practices for those ideas, and run with them.
Awesome post! Sure, this particular business idea has been done already, but I love the concept and where you’re going. Those first four paragraphs ar crucial. Thanks.
Thanks for your kind words!
I think there was a bit of initial confusion, I’m not proposing ideas that will make people rich, I’m proposing ideas that will make people self-employed! This is a business anyone can start by, for example, blanketing university study abroad offices with flyers. It won’t make you rich but neither will working in an air conditioner factory!