Proquo: kill the junk save some trees

proquo ProQuo, a company which promises to reduce the junk mail people get in their mailboxes, has just raised $5 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Raj Atluru, Managing director at DFJ has taken a board position at ProQuo, along with Emily Melton, a director at DFJ.

The sign up is quite simple - you just enter your name and address. You are then presented with a pictorial menu of choices for mailers and flyers - you just click a Stop button for those that you do not want to receive anymore. These include ValPak and other coupons, Offers for credit cards and mortgages, and Publishers ClearingHouse mailers, amongst others.

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Today, names, addresses, and other personal information can be easily acquired by direct marketing and other companies. Besides the pesky junk mail, that keeps getting delivered to your burgeoning mailbox, there is also a concern that the unwelcome mail might lead to identity theft.

ProQuo contacts the merchants and tries to get them to take your name and address off their mailing list. There are a few lists such as that of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), where the customer has to request the removal of their names directly but the site provides the necessary information to complete the process.

According to their website, the ProQuo service will reduce junk mail by 50% to 90% over a period of 1-3 months. Well, if this means less garbage in the mailbox, and fewer marketing phone calls in the evening, then it would definitely be worth it!

Like all good things on the net, the service is free. So how does the company make money? Well, they plan to function as an opt-in service for marketers. You choose what kind of mail, if any, that you want to receive from advertisers, who will, in turn pay ProQuo for the ability to reach targeted customers.

Now if only they can figure out how to do the same for email!



Roundup: Cleverest voicemail apps

There are several innovative voicemail applications that we have tested and reviewed recently. They all have very useful feature sets, with one or two whiz-bang elements that makes them quite unique.

Jott: This is a voicemail to text or voicemail to email service. You leave a voicemail message at the Jott phone number, from your registered cell phone, and the message gets translated into text and delivered to your email inbox or phone sms, if you send it to yourself (reminder, calendar item etc.), or it gets sent as an email to anyone you pick from your contacts list.

The strong point of Jott is that the translation is flawless. I’d really like to know how they do that! Having tried various desktop translation softwares, where you have to train the application endlessly to recognize your accent, I have yet to find one that has better than 90% accuracy. Yet Jott works with your normal speaking voice. One thing though, the text gets delivered after a few minutes of “processing”, so one wonders if there is not some human editing going on in the background.

YouMail: YouMail is a service that takes over the voicemail service from the carrier and routes it to their servers where you can pick up your voicemail in the usual way, or have it emailed it to you, and of course you can store it all forever.

The nicest feature of Youmail is the fun library of greetings that you can use to set up your outgoing greeting individually, by user. You can also add a “This phone is disconnected” message for people you don’t want to hear from, or use their famous “Ditchmail” for unwelcome suitors.

CAllWave is a voice mail and voice to text service. Callwave lets you set up a voicemail box on their server so your callers can leave you messages.

The really useful feature is that the messages get translated into text and forwarded into your email inbox or to SMS on your cell phone, in text form, along with the name of the person who called (from the caller ID). The text translation does not work perfectly but you can get the gist of what the caller is trying to say. The ability to “read” the voicemail (specially when you are in meetings) - and getting it filed in text fashion in your inbox is a huge plus.

Pinger is a hands free alternative to SMS. It is unobtrusive voicemail that you leave for others. If someone is in a meeting and you don’t want to bother them, you “ping” them, ie leave a voicemail on their cell phone number. The Pinger site lets you check if they picked up your message. You can also use the service like an audio Twitter, where you leave voice clips on a website using an embedable widget.

With the carriers focusing on the size of their customer bases, and innovating very little over the last decade in the areas of messaging or voicemail, the door is open for entrepreneurial companies to develop exciting applications which make the mobile phone not only more useful, but more fun. It would not take a crystal ball to see some of the carriers snapping up these companies in the future when they find that consumers are beginning to expect more clever features on their mobile phones.


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Mint rakes in 4.7 million in an A round

Mint, whom we had profiled earlier, has raised $4.7 million A round from Shasta Ventures, First Round Capital, and several Angels, according to Techcrunch.

Mint is a financial management company. As we had noted before, it enters a field, that is extremely crowded, and has been for a while, following the likes of Yodlee, CashEdge, MSNMoney and a host of other financial aggregators.

By and large, Mint offers similar features, the ability to aggregate financial accounts in one place, track spending, view balances, set alerts etc. The Mint site also mentions the ability to “Stop overpaying and start saving”. This has to do with side by side comparison of bank and credit card transactions, making to easier to spot any errors and to reconcile the two.

Mint’s real test will be to see how it can differentiate itself in the financial aggregation field, which is populated by several heavyweights including companies that have tried offering the service through the banks such as Wells Fargo, Citibank etc. as well as direct to consumer offerings such as Yodlee has. No doubt with the amount of money raised and the backing or prominent investors like Ram Shriram, they will have all the support they need to make a go of it.


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CasualCafe: Stop by and play

Casual cafe is a casual gaming site that features card games, action games, puzzles, word games and multiplayer games. All the tried and true favorites like Bejewelled and Solitaire are there, along with several more exotic sounding titles like Peggle and Chuzzle.

Games are free to try for 60 minutes of play, and $19.95 to buy.

A word to the wise, the site is quite addictive. The graphics are simple, but quite rich. Game screens expand to full screen mode. The action is well at the level of what would be expected in the casual game arena.

CasualCafe is aimed towards the $1 billion casual gaming market on the Internet - primarily the over 30 female demographic.

Casual Cafe is currently self funded.

Michael Scholz is the CEO of Pretty Good Games, a Redondo Beach company, which operates the Casual Cafe site.


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