Leo Chen and Josh Chen, co-founders of Fara

Online shopping is booming this holiday season, and many of us have tons of email messages in our inboxes right now with information on the purchases we’ve been making from various sites. But is email really the best place to get a handle on all of our e-commerce activities?

A new Seattle-based startup called Fara is betting there’s a better way. It’s starting with a free online dashboard and app that lets people track their packages by forwarding shipping confirmation emails to the Fara service, which can extract the shipping confirmation number. Features include automated shipping updates via email, SMS or Twitter.

Founded by Josh Chen and Leo Chen, two (unrelated) entrepreneurs in their late 20s, Fara is based on the successful Packagetrackr service that was previously a side project for Josh Chen, with more than 1 million packages tracked to date.

Packagetrackr remains online, but they’ve also repackaged the service as Fara, and they aim to build it into a more comprehensive service over time — a way for people to visualize a variety of e-commerce activities from a single interface.

Leo Chen, who moved to the U.S. from his native China at age 9, is a veteran of the Seattle startup scene, previously one of the co-founders of Cheddr Media. Josh Chen is a software engineer who grew up in China and has worked for companies including New Egg. This is his first startup.

The two founders met last year, when Leo was traveling in China on a Geeks on a Plane trip, and Josh happened to meet their group during one leg of the trip. Leo ended up working in China as a product manager for Amazon.com, and then for DianDian.com, a Chinese version of the Tumblr blogging service. They reconnected in April when Leo was looking to borrow a telephoto lens for a concert and put out a call to his friends online, which Josh answered.

After working on Fara for a few months in their spare time, they’re now both full time, and to get the company off the ground they recently came to Seattle, where Leo’s parents live.

The name of the company is derived from Faraday’s Law, and the ability to create an electrical current by moving a copper coil around a magnetic field. Leo remembers thinking that it was more magic than science when he first learned about Faraday’s experiments in college physics, and he says the company is aiming to create something similarly magical.

The two founders are bootstrapping the venture so far, funding it out of their own pockets and Packagetrackr ad revenue.

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  • Guest

    Congratulations to Fara on this new development! E-mail is such an outdated medium for real-time communication. What’s the point of sending information like package tracking if it’s outdated before you open it? I much prefer the app model, where content is more dynamic and always up to date.

  • http://eyejot.com/users/davidg davidgeller

    Good idea. The ability to email confirmation emails from shippers reminds me of TripIts excellent email parser that automatically builds trip itineraries.

    • http://blog.calbucci.com/ Marcelo Calbucci

      Agreed. I think it’s a great idea. I wonder what other apps could be created by taking the “TripIt” approach. I’m actually more and more tired of email as is. It seems to be the oldest technology (pre-Internet) we use and has not evolved that much.

      • http://eyejot.com/users/davidg davidgeller

        Email may be old (first one sent in 1972), but it’s remarkably effective, ubiquitous and efficient. With spam largely taken care of by filtering, I find it a pretty convenient medium. I think if we could layer reputation on in a way that wouldn’t be too disruptive and allow the transport to operate in a backward compatible manner we would be on the way to improving it greatly – and removing the need for all those silly, god awful spam filters.

        • http://blog.calbucci.com/ Marcelo Calbucci

          What I would like to see is more meta-data around email so that we could build better/smarter clients and senders. E-mail expiration exists as a standard, but it’s not used/supported by most clients. The “urgency” flag got totally misused. I can’t also say the sender who I like to get my email. What if there was a way to automatically bounce emails with more than 200 words from people I never communicated with before? Or what if I could allow a quote of emails I want to receive per day from low-pri/unknown folks? There is a lot that could be done to improve the efficiency both for the sender and for the receiver without breaking (too much) the UX model that we are used too. 

          • http://eyejot.com/users/davidg davidgeller

            X-Header stuff serves some of that role today, but it’s up to send and client to use them in a preferred manner. I agree that there needs to be more attribute information associates with messages – created in a way that can be widely adopted. The drivers for this initiative will probably be the Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebooks of the world. Not sure what motivation or bandwidth they have.

  • http://twitter.com/HelloSlice Slice

    Slice already does this :-)  We approach it in a different way, so there are some substantial differences, but giving people “a way for people to visualize a variety of e-commerce activities from a single interface” is what we’ve done for a while now. http://www.goslice.com

    • Guest

      Congratulations to Slice on your big launch! When are you opening your Seattle office and when will you support other ISPs? I literally haven’t checked my Yahoo! Mail account since Yahoo! closed my Geocities page.

    • http://twitter.com/leoalmighty Leo Chen

      Thanks Slice, we’re fans of your product. Hoping to be more complimentary than competitive with our approach. :)

    • Guest

      I use both services and have found myself using Fara more often than Slice. More often then not I have to tell Slice that a certain e-mail is package related, and for the most part, don’t really care about tracking status of the 90% of packages I order. So the important ones get sent to Fara. Preferences I know, but best of luck to both of your companies! 

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