Startup Spotlight: Bezos-backed doxo looks to transform bill paying, inks deal with AT&T

Steve Shivers

Seattle startup doxo today is announcing the expansion of its doxoPAY service, now allowing users to set up automatic bill payments for statements that arrive in their accounts. The three-year-old upstart also is announcing the addition of AT&T to its network of partners, joining other firms such as Puget Sound Energy, Sprint and Sound Community Bank.

We chatted with Steve Shivers — a former executive at Qpass and Amdocs — to get an inside look at what the Jeff Bezos-backed startup is all about and get some insights from the startup veteran on what it takes to succeed. Here are his answers to our questions in the latest installment of Startup Spotlight.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “doxo is your digital file cabinet that makes it easy to securely store all your records in one place— from bills and bank statements to titles and tax documents. And, when your providers join doxo, you can receive documents and pay bills straight from your doxo file cabinet. doxo is free for users. 100 percent private. No ads. Zero junk. We make our money from helping businesses reduce printing, postage and payment costs.”

Inspiration hit us when: “I had a revelation one day in 2007 after a visit to my over-stuffed mailbox, where I had to dig two or three bills and statements out from several pounds of junk mail. I thought: ‘My mailbox has been taken hostage by junk mailers. I would go try to go paperless with more businesses, but it’s too inconvenient to setup all those usernames and passwords for every different company. Why is this such a hassle?’ It’s 2011 and paperless should be 90 percent, but the average is just 15 percent. That’s nuts. So we started doxo to be the service we’d actually want to use.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We bootstrapped the company when we first started in 2008.  Since then, we’ve raised funds from both individual investors and VC firms: Our biggest Seattle area investor is Jeff Bezos and we have two terrific VC investors – MDV and Sigma Partners. And Thomas Layton, former CEO of OpenTable, invested and joined our board earlier this year as well. All have been a terrific help for our growth.”

Doxo founders Steve Shivers, Roger Parks and Mark Goris

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “doxo is designed around consumers, and what will make life easier for us. Once I create my personal doxo account, for the first time businesses can now connect with ME, rather than the other way around. Why hasn’t this happened already? The big businesses that dominate the billing and payment space typically bring other competing agendas into the equation—pushing ads, credit cards, extra fees, mining customer data, whatever. People don’t like all the junk and the hidden agendas, and it’s one of the reasons paperless adoption is still just 15 percent. Because doxo eliminates all of this, we have been able to get traction in a market that’s been dominated historically by massive, billion dollar companies.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far:  “Being VERY selective on hiring.  We have a great team that’s enormously productive.   Higher output per person than any org I’ve ever been a part of.   My co-founders and I have been through a few startups now, so we’ve learned from experience and past mistakes on this front.  We’re growing quite fast, and there’s huge urgency to keep up with demand right now, but we’ve found you can’t compromise on hiring or it bites you back in a hurry.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far:  “We run a lot of experiments as we tune and iterate the doxo service. So in a sense we’re making “mistakes” every day. We just work hard to make them fast and fix them fast. Our whole company is a huge bet on how we think the market needs to work in the long run.”

Jeff Bezos

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “This one’s easy: Bezos. He’s an investor, so perhaps I’m a wee bit biased. But we’re definitely very proud to have him in doxo’s corner.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “In my view it started when we founded the company, in 2008. Long way to go, but every day is a step down the path.”

Rivals should fear us because: “Our competitors may be spending huge sums of marketing dollars but what they don’t have is our passionate point of view on how it actually has to work – not just today, but 10 years from now. It’s personal for us.  We’re solving a problem we truly believe needs to be solved.  This conviction is what big companies can’t buy. That’s why startups can do things big companies can’t.”

We are truly unique because:  “We’ve got some distinct features and capabilities that we’re bringing to market. But the real differentiator for us strategically is how all the parts work together – the user site, the business network, the electronic delivery system, the payment system, and the mobile apps – as part of the doxo network. It’s the whole network design that enables businesses and customers to interact in ways previously not possible.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “The most critical challenge has been winning and launching our first business customers on doxo. Getting businesses to commit to something new is never easy. We’ve only been out of invite mode since late June, and have signed and launched with some great businesses…It’s just the start, but some of these businesses are already connecting and turning off paper mail with thousands of customers a month.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Sixty percent of the assumptions you are making are completely wrong.  The other 60 percent are half wrong.  The key is quickly finding out which are which and fixing them.  Also, be good at math.”

Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Seattle area startup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out the questions above, send a couple photos of the founder(s) and company logo to tips@geekwire.com. Past profiles can be found here.

  • Norbert

    Steve – congrats on adding AT&T and to the contiued progress.  World Doxonation ahead!

  • Anonymous

    While I’ve seen companies try to handle customer snail mail and disappear, perhaps now is the right time for it?

    I don’t know the industry (any more) but I’ve noticed my bank account now provides bills by email if they are from banks/insurance/big-biz.  So perhaps there is a protocol falling into place?

    Anyway, doxo caught my interest here when it said it would keep my titles.  I’m not sure what that means yet, but an on-line lock box that does more than just a drop box sounds intriguing.  I’d like somewhere for passwords, credit card accounts, etc. that is controlled by me only.

    Kudos for letting businesses pay for the service instead of customers.  That will be a great win!