Paul Hughes, left, and Thomas Marshall started Postcardly with less than $7,000

In an era of Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr, postcard writing oftentimes gets forgotten as a communications mechanism. But two Seattle techies are trying to bring it back — with a high-tech twist of course.

Paul Hughes — a freelance writer and former editor at Wizards of the Coast — and Thomas Marshall — a former program manager at aQuantive — are launching Postcardly today with the goal of making sure that physical postcards arrive at the doorstep of grandma Florence or uncle Billy.

It works like this: Attach a photo to an email and send it to a previously created Postcardly email address — say — and within few days a physical postcard will be sent in the U.S. mail to the recipient. I gave it a try the other day, sending a baby photo to my mom in Ohio with a personal message. The postcard arrived on my mom’s doorstep within a few days, and I won a few brownie points. Pretty cool.

GeekWire chatted with Hughes and Marshall to find out how they came up with idea, and why they were inspired by Urbanspoon to bootstrap the business on less than $7,000.

Explain what you do so my mom (in this case who has received your product) can understand it: Postcardly lets you send postcards using your email. It turns your message and attached photo into a physical postcard, sent by U.S. Mail.

Thomas Marshall

Inspiration hit us when: We had kids. All of a sudden, especially if you’re the techie person in the family, you have this new part-time job of distributing pictures of your kid to all your relatives—on top of dealing with diapers, sleep deprivation, etc. For relatives who are on email or Facebook, that’s no big deal. But for older, less connected relatives? Huge pain. We were schlepping SD cards to the drug store, fighting with inkjets, dealing with the post office, etc. Science has not solved this problem yet. Until now.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’ve bootstrapped it. Mostly because we don’t know any rich people—but also because we were impressed with Urbanspoon’s story. Those guys called their own shots and had a better product because of it.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: The magic of postcards. Which is two things combined: 1) People love to hold pictures in their hands, especially pictures of people they love. They want to put them in their purse, tack them up on their fridge or cube wall, whatever. 2) Mail has become this awful thing, where it’s always unwanted junk, and you almost never get anything specifically to you, sent from someone you know. We grew up with personal mail, and this is a throwback for us—a chance to make going to pick up the mail something special again.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Having skilled designers in our corner. It’s so easy to make a web site look bad and so hard to make it look great.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: We took too long getting to market. Postcardly should’ve been running a year ago. We have competitors now that didn’t exist in 2010.

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: We think Zuckerberg is already in our corner for making it hard to print pictures from Facebook. One of the largest photo depositories in the world and no one’s mother can get a Facebook photo on the fridge.

Our world domination strategy starts when: Apple plugs us into Mail and Address Book, or Microsoft plugs us into Outlook. “Send as postcard” should be a drop-down option in every mail app.

Rivals should fear us because: Postcardly is so easy. That is, email is easy, and using Postcardly is just like using your email. Once you generate a Postcardly email address for a recipient (for example, for your Grandma Jane), Postcardly is completely invisible. That email address corresponds to a physical mailing address, and whenever you send an email to that address, we turn your email into a postcard and mail it. You just keep using like any other email address and send as many postcards as you want. You never have to go back to our web site again.

Paul Hughes

We are truly unique because: Our biggest differentiator is the fact that you send postcards using your email. No apps, no uploads, no web sites. Email is immediate and convenient—and if you have a smartphone, you can snap a picture of your kid and send a physical postcard to five relatives in under 30 seconds with a single email. Done.

The email idea was inspired by a similar service called Presto, by HP, which uses email and an Internet-connected printer. However, their business model is like any other printer manufacturer: sell the toner. We thought we could do the same thing more cheaply, with better-quality pics and without the hassle of hardware. (Because do you really want calls from your grandparents on the East Coast about refilling toner or paper?)

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: Our biggest anxiety happened during testing when users literally couldn’t believe that you actually used your email, that it was that easy. Like it was cognitive dissonance. They would get stuck on the site, wondering where to upload pics or somehow integrate their photo library, and we’d get these “What now?” emails. Not a good sign! Our account page had useful information, but a significant number of testers thought it was a dead-end during signup. It’s tough for us, because what kind of service do you sign up for in a browser that you never use in the browser? That almost killed us until we fixed key parts of the account page and signup.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Stop thinking it’s a good idea and get it started. You know people who can fill in the skills you’re lacking. Get them involved and start the ball rolling.

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  • j steinhebel

    Great idea! My grandmother, while able to use a computer has never bothered to get highspeed internet; therefore, my photo site is not practical for her. This is an excellent solution! Hope you continue to see success!

  • j steinhebel

    Great idea! My grandmother, while able to use a computer has never bothered to get highspeed internet; therefore, my photo site is not practical for her. This is an excellent solution! Hope you continue to see success!

  • j steinhebel

    Great idea! My grandmother, while able to use a computer has never bothered to get highspeed internet; therefore, my photo site is not practical for her. This is an excellent solution! Hope you continue to see success!

  • Matt Heinz

    Very cool.  This could also be used as a really easy way to send a follow-up thank you or congratulations message to people in your network.  We usually do this via email or Facebook, but a postcard would stand out.

  • Anonymous

    Haven’t looked into this, but my first thought it, what do they do about spam?  I wouldn’t want Grandma Jane to start getting postcards of the images attached to random spam emails…

    • Paul

      Hi, I’m Paul, one of the guys behind Postcardly. That was definitely one of our questions and concerns from day one. Basically, each Postcardly address has a whitelist of email addresses associated with it, and we will only accept emails from that whitelist. (The whitelist could be just your email address, for example, or it could be yours and your spouse’s.)

      Here’s our FAQ on that:

      Is Postcardly secure? Will my grandpa start getting postcards with Viagra ads?Not unless you send him a picture of a Viagra ad yourself. (At least one of our granddads would find that pretty funny.)We know that email is easy to spoof, so we’ve set up multiple safeguards to make sure that your friends and family only get postcards from you—and anyone else you add as an Approved Sender, such as other family members. We will only accept and print emails that come from addresses you approve.

  • david prokop

    a group mailing feature would be great, 
    the group email would be  BillsFriendsBirhdayParty@Postcardly.comor1)  My mom used to send out Christmas cards, i used to send out Christmas emails, but a card in the mail can be put on the fridge.2) thank you cards for birthdays or other events.3) invitation – come to the event/party, show this card at the door. (scan code on back of card)

    • Paul

      Yeah, we think this could be great things like birthdays and holiday cards. One of our first feature adds is going to be an address book importer, so you can just pull from your Outlook or wherever, without entering addresses by hand.

      We’ve talked about the group email option, too, but the thing we’ve kept coming back to is that it’s even easier to create groups in your email client—and the Postcardly addresses would just feed into that. Still might be a good idea, though, to make it even easier.

  • Corivaughn

    I used postcardly during the Beta test to send a postcard to my husband in Afghanistan, and even though I email him pics all the time, postcards are tangible.  And a big hit at “mail call (to show off the babies and all that).  And it was so easy, click click, done!

  • Shelly from Missoula

    I am so excited about this.  It really solves a problem of never getting around to sending my 94 year old grandmother photos of my kids, my chickens, my home baked bread etc.  To physically send photos means, downloading them to the Costco site, ordering them, driving across town, parking, waiting in line, finding an envelope and a stamp and her address and remembering to actually put it in the mailbox. But now….Postcardly sounds so easy ! ! ! Way to go Paul !

  • Kirill Zubovsky

    Love it! 

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