Entrepreneur Zack Steven says when he's on business trips, mailing postcards can be a hassle.
First, he must find a store that carries them. Then he has to write them out, stamp them and mail them.
"If I actually want to do this, it's kind of complicated," Steven said.
Steven is aiming to make all that easier with his new business, St. Paul-based Zyngram.
Customers go to its website, www.zyngram.com, to mail physical postcards for 99 cents to $1.99 each. Then they choose from different images and type in the message they want to send. Then, Zyngram pays a company to print the messages on postcards and mail them out from St. Paul.
"With Zyngram, I can send the postcard on my way to Washington from the plane. I can send it when I get there," Steven said. "I have that flexibility to let the kids know where I am and that I am thinking of them."
Steven launched his new business last week at a local tech event, Minnedemo. And he is spreading the word about his business through social media and partnerships with hotels. He hopes to work with local eateries soon.
For example, Zyngram has provided patrons of the St. Paul Hotel access to a free postcard that advertises the venue. After customers use Zyngram's service, they are given the option to "like" St. Paul Hotel's Facebook page.
Part of the business model envisions hotels and restaurants paying for postcards as a marketing tool.
"We fit right in with nostalgia. We thought it would be a nice way to marry the high-tech touch world we're in, with a little bit of that," said David Miller, St. Paul Hotel's general manager.
The St. Paul Hotel is one of two venues piloting the program. The hotel agreed to give out 1,500 free Zyngram slips to its customers when they check in, starting in mid-to-late August. So far, 30 hotel customers have used Zyngram, Steven said. The St. Paul Hotel is not paying to participate in the pilot.
Steven acknowledges that the hotel launch has been slow, but he hopes to bolster Zyngram's popularity by expanding his partnerships to restaurants and other hotels.
Zyngram's business is launching at a time when fewer people are mailing postcards. Last year, there were 1.4 billion postcards and stamped cards mailed, a nearly 13 percent decline from 2009, according to the U.S. Postal Service.
People are getting into the habit of posting on Facebook about their vacations rather than mailing a postcard, said Pete Nowacki, spokesman with the U.S. Postal Service.
"Certainly from our standpoint, anything that has an opportunity to generate mail volume and rekindle a market like that, we're certainly enthusiastic about," Nowacki said.
Zyngram was founded by Steven, Colin Hirdman, Josh Becerra and Christopher Deutsch, as part of a joint venture between mobile and Web application developer Make Rocket Go Now and software firm Monkey Island Inc.. So far, the founders have put in less than $1,000 into Zyngram.
Steven, a Twin Cities native, co-founded Monkey Island Inc. with his childhood friends in 2006. Monkey Island assists businesses in areas such as social media, marketing and search engine optimization.
Steven said the founders joked they're investing in a "rescue plan" for the Postal Service.
But whether the firm will gain enough traction remains to be seen.
Ashleigh Moss, vice president of marketing for souvenir stores Love from Minnesota, Love from Chicago and retailer iCandy Sugar Shoppe, said she believes mailing a postcard through Zyngram and writing a handwritten postcard aren't the same.
"I think when people receive handwritten notes, they feel special," Moss said. "To me, it just seems very much like a text in sheep's clothing."
But Steven said he believes more people would buy and mail postcards if the process was easier.
"There's still real value in sending postcards through the mail," Steven said. "People hang onto it longer."
Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712