Startup idea: short, paid email

Here’s a half-baked thought inspired by a comment Marc Andreessen made on

The idea: a service where you can receive emails limited to a certain size (say, 500 characters). People would know that if Joe’s address is joe@short.please, he would only see the first 500 characters of whatever you send. If your email to Joe exceeds the length, you’d get a message back saying:

“Joe is using service X, which rejects emails longer than 500 characters. It also rejects mails with attachments or links. Your original message will not be delivered, but if you compose one that fits those requirements, he will receive it.”

Maybe Joe could tweak some of these requirements. He may want only 300-character emails, and he might accept links. No attachments, though.

Taking it one step further, busy people like Marc could add a price to the mix: you cannot reach him unless you prepay an amount he picks (say, $20). It’s not that he cares about the money; this ensure you’re serious, and he could choose not to cash it after reading your email. He could also experiment with this price until he finds the right level. The “pay to email me” concept is not a new idea by the way. I remember reading something Bill Gates wrote a long time ago to that effect, as a possible solution for spam.

Once again, this is a 30-second idea with no serious though behind it. Don’t rip me a new one!

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9 Replies to “Startup idea: short, paid email”

  1. I’m just wondering how much it is going to cost me to respond to your post :-). This is a neat idea, perhaps refine it to charge for unsolicited e-mails. Even at 1 cent per email it would seriously reduce the amount of spam email. I’ve probably exceeded 300 characters by now. But Another option/variant would be to have mechanical turkeys summarize email content reducing the size at a price incurred by the sender.

  2. The pay-per-message model is essentially that of SMS/MMS in the United States. Just turns out that the price people are willing to pay to send/receive a message isn’t much. In the right context, the price can be a bit higher. Look at LinkedIn’s InMail. It costs a pretty penny, and recruiters will use it because they know they can contact you.

    But email as a whole probably isn’t the right protocol to use for something like this, because there is an expectation for how email is supposed to function. When messages bounce, you consider something to be broken.

  3. Put the lid on your email-happy friends and co-workers with paid “postage” on email (flat fee, or by length). Structure it like the USPS. Pay to send, free to receive.

  4. When someone sends you an email and expects you to read it, they’re making a demand on your time. Why shouldn’t they have to pay for it? It would also make it much more likely that your particular email would be seen, particularly if contacting some notable figure.

    Perhaps it should be implemented so that a small portion of the fee is paid if the message is unread (still prevents spam, but avoids paying for nothing.

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