The "Internet of things" has taken a literal new turn.
Lauren Long, a recent biomedical computing graduate of Queen's University, was simultaneously vexed by the logistics of moving house, and taken with the idea of cloud storage, in which computer files can be stored on the Internet, no fuss, no muss.
"We thought, wouldn't it be amazing if you could do that with real life stuff," she says.
So, along with her co-founder, Gordie Best, Ms. Long founded Boxit: A startup that offers off-site storage for peoples' physical belongings with cloud-like convenience.
Boxit drops off empty boxes at customers homes (or, more often, condos), then picks them up again when they're full, and carts them off to a storage location. If you need any individual box back at any time, the service can have that box and that box alone delivered to your doorstep in 24 hours.
To keep track of it all, the boxes are numbered and bar-coded. Once users have set up an account with Boxit, they can log in to a online interface where, rather than writing descriptions on the boxes with a permanent marker, they can fill in a field to describe what's in each box, the better to retrieve them. The boxes aren't huge – they're closer to plastic crates, about two feet by three feet – but storage is $7 a month each, and pickup and retrieval is guaranteed in a 24-hour window. Ms. Long argues that this beats the hassle of renting a storage unit.
"If you're not filling that up to the brim, you're paying for space you don't use," she says.
Boxit launched a year ago. If a full delivery-and-storage service seems ambitious for a fresh startup, it's because it would be. Instead, the young pair have built the business on making good use of the excess capacity at a well-established document-storage company that owns both the secure facility and the delivery fleet.
The partner firm, which typically caters to corporations, already had the barcoding infrastructure to track, store and retrieve the boxes. Ms. Long integrated it with a new customer-facing website that lets customers sign up, sign in, and access their own boxes.
The service is especially designed to cater to customers moving into ever-smaller condo units, and looking to maximize every inch. In the process, Ms. Long and Mr. Best have seen some uses of their service they weren't expecting: Some customers use it as an extra wardrobe, storing their winter clothes in summer and vice-versa, swapping coats for dresses. A musician who was selling his house needed to store all his sheet music, then retrieve some of it in a hurry when a concert came up.
Right now, the seed-funded startup serves the GTA, but the pair are looking towards other markets.
"Toronto is an ideal place to start because it's got the highest amount of condo construction in North America," says Ms. Long. "But we also do see that happening in other cities, like Montreal, Vancouver, and New York."