Vancouver startup aims to archive cherished memories for future use

Every week Techvibes republishes an article (or two) from Business in Vancouver. This article was originally published in issue #1080 – July 13 – July 19, 2010.

Are you tired of all the privacy issues and chatter of acquaintances on Facebook?

ShareMyLife Inc. hopes you are.

The Vancouver company, whose major backer is BuildDirect founder Jeff Booth, has launched a new online virtual vault for people seeking an Internet haven to share private messages and memories with the most important people in their life.

“We’re chasing thousands and thousands of people online, but we really tend to forget the most important people who matter to us: our wives, our husbands, our children,” said Sanjay Maharaj, ShareMyLife’s president.

Users of Virtual LockBox, as the vault-like website is called, can even schedule to send e-mails, videos, images, audio clips and other messages to loved ones long after the sender has died.

For example, a dying grandfather could store a video of himself on Virtual LockBox wishing a grandchild a happy birthday 10 years down the road.

Virtual LockBox will automatically send the video to the grandchild (or to the grandchild’s parent) on the scheduled date.

ShareMyLife has few users since launching a beta-version in December, but is ramping up a social media marketing campaign and launching a new mobile version of the site for the iPhone.

Maharaj envisions the mobile version to be a draw for people who take a lot of photos with their iPhone camera. Those photos can be uploaded instantly to Virtual Lockbox and arranged in albums that can be part of a legacy package of a user’s life that’s left behind for family members.

More important documents, such as digital wills or digital birth certificates, can also be stored on the site.

“When you look at social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, they’re very open web platforms,” said Maharaj, noting the privacy issues that have recently plagued Facebook.

He said ShareMyLife can’t access users’ accounts.

“It’s like going into a bank and renting a safety deposit box: you have a key, the bank has a key,” said Maharaj. “You can put whatever you want in it, whether it’s a will or cash or whatever – only you know what’s in that box.”

Maharaj said the company is using security tools and a secure web service to ensure that Virtual LockBox accounts can’t be hacked. But he acknowledged that the site is only as secure as the average 256-bit encrypted account-based site.

“Look at any web platform, whether it’s a government agency’s or a bank’s – hackers will eventually, if they’re really committed to hacking into any website, be successful,” he said.

Virtual LockBox account holders must also ensure that people who they intend to send messages and memories to in the future maintain the same e-mail account. Otherwise they won’t receive the message, because e-mail is currently the only medium that Virtual LockBox uses to send messages.

Booth, who founded venture-backed online lumber distributor BuildDirect in 1999, co-founded Virtual LockBox with Chris Nickerson, who is Booth’s brother-in-law and a vice-president in an Ontario branch of Hartford Financial.

The two men have invested roughly $100,000 into Virtual LockBox.

With Booth and Nickerson occupied with their other businesses, Maharaj is developing Virtual LockBox.

“When Jeff showed it to me I got really passionate about the idea,” said Maharaj, who was one of the original business development employees at BuildDirect. “I told Jeff I’ll run with this because he is involved with steering BuildDirect.”

ShareMyLife uses a “freemium” revenue model, in which consumers can receive a basic account for free or pay for a more robust account.

Virtual LockBox provides free storage space for up to 50 megabytes.

It costs $9.99 a year for one gigabyte of storage space on the site and $47.99 a year for 10 gigabytes.

Said Maharaj: “Once we get to a certain user base level we will go to the marketplace and start talking to private investors, to bring some more investment money into the company.”