TORONTO — Epost is preparing to go live with at least 30 more clients for whom it will provide electronic billing services.

The Toronto-based firm, which is owned by Canada Post, the Bank of Montreal and Telus, is already live

with 60 customers including Hudson’s Bay, Gaz Metropolitan and Hydro-Quebec. Chief executive Peter Melanson said Thursday a number of clients (which Epost calls “”mailers””) are in various stages of preparation to let the company present bills on their behalf to customers.

“”Over the next 60 to 90 days you’ll see more announcements coming out,”” Melanson said after speaking at a Toronto Board of Trade breakfast series. “”Some of them are still putting in new billing systems. A number of them are utilities which are still dealing with the deregulation process.””

Melanson, who used Epost’s two-year history as a case study of best practices for Canadian dot-com firms, said the primary challenge to attracting additional mailers is answering questions about its customer base. By law, Epost is not allowed to discuss whether the people who access mail through its services — and those of Canada Post — are also clients of prospective mailers.

“”We don’t data mine; we can’t share lists,”” he said. “”They want us to share with them how much of their customer base is online and forecast how many will go online and make the transition from physical mail to electronic billing.””

Hydro-Quebec spokesman Nicolas Carette said his organization, which formed an agreement with Epost in April, wanted to give its customers more flexibility in making payments, and more convenience.

“”It’s one mailbox,”” he said. “”The customer who pays their Canadian Tire bills, for example, he clicks on Epost and he can pay that bill and bills for a number of other companies as well.””

In his speech, Melanson credited part of Epost’s survival to keeping expenses under control, using demographic to direct its spending. The company learned that most of the bill payers, for example, live in large cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. They are often couples with high incomes who are involved in their communities. As a result, Melanson said Epost avoided TV advertising campaigns and focused on local radio and newspapers. “”We’ve got a really good idea of where our marketing dollars are going,”” he said.

While electronic billing is still a relatively new area, Melanson said Epost drew much from its past while keeping an eye on the future. Canada Post, for example, is well known for its franchise program where retailers like Shoppers Drug Mart offer their own local post offices. Over the last year Epost has forged its own online franchise program, working with popular portals like Yahoo! and MSN Money to present bills there.

Unlike other dot-com firms that burned out in 2000, Melanson said Epost avoided an initial purchase offering in favour of building the business — an approach he said alienated him at technology conferences. “”I was talking about old-world values and I was ridiculed by many people sitting in the audience at these shows,”” he said. “”They said, ‘This guy just doesn’t get it.'””


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