A Lost And Found For The Internet

Some startup ideas are long overdue. Found in Town is one of them.

Many of us have had the experience--often, just as we were about to give up on humanity--of having a lost wallet or cell phone returned to us by a perfect stranger. It's the hypothesis of Found in Town, a new Chicago startup, that these moments of unexpected human goodness would be much more frequent if only technology were to lend a helping hand. Found in Town essentially brings the lost-and-found box and puts it on the web.

"I think enough people have been through the pain of losing something valuable, like their keys or their phone, and acutely remember how frustrating and inconvenient it is recovering from the loss," FiT's founder and CEO Zach Haller tells Fast Company. (Haller says that a staggering 120,000 cell phones are lost, just in taxi cabs, just in Chicago, each year.) Often, someone finds that valuable thing, and simply doesn't know how to get it back to you. As Haller likes to put it, "We make it easy and hassle-free to be a good Samaritan." 

The idea is ludicrously simple. Do you have a belonging so precious you can't stand to lose it, but are you so absentminded that you almost certainly will? Register with Found in Town, and they'll assign you your own serial number. They'll send you a keychain and a bunch of stickers with this number, which you then affix to your wallet, your phone, your camera, and so on (actually, there is already a website devoted specifically to "orphan cameras").

Then you lose your precious thing, of course. But then something beautiful happens. A stranger finds your precious thing, follows the instructions on the sticker by logging on to Found in Town and plugging in your "FiT code." Further streamlining things, the person who finds the lost item doesn't have to take it home; he can leave instructions through the site, saying, for instance, that he found it at such-and-such bar and left it for safekeeping with the bartender. Voilà! An act of digital good Samaritanism has been effected.

And along the way, hopefully, Zach Haller and some other people have made a bit of money. (Though Haller doesn't need to make a killing off this yet; for now this is more a hobby, on the side of his already more than full-time work as a paralegal and aerobics instructor.) Haller has opted for a series of partnerships with local businesses, to monetize his own. When you sign up, for instance, you get a key chain bearing the logo of a local bar or restaurant you'd like to affiliate with. Businesses "also have the option of emailing registered FiT users to invite them to participate in exclusive deals, discounts and incentives on site, creating a unique digital loyalty program," claims Found in Town. Though FiT is decidedly Chicago-centric for now--it has four participating businesses there currently--it has plans to expand to what Haller calls "other social media-forward restaurants and bars" throughout the country. FiT doesn't have outside investment yet; Haller says he's finalizing an investor presentation.

The idea for the business came, as so many do, because the founder had a need for it himself: "I had lost my keys one day," Haller tells Fast Company, "and in my frustrated panic of trying to find them, I felt a bit indignant that even if someone found them on the sidewalk and wanted to return them, they'd have no idea they were mine. At first I chose to just write my cell phone number on a plastic keychain on my keys, and that act evolved into what would become Found in Town."

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[Image: Flickr user MSVG]

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