“Receipts in their current form just suck,” says Michael Altman, cofounder of OneReceipt. Looking over at my desktop inbox of purchases to be filed, a dizzying mix of holiday gifts and business purchases, I can’t say I disagree. It’s tedious to record the information and it’s frustrating to go digging for that one receipt that you need when you need to prove a purchase, several months down the road.
Fundamentally, this is a data translation problem. Receipts are buried in emails from various services and companies and in piles of paper. There’s little standardization to how that data is structured, which generally means a lot of manually entering information at the end of the month (or year, or never, depending on how organized you are).
One approach is the accounts-first method, as seen in services like Mint. There are a few trade-offs in that method. First of all, cash purchases are hard to track because they don’t happen inside an account of any kind. Secondly, there is more to a receipt than a record of spending. Receipts are also proofs of purchase, and this is important for taxes and for returns/exchanges.
OneReceipt takes the bottom-up approach of reading and interpreting your receipts. The aim is that the system should be able to understand them without manual data entry from the user. To that end, you give it permission to monitor your email accounts, where it listens in for incoming receipts. You can also take photos of paper receipts and send those in for processing.
The key, says Altman, is that this experience should be clean and simple, making it easy for users to engage with their information and to quickly search out receipts that they need. As with rivals Lemon and Slice, OneReceipt is only useful insofar as you are willing to let it track, in intimate detail, your consumer habits.
There are a surprising number of startups based around the idea of encouraging you to feed them your spending history. In an article announcing Lemon’s $10M in funding, TechCrunch lists four more rivals (Shoeboxed, MyReceipts, Expensify, and KEEBO). While some charge for their services, several are free to use, meaning that their business model and what they will be monetizing remains uncertain. This worries me.