Where did all the fax machines go?

I was involved in a deal this week that finally closed at 4:40am PST on a Thursday morning. The lawyers were chasing down signatures until 3am PST.

Amazingly, several of the signatories in the deal did not have fax machines at their house. Now – the deal should have been done in such a way that everyone had signed the docs and they were in escrow well before close of business the previous day; it was totally unnecessary to be chasing down signature pages in the middle of the night. However, it never occurred to me (and – apparently – it also didn’t occur to the lawyers who were the ones responsible for getting the signatures) that the people involved wouldn’t have fax machines at home.

Interestingly, everyone had Internet access and a printer. The problem wasn’t getting the documents to them (although no one really appreciates having to wake up in the middle of the night to “sign just one more document.”) However, once the document was signed, the idea of driving to the office at midnight to fax one page was ludicrous. Fortunately, everyone involved that didn’t have a fax machine was in the bay area, which was where the lawyers were, so the couriers had a busy, but lucrative night.

This deal had a real timing deadline as we had a number of announcements that assumed we would be closed before the markets opened in the morning. Since the acquirer was a public company, the timing was critical and not easily (or conveniently) changed. We got it done, but it was close.

I’ve been a long time user of integrated printer-fax-copier-scanner technology (I used to have three separate devices and no scanner – I dumped this as soon as the “all-in-one” models came out several years ago.) I currently have an HP Laserjet 3330 in each of my houses and my folks have a different, but similar model at their houses. When you can pick up an HP LaserJet 3015 for $299.99 I just don’t know why you wouldn’t at least have a low end “all-in-one” machine around for those unexpected late night emergencies.

So – while it’s not Christmas shopping season yet – consider putting this on your next “computer buying spree list” if you currently don’t have a fax machine. With all of our current technology, until electronic signatures work and are widely accepted, fax machines will continue to be useful.

  • Searching for Fax Machines

    Brad Feld asks an interesting question: Where have all the fax machines gone? In closing a venture deal last week he noticed that many formerly-fax-sporting people no longer had fax machines. How did that happen? The superficial answer is that…

  • I disagree with a push for people to keep fax machines a real mode for communication. Fax machines have to be the slowest, expensive (ink), most jam-prone pieces of crap I have ever used. Fax spam on top of it all… Whenever someone says “can I fax this to you?” I say “No way, scan it and email it to me.” It’s easier to organize, doesn’t waste paper, and if I want to print out a copy I will. High speed document scanners are very cheap. I feel it’s my responsibility to be one of the people who pushes for change here. Adobe is doing some amazing things when it comes to document imaging, smart forms, and encrypted e-signatures. Our friend Bubba Clinton didn’t sign the e-signature act into law for nothing. We need to move in that direction, not backwards.

    Feld Comment: Ben – either you didn’t understand what I was getting at or – more likely – I didn’t explain it well. I strongly agree that there “must be a better way” and that ultimately something like e-signatures could make the written signature obsolete. However, in business today, this simply isn’t the case and we have to deal with the reality of what we are working with.

    Your suggestion that a better solution is “scan it and email it” misses the point I was trying to make – if the person has a scanner at home, they are $10 away from having a fax machine. It’s stupid to buy a scanner today when you can buy a combo printer + scanner + fax that – voila – includes a copying machine for modestly more than you’d pay to buy a printer (or a stand alone scanner). If you struggle with ink, it’s the same ink your printer uses. If you struggle with jam-prone – it’s the same sheet feeder for your copying machine. Oh – and as a special bonus, it can be networked and shared by all your computers in your house.

    So – my point really was “if you buy a printer, or a scanner, or a fax machine, or a copying machine – reconsider and buy an all-in-one machine.”

    When the day comes that you sell Comcate, make sure you have fax machine “capability” at home “just in case.”

  • LorenAmelang

    I faced a similar "fax a signature" situation this week, and realized that while I still have the fax machine, it is only inertia that has kept me from disconnecting my last wired phone line! I've been keeping one ISDN line paid-up as a multi-purpose fallback connection, but now that I have two faster routes to the internet, that seems silly. It hadn't occurred to me that turning it off will make my fax useless. None of the young people I know have ever had a wired phone at their own home…