Tech startup Fetchnotes preparing for launch of note-taking service
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
The 21-year-old founders of Fetchnotes, a startup housed at U-M’s TechArb student business incubator, are working toward a public launch of their digital note-taking service at the end of February. They’re hoping to distinguish their service from a crowded field through its sheer simplicity and ease of use.
“For the most part we’re gearing toward that short, simple, quick note, and that’s something that a lot of other services don’t do really well,” said Alex Schiff, co-founder and CEO.
The service allows subscribers to upload ideas, reminders, shopping lists or other quick thoughts to a Web platform through text message, instant message, voice or email. Users can tag messages with a # sign — such as #todo —to file it in a category or use the @ sign to share or collaborate with other users. (A visual explanation is available in the video below.)
“It’s really for those people who have a lot of things they need to keep track of, busy people,” said Chase Lee, cofounder and chief technology officer. “Techies love it because it has that Twitter syntax, so it makes a lot of sense to them.” At the same time, it has appealed to busy families and soccer moms, he said.
Fetchnotes has compiled about 2,700 members after launching an invite-only beta version in October.
“Fetchnotes has achieved some early traction with quite a few customers, which is always a good indicator,” said Doug Neal, the managing director of U-M’s Center for Entrepreneurship who teaches a course where Schiff and Lee met and honed their idea.
Their business model “seems to indicate a reasonable set of assumptions that they will be testing shortly,” he added in an email.
“Fetchnotes will need to continue to balance their success in a very important niche of users looking for a simple solution for their note capture needs with competitive threats from the existing players. Users can select one of many alternative solutions for note taking, however Fetchnotes is betting on their ability to deliver a simple, fast solution better.”
The idea for the service was born out of routine technological failure.
Schiff, who grew up in Farmington Hills before moving to Florida as a teenager, was using the built-in note-taking application on his BlackBerry to jot down business ideas and reminders when the phone suddenly erased them all.
He began texting himself notes and transferring them to a Word document, but he knew there had to be a better way. When Schiff asked friends what applications they used, “What I found was that no one liked what they were using,” he said.
“A lot of people were solving this problem just by texting themselves,” Schiff said. “So when you say you can just text this number, organize it really easily right at the point of capture and have it stored in a central location for you to manage it later, that’s a really powerful value proposition to people rather than having to worry about another application that they have to constantly manage.”
When they launch later this month — the goal is Feb. 28 — Fetchnotes plans to have an app available either for the iPhone or Android mobile platform. Both versions are planned, the founders explain, it’s simply a matter of which programming team finishes first. They’ll debut a three-tiered pricing structure that includes a basic free plan.
Future plans call for the ability to integrate Fetchnotes with more established note services such as Evernote or Google Calendar. Lee and Schiff also say they’re also exploring opportunities for advertising on mobile apps, where tags such as #shopping might be attractive to grocery chains or retailers, for example, and for licensing their software for use in other products.
The two don’t seem particularly worried about capital needs for the business. Aside from a $1,000 legal grant from the Center for Entrepreneurship that covered part of the cost of incorporation, the two partners have funded the business themselves and have spent less than $1,000 since the business formed in March 2011. None of the startup’s 10 student employees are paid, and office space in TechArb is free.
“Labor is the only expense that’s going to be a burden at some point,” Lee said.
For a student-run startup, Fetchnotes has earned a surprising amount of coverage from the tech media, and the founders say Twitter has opened up a receptive audience as well. The company also learned a valuable lesson after an internal email containing a profanity went public to its users. (“We ended up going viral from that, so weird stuff works,” Schiff said.)
But the partners know they need to start focusing more on making the service public and scaling up. “We need to start building some reliable distribution channels,” said Lee, who recently hired two programmers so he could focus more on marketing. “We can’t rely on social media forever.”
Here’s the company’s video presentation to the 2011 Accelerate Michigan business competition:
Sven Gustafson is a freelance reporter for AnnArbor.com.