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Posted on Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Tech startup Fetchnotes preparing for launch of note-taking service

By Sven Gustafson


Fetchnotes co-founders Alex Schiff, right, and Chase Lee are operating their digital notetaking startup out of the University of Michigan's TechArb incubator for student entrepreneurs.

Angela J. Cesere |

Two University of Michigan business undergraduates believe they have the solution to a conundrum faced by an increasingly hectic, digital world: Namely, how do you keep track of simple thoughts?

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


Lynn Liston

Sun, Feb 19, 2012 : 3:41 a.m.

I'm looking forward to this- it would be very helpful in my business. Good luck!

Wolf's Bane

Sun, Feb 19, 2012 : 12:37 a.m.

Looking forward to testing it with EverNote. Congrats!


Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 6:11 p.m.

I love Evernote but agree that it is getting clunky to add a simple note on the go. I'm looking forward to Fetchnotes - being able to text a note to my Evernote would be terrific. Wunderlist integration would also be nice. Good luck to these gentlemen!


Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 11:31 p.m.

Just in case you didn't know, you can send a note to Evernote via email. I don't know what kind of phone you're using, but you can just stick the Evernote address in your phonebook and quickly jot a note through email. Each Evernote user has a personal Evernote email address.

Kai Petainen

Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

Awesome! Congrats and best wishes! Exciting stuff....


Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

Great job and good luck! We need to foster the entrepreneurial spirit of local hardworking students like these is a productive way. I suggest we sign up and give our feedback directly to them!! They're offering a free basic plan after all which is aimed to help our lives. Whether it works for us individually or doesn't leaves their fate in basic economics. Aren't we proud of Google? They came back and rewarded Ann Arbor by providing jobs and tax revenue. I suggest there be a new section in that features stories on local student startup companies. A little bit goes a long way.

Alex Schiff

Sun, Feb 19, 2012 : 7:19 p.m.

Thanks! If you'd like to get in early, I've opened this sign up URL for 100 people: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 4:41 p.m.



Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

As a former University professor we used to discipline students involved in note taking services. There is a type of intellectual dishonesty if the student skips class and relies on a note taking service. It has some similarities to plagiarism. There is a value to participating in a class both for those asking questions and others in the class. If the course was intended for distance learning it would be offered as such. Now we exalt these note takers as entrepeneurs.


Sun, Feb 19, 2012 : 4:17 a.m.

Then as a former University Professor, you should know better than to comment on a headline rather than reading the article.


Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

@Sven- you are right, I took a note-taking service to mean those services that take notes in a class and then sell the notes to students who did not attend. The headline is a bit ambiguous.

Sven Gustafson

Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

I think you're misinterpreting what Fetchnotes is about. It's not an automated note-taking app, and the founders themselves will tell you it's geared more toward capturing quick notes and reminders — such as things for the grocery list or an idea for a home-improvement project — than for long-form notes such as you would find in a college course.


Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 3:11 p.m.

@Ron- how about getting off your butt and ask a question? If you are being taught by TA's when it is not appropriate you should complain. You are paying top dollar and the adminstration needs to put value on teaching.

Ron Granger

Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

Paying thousands of dollars to physically sit in the back of a lecture hall, especially with hundreds of other people or a teaching assistant giving the lecture, is an outdated concept. MIT gets it. Michigan has yet to grasp the disruptive change that is afoot.


Sat, Feb 18, 2012 : 11:40 a.m.

Cant wait to see how this develops....I don't like ANY notes program I have used so far on my Mac, iPhone, or BB. Interesting premise.

Alex Schiff

Sun, Feb 19, 2012 : 7:18 p.m.

We'd love to get your feedback — you can get into the closed beta here: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>. If you'd like to beta test our Mac widget, just shoot me an email at alex(at)fetchnotes(dot)com.