U-M Student Startup Fetchnotes Offers ‘Sticky Notes for the Modern Age’

4/16/12Follow @XconomyDET

After collecting a few thousand users through a private beta launch and garnering press from the likes of the Wall Street Journal and All Things Digital, Ann Arbor, MI-based Fetchnotes opened the mobile app for its digital note-capturing service to the public last Friday. The startup, which is headed by a pair of University of Michigan students, is admittedly coming to play in a space that is already crowded with competitors like the popular Evernote. However, co-founder Alex Schiff says what Fetchnotes offers is sticky notes for the modern age in a dynamic format.

“We see ourselves as competing more with a phone’s native notepad than Evernote,” Schiff explains. “The problem with most of the note-taking software is that it focuses on long-form note taking. Ours is geared toward three-to-four-word notes, not three-to-four-page notes.”

Fetchnotes works like this: Users can text, call, and email reminder notes on the fly from their mobile phones, and the content shows up on Fetchnote’s web app. What’s also unique is that the notes can be organized at the point of capture by using hashtags (for example, “#email Aysha to ask about lunch next Saturday #todo”). “That creates robust organization through usage rather than folders,” Schiff says. He adds that Fetchnotes has already proved popular with the “techie crowd” and early adopters, who are perfectly at ease with the hashtag concept, already employed by social media sites like Twitter.

Schiff and co-founder Chase Lee met each other at a entrepreneurship practicum at U-M. Schiff says he had come up with what he thought was a hot idea for an ideas marketplace startup. He says he soon found out, however, that his idea “really sucked.” He started pivoting and became interested in how people capture notes and to-do items while brainstorming different elements of his failed ideas marketplace startup.

“I would text myself ideas and then put them all into a Word doc,” Schiff says. “One day, my Blackberry’s notepad erased a year’s worth of ideas. I was very distraught.” While researching an alternative note-capturing method, Schiff says he realized his friends were using “a crazy patchwork” of methods to take and store notes. That was the catalyst for Fetchnotes. Schiff and Lee built a simple text message prototype as a minimum viable product and spent the rest of the practicum iterating their idea.

Today, Lee and Schiff are both juniors and residents of the TechArb incubator on campus. Chase was recently named the Entrepreneur of the Year by the university. Aside from a small grant from U-M, Schiff says the Fetchnotes operation is bootstrapped but adds that he and Lee are currently fundraising for a seed round. The company now has nine employees, and, of course, Lee and Schiff still find time to continue working toward their degrees.

Though Schiff says Fetchnotes isn’t targeting “enterprise notetaking,” he points out that there aren’t limits on how long users’ notes can be, and knows some people are already using the app for longer form note taking. The company’s ultimate goal is to change the way people think about capturing and organizing notes. “We want Fetchnotes to be the go-to destination for short notes,” he says.

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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