October 2011 - June 2012
Co-founder, CEO. I created the company and built our website and launched our first product. After winning first place in the Husky Startup Challenge my Co-founder and I hired a team of 30 students, I was then in charge of marketing and employee management.
In my Sophomore year I came to a realization: studying is inefficient. It's hard to listen, to truly listen, to the professor and take good notes. Notes that you'll rely on in the future to study for exams. Two weeks after having covered the material in class, if I was preparing for an exam and was struggling to remember a concept, textbooks only made things more difficult and homework solutions were useless without the process.
I wanted a better way to study, this was the impetus for starting Notely. I noticed my roommate taking amazing notes on his tablet in our Physics 2 class, that weekend I hired him as Notely's first employee. I joined the Husky Startup Challenge, a semester long startup accelerator at Northeastern which culminated in a Demo Day with monetary prizes for the top three startups.
Our mission: create a study guide that made studying more efficient for students. A guide that got right to the point, presented them the concepts they needed to know, took them through homework problems and suggested further ways for them to practice and prepare for exams.
Over the Fall 2011 semester I brought along a Jacob as a co-founder to handle employee management and hiring. Our plan was to build launch one note packet right before our Physics 2 final as a test of the concept and then go into hiring many notetakers for the following semester.
Study Guide Design
The first thing we set out to solve was to design a study guide that made studying better.
We faced the following constraints:
- Must scale across multiple course types.
- Must be easy to create for all of our employees.
The Quick Reference Guide
We wanted an outline for each study guide so that students knew what was covered and could jump to the appropriate concepts. While brainstorming the best way to organize our notes we also came up with the cheatsheet analogy. A common study pattern for students is to create a 1-2 page cheat sheet that they can look at the day of the exam to keep all the concepts, definitions and formulas fresh in their mind. We wanted to replace the cheat sheet, this is how the quick reference guide came to be. The best way to start off our packets was in fact with a quick one line description of each concept, something that can be interchangeably used as a cheat sheet, but would also let the students know what the study guide would cover in more detail.
Solving Homework Problems
Practice makes permanent. The single best way to understand a certain concept or formula is to apply it to problems repeatedly until you understand all the different angles and nuances of that concept. I noticed that in classes where the Professor provided homework solutions, not just the final answer, but the fully solved out problem, I did much much better on exams. Each of our packets included at least one solved problem per major concept and a section that lead to "more practice" pulling out similar problems from the book. By showing students how to solve a problem, and then giving them a place for them to go practice we hoped to give them a much deeper understanding of the things they were learning.
Having no programming experience whatsoever we set off to build Notely's website. We used the Shopify platform to provide all the backend services we needed in terms of processing payments, serving packet downloads. Shopify allowed us to highly customize the front end to acheive the look and Navigation that we wanted.
Launch, Winning the HSC, Expanding
On November 27 of 2011 we launched our Physics 2 final exam study guide for $10 online. Within 24 hours we had 960+ downloads and dozens of Facebook messages and emails asking if we'd be releasing any study guides for other classes.
The following week we placed first in the HSC and received $1,250 in funding. We spent that winter break rebuilding the website on Shopify and hiring 32 employees for the Spring semester.
Profitability, Venture Funded Competition, Shutting Down The Company
We began the spring semester with over thirty employees spread across most of the big introductory classes at Northeastern. Our plan for that semester was to continue testing our packets in the market, specifically across different subject matters, making sure they were the best way to study. Jacob and I spent most of our time on employee management and marketing to students. At the start of the semester we ran a bootcamp to show our Notetakers how to create a study guide of Notely quality, how to upload their products to the website, etc. From word templates, to video tutorials, we slowly put in place a ton of different processes to get things running smoother. The other big part of our time was spent on marketing to students, Jacob and I would wake up at 5am three times a week, print out over 500 flyers and spend the early mornings flyering our big classes that we operated in.
While this was happening a venture funded competitor known as Flashnotes moved their company HQ to Boston and set their sights on Northeastern. Despite their marketing efforts we held a strong grasp on the Northeastern market, Notely was well known around campus at that point. This lead to them making an acquisition offer at the end of semester.
As the end of the semester hit Notely had reached profitability allowing Jacob and I to recoup all that we had put into the business. We began the conversation of continuing to expand the company, bringing Notely to other campuses by hiring campus managers, increasing our presence at Northeastern, etc. However while we had the opportunity to build a profitable business and employ students, we also understood that selling study guides was never going to be a massive business, regardless of the scale reached. At this point I had found myself extremely drawn to product design and Jacob to Engineering so even though it was an extremely difficult decision we decided to shut down the business to focus our time on the things we were passionate about.