Fetchnotes Co-Founder on Mobile Collaboration, Acquisition by Driftt

Buoyed by $15 million in venture funding, Cambridge, MA-based Driftt announced this week that it has acquired Ann Arbor-born startup Fetchnotes. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Fetchnotes co-founder and CEO Alex Schiff confirmed that it’s purely a technology acquisition; none of the Fetchnotes team will join Driftt.

In 2012, Fetchnotes was the first student-led startup from the University of Michigan to be accepted into the Techstars Boston accelerator. Fetchnotes created a social note-taking app that allows users to employ the same conventions as Twitter and Facebook, with hashtags for organizing topics and @mentions to send notes to specific people. If you tag a friend as part of a note, that note will also show up in the friend’s feed because you’ve tagged him. (For example, “Ask @gthuang about our editorial meeting. #todo.”) And since Fetchnotes integrates with a user’s address book, even non-users can get copies of notes via text message.

Meanwhile, Driftt is the Boston-area brainchild of former HubSpot and Performable execs, and though product details on its website are scarce, it has an invitation-only (for now) app that facilitates “visual communication” and collaboration between friends and co-workers by phone. Its investors include CRV, General Catalyst Partners, NextView Ventures, Founder Collective, and HubSpot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah.

Schiff said Driftt was interested in his company because both were working on similar technologies, and each had opposite strengths. In particular, Fetchnotes was beta-testing something called Thready that Schiff described as “like a shared Dropbox that you could throw anything into—a file, a photo, a note, whatever—and have a conversation.”

What made Thready especially exciting to Fetchnotes (and Driftt, apparently) was its “non-user sharing aspect,” Schiff said. You could add a non-user’s e-mail address to Thready and that person would be able to fully interact with the group even if they hadn’t downloaded Fetchnotes. “It worked seamlessly with non-users,” Schiff added. “I can’t get into Driftt’s product because it’s not public yet, but a lot of the things we were doing with Thready were very similar.”

At one point, Schiff and Driftt co-founder Elias Torres sat down and showed each other their product demos. Though each company had very different starting points, Schiff said they realized they had similar goals and complementary strengths. “I said, ‘Holy shit, the things we built that are working and what we know we still need to build are the opposite of Driftt.’” In other words, Drifft felt it had nailed one part of the social collaboration app game, and Fetchnotes had nailed a different, equally important part of it. (Schiff said Fetchnotes will remain operational as its features are folded into Driftt.)

People are working from their mobile phones more than ever, Schiff said, but often the work is done in a note-taking app, whether native to the phone or not. It seems Driftt hopes to capture that growing number of users initiating projects from their smartphones by offering them better creation and collaboration tools.

Driftt CEO David Cancel told TechCrunch this week that Fetchnotes’ devotion to the mobile user experience is what sealed the deal: “What we saw in Fetchnotes was a product that is truly mobile first,” Cancel said of the acquisition. “I believe Evernote, Dropbox, Slack and others are building amazing products but their products are still 95 percent desktop-focused with mobile acting as just an add-on … We plan on building out Fetchnotes to take on that market.”

Though Schiff won’t stay on at Driftt, he’s not without new opportunities. In fact, he moved to San Francisco a few weeks ago to join the Occipital team, which is working on technology that will allow the camera on an iPad, for instance, to see in 3D, enabling it to take 3D images and make models that can then be sent to a 3D printer.

Schiff wandered into the startup world almost accidentally after starting out at the University of Michigan as a journalism student. He took a job off Craigslist writing for Benzinga, another local tech company, which in turn led to him dabbling in the business development side of the company. That job inspired him to take an entrepreneurship class at U-M, where he met some like-minded co-founders and went on to start Fetchnotes.

Schiff said Fetchnotes had “hundreds of thousands” of downloads before the acquisition, and he’s clearly touched by the response he’s gotten from users post-acquisition. The company has long been known for its quirky, funny, sometimes profanity-laced communications with users.

“We always try to treat people like real human beings instead of sounding like corporate robots,” he explained. “We’ve gotten tons of responses already, and lots of people are thanking us for the way we handled the acquisition. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments that we created a two-way relationship with our users. Too often with tech companies, it’s only a one-way communication.”

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