Noteleaf Seeks to Sync Up Online Calendars, Contacts, For Meeting Prep On-The-Go
This is the second in a series of profiles of Y Combinator Winters 2011 (YC W11) startups.
Whatever your thoughts about modern technology and whether it’s making life better or just busier, you can’t say that no one feels your pain.
In fact, hundreds of new startups pop up every year to fix perceived pain points in the way we organize our digital lives—and no small fraction of them seem to come from Y Combinator, the Mountain View, CA-based venture incubator. Yesterday, I wrote about Taskforce, a YC Winter 2011 company that has created a Gmail widget that helps you regain control of your inbox by converting e-mails into to-do items. Today, I’m putting the spotlight on Noteleaf, another two-man Y Combinator startup with a service that sends you key details about your business contacts when you need them most: right before you meet with them.
Noteleaf is a simple, set-it-and-forget-it tool that leverages your existing online calendar and social networking accounts. When you sign up, you give the service your cell phone number, as well as permission to connect to your Google Calendar and your LinkedIn account. Then the company’s software scours your upcoming appointments for the names of the people you’ll be meeting with, and looks up those people on LinkedIn.
Exactly 10 minutes before a meeting, Noteleaf sends you a text message with a link to a mobile Web page with your contact’s profile. The page includes their photo, work history, recent tweets, a link to your e-mail correspondence with that person and a Google Map showing the location of the meeting. It’s like that no-nonsense secretary Mrs. Landingham on The West Wing, handing you a briefing book just as you go into your next big negotiation.
“It’s especially useful for people who book a lot of meetings,” says Noteleaf co-founder Jake Klamka. “Maybe you booked this meeting two weeks ago. You didn’t need the info an hour ago, but now it’s 10 minutes before the meeting, and you are rushing, and you really need it. We are going to present it to you in one compact, quick-to-review package.”
I’ve tried Noteleaf and it works well—although, as with all software, things can occasionally go haywire (more on that in a moment). Perhaps the coolest feature is that once you’ve created your Noteleaf account, you never have to touch it again. The system checks your calendar on its own, and you don’t have to do anything special to prompt a meeting reminder. The company’s driving philosophy, Klamka says, is “don’t make people do any extra work, and send them the right information at the right time.”
The service has some limitations, which mostly reflect how new it is—Klamka says Noteleaf, like most YC companies, adheres to the lean-startup mantra of “launch early and get feedback.” So far, the service can only connect with your Google Calendar, so if you use Apple’s iCal or Microsoft’s Outlook as your datebook, you’re out of luck (unless you do a bit of extra work to sync Google Calendar with your existing calendar application). And the 10-minute warning time is fixed—you can’t change it to, say, 30 minutes or 5 minutes.
But what’s remarkable about Noteleaf is how much goes on behind the scenes to make sure you’re armed with the key information you need before each meeting. In particular, in a reflection of no-extra-work philosophy, the software uses some pretty sophisticated tricks to read your standard calendar entries and figure out who you’re meeting with. It makes life easier for Noteleaf if you include a contact’s full name in a calendar entry, but it’s not necessary.
Klamka was trained in math and high-energy physics, and he says that work involved learning how to write machine-learning algorithms that extract the signal from the noise in physics experiments. Co-founder Wil Chung has a computer science background and has worked on similar signal problems, Klamka says. “Whereas somebody else would have seen this [calendar] problem and said, ‘I am going to have the user enter an e-mail address [for every meeting participant], we thought we could do something interesting by using algorithms and natural-language processing and heuristics to extract the signal in this. We want to add value without you having to change your behavior in any way.”
That means, first, identifying the names in calendar entries, and then retrieving the right profile information for that name. If you type “Lunch at Four Seasons with Simon” into your Google Calendar, in other words, Noteleaf has to figure out not only … Next Page »