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If you were given $50,000 - what kind of note taking software would you build? (mindfolder.com)
17 points by drschwabe on June 26, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments

So many red signals...where to start?

Creator asks for feedback while simultaneously stating that he probably won't listen

Creator got the idea to ask the 'market' because a business mentor suggested it...not because there was an original interest in discovering a consumer problem big enough that people might pay for to solve. You're already dead set on creating your own 'dream software' in the way you see it.

I think the most audacious thing is asking a bank or anyone for a 50k loan for a pet project that - by the sound of it - has no reliable indicator that it will be a commercial success. Definitely wouldn't pin my financial success on it.

Why not continue to create what you want in your spare time and then when it reaches a mature enough stage show it to your target audience and see how they react. Are they blown away? Do they want it? Would they pay for it? Is it just a little bit better than existing solutions, or is it leaps better?

Hope his business mentor gives this kool-aid drinking dude a wake up call.

Creator is relentlessly, passionately motivated to deliver a rock-solid product.

Asking a bank for a $50k loan to fund a new business idea is perfectly legit. Sure, there is risk in market assumptions & potential flaws in the model. But that doesn't mean you have to wait for a functional version of the product or market validation in order to begin fundraising. It's your risk to take (and the lenders). That's how you make great strides in business: embracing risk.

Besides that - if you're a seasoned, competent entrepeneur with proven success there is a good chance most of your assumptions may be correct. If not, pivots will be made - and nothing can stop the bull-headed determination of a passionately motivated creator ;)

You're right, but why dive head first into something that is doomed for failure right from the get go? Sounds so very wrong to me.

Front page of HN and hundreds of survey submissions in my inbox this morning tells me that this isn't necessarily doomed. Diving head first is a prerequisite of success.

This is ridiculous. I thought this was going to be a satirical post about tech people wasting money.

I don't know you, and I have no idea whether your idea will succeed or not. That being said, this is a crowded space, and your product doesn't sound capital intensive. Why don't you be smart and hold off on the loan and work on this project whenever you get a chance. If you have any tangible evidence that this thing will grow, then go for grants/loans and see what happens.

The $50k loan will fund full-time development. I have been working part time on this project for some time now. At some point you need to transition.

If you've been working for some time, why are you asking questions about whether it should be online or not? Surely you've figured out the basics of how it'll work and how it'll be different from every other note-taking medium long ago.

The question is to help gauge how important it is to people to have access to their ideas online. Indeed, the product will be primarily a desktop application. With the option to 'selectively sync' SOME of your notes online. Knowing how many people prefer everything online will help establish a priority for these online features early on.

Surely in this day and age, it really needs to be at least cloned to the cloud.

People almost expect web-based / cloud stuff now with mobile devices and multiple places they will want access to their notes.

I'm still trying to work out how you are going to differentiate with the likes of Evernote and co though.

Of course. And the way I'd like to do that is by decentralizing the data. Empowering the users to sync notes on their own terms (ie- your Mindfolder can reside in your Dropbox, SkyDrive, etc).

So that in itself touches upon the major differentiator from Evernote and other 'cloud note' providers . Not everyone wants their most deepest desires & ideas in the cloud.

Agreed. I'd like to know the numbers on how much users are willing to pay for an application such as this. Having this metrics helps to determine the quantity/size of features in the application.

Example, enterprise applications are loaded with features and have a much higher price point. On the other side, there are may free applications out there that are much more lightweight.

Which market you choose to target helps determine the price point. That price point will drive the selection of features that go into the product.

I don't need a lot of features, I need access and flexibility.

There is a lot of great software out there already that I will not use because it doesn't have a command line or textual representation I can use trivially from vim or command line. I want to be able to put a note in my code and have it end up on my main lists, or barring that, cord a command, and put the note in a window and have it end up everywhere I look at notes.

Include rich auto populated metadata on the note (tags, date, host, etc) that can be used for query/sorting purposes.

Make synchronization (distributed ala git or centralized) automatic and transparent.

Have an api - I will be making my own utilities around this, help me with it.

Lay off the bells and whistles. They get in the way. Do note taking well. Don't include a calendar, I have one. Your api will allow me and others to join the two. Don't tie into facebook and twitter (or if you do, make it light, optional, and have no other features rely on it). Do allow me to share notes over any medium. Do allow me to have multiple "notepads" but make moving notes between them trivial.

I would pay for the above feature set. Double if it is done well and stays out of my way. I don't want software like this to be an app, i want it to be a functionality I can incorporate into my life. I don't want another fancy UI, I don't want to context switch to jot down a note for later -- context switching that behavior kills the point of jotting it down to begin with.

You have quite possibly nailed every key design principal in I have for this product. Seriously, as a nerd - I'm building 'this to scratch my own itch'. And obviously in doing so this product is going to appeal to, well - you. Decentralized, selective syncing, built-in command line / scripting, node based meta-data, an API - have all been factored into the product design.

Although perhaps you won't like the 'fancy UI'. I'm doing my best to reduce bells & whistles, but the interface is where the magic happens - and so this is where I feel I need to innovate the most. That said, the UI has to be blatantly simple & lightweight. With enough customization options to reveal the power under the hood.

I am a totally young naive inexperienced entrepreneur, but this post screamed at me for a few reasons.

What are you going to spend the money on right now? Why do you need $50k to put up a HN post and ask some questions?

Why do you think I won't out-do you on your concept, or your execution, or anything else you do? You're wordy and talk about "relentless" and "passion". Emotions don't get you anywhere, they just help motivate you..

I do love that your idea has evoked this much emotion from people (including me), therefore that is what I find most interesting about your post. I mean you applied for a loan and seemingly have 0% of an idea about a product/direction, and I don't even see a need for $50k (yet).

I think it's like a car crash in a sense though, the attention your getting. As long as you are aware of the attention ("bad news coverage is good for spreading your name"?"), then I say work with it.. But good luck, all in all. I don't care for your software, it's just sounds like another app that will never really be interesting/useful for me.

The money will be spent on funding a full-time development sprint to v1. This includes the funding of sub-contractors assigned to building specific components. And a meager salary for myself, enough to pay bills so I can focus on this full time without distraction.

To clarify, the idea and product direction are already mature. Thanks for the feedback - hopefully I can win you over once v1 is available.

If I had $500,000 there is one problem I would work to solve: Meeting minutes.

EVERYONE HATES taking meeting minutes. How can this be solved?

* Speech recog (siri/dragon/google to be leveraged)

* Transcription

* UI with good UX for capturing and promting for input on actions

* define fields of data - then let user layout where those fields live on a minutes capture form

* timeline of meetings by topic/team/PMO initiative/whatever -- you need to define a context thread to hold the minutes to

* Tie a decision log to the timeline and minutes simple, icon-ized attachements to the said timeline - you should only click on icons to open the data for minutes, attachements, schedule etc

Notes are already solved (human discipline with "notes" is what people are trying to solve, not the actual capture of notes, thus a crowded space) - so we really need to get a meeting minutes system that works.

* publish to: (exchange/gcal/mail/whatever..)

Taking notes is a subset of minutes.

Have a multi-user interface on an ipad app that allows all users in the meeting to sign into the meeting/topic and type in their notes to the same system.

This is not that farking hard.

This is frustrating, you shouldn't build something unless you have a vision for it. When you have a vision (hopefully stemming from a personal pain point) then build a minimum version.

Users don't know what they want, and blatantly asking them gets you no where. You need something that they can play with and you can make decisions empirically.

If you were going to build a note taking system, it would be like a folder of text files -- that is synced everywhere I go [1].

"But what about advanced tags and formatting, and folders...". No, shut up. It would be a folder, of text files. You can search it.

"But you could easily allow file attachments and embedded images, and pdf's...". No, shut up. You have dropbox for that. It would be a folder -- with text files -- that you can search through really fast. And that's what Simplenote is.

[1]: http://www.quora.com/Dropbox/Why-is-Dropbox-more-popular-tha...

Is your goal to run this as a business? If it is you're asking the wrong question.

"What kind of note taking software would you build?" is a question a developer/engineer asks.

When you put your business hat on you need to start asking questions such as "What kid of note taking software would you pay for?" & "How much would you pay for note taking software that does X?"

If your goal is a business & not a hobby (which I assume it is since most people don't borrow 50k for a hobby) you need start asking questions related to generating revenue. You can build the best note taking software ever but if no one is willing to pay for it it will not be a profitable business.

This is great insight, thanks. To my surprise, some of the open-ended survey feedback has been "if you do x, I would be willing to pay" but it did not occur to me to include specific questions ie- what they would pay for and how much. This kind of tone; these revenue related questions will make for a great follow up.

Note taking software needs to be highly available - nearly as available as a pad and pen, which is currently the highest utility tool for taking notes known to man.

Toph recently had a great post on the best solution right now for taking digital, hand-written notes:


But this area has some way to come. The iPad and the hand-writing apps are still in the infant stages of this impending 'digital writing' revolution.

Given 50k, I would just build Simplenote [1]. Works perfectly with Notational Velocity [2].

Except maybe with better Android support? Kind of a crowded market you're getting into...

[1]: http://simplenoteapp.com/downloads/ [2]: http://notational.net/

It is true that this market is crowded. Yet is ripe for innovation.

The 3D graphic industry for years was dominated by a few encumbents and a bunch of little guys (3DSMax vs Maya and then Cinema3D, Lightwave, etc). Typically an artist would commit to using one and use it long term. Until one day a program called ZBrush revolutionzied the industry. And anyone and everyone in the industry added it to their workflow.

I am surprised nobody mentioned EverNote: feature rich, API/apps/development community, multiple platforms, file sync, freemium model. I did consider using it long time ago them but turns out excel file is enough for me...

Maybe develop great evernote app to solve single but tough problem first?

"Now, with years worth of feature planning and a solid product design already..."

Do you realize how fast this market changes? Anything you conceived years ago is most likely irrelevant, or at the very least, far less impressive than you may have thought at the time.

It really sounds like you're overly attached to a single idea which you've spent years internally conceptualizing and now refuse to share (you've spent years on design but don't have so much as a mock-up to show?).

I would focus more on getting a very basic demo together and coming back and doing a show HN thread, and then asking for comments.

Good tips. And you're right - things change fast. That's why recently I've planted my feet in the sand and am building this castle right now.

A show HN thread will come - this is actually a perfect goal to work towards when developing a new product (but not too much cause sometimes the threads slip through unnoticed from the front page anyway).

Honestly, I am just trying to get leverage at every step way. So far its working.

The NoteSlate "concept" / "hoax" / "vapourware" was neat idea.

See also Papyri tablet: (http://papyritablet.wordpress.com/category/vision/) (I have no idea if this is similarly vapour)

I'd really like something that

* had Cornell note styles built in

* could do handwriting recognition

* could build indexes

* had a clear focus on one thing; not trying to be anything other than note taking device.

* has ability to interact with other devices and software

* has ability for hackers to tinker.

Not sure about the whole concept, loan, ect. but I think the market research is a good start. "As Steve Jobs said, "It isn't the consumers' job to know what they want."" Unfortunately you are not inventing a whole new market category. Decades of market research has shown that consumers have a good general idea of what they want and they don't tend to pay for things that they don't want.

I tried to build a concept prototype on iPad. Now I am giving away the idea to those who can better execute since I can't seem to get it done. Hell, it probably already exists anyway...

Essentially a audio recording app that allows you to take notes at the same time while recording. You can then playback recorded sessions and view the notes you made being played back as well.

I built the following with $0: http://www.mindwallet.com

tldr: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNpAH7AGhIk

It does 99% of what I want it to do. It just needs to look prettier and have massive adoption. :)

The survey should allow users to submit it without entering their email address. I didn't enter mine, because I'm not interested in using closed-source software for my internal note-taking system (because my notes are too valuable to me to rely on potentially here-today-gone-tomorrow software).

I can respect that but a survey without an email really makes the data a lot less relevant.

The closed-source argument is certainly fair. That said, a fundamental principal of my product design is decentralization. So you are free to copy/edit/transfer your notes on your own terms - without being locked in.

And while Mindfolder will indeed be proprietary, the format your actual notes are in are likely to be in Markdown. I'm also planning to make a big aspect of the 'platform' open source. So I do think you may still end up giving this a shot.

I use my phone to take audio notes, and transcribe them in emails to myself (with the audio attached) if I find them worthwhile. I wish Android automatically uploaded audio to G+ as it does video and images, but, such is life.

I just find typing notes on my phone completely annoying.

Totally agree and also find making audio notes is more convenient. Problem is, like you say - the transcribing is lacking. Playback is also an issue - it's often not very intuitive to play back the note after you save it.

I should have noted that I transcribe at a PC when available, if the note turns out worthwhile. It just sucks to have to move audio files to my PC if I want to save them. Or attach them on an email in my phone and upload the attachment, I guess. I'd love a web solution. ...

In fact, a hack that lets me tap a widget and leave myself a message in Google Voice would be perfect for me...

Have you tried Catch or EverNote? They both let you take 'audio notes' and they'll sync to your online account so you can more easily access them on the PC without manually transfering them over.

Another alternative, depending on what you're using to save mobile audio notes - is to save them to DropBox. That way, again - the notes will sync easily to your PC.

Many of us however do not wish to have our audio notes 'synced' by online services - since it does to some extent compromise the privacy. So there is no perfect solution. Yet.

Actually I do (did, now job hunting) a lot of note taking at work, and couldn't install the software on the work PC. But I completely get your desire to keep things under control. An app that wasn't a service, and just let you upload to a designated site via ftp or other free options could get a few bucks, I'd think.

Cant Siri take these notes?

Quite possibly, but not on my Android! When I get back in the market for a new phone though, I'm open to an iPhone.

To the OP: Is there a reason you are not taking this to Kickstarter?

Would you pledge?

If the software met my criteria, yes.

If the app were plugin driven (much like Notepad++) but had some of the rich features like checklists in-line with regular notes, I'd be sold.

One thing that's kept me to notepad is that the file is simple and I can open it in several applications on any platform I wish. Further, having the file in my dropbox folder allows me to access it anywhere.

This is a tough market to get into. I started sketching up plans for a similar application a few years back (with a focus on the supermarket). It's tough to beat out the main competitors: plain text and a piece of paper.

Ok man, I appreciate the input.

Notepad++ is indeed an excellent reference. "Mods" (plugins) are planned. Decentralization is a key objective of the product. So I may hold you to that pledge ;)

Ideas can not always be represented well with just text; they seem to require at least the ability to create arbitrary arrangements of text and diagrams in two dimensions. That being said, many of my notes are done in vim with some unholy amalgamation of markdown and LaTeX.

The tactile feel of a real pen on real paper is very nice, it makes note-taking a more pleasant experience. However, paper notes are difficult to index and amend, and easy to lose or damage, which is why I'm willing to compromise and take notes on computers.

I think the ideal device for note taking would allow me to cohesively use some sort of stylus or touchscreen and a real hardware keyboard at the same time. Currently I use vim for some notes and a paper notebook for others; the most helpful thing note-taking software could do for me is allow me to seamlessly combine these two.

So here are my notes about building a good note-taking program. The Bonus Points are the kinds of things that would get me to spend greater-than-pocketchange amounts of money on said program.

* Make it easy and straightforward to input and format text with the keyboard

* Make it easy and straightforward to draw diagrams and re-arrange text with the mouse/stylus/touchscreen

* Run on my local machine. I don't stop coming up with ideas just because I don't have a network connection, and I don't stop needing access to my ideas when your company goes out of business. Syncing between computers is still important though, use Dropbox for that. Bonus points if you give me a daemon I can install on my server and sync everything through that.

* On that note, use a highly portable native file format. I know I'll want to be able to review my ideas 5 or 10 years down the road, but I can't trust that your software will still be around. Plain-text is obviously the best in that regard, but some kind of archive format that includes plaintext and layout information would be more practical. Bonus points if you hack the file format however you need to so that if I open my notes in vim instead of your program, they still look as correct as possible, and if I save changes in vim they transfer sanely to your program.

* Support LaTeX formulas or at least have very good handwriting transcription for formulas. If I were taking notes about the humanities, I'd certainly just use a text editor and be done with it. Bonus points if you do both seamlessly (so, I hand-write a formula, you transcribe it into the correct LaTeX and now it's there when I open the file in my text editor).

* Huge bonus points: If I take pictures of (note that I did not say scan, I said take pictures of, as in with a webcam or cellphone) paper notes, your program imports them in a sane way (with handwriting and diagram recognition).

* Have a very clean, minimal GUI that doesn't get in the way and makes normal use cases (text, simple diagrams, and formulas) Just Work. This is not a cloud "app", nor is it a social network, an email client, an IDE, a word processor, an address book, or a calendar. Focus taking and archiving notes well, at the expense of everything else, and I'll enjoy using your program.

This input is absolutely superb - I can't thank you enough. I've literally copied these notes and saved them for reference.

A couple points you indicate: simple text editing, decentralized (portable, runs locally) are already in the current product spec. The handwriting transcription is another can of worms. So early versions will not have much in this regard.

I'm happy to help. I take a lot of notes, and I have not yet found a note-taking system that I'm completely happy with.

Regarding handwriting recognition, I understand that, handwriting transcription is hard. You would need to be able to identify fragments of handwritten text spread around an image and transcribe them independently; there are text-transcription libraries to help with that but it would still be a lot of work. However, it's the hard things that will set you apart from the masses of crappy note-taking software ;)

Anyway, good luck, I hope you come up with something great.


I hated OneNote when I first saw it, then I started to use it and found that it had a lot of potential, particularly on a tablet pc (in 2005!).

I suffered with corruptions of the notes files, which were also VERY large, and then I changed to a standard laptop and found that it lost all of its charm without a pen.

I'd love to see what happens with it on the new Win8 tablets; hopefully it will get some metro/arm love.

All my notes live in dropbox-synced plain text files now.

Yes OneNote fails on synchronization. Don't know how it works in the new web offerings by Microsoft.

dude. You cant develop a paid note taking software. There are thousands of free options.

If you do this you should find others ways of making money.

It's true - but if there is one product that can distinguish itself from all the other solutions as being the most prominent, high-end solution - there is a key distinction. And there is always a market for people who want the best (and yes, this is probably over-zealously ambitious but hey, this is fun & exciting).

Have you not seen Catch.com?

Yes, I use Catch all the time. I prefer it over Evernote.

But there is no desktop client. And am not impressed by the overall direction of their web UI.

I wouldn't, I'd buy a new car and a trip to Bermuda.

That is to say: I seriously don't see any need for new note-taking software. If I want to take a note, I'll write it on paper. Or use one of MacOS's stickies. Or email it to myself. There are many other options, but those are the ones I actually use. If I wanted specialized note-taking software, I would have downloaded one of any number of free options ages ago.

I seriously don't see any need for new note-taking software.

My notes (on paper) are almost never just text, they're a haphazard mix of text, mathematical notation and ad hoc diagrams/graphs/flowcharts etc. If someone could design note taking software that worked for this style of note taking, I'd happily hand over my money.

Not the OP, but here's an idea:

A math-centric piece of software that allows you to write in equations via a stylus, then converts these to working equations. So, you write down the quadratic equation and can define in the software what a and b are, then solve for x.

There has to be something similar to this already.

You'd want it just as an interface for Mathematica or similar programs. I did a bit of googling and can't find anything that exists.

vimwiki + git + github = best note taking solution ever

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