Alex Schiff is the founder and CEO of Fetchnotes, a TechStars Boston company that makes productivity as simple as a tweet.
Previously, he was the Vice President of Benzinga, a Lightbank-backed financial media outlet. He attended the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business for 3 years before leaving to pursue entrepreneurship full-time.
What was your source of motivation in starting Fetchnotes? And what would you say are the key objectives behind it?
I was personally having trouble keeping track of my own increasingly busy life. I was missing deadlines, forgetting to follow up with people, and genuinely just felt disorganized and out of control. I tried a bunch of tools to no avail, and eventually I started asking people about the things they used and everyone complained endlessly about how everything they tried was too rigid or how it was the "4th or 5th thing I've tried in the past 3 months." I've always been scratching a personal itch with this company, but I've also always made sure that I'm not the only itch I'm scratching.
What did you learn during your experience that no school would have been able to teach you?
You learn how to create your own opportunities. School tends to be reactionary — you do an assignment within the confines of its requirements. But that's just not how anything interesting ever happens. You can probably be moderately successful following the rules all your life, but you'll never do anything extraordinary. And I'd rather spend my life chasing the extraordinary and never get there than settle for mediocrity.
Fetchnotes participated in TechStars Boston in 2012. What lessons were taught that apply to how you run your business now?
I learned that leadership isn't necessarily about productivity or being a great operator. It's about inspiring others, weathering storms, setting priorities, telling your story, holding people accountable and ensuring that everyone on the team grows and develops both as individuals and as a unit. When I interviewed for the TechStars program, I asked Katie Rae what made the Boston program unique from the other locations. She told me that here they pride themselves on developing their CEOs as leaders, and I couldn't be more thankful for that.
As an entrepreneur, what do believe are the core values behind creating a successful venture?
Be in love with the problem you are solving and the people you are solving it with. As long as that remains true, you can never fail. Be curious, experiment, see what sticks...but above all else always, always act with integrity and be grateful for the opportunity you've been given. You don't realize how lucky you are.
There are tons of organizational and productivity apps out there. What distinguishes your brand from the others that are on the market?
We take a kind of quirky view on productivity by saying 1) everyone's brain and the way they interact with the things they need to do is extremely different and 2) our job isn't to make you more productive, it's to make you happier and less stressed out. That's why we architect everything to work the way YOU do, because you decide how it works as you use the product. The way you hashtag your thoughts builds your system rather than us imposing one on you. We purposely don't have a lot of the things that other task management and note-taking apps have because we prioritize flexibility over feature list. We also have a lot of stuff in the work to make the product smarter, not just better :)
Where do you see Fetchnotes in the future and how do you plan to achieve this goal?
Haha! I always hate this question because it's so open-ended, but everyone asks. I'll just say this, in 5 years I don't want people to be saying, "Yeah will you just send me an email to remind me to do it?" I want them to be saying, "Just fetchnote that to me and it'll get done!"
Any last words of advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
Embrace the insanity of what you're doing. Who wants to be normal nowadays anyway?
Serge E. | Elite.