The Time is Now: Mike Matousek On Founding Flashnotes In College

By Megan Patiry on March 17, 2014

Flashnotes.com is the student-to-student study materials marketplace. Flashnotes.com gives college students what they need most–more money and better grades. To learn more about Flashnotes, click here.

“Nope, I thought I wanted to be a doctor,” Mike Matousek, CEO and Founder of Flashnotes, replied with a chuckle when asked whether he’d had dreams of becoming an entrepreneur before entering college. Having changed majors like it was a business myself, I could do nothing but nod, relate and ask how he did it.

Photo via http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikematousek

Matousek eventually graduated from Kent State University in 2010 with a degree in finance and entrepreneurship, but not before he founded Flashnotes, a Boston-based online marketplace where students can buy and sell their notes and other class materials. To date, the company has acquired NoteUtopia and Moolaguides, and has raised Series A funding amounting to 3.6 million.

Matousek retold the birth of the idea for Flashnotes, reminiscing on a statistics class he “really didn’t understand,” and consequently took copious detailed notes. The idea took hold when he sold his first batch of those notes with the notion that, maybe, other students didn’t or couldn’t take such detailed notes and would benefit from the sharing of his.

And so the mission of Flashnotes, “powering the student-to-student exchange of high quality academic materials to help supplement and complement the learning experience by harnessing commerce and the latest technologies,” was conceived.

Matousek admitted that in the early stages of Flashnotes (while he was a senior at Kent State) he knew little of how to turn his idea into an actual business, and that the unknown and unexpected were some of the mental obstacles he and many entrepreneurs have tackled when first starting out.

“You know, I think problem solving is one of the best qualities … because there will always be unexpected situations,” he said. “You just have to keep pushing.”

Indeed, the ability to accept that there is a distinct learning curve when it comes to building and launching a new business is well founded.

“Founders need to be adaptable … not only because it takes a certain level of mental flexibility to understand what users want, but because the plan will probably change,” said Jessica Livingston, author of the book Founders at Work, in an article via the 16th letter.

Speaking of change, Flashnotes now not only facilitates hand-written notes (although Matousek said this is still the most-used format), but has also expanded to include multimedia and video tutorials. Students set their own prices and earn up to 70 percent on their sales, and since the content is crowd sourced, poor notes subsequently do not get purchased and are filtered out. The site also highlights competitive earners, showing the top five student earning amounts (note the top seller has sold over $11,000 worth of study material).

This expansion, after an initial startup of eight months, shows that it is indeed possible to take a simple concept – the concept of sharing – and turn it into a profitable business. After a few short years, Flashnotes is now using investor funds to expand services to around 300 institutions.

Photo via http://dfk0oft9nprzr.cloudfront.net

“I learned more about life in six months than ten years of school,” Matousek said as he touched on the founding stages of Flashnotes. His story reiterates the idea that waiting until you graduate college isn’t a necessity, and that if you stay committed to an idea, you can bring it to fruition. In fact, getting started in entrepreneurship early is going to leave you, at the very least, with more business knowledge than a large percentage of college students, and at most, a profitable business upon graduation.

If you’re grasping at ideas for a business venture and coming up blank, try to stay “close to home.” That is, remember how Matousek developed the idea for Flashnotes; he was struggling in a class along with many others, and so decided to sell his notes to students with the same problem. He was directly involved in the process leading to the idea; after all, who better to create a marketplace for student study materials than a student? Some of the best ideas and startups come from the notion that if you’re struggling with something, or that if you wish you had something, chances are someone else is and does too, so keep your eyes and ears open.

The same idea goes for any aspect of life, not just the student side. If you’re a fitness buff, for example, what can you bring to the fitness community? Think niche and look for opportunities others haven’t seen.

Jon Taffer, host of the TV show “Bar Rescue,” said in an interview with Entrepreneuer.com, “Years ago when I was very young, a VP of Hyatt looked at me and said, ‘You look, but you don’t see.’”

“Taffer learned to look not just at the big picture, but also at every place setting, light fixture, and customer exchange,” Entrepreneur.com emphasized.

“See every crack, every detail,” Taffer said. “I learned to really see and not just look at my business.”

Matousek mentioned that the right time to make strides toward your goals and start a business is in the present, today. When I asked if he had any advice to other college students wanting to start a business, he reminds all of us that,

“The right time to risk is now.”

Post your notes and study guides for sale today on Flashnotes. To learn more about Flashnotes, click here.

Megan is a freelance writer, organic foodie, health activist, and spontaneous traveler. She also has a passion for adventure, hiking, yoga, and paradoxically, chocolate in all its raw, gluten-free forms.

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