On October 8, I sent the following email, finally closing a long chapter of my life to date: Fetchnotes, the startup that defined my early 20’s.
Earlier this year, you probably received a pretty jarring email: a notice that Fetchnotes would be shutting down in only 10 days. The email was sent by the product’s 2015 acquirer, which had decided to pivot into customer communication software.
A few of us — members of the founding team and a longtime user — sprang into action. We weren’t going to let something we had worked so hard on be shut off so carelessly, with only a half-hearted “thanks for the wonderful journey” as consolation. We arranged an 11th hour “reacquisition” to try to restart the product as a community-funded, community-driven venture. Corey, the user who stepped forward, promised to fund it for 6 months.
We gave it a go because, to paraphrase a conversation we had before signing the docs, “at the very least, we’ll be able to write our own goodbye.”
Six months later, that clock has run out, and unfortunately I now get to write that goodbye. We’ll be shutting down Fetchnotes on November 8.
The simple truth is: we didn’t get the support we needed to keep it alive. We launched an opt-in subscription at varying levels, but not enough people signed up to cover the product’s costs without major changes. We wanted to attract subscribers with more features and a real premium plan, but that required development resources we didn’t have and couldn’t afford without real revenue. We put out a call for technical contributors in our last email, but the volunteers weren’t the ones we needed to move the needle.
Unfortunately, it’s just plain hard to monetize a consumer productivity app — there’s an endless list of free (often venture capital-subsidized) alternatives. It was already an uphill battle when we had a team devoting all of their attention to it, but it was near-impossible when we had new full-time jobs, new passions, and new lives. The expectations are high, the willingness to pay is low, and, despite what they say, the overwhelming majority of people actually don’t keep track of things at all. And that’s ignoring all of the normal challenges of building good software products.
To anyone interested, I tried to document absolutely everything I learned along the way here. It’s quite a lot!
We have some ideas to restart the service in the future on more sustainable infrastructure (or open-source it), but for now, we don’t have the time, attention, or resources to keep it going. You can export your notes as .txt or JSON by going to “Settings” on Fetchnotes.com. If you signed up for a subscription, your subscription will cease being charged. For your security and privacy, all user data will be erased within 30 days of the shut-down.
To our users, mentors, investors, friends, family, and anyone else who cared enough to sign up and get on this list (going as far back as 2011!), I have only one more thing to say — an homage to our weird and colorful history:
not a test
The team (myself included) has long since moved on to new ventures, but I wanted to say goodbye in a way that did its 5 years of life justice. “Thanks for the wonderful journey” just doesn’t cut it for something that defines both the beginning of your career and your life as an adult.
I received a lot of replies from users — including people I haven’t talked to in years — but this was by far the most impactful.
Your email prompted me to reflect on my own failed start-up and post my first YouTube video:
Cheers to you, Tom, and to anyone else out there who puts a little bit of themselves into everything that they do.