NEW YORK (MainStreet) It's back-to-school season already, and most college students are scratching their heads, worried about the high price tag for reading materials on their fall semester syllabi. But Laura Gayle, a rising sophomore at Florida State University, is not concerned, because she has a secret trick to help her schoolmates cure their headaches: selling her class notes through Flashnotes.com.
By providing a platform for college students to share their study guides and in-class materials, Flashnotes has developed a win-win situation for both students who are notes-seekers and students who are notes-takers. Founded in 2009 by Mike Matousek, a graduate of Kent State University, Flashnotes has become a resourceful marketplace to benefit student users to learn, share and make money.
That is exactly the dynamic solution Flashnotes intended to create. After making $1,000 by successfully selling his math study guide to his classmates during his senior year in college, Matousek realized it was a good way to push him to take notes more carefully; students would come to him for additional questions they had from the class. Simultaneously, he was able to develop a relationship with them.
"They would be open to getting help when they are stuck, and they would ask me questions that they wouldn't have, so they won't fall behind," says Matousek.
Currently based in Boston, the student-generated content sharing platform has attracted students from 367 colleges and universities across the country and even L'Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec. Over the last year, Flashnotes saw a 175% increase in the number of its users. According to Matousek, his team of 19 and he most recently gained $3.6 million in series A round investment led by Stage 1 Ventures, with Runa Capital, Soft Bank Capital and Atlas Venture participating; Flashnotes has raised a total of $6.6 million to date.
"We are really looking to growing and thriving for the next few years," says the 25-year-old CEO.
Flashnotes offers the flexibility for sellers to decide the price of their notes. Gayle, thus, sells most of her notes, 20 to 30 pages bundles per class, for $10 each. The price varies due to the subject, format and how much time and effort she's put in. If her notes are sold, she gets her "paycheck" from Flashnotes every Friday through PayPal, and she keeps 70% of the price of her notes, while Flashnotes keeps a 30% commission. When Gayle first started her note-selling business on Flashnotes last October, she had earned $1,500 within one semester.
"I don't really need a job, because I'm able to sell," she told MainStreet.
For cash-strapped college students looking at stifling student loan debt and grim employment prospects, this extra cash can be a welcome boon. For others, it's simply an efficient strategy to defray everyday costs while having a little extra pocket cash on hand.
Once the notes are uploaded on the website in formats like PDFs or Excel spreadsheets, Gayle is able to share the link of her notes to her classmates through emails and social media platforms like Twitter. Spreading the word is important, but the quality of a person's notes is the kicker.
Since Flashnotes has a star ranking system that presents reviews from previous customers and displays a preview of notes to the potential buyers, each bullet point that Gayle makes requires her a lot of work to be accurate. At the end of second semester last school year Gayle's revenue jumped to $2,600.
That's the mission of Flashnotes.
"We really want to give students an organized format of the content with the high quality that they need," Matousek told MainStreet.
The concept behind the note-trading behavior seems to be a lifesaver for college students who have to deal with the financial burden of their debts. Technology has also encouraged a series of online note collaboration products like Flashnotes and OneClass to offer students various online learning options. But would the online network for study materials be a disruption for traditional education? Does it invade professors' intellectual property? Is it really a helpful method to improve students' grades?
"It would be helpful for students who are not good at taking notes, but [the flip side is] it may encourage students not to attend class, not to challenge professors, or not to take their notes on their own," said William James, a marketing professor at Hofstra University. "Eventually it leads students to blind their brains without critical thinking."
After tasting the sweetness of being an active notes-seller on Flashnotes, Gayle, however, aims to continue selling her notes until she graduates. She told MainStreet, "I'm saving for my graduate school; I will definitely go all the way to the end."
- Written by Amy Xie for MainStreet