Michelle Forsythe’s NoteStream: An app for easy smartphone reading

The whole shebang. Unedited articles. Long sentences in paragraphs without numbers or bullets. Impossible to read on a smartphone. But that's why Michelle Forsythe founded NoteStream, the readability and content-delivery app: to give people who love to read the whole...

Forsythe Notestream LogoWhat inspired you to start your business? Where did you start and where are you now?

NoteStream came about as most startups do—we found a gap in the market from personal experience. In our case, my husband Richard and I both really wanted to learn more about French wine. We’d never quite found the time to read the books, nor could we commit to a regular evening course due to our schedules. We looked at each other and said, “there has to be a way to do this via smartphone!” We started looking around and didn’t find anything that we would use, and so we began the process of building NoteStream.

I started out aiming for really structured and informative content, such as material that might accompany or even replace an evening class. But I soon noted that all kinds of writing was being “dumbed down” and reading was being regarded as “dead.” News is increasingly one paragraph, and “listicles” of the “top 10 things you didn’t know” variety are everywhere. As a dedicated reader, I absolutely refused to believe this was all people really wanted—and yet it was becoming all they could receive via mobile! I realized that NoteStream could lead the fight back for written content.

Our unique delivery format makes it easy to read longer articles on your phone, and so we now have topics from science to history to social awareness—and of course French wine. The one thing all our articles have in common is they are all around 1,000 words or more, and we have many enthusiastic readers consuming those articles, with 65 percent completion rates! Our most common complaint is “I wanted more detail,” which is wonderful, given the online completion rate for similar articles is less than 15 percent.

What do you see for your future?

Society is steadily moving toward the total dominance of smartphones for consumer interaction; most things are just easier to do via smartphone when the right app is available. NoteStream is the app for interesting articles of 1,000 to 5,000 words—the kind of stories we all used to have to “save for later” because—until NoteStream—they were just too darn hard to read on mobile! I envision a world where millions of articles are created and consumed on the NoteStream platform every month. Our readers keep us energized—they are very active with detailed suggestions of what they’d love to see added to our catalog!

What do you see as challenges for you and your business? What are some opportunities?

The key challenge right now, as for most startups, is juggling the lack of resources with the endless to-do lists, all the while making sure what we’re doing today is laying a solid foundation for the future. I’m learning and developing new skills in many areas I’d never even heard of: I didn’t know such a thing as App Store Optimization even existed!

The vision, of course, is to build a solid team with expertise in the areas where we lack knowledge, and we’re starting to address this challenge by hiring great people in critical areas. They’re either underpaid for their positions, or compensated with equity alone: they see the vision and believe the opportunity is real.

As a platform bringing together writers and readers, we’ve always had one side or the other needing urgent attention. Right now, we have readers downloading and regularly using the app, so we’re more focused on reaching out to larger, branded content owners and getting them on board. That’s a longer sales cycle, but we’re getting the hang of it.

Our big opportunity right now is iOS 9. Somewhat quietly, Apple is introducing a whole new search capability—actually showing content that’s inside apps—even if users don’t have that app installed. This will really make a big difference to our discoverability. It is very gratifying that the requirements Apple introduced for the new search were already in place for NoteStream. Huge credit there should go to my CTO, Richard, who also happens to be my husband of 17 years.

Forsythe NoteStream ProductHow can we help your business?

Our big push right now is to sign up some well-known brands that have great content. There is so much great content out there on the web, but as people become more mobile-centric, these articles just won’t be read unless they’re delivered via an app. That’s what NoteStream is for. So if anyone reading this is involved with great content and looking for a mobile-first publishing platform, reach out to us at Authors@NoteStream.com!

We are also raising money that will allow us to focus on growing in sustainable ways. I see NoteStream being very important to people in all areas, so we’re starting some good discussions with investors too.

Where did you grow up? And how is where you came from material to your identity as an entrepreneur?

I grew up in a number of places around California and Montana; my parents moved around a lot. The one thing I could carry with me was a book, and I was always reading. I also created leadership roles at school. Once, at the age of 13, I wrote a Christmas play, persuaded the school to let me direct it, and convinced local antique stores to contribute their wares as props. It gave me an early taste of managing a startup, and I’m quite familiar with that raised eyebrow look that asks if I have any idea of what I’m getting into.

Tell us a story about a success in your business? A mistake you overcame?

I gain immense satisfaction from the NoteStream app achieving its vision of getting people to read real articles on mobile—not just summaries of stories of the latest celebrity gossip. Similarly our serendipitous meeting with our fantastic graphic designer Keith, who has been with us nearly two years, has been a huge success for us!

On the other hand, mistakes are obvious quickly. We’ve had to part ways with various developers (although not the CTO, thank goodness!), which takes some careful planning. And we completely overlooked the importance of text messages as a way for people to share in the app—though that has now been rectified in the latest release.

Forsythe NoteStream phone picWhat picture is on your phone’s home screen?

Lola—my rescued German Shepherd having a bath. Simple, Pure, Joy.

What do you love about being an entrepreneur?

The life of an entrepreneur is very binary. When something good happens, such as when you meet someone who gets what we’re doing and wants to help, it is a fantastic feeling. When people leave a positive review in the app, I get the direct reward of creating something that others find valuable.

What about your business matters most deeply to you? How does it engage your values?

The biggest thrill I get from NoteStream is seeing people read something meaningful on mobile. People assume that we’re getting our results because we’re summarizing or condensing these articles, but that is not true. We only edit for format, not the author’s words. We’re proving that the mobile consumer simply didn’t have the right presentation format to read, and not that their attention span had declined. I believe that an informed population is vital for our future, and that people hunger to read more deeply about issues. Satisfying that hunger matters deeply to me.

Forsythe NoteStream Product 2What would you say is your “entrepreneurial superpower”?

Figuring out another way. Someone telling me “it can’t be done” really gets my energy going!

Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now?

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx.

Why Sara?

She got a lot of those raised eyebrow looks when she started—and kept right on working. From testing the product, to demoing the finished version, she nailed it all. But what I find most inspiring is the way she’s evolved from an entrepreneur to a leader and mentor. Through the creation of the Sara Blakely Foundation, she’s sharing her skills and expertise with women worldwide—and giving each and every one of them a chance to shine. That’s a very powerful inspiration.

What is the best and worst thing about being an entrepreneur as a woman?

Being an entrepreneur is a very broad job description. So the good news is that, as a woman, I get to mold the job around my strengths while still searching out answers to things I don’t know. And I’m getting pretty good at giving those raised eyebrow looks myself!

Do you think male entrepreneurs are different from female?

Tough question! Men and women are different—so it seems illogical to assume anything else. But as to how the XY vs. XX chromosome thing plays out for entrepreneurs—heck, I don’t think science has quite solved that one yet!

What is the best advice you ever got, and from whom?

“You can do anything—just be yourself.” My dad.

How can our readers keep up with you and NoteStream?

Our website is: www.notestream.com, and our profile can also be found at www.angel.co/notestream.

See us on Facebook at Facebook.com/notestream; and on Pintrest at pintrest.com/notestream!

On twitter, use: www.twitter.com/notestreamapp

Download the app free from the App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/notestream/id888917601


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