Fetchnotes

What I do

I'm lead designer and software engineer at Fetchnotes working on productivity and collaboration apps on iOS and web. I use a set of tools like Sketch, Illustrator, OmniGraffle, Quartz Composer, and Meteor to think about problems and design solutions. I work on branding, illustration, interface design, overall experience, prototyping, and copywriting on the design side.

Presenting the Dachshund redesign to the whole team.

I've also engineered, built, and tested interfaces, worked on features on the backend, and helped guide technical decisions by building prototypes. I use technologies like Angular, CSS/HTML, CoffeeScript, SASS, Flask, Python, RubyMotion, Node, Express, and Redis to build parts on all levels of the stack, with a focus on interfaces and the front-end.

Building dachshund.

Working at Fetchnotes has been a rapid part of my life, doing work that serves thousands of people every day, and learning everything that I need to lead our design and business strategy. All this while also helping guide and implement engineering decisions throughout our products.

Every day at Fetchnotes is a process to learn about how design works as a discipline of communication, helping us work together as a team effectively, and in turn producing a service that helped our customers get things done, happily. I’m proud of the work that we do, and I’m happy to walk you through some of that work.

Story

Making friends

There are moments in life that are chained together, only visible together in retrospect. In the Fall of 2011, my friend, Kristen, and I were sitting near the front of Stamps Auditorium in ENGR 407, Entrepreneurship Hour, cold from the November air of Ann Arbor, Michigan. I remember the lineup for that day was exciting: student entrepreneurs, all people a year or two older than me, were scheduled to talk about what they'd done to be considered the best for that year. There was a tall guy, noticeably bald, who started his spiel about a company he had been working on called Fetchnotes. He was smart and well spoken, and he knew what he was talking about. I was interested, but tucked away that talk without much thought for a few more months.

The Mosher Jordan Dining hall.

When you find one of “your people”, you can feel in that moment the magnitude of it. There was a guy I had been following on Twitter named Evan Hahn. I'd followed him to listen to ramblings about the web and JavaScript, and spent a while just listening from afar. Sometime in March of 2012, we mutually realized that we were both students at U of M, and we had a nice lunch together in the wonderful dining hall of Mosher Jordan, known lovingly as the MoJo d-hall. Over chicken broccolli bake (probably) we talked about web things, unit-testing in Javascript, and his work at Fetchnotes on their Ember web app. At the time, I was really excited to hear about the unit-testing stuff, as the job I was heading into over the summer was going to be working heavily with testing a custom JavaScript framework, but I was intrigued by what he said about Fetchnotes and the rest of the team behind it. They were an army of students, working volunteer jobs to build something together, and the idea of working on something with my peers on something bigger than ourselves grabbed a part of me. So, I asked him to introduce me to the guys behind the curtain. A month or so later, I was able to reach out and ask about helping (part-time) with design work there.

A few weeks passed after that initial correspondence. Sometime in May, after classes had ended and I was in South Carolina starting work, I had an interview with Chase Lee, CTO, the guy I had watched pitch a crowd of 200 his company without much of a sweat a semester earlier. Unfortunately, having started work at Fuzzco full-time and understanding the workload that was in store for me over the rest of the summer, we both decided the time wasn't right for us to work together. We made an effort to keep lightly in touch, and we never had more than a few emails stretched over a couple of months after that. I thought that was the end of my brief contact with Fetchnotes, and it was… until 8 months later.

In the interim

A lot can happen in 2/3rds of a year. Over the 8 months that Fetchnotes was away from being anywhere on mind, they had gotten into TechStars for the Fall 2012 class, raised half a million dollars in funding, and started new lives out on the old coast city of Boston. I, on the other hand, had spent the fall getting into hackathons (HackNY), meeting new friends who worked on cool things (Michigan Hackers), and spending my days hunkered down on a project for a non-profit looking to rent out bikes to raise money for children in Haiti.

Union Square in New York City.

I'd spent a lot of that fall traveling. I went to New York for the first time on my own, taking the train from the the Jersey suburbs and spending a ice-cream-fueled 48 hours with no sleep working on Byway. I went to Boston for the first time in my life, walking through the chilly October air of its suburbs to visit my girlfriend, who was going to school near the city. It was wonderful, and the old bones of Cambridge and the city proper excited me. I walked through cobbled streets and places that felt like living ruins still willing to let people thrive in its walls. I explored and let that history and presense engulf me over that long weekend.

Walking through Harvard Yard.

February came. I knew I wanted to be in Boston, and I knew I wanted to spend time with my girlfriend for the summer to come. So, I sent out a message to the Michigan Hackers Facebook group, and ended up receiving an email from a familiar address:

Hey Ryan!

It's been a long time. Fetchnotes is out in Boston and obviously I can help with that. Can also help with other Boston companies, and would love to help if you're interested in looking for Michigan internships.

I'm hiring people myself in Michigan as well at Ambassador. Let me know what you're looking for!

Best, Chase

Making to make things happen

I was interested, and they were interested. They set me up with a design challenge to test my skills, and I told them I'd have something to show them during team interviews in a week. We had done a weird switcheroo over that week; they had returned to Ann Arbor and I was off to visit my girlfriend in the middle of the snowy winter of the west Boston suburbs. I toiled away on something to show them while sitting in a Starbucks, working in between moments spent with her as she went off to class.

The winter snow of Wellesley.

The week passed, and I was at home in South Carolina savoring the temperate cool of the upstate. I was scheduled to make the rounds: Horak, the head of product, Matt, the web engineer, Mike, the lead engineer, and Schiff, Mr. CEO. I remember working nervously at a furious pace to complete the project I was going to show them. Later in the morning we got on a Google Hangout, I took a big gulp and then sent them a link, careful to preface it by telling them I hadn't done the design challenge that I'd been initially given. It took some convincing, but I walked them through what was going on in my head at that point. I'd been interested in the problem they'd prepared, but I realized that there was a more comprehensive vision in my head of taking a fresh stab at the web interface as a whole, so I took an opportunity to show off my engineering and design skills in tandem and built a prototype that replicated a subset of the current application's functionality.

Four interviews, a reenactment of one of my favorite scenes from film, and some good chats about Ember, JavaScript and front-end engineering later, we said our digital goodbyes and finished for the day.

A few afternoons later, I found this waiting for me in my inbox:

Hope you had a great break! The team has been considering all our internship candidates over the past week, and it was unanimous that we'd love to have you join the family (yes, that sticker comes standard issue, along with other swag). We were discussing you last night, and the consensus was this.

We're passionate about engineering great products that not only work the way people do, but also inspire delight. That's why when we saw how above and beyond you went on your design test by implementing it in Meteor, this was our reactions: Me, Horak, Brandly and Mike.

After a year and half, I was finally at Fetchnotes.

Being there

One of the things you learn about startups (or any other small scale companies) is that it's all about the people. When you're forced into working with others as closely as we often did, working with one desk, a closet of an office, and another single desk again, you know that the people you're sitting beside for 100% percent of your working hours are all that matters. You're working together, learning from each other, and pushing each other to do the work that helps you as a group survive, all in the hopes of thriving and continuing to impact the lives of your customers in tangible ways. You count on them, and they count on you, and being there for them (through doing the right thing for the product so you can all keep working as a team) is all that matters.

I will never regret being here, with this team, with Matt, Dirk, Lulu, Schiff, Horak, Giles, Mike, Madison, Nick, Slater, and Dawei, working on something we all built together with our own effort and care. It's a company for us, made for everyone, and I don't know how I could be more proud of these people.

My people, my friends.

The team (minus Matt).