Founders Feature #055 - RemNote
The all-in-one tool for thinking and learning
Welcome back to Founders Feature, a weekly newsletter all about the journeys of young startup founders.
For this week's edition, I interviewed Moritz Wallawitsch, Co-founder of RemNote, a knowledge management platform.
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Here’s what RemNote is all about:
🏠 The Basics
Many people use multiple siloed software tools to accomplish the single workflow of learning and organising knowledge. For example, when studying, people will use a note-taking application, a PDF-annotation software, and a flashcard tool separately. Jumping between all these tools creates a lot of friction in someone's workflow and thought process.
We're building an all-in-one knowledge management workspace for students, researchers, and lifelong learners, uniting not only note-taking but flashcards and PDF annotation in the same tool. The data structure of RemNote is an infinite hierarchical outliner, making it more of a mindmap for linking knowledge rather than simply a text application. We combine psychology/neuroscience research with cutting-edge web technology and Machine Learning to build the #1 knowledge management platform.
We are two co-founders. My co-founder Martin studied Computer Science at MIT and started a Ph.D. in AI. I studied Software Engineering and Product Management at CODE University in Berlin. We first met online two years ago over our shared passion for the learning and productivity space and continued to scale the distributed company from 4 to 16 in the last year.
🚀 The Journey
How did you come up with your startup/solution?
We were frustrated by the tools available at the time. We used Anki for flashcards and Workflowy for knowledge management and realised these could be combined. The first prototype was a simple script sending data back and forth between the tools. So, we solved this problem for ourselves and then realised that it could be valuable for millions of others too.
At the start, we did this as a side project and had no intention of turning it into a company. But our friends started using and sharing the tool, and the referrals and sign-ups kept coming. This indicated a strong demand for the product, so we decided to drop out and work on RemNote full-time. It was great to get that first validation so quickly.
Why is this the right time for this problem to be solved?
Firstly, there is a general trend of users not wanting to use numerous software tools. They want one tool to solve many problems. Nowadays, there are software solutions for all kinds of issues, and hence many separate tools create switching costs in people's workflows. Secondly, software for learning and education lags behind drastically, leading to a substantial discrepancy between the tools people use in their academic or professional institutions and those they use in their personal lives.
What is a recent success you are proud of?
Building a product users love is not easy but building a great team is hard. As a founder, you face a constant tension between hiring fast and lowering your bar. There is still much to learn about hiring, but we're proud of the team we've now managed to bring together over the last few months!
What is a recent challenge you have faced?
As the team grows, keeping the team aligned and scopes small is getting harder. For that reason we're currently working on improving our scoping and product management practices. We have very few people dedicated to working on this, so we can do a better job organising our internal task tracking system and creating deadlines and milestones to push the team towards our goals.
What do you wish you knew before you started and is there anything you would have done differently in hindsight?
I would have hired an assistant earlier, especially for sourcing and specific recruiting tasks, because they can easily be delegated. Many founders for example are uncomfortable delegating their email writing which is essentially a form of micro management. I learned late that I could have saved a lot of my own time on this by hiring somebody to perform these tasks, and there are some great platforms out there to hire virtual assistants. It's crucial to have excellent documentation from the start, to make bringing new people in as easy as possible.
🧠 The Lessons
What is the best advice you have been given recently?
Hire for somebody's growth potential, their potential upward trajectory, instead of their seniority, expertise, or past companies. You want to hire people hungry for growth, and you should engineer your hiring funnel to plot a candidate's hypothetical trajectory.
What advice would you give to other young founders?
Founding is much easier than you think. It's about acquiring the knowledge to solve the problem and then solving it. Secondly, building a SaaS company consists of product management, software engineering, and interaction design. I'd recommend being proficient at least in one of them and somewhat familiar with all three.
I don't believe founding a company is like "chewing glass and staring into the abyss". Yes, it's a lot of work, but if you care enough about the problem you are solving, putting in that work necessary will be easier than you think.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
Hiring is more complex than you think, and it's also much more important than you think. I used to believe that creating a startup was more about management, company strategy, and engineering the best product. Still, people are what ultimately make up a startup, and you really have to invest time and resources to build a great team.
✨ The Inspiration
Who inspires you?
I'm particularly inspired by repeat founders like Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Keith Rabois. Founding a billion-dollar company once is impressive enough; doing it multiple times is inspiring. It also demonstrates that building a company involves less luck than people think and is more about having a great system to solve problems. I'm also inspired by the precision of thought and optimism of the physicist David Deutsch.
What book do you think everyone should read?
The Beginning of Infinity - David Deutsch.
I have read hundreds of books but it is by far my favourite one. For example, it greatly changed the way I think about decisions. Deutsch explains how one does not simply choose an option by weighting or justification but rather by choosing its associative explanation. The bad options are not outweighed but out-argued, refuted and abandoned.