College of Business Administration Alumnus is on a Mission to Help Students Succeed
Mike Matousek is the founder of Boston-based Flashnotes.com, the student-to-student study materials marketplace. He founded the company while a senior at Kent State University in 2010 and later graduated with a degree in Finance and Entrepreneurship. Mike recently raised Series B of funding for Flashnotes.com, which empowers smart students to make money from their own study material while helping other students study smarter to get better grades. Mike is passionate about the fact that 48% of today’s college students don’t graduate and is on a mission to help more students succeed.
Where did the idea for Flashnotes.com come from?
My idea for Flashnotes.com came about during a statistics class during my junior year of college at Kent State, where many of my classmates struggled to understand the professor’s ethereal lectures. I excelled in the course, which prompted my classmates to ask for my study guides and homework help. I started selling my study guides for $10 a piece – and quickly made over $1,000. Once I realized there was a real need for student-created content, I began gathering other students’ study materials from more classes, and soon after launched my website Flashnotes.com.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day for me involves a number of meetings with my team – meetings to plan our week, and meetings to discuss programs that are working- and programs that are not. To make sure I am using my time efficiently, each meeting has a clear purpose, and when we leave there are clear goals and action items set with deadlines for completion.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Stop talking and just do it! The reality is that there are millions of people with great ideas, but few that have the drive and passion to put their ideas into action. If you have an idea, put your fear of failure aside and take a leap of faith. Rather than thinking about the “what-ifs,” just go for it and take those first steps to bringing your idea to life. And there is no such thing as “Plan B” because it only distracts from “Plan A.”
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The sharing economy and growing trend in peer-to-peer markets really excites me. While Flashnotes.com is changing the higher education industry by helping college students share their notes and study guides with classmates — companies like Lyft & Uber have revolutionized the taxi industry with their app-based ride-sharing services. There’s some pretty exciting innovations happening in this sector.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Every morning I sit for 15 minutes and make sure I am mentally ready for the day. I think so many people just wake up and go through the motions of the day. I am a big believer that there is a huge difference between being present physically and mentally. Successful people show up in both!
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
At one point, I worked with UPS as a packer during the graveyard shift. It was a tough gig, but I did get a real behind-the-scenes look at the people who work really hard to make our towns and cities run smoothly. No matter how big or small the job, everyone plays an important role.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently? Go over again
I would tell my younger self to take the time to celebrate the smaller victories more. It’s really easy to get caught up in thinking about the future as you’re consistently striving towards the next big “win” for your business. Don’t get me wrong, it’s those monumental victories that all entrepreneurs work towards. But you can’t forget to live in the present and to recognize your smaller achievements along the way. Taking the time to reflect on the small things will have a positive impact on your happiness, stress level, and your team’s morale.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I would recommend to remain wildly optimistic when starting your own business. Realize you don’t need to have all the details and decisions 100% vetted to get your idea off the ground, and that the kinks can be worked out along the way as you grow and scale your business. Focusing on all the things that might go wrong will not help your progress or sanity — set a goal and remain positive until you get there.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Build a team of great people – not just great workers. And do not confuse great people with people who are great at their job. It’s important to also find people who are well-rounded and great in all aspects of life. These are the ones who will transform your business. Surround yourself with employees that share in your passions and will push you and your business in the right direction – through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Be careful when hiring a close friend also. I’ve learned the hard way not to just hire a friend because I enjoyed their company. Be honest with yourself and think about whether your friend really has a relevant skill set, the drive to work hard, and that it’s the right move for growing your business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I went to pitch Flashnotes.com to a group of venture capitalists, I brought a presentation without creating a proper financial model, which actually led to one of the VCs leaving in the middle of my pitch after declaring, “I’m only looking for home runs.” I quickly learned that when talking with VCs, I needed to target or at least relate the market opportunity to existing dollars. I needed to convey a clear and scalable forecast of exactly where the dollars were going to be shifting, and provide a thoughtful financial projection to show the opportunity within the market. It was a tough lesson to learn, but I’ve seen been successful in securing $11 million in funding to date.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
During one of my entrepreneurial classes at Kent State University, I came up with an idea to create “Granolis” — an edible spoon made from oats which could become part of an on-the-go, meal, like yogurt.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I start my day with a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and a Red Bull.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
At Flashnotes.com, we looked at a number of different customer service solutions before we chose Desk.com. The major consideration for us was that we could have a few employees monitoring our customer service channel at one time. We would need to triage all of our customer service requests easily and on the move. As a startup, we’re juggling a lot of priorities, but none of them are as important to us as our customers. It’s critical that we can get our customers exactly what they need, exactly when they need it — and Desk.com helps us do that.
Today’s generation isn’t going to wait for anything. They need what they want, exactly when they want it — and they don’t want to wait for you to service a number of other customers’ needs, or wait until someone is back in the office at 9 a.m. to answer their request. Desk.com’s mobile app helps ensure that any one of our employees can answer a customer’s request at any time of the day.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I would suggest that people read Contagious by Jonah Berger. This book covers how powerful the mind can be — and why people act the way they do from an emotional standpoint. On the business side of things, Jonah further dives into how social influence impacts whether products, ideas, and behaviors catch on.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I would say that my parents have influenced my thinking the most. Even though they both worked jobs that were not glamorous, they always took pride in their work and never complained. I am very fortunate to have such great role models in my life, and they are the main reason I had the opportunities to go after my dreams.