Nobody wants to fail university. But sometimes, it’s very hard to stay awake during lectures – or even attend every class for that matter. This means that students fall behind in their note-taking. Besides, many professors still employ the ‘top-down’, ‘one size’ fits all approach to teaching which can be futile in a diverse classroom. Sydney-based startup Nexus Notes was built on the philosophy that students can learn a lot from each other’s notes, and of course, make money from simply sharing their notes.
Nexus Notes was originally launched in Adelaide in 2011 by a team of four graduating university students. Three left the business, but Richard Hordern-Gibbings stayed. In 2012, along came Hugh Minson as Co-Founder and CEO, and Xavier Collins as Community Manager.
Minson says they saw the value of well-written class notes when they were studying at university, but there was no easy way to access those notes. This makes sense, especially in a competitive environment where top students may be unwilling to share their notes.
“Uni students learn from academics – whether that be in lectures, tutorials or from textbooks. While we still encourage students to learn from academics, what we have done is allow students to also learn from other students, through their well written notes,” Minson adds.
“The idea that leading students now have the power to educate other students from content that is just sitting on their hard drive is disruptive.”
For the uninitiated, Nexus Notes works as follows: Note-takers simply drag their typed notes from their hard drive onto the site. The team at Nexus Notes then vets the notes – assessing not only its quality, but also the academic achievements of the student. A pass or credit student probably won’t get approved to sell their notes. And for the sake of academic honesty, assignments aren’t allowed to be sold either.
All content on the site is being sold at fixed price of $35. The startup takes a 50 percent commission, and the uploader pockets the other $17.50. Students also have the option of donating their earnings to AIME – a non-for-profit educational programme designed to support Indigenous students.
Downloaders simply search the name of their subject and can filter the results based on university, location, number of purchases, year written, and rating, as well as whether Nexus Notes has verified the uploader’s academic transcript. Prior to purchase, downloaders can preview 10 percent of the notes and check the uploader’s description, along with any feedback from previous downloaders.
Added to that, downloaders aren’t required to create an account to purchase any notes. They can simply check out with with PayPal or their credit card.
What’s particularly impressive about this model is that students can purchase an entire semester’s worth of content – albeit, summarised – for a small price. Universities charge exorbitant amounts of money – up to $5,000 – for each unit of study. Compared to that, $35 is hardly an investment.
it should be noted that the whole ‘sharing notes’ concept isn’t new. At the moment, University of Sydney pays students $10 for notes per lecture, to then provide to other students who may need it. By the end of the semester, a note-taker can earn well over $200. Better yet, students who receive the notes don’t have to pay a cent.
The problem, however, is that the service is only available to students that suffer from disabilities. And as it turns out, universities aren’t all that picky about the note-taker’s academic achievements, meaning that students can end up with substandard notes.
When you look more closely at Nexus Notes, the potential becomes visible. Students who want a headstart can purchase a semester’s worth of notes prior to the commencement of the unit of study – not that many students would be thinking that far ahead. But people who are balancing study and work are less likely to fall behind when the pressure builds up if they have access to the content.
Nexus Notes is not necessarily restricted to students either, given anyone can purchase course notes without signing up. Someone could be working on a project that focuses on a particular topic and purchase notes to help with its completion. Non-students can even purchase notes to gratify their own intellectual curiosity or to assist with work. There are many possibilities.
Minson stresses though that their initial target market is university students in Australia and New Zealand. At the moment, Nexus Notes is generating awareness through its Student Brand Managers (SBMs) as well digital marketing. They’re currently in the process of recruiting two SBMs at all of the 50 university campuses in Australia and New Zealand. Each SBM is paid a $15 commission for every set of approved notes they can get onto the site. At the moment Nexus Notes has 25 SBMs, and is firm on reaching 100 by the end of the year.
Minson admits that the biggest challenge has been convincing academically-bright university students that the documents sitting quietly on their hard drive are in demand and worth money – therefore, they should take 15 minutes out of their day to upload them onto Nexus Notes and watch them sell.
“Often the best students can be the least entrepreneurial or open-minded to new ideas … There really is nothing to lose by giving Nexus Notes a go and uploading their already-prepared content – no matter how bad they think it is. Let us and the market decide,” says Minson.
When it came to the design of Nexus Notes, Minson says what we see now is Version 3 – launched on the 24th of June this year. The website was refined to meet the demand of customers. DesignCrowd recently surveyed 300 businesses from around the world about the importance of website design and found that 84 percent of respondents would be deterred from buying the products or services from a business if they had a poor website design and user experience.
The study also found that nearly 1 in 5 (18 percent) businesses had not updated their website in the past 1 to 5 years, with 19 percent admitting that they had never updated their website. There’s no denying that design and user experience has an impact on a business’ bottom line and scalability.
“We knew we wanted to invest in solid design because our target market (tech-savvy uni students) demanded it. We also stripped down the functionality of the site to the very basics. It’s easy to upload, easy to search and then easy to download,” Minson says, adding that the design and development was outsourced to Sydney-based contractors.
The business has been bootstrapped to date, though the co-founders are open to the prospect of raising funds in the future. Minson says “for now we are just enjoying the growth of the business.”
In 2015, the Nexus Notes team plans on expanding into the Asian and North American markets. At the moment, it seems like blue skies ahead for this startup.
More information is available via www.nexusnotes.com.
Photo: Richard Hordern-Gibbings (Co-Founder) throwing a university textbook from Nexus Notes HQ (a garage in Darlinghurst, Sydney) with Xavier Collins (Community Manager) and Hugh Minson (CEO and Co-Founder) sitting in the background. Credit: Craig Moss.