Flashnotes.com a new form of income for college students

By Shelby Ashline

(Chelsey Powell/Collegian File Photo)
(Chelsey Powell/Collegian File Photo)

Across the country, college students are getting paid for doing what they do on a regular basis – going to class, taking notes and studying.

Flashnotes.com, a website that was founded in 2010 by Mike Matousek, allows students to buy and sell digital notes, study guides, flash cards and other learning aids.

Matousek, who is also the company’s CEO and co-founder, said he came up with the idea for the site while taking a required statistics class at Kent State University where he majored in finance
“I switched majors a couple of times and when I finally settled on finance, I had already taken a statistics class, so I understood statistics,” Matousek said. “For whatever reason, there was just a disconnection where the other students couldn’t learn or understand the concepts from the professor’s teaching. So I started creating study guides and I sold (them for $10 each) and I made over $1000.”
Matousek’s personal experience led him to consider how he could expand this friendly sharing of knowledge to all college students who struggle to understand the subject matter of their courses.

“My main vision for (Flashnotes) was to give students a voice in how they study and learn,” Matousek said. “We’re not using this for any other reason than to truly make a difference in the number of students that don’t graduate. We believe having focused, course-specific, high-quality content can actually make a difference when students are walking out of class thoroughly confused about what’s going on.”

According to Matousek, three months ago, he and his employees redesigned Flashnotes, making it easier for users to find content and providing sellers with “additional tools to help promote their content.” A significant change was the addition of a “live video component” by which students can directly pose individual questions to other users.

Backed by $11.2 million from two venture firms, Stage 1 Ventures and Cengage Learning, the site is currently run out of Boston by 22 employees. There are over 100,000 users from 1,600 colleges and universities across the country, most of whom are buyers.

What a user pays for a piece of studying material is left up to the seller. Sellers set their own prices for their work based on its quality and educational value.

Although the average is $31 per hour (meaning an hour spent either in class or organizing notes outside of class), student salaries range from $1.99 per hour to $36 per hour depending on the content’s worth in the eyes of the seller.

Sellers receive 70 percent of what buyers pay. The remaining 30 percent goes to the company.
To date, student sellers at the University of Massachusetts have uploaded 323 items to Flashnotes. UMass student Kristen Sarno has sold 63 copies of the 9 items she has made available since she first started selling with Flashnotes on Oct. 28.

Sarno, an undeclared sophomore from Plainville, said Flashnotes helps her afford the expenses of living off-campus and helps her pay for college while still spending a lot of time learning her class material.

“Flashnotes lets me focus more on my classes than if I were to work 25 hours a week somewhere else,” Sarno said. “My grades have definitely improved since starting it too.”

By selling notes, study guides and flash cards for two of her classes, communications 287 and classics 100, Sarno estimated she has earned about $490. She said she usually spends four to five hours preparing a piece of material for the site. One of her study guides is 30 pages long, double-spaced.

“I don’t skimp,” Sarno said. “I want people to do really well. I don’t want them to pay for something and not get a good product.”

However, Sarno said she has received mixed reviews of her work. On the other hand, some of her classmates have thanked her and asked her to put up more study materials, having noticed an improvement in their grades after using them.

“Other people get really upset that they have to pay for it,” Sarno said. “(But) if you didn’t understand the material you’d end up going to a tutor. That would cost way more than using a $10 study guide or $8 flash cards.”

Sarno said she would recommend Flashnotes to both buyers and sellers because of the site’s benefits, convenience and ease of use.

“Making an account is really easy and simple to do,” Sarno said. “The Flashnotes people are really nice to work with … They’re really helpful if you have any questions.”

Matousek encourages all students who have a good understanding of their class material to get involved with Flashnotes, both for their own benefit and for their classmates’ benefit.

“We always want to target the best sellers and we really encourage students that do have a great grasp (on their class topics) to join,” Matousek said. “Not only can you make the additional money, but our sellers really do make a difference for other students in their class.”

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected]