Why we started Mem
The inside story of how it all began
Originally posted to the Memo on April 6, 2021.
In the summer of 2014, as college freshmen working summer internships, we sat down at a restaurant called SO (which unfortunately, recently shut down) in San Francisco — it was our second time that week enjoying their delicious Korean fried chicken.
On that day, we were deep into a discussion about information flow. In both our personal and work lives, we were frustrated that the information we generated, both explicitly and implicitly, in one context was completely unavailable to us in another.
We talked about why it was the case that every streaming service we signed up for (Hulu, Netflix, HBO, etc.) asked us the exact same questions about our favorite movies and shows. We debated whether Slack (which was just beginning its meteoric ascent) could truly become the sorely needed connective tissue that every team wanted (we’ve since concluded that the answer is no). We wondered why it was the case that information stored in our brains compounded and built on top of itself, while information captured into digital storage systems seemed to do the opposite.
We dreamed about the possibility of a “Me API”, a knowledge graph that consolidated everything we know — securely, and in a way that would give ourselves, rather than Facebook or Google, ownership of our data. We envisioned having a portable digital identity that could perfectly model our physical reality and transition seamlessly between all of the applications we used.
We knew that was the world we wanted to live in. It was a world we had to live in. We just didn’t yet know how we would get there.
So, we asked for a to-go box and walked back to our shared 80-square foot apartment (which we endearingly called our “Harry Potter closet”) two blocks down the road.
. . .
We spent the next few years building side projects, working in teams, tinkering on concepts ranging from ways to incentivize students to attend more classes (why did we think this would be a good idea?), to hyper-local realtime chat, to how to reduce bureaucracy within companies. But every few months, we would inevitably arrive back to the conversation we had at SO. We were obsessed with the vision that we had painted for the world, the question that remained was how we would get there.
Then, four years ago, we graduated and began working as product managers. Our day-to-day was processing new information, and making use of past, collaborative information. When overwhelmed by the task of staying on top of ever-evolving work and knowledge, we turned to others who had worked in the role for much longer, expecting that this was a solved problem — surely there’d be words of wisdom at the ready. But instead, we were met with equal uncertainty. People, after years of desperately searching for a better way, were still getting by stitching together dozens of distinct workflows to supplement their own working memory: email, task managers, knowledge bases, calendar, sticky notes. Knowledge transfer between teammates was even worse. Shoulder taps and 1:1 meetings were often still the best way to align on something, and if someone had left the team, that historic knowledge was sure to fall through the cracks, only for the wheel to be eventually re-invented.
We realized that effective, effortless information flow simply didn’t yet exist in the world. In late 2019, we decided that wasn’t going to change by itself.
5 years following the original conversation that sparked our interest, we started Mem.
. . .
In 2021, we can proudly say that Mem is the fastest way to capture, connect, and make use of information. We’re starting with notes — coupled with blazingly fast, universally available, search.
Soon, you’ll be able to add other types of content — calendar events, emails, links, documents, videos, photos, anything. That content will be automatically organized without you needing to stress about putting it in the right place. It will be understood, so that, with you in the driver’s seat, you can use Mem to power other apps and products you use.
Our flagship feature, Mem Spotlight, is a universally accessible assistant that sits on top of the Mem knowledge graph. It pulls relevant information to the tip of your fingers, lets you save anything for later, and captures new thoughts in the blink of an eye — all within the context of where you are. Mem is not a product that you have to go to, it is not a destination. Mem is a product that goes to you, it is a companion.
It is J.A.R.V.I.S. from Iron Man.
With every new update we ship, this will become increasingly obvious. So while we love what Mem is today, it is the future that truly excites us.
. . .
Today, we are proud to announce that an incredible roster of investors have joined us in making the Mem vision a reality. Last year, we closed a $5.6M seed round led by David Ulevitch from a16z, with participation from Ann Miura-Ko at Floodgate, John Vrionis at Unusual Ventures, Will Smith’s Dreamers.vc, the Cultural Leadership Fund, Julia Lipton, Lenny Rachitsky, Niv Dror (Shrug Capital), Todd & Rahul’s Angel Fund, Harry Stebbings, Kevin Hartz, Tony Liu, Greg Chang, and Charlie Songhurst.
We feel very fortunate to have such a talented and diverse group of supporters, who at times see the vision even more clearly than ourselves. This is just the beginning, and we could not be more excited.