There are dozens of social networks in use that connect friends, classmates, coworkers and associates. But those networks assume that one crucial step has already taken place––that users know the names of the people they’re connecting with.
But what happens when someone joins a new offline network of 200 or 300 people? How does someone go about learning all those names? Will Edwards, founder of Tulsa-based MetKnow, ran into this very problem while pledging a fraternity and created an award winning solution.
“I was in a fraternity house where we had 200 or so guys in it, 50 guys in my pledge class, and we had the hardest time learning each other’s names,” said Edwards. “We didn’t want to risk calling someone the wrong name [so] we were calling each other anything else––dude, bud, man, guy.”
To address the problem, the fraternity president created an Excel Sheet filled out with everyone’s name, photo, hometown and major for the fraternity members to study. Edwards said he looked around at the other guys walking all over campus with Excel sheets in their hands and he thought there was a better alternative.
“I thought ‘This is ridiculous. We need to put that on our phones,’” said Edwards. “I took the Excel sheet and made a directory on our phones with that information, and then for fun, I added flashcards [and] quizzing to it.”
Edwards’ solution was a hit and the entire fraternity house started using it. Edwards started thinking about the other houses on campus, especially the sorority houses that were generally larger than the frat houses and could have up to 120 girls per pledge class, adding up to nearly 500 girls per house.
From project to startup
He named his project “Remember the Member” and gave it to the other houses on campus to use.
“They started using and that’s really when MetKnow started,” said Edwards. “Solving a problem for my fraternity house ended up helping the other houses as well.”
Edwards said he was approached with the idea of patenting his flashcard system. He filed for a provisional patent in 2012 and then put Remember the Member on the back burner when his mother became ill and he took a semester off from college to go home and be with his family.
“She’s back to bossing us all around now. She’s great,” said Edwards. “When I went back to college, I was like, ‘Okay, let’s just try to finish up, graduate on time, and move on.’”
He didn’t think much more about his patent until 2016 when he was in law school and got an email about it.
“I got an email from my attorney saying I had an issued patent on electronic flashcards and quizzes for the sake of knowing people,” said Edwards. “I just got that one email from my attorney and it sparked something.”
The issuance of the patent led him to leave law school and pursue a startup company for the flashcards. He completely rebranded and rebuilt the application, making it more user-friendly.
“That’s when it turned into a business,” said Edwards. “I decided to change the name from Remember the Member to MetKnow and created our new product.”
Redesigning and relaunching a product
The first step was redesigning MetKnow and making it professional. Edwards met with freelance designers and programmers to build the app. He also met salesman Evan Tipton in the process, who ended up becoming a business partner. At Tipton’s recommendation, MetKnow expanded from colleges into businesses.
“[Evan] saw the real potential to move into businesses as well to help new employees in a large office,” said Edwards. “It’s easy to learn the new guy’s name but it’s hard for the new guy to learn all 200 of the current employees.”
With Edwards and Tipton now at the helm, MetKnow officially relaunched in January 2017 and hit the ground running.
MetKnow now works by a user creates a group and deciding what questions to ask group members. After a members sign up on the app, flash cards and quizzes are generated for the group members study and learn the names and information of everyone else.
Gaining ground throughout the Midwest
MetKnow is currently used in 5 businesses and 7 college campuses. Edwards is anticipating an influx of new members in the fall when fraternities and sororities pledge new members. Ultimately, he would like to see MetKnow used on every major campus, with representation in every state.
In the meantime, Edwards and Tipton are working to get the word out about MetKnow and have been performing well in pitch competitions and other professional events.
They won the MDMC Pitch Competition in April, taking home a $5,000 cash prize and the chance to network with representatives from some influential companies like GoDaddy and Pinterest.
“Perry Drake did a fantastic job of putting on a conference that I feel was incredibly beneficial to our company. Nick Szabo from Swizzle and Alex Cruz from PenPath did a great job of preparing the startups for the competition,” said Edwards. “We talked to so many people who are relevant in the tech world. We had a good conversation with everyone,”
They also won the Score Foundation American Small Business Champion from Oklahoma. In addition to another cash prize, they also won a dedicated mentor from the Score Foundation to help their business.
The future of MetKnow looks promising. Edwards is focusing on improving and growing the product and having MetKnow become a self-sustaining business that has the ability to create jobs.
“I always thought the coolest thing you could do was create a job for someone,” said Edwards. “We want to get to the point where it makes sense to start hiring people and establish ourselves as the best flashcard quizzing company you can have.”
Christine McGuigan is the Associate Editor of Silicon Prairie News.