“The medium is the message” is the common expression, but entrepreneur Alexis Traina believes that messages themselves – text messages, to be precise – also deserve attention.
Traina is the CEO and co-founder of HiNOTE, an app that helps people create messages, on personalized backgrounds of everything from an overturned wine glass to a branded notebook. The idea, she said in an interview with EntertainmentCab, is that she wouldn’t get up every day and dress in green, blue, and gray — so why do our text messages stick to those colors?
“People are looking for new ways to find new ways to present themselves,” says Traina, who built the company with her co-founder and husband Trevor. “Even professionally, it is to be able to communicate with brilliance and representation.”
Since its launch in 2022, 1 million HiNOTES have been shared by users with over 2000 types of notes that can be personalized in the app. The company is also working on brand-creator collaborations — think digital messaging tailored to your favorite influencer’s aesthetic — and has already closed 20 deals.
Most users, says Traina, are women and range between the ages of 25 and 65. She listed some of the most common early adopter traits: they send 15 greeting cards a year, have a Canva subscription, and send paperless mail. invites in addition to Minted Christmas cards.
Self-expression in the form of text messages is a specific bet on people who want to get more out of their digital communication styles. But it’s not too new either. Emojis were created in the late 1990s and are still a big part of our lexicon. Memes, easily found on online services and even in some messaging apps like GroupMe, remain a fun way to share a post. And, as an Indian American, I can certainly tell you how common it is to post what feels like a million photos with text overlaid on any holiday or life event.
As humans, we’ve been evolving from exclusively bubble-based text for decades. Heck, there’s a $40 billion elephant in the room: Canva.
Traina said Canva became a valuable tool in the corporate space because it brought simplified business communication tools.
“What I saw about it was that it was still on the desktop and it often took 9 to 16 taps to get your product to work,” she said. “So I understood for us that the magic would first be mobile, easy to create and for the everyday communicator.”
Sure, HiNOTE requires less buy-in than an app like Canva – literally, because it’s now free. It takes a few minutes to create an account and start using personalized notes. Once you edit a note in the app, you can share it via text with one click.
Obviously, personalized messages are popular with some, so the question for HiNOTE is more about how to become a seamless part of a user’s day-to-day behavior. Part of that is knowing what makes sense to express through a text overlay image and what makes sense to send as a quick message versus an expressive text.
Traina listed several use cases for HiNOTE, which revealed that the most popular category of notes is the “daily note,” which offers images asking someone to call you soon, birthday messages with personalized signatures, and more.
Significantly, Traina used only one HiNote in our conversation: to say she was looking forward to our call. Other than that, we stuck to texts. Obviously, as much as we enjoy a good meme, it’s not the only way we express ourselves. Sometimes a text works. HiNOTE is in the process of finding that early product-market fit, but it’s clearly resonating with a bevy of top-tier investors.
HiNOTE has so far raised $1.9 million in previously undisclosed capital from angel investors known as disruptors, including Marissa Mayer, Dick Costolo, Marc Benioff, Yuri Milner, Peter Thiel and Sarah Kunst.
Former Yahoo CEO and founder of Sunshine, Mayer told EntertainmentCab via email that she likes “the intention to take something mundane (like texting) and add richness and expressiveness to it.” She compared HiNOTE to her other angel investments, including Uber, Square, Minted, and Figma. All “solved broad consumer problems with an ecosystem approach in an elegant and simple way.”
The pre-seed round helps the team avoid the need to cash in immediately, unlike some of its early compadres.
“Like many early-stage consumer companies, we are focused on delivering a great, sticky product to our users — and there are plenty of proven monetization models for consumer platforms at scale in the future,” said Traina.