Two nights before an exam in his health finance class, Mark Montesano, a 22-year-old senior at Penn State, posted his notes on a note-sharing platform. He got a few bites on day one, but that was it.
But the morning of, he woke to a lump of cash in his PayPal account.
“They just started rolling in throughout the night,” he said. “All of a sudden people were buying them up.”
Three tests and about $60 later, Montesano is one of a growing number of college students using Omega Notes, a note-sharing platform created by Drew Lang, a 2014 Penn State graduate. Lang, a lanky 23-year-old with an Erie accent, came up with the idea while preparing for a biology test.
Originally, he had planned on becoming a neurosurgeon.
“Naturally, I procrastinated until the last minute,” Lang said.
At 10 p.m. the night before, he realized he was missing a chapter’s worth of notes. It set off a frantic dash for the missing information.
A year of soul-searching later, the search turned into a company, and medical school took a backseat to the growing venture. Since being founded in November 2014, Omega Notes has expanded into about 30 states and 100 schools worldwide, including some in Canada, the United Kingdom and India. The platform, Lang said, was opened up to other universities as recently as January.
Penn State, though, remains the largest market for the State College startup. Initially, like at Facebook, the platform was university-exclusive before branching out.
“I bleed blue and white,” said Lang, who also earned his MBA from the university.
The team has grown from just Lang to about eight interns. Pedro Roch, a marketing intern, began using the platform during the spring semester, racking up between $450 and $500 for the notes he’s posted for three classes.
“Right before there’s a big exam, I upload the notes and email my peers so they know,” he said. “Then the sales start coming in.”
It’s legal, Lang says: Omega Notes’ website lists what’s acceptable to post and what’s not. As long as they’re the student’s creation, they’re theirs to profit from. The company takes a 30 percent commission for each sale.
The platform has attracted investors, Lang said, and recently expanded from its student-to-student formula to include faculty. The team is working with professors to design course packs, which aggregate various media from books or the internet for the students.
For the instructors, the service allows them to track how the students interact with the material. Everything from time spent on the page to what’s being read and retained can be recorded.
“We can take a couple chapters from a book or a couple videos from YouTube, Wall Street Journal articles, whatever, and combine it into a unique document for a specific class,” Lang said. “As the students use it, we relay data back to professors.”
But for now, the site is mainly a place for students helping students.
Montesano, for instance, has since developed a rhythm in pricing and posting his notes, charging more for color-coded packets or underlined passages. He plans on using the platform until he graduates.
Already, he’s used the money to help pay for gas and food. For a college student on a budget, it adds up.
“It makes you care about taking your notes a little more,” he said, laughing. “It’s kind of like rainy day money for just doing what I should be doing anyway.”