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This Half-Million Dollar Company Was Born in Our ACW

Idea #Inspired: Send written notes to the cloud with paper and pen. An interview with Joe Lemay, the founder of Rocketbook.

rocketbook at brooklyn boulders somerville, acw

One year ago, Joe Lemay was working as a sales rep by day. Nights and weekends, he was at Brooklyn Boulders Somerville, dividing his time between climbing and working on side projects in our Active Collaborative Workspace.

Flash forward to today and one of those side projects, Rocketbook, has raised over $500K and counting on IndieGogo, with more than 15,000 notebooks sold — and all that in just one month.

Rocketbook, a “cloud-integrated microwavable notebook,” allows people to “enjoy the pleasure of writing in a traditional paper and pen notebook, while digitizing all notes and sending them to the cloud, without introducing any special electronics.” Once your notebook is filled with writing, throw it in the microwave for 30 seconds to erase your entire Rocketbook and start fresh.

Rocketbook is just the sort of innovation we dreamed about when creating the Active Collaborative Workspace. Naturally, we had to ask Joe all about it.

Alex Graziano recently caught up with him to talk about this incredible idea, new technology trends, and the nature of inspiration.


Alex: It seems like Rocketbook is the second iteration of an idea you had with Rocketboard. Is that accurate?

Joe: I wouldn’t have had the idea for Rocketbook without beating my head over Rocketboard for months. The original idea for Rocketboard came to me while traveling for work. I woke up on a plane with an idea.

As a sales rep at the time, I often used whiteboards as a meeting tool. Traveling helped me to realize that remote meetings were organized differently. Namely, there really wasn’t a way to use whiteboards remotely.

So I began tinkering and refining this idea. I conducted interviews with people to gauge the potential audience. When I found that the idea had weight, I began to develop it.

We launched Rocketboard on Kickstarter in 2014. The app now has a few thousand users. The product works, but it is by no means perfect. It’s still clunky and needs some refining. It also appeals to a narrower market than Rocketbook.

Rocketbook actually uses a lot of the same core tech as Rocketboard. However, unlike its predecessor, it works super well.

rocketbook with joe lemay at brooklyn boulders somerville, active collaborative workspace


Alex: How did you arrive at the idea for Rocketbook?

Joe: The idea came while I was at Brooklyn Boulders Somerville. I was working in the Active Collaborative Workspace, on a whiteboard actually, when I decided to step away from my work and go climbing.

Sometimes, when you step away from work to go play or climb — that’s when new ideas will come to you. Climbing enabled me to create space between me and my work. It gave me the ability to see bigger ideas from a different perspective. Rocketbook wouldn’t exist without Brooklyn Boulders. It’s a game changer.

Also, meeting investors at BKB for a coffee helps make the product weird and memorable [laughs].

Alex: That’s awesome! Obviously, at BKB we believe that mixing work and play is useful. It’s validating to hear that our community believes in this intersection too. For me, climbing is both an escape and a source of inspiration. It demands focus and a relentless attitude.

Joe: Totally. You know, what I like about climbing, especially when sport climbing or alpining, is that it forces me to not think about anything else. I’m there, in the moment, and my monkey mind is pushed aside.

Climbing is one of those activities where I’m able to completely shut out the outside world.

rocketbook with joe lemay brooklyn boulders somerville active collaborative workspace
Alex: Why do you think Rocketbook has been more successful than Rocketboard so far?

Joe: Well, there’s definitely a bigger market for Rocketbook. Rocketboard is useful for fewer people, and only every once in a while.

Whereas Rocketbook can be used by anyone for work or otherwise. It’s also convenient. With twenty-five uses per notebook, you are saving a lot of paper. And I personally love being able to carry less.

“Rocketbook wouldn’t exist without Brooklyn Boulders. It’s a game changer.”

There’s also this trend with IndieGogo campaigns; people are more inclined to invest when they can receive something physical in the mail. It’s cooler. Just an app isn’t as cool or appealing because it lacks a physical component.

Alex: Do you think there’s something to this movement towards pushing technology aside?

Joe: I call it “tech that gets out of your way.”

There’s something very primal about drawing with a paper and pen. It elicits a different type of thinking and brain activity than typing does. For example, writing with paper and pen, it’s been proven that you’ll have a better shot at retaining information than if you were to type it.

Alex: I see a solid correlation there between Rocketbook and rock climbing. A sort of movement towards our primal nature.

Joe: Definitely. When you are climbing something is clicking in your brain. It’s a physical activity as well as a puzzle. And there’s something to that with drawing — it’s a tactile act that you can’t replace with tech. It can’t be reproduced in a digital space.

Notebooks are also much better for social situations. Laptops stifle our conversations, and using unnatural tech interfaces can get in the way of discussion, free form thinking, and collaboration.

With Rocketbook, something old becomes new again. It’s technology with a low-tech feel.


Membership at Brooklyn Boulders includes unlimited access to our Collaborative Workspace. Find out more about BKB Membership Options here.

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