No Investor Ever Got Fired for Passing on a Reading Startup

Andrew Courter
Happy Highlighting
Published in
3 min readDec 4, 2014


With Highly, our tender young product for sharing anything you read online, we replace hyperlinks with something we think is better — highlights. Simply highlight to share the words and ideas you find important.

We think it’s a big deal. Would-be investors largely disagree.

Here’s the feedback we’re hearing:

“I haven’t seen a dedicated reading app truly hit the mainstream yet. Pocket, Flipboard, and perhaps Evernote have come close.”

I’d add Kindle to the list, too, which means that delivering Read It Later, a Social Magazine, Remember Everything, and The Best Devices For Reading haven’t propelled these well-designed products and well-built businesses into mainstream consumer culture. Does “Highlight to share” have a snowball’s chance?

“We have uncertainties around adoption (especially with regard to mobile).”

As well you should, astute non-investor: more than half of online reading happens on mobile devices. You won’t ever be a go-to app if people can’t go to you half of time they’d like to. Which begs the frequent:

“Highlighting is a hobby, not a habit. I can’t see people using this every day.”

Just because Tweeting highlights is emerging as a mainstream behavior, for instance, doesn’t imply that people want to highlight everything else they’re reading. There must be an outsized social, personal or professional benefit to warrant the incremental effort of “actively reading” everything. Said benefit is not obvious.

“Highlighting is a feature, not a product.”

That’s true today, and that’s what people expect tomorrow. Changing perception is much harder (read: expensive) than starting fresh.

“Can this go from being an interesting product into an actual business?”

Selling ads puts you at odds with publishers, so that’s off the table. Consumers are loathe to pay for software, let alone pony up for a “feature” that’s free in apps they already own. And even if they’d pay, what’s a bright digital marker worth? Would anyone subscribe to a marker? Can an unbundled reading app get traction in the suite-centric enterprise collaboration market?

(deep breath)

All good points. All shared candidly, kindly, by successful investors. And they’re right. It’s absolutely prudent to “sit this round out” and “see the product in market a bit longer,” to “de-risk” before “diving deeper,” to “stay in touch.” Cue the California No.

Unless you see what we see.

The rare chance to redesign a ubiquitous behavior — reading — for the better. Just as the next billion web readers fire up their phones.

A way to give readers a little bit more control over their time. A way for friends and coworkers to make the web better for one another every time they log on, with an interface they already know how to use. A thousand doors into every great story. A chance to build a new “first place” to go to find new ways to think. A clickbait-killer.

A way to share exactly what you want to share.

For reasons we know, and many we don’t, it’s going to be awfully hard to add an intuitive, interactive highlight layer to every page published online. On every device. With a UX so tight it’s 10× better than status quo copy-and-paste.

Despite the warning signs, our early users seem to agree that we’re on to something. And there is one investor who agreed to back us. We’re up for this. Are you?

Andrew & Eric

Team is ex-state-school ex-agency ex-thoroughbred, not ex-Stanford ex-SpaceX ex-unicorn.

Highlight to share, today.



Andrew Courter
Happy Highlighting

Designer @TribesXYZ. Founded @HighlyTM, helped @Twitter.