Although he faced plenty of challenges during his 21 years in the military, when Chris Donohoe, the CEO of Raleigh’s EX-IQ, left the Army and went back to school for his master’s degree, he found a different challenge awaiting him.
“After two or three months it quickly became apparent why kids, school and job all added up to no time for homework,” he said. “So, I started thinking ‘There’s got to be a way with all this cutting-edge tech around voice to figure out a way for me to interact with my curriculum while I’m on the road.’”
This thought led him to launch EX-IQ’s first product, Note, an app that allows a user to highlight, paste and add comments to an audio book with voice commands. Donohoe said Note can even be used in the car, which is why he calls it “a desktop environment at 60 mph.”
Expanding on its first product, EX-IQ launched its new podcast app, NoteCast, in early March. The app is free to download on the App Store or the Google Play store, but it costs $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year to access its premium features.
The app, which already has between 600 and 700 downloads, is a platform like Apple Podcasts or Spotify where users can download their favorite podcasts. What differentiates it, Donohoe said, is that in the premium version, a user can click the screen or say “save that” to save the last 20 seconds as a note that can be shared or revisited later.
Donohoe said although he recognizes that Apple and Spotify are huge players in the market, he thinks saving notes from a podcast is something that could attract users.
“If you listen to a lot of podcasts, wishing you could remember something that was said is a near-universal experience,” he said. “Everyone hears something they wish they could return to. That spans a wide demographic, from people who are listening to learn, to people who are listening to unwind.”
Making up the largest part of NoteCast’s target market is what Donohoe calls “life-long learners” who want to learn new skills to be more appealing to employers or start their own venture.
“It used to be, way back when, you got a four-year degree and that was it,” he said. “You more or less stayed in that industry. But the requirements for life-long learning are so pronounced now.”
At little more than a year old, EX-IQ has six team members working remotely across the United States and has raised around $1 million in funding. Donohoe said this is just the beginning.
EX-IQ also recently launched a “skill” for Amazon’s Alexa voice device—a skill is a third-party enhancement to Alexa’s functionality—that has the same ability to save notes like the NoteCast mobile app. Donohoe said soon, EX-IQ’s main products—Note, NoteCast and the Alexa skill—will all be integrated into one platform.
“We see ourselves as the future of learning,” he said. “There is no more efficient way to process information and learn, all things considered.”
Progress can be slow and pain can be sharp in the startup world, but Donohoe said his two decades in the military—which included deployment in war zones—has improved his resilience greatly.
“My ability to remain on an even keel in the role I’m in is in large part due to the perspective I gained dealing with stuff that was quite a bit more serious,” he said. “Quite honestly that’s probably the most valuable thing.”
His company will face challenges from huge competitors, including the billion-dollar company Spotify, which entered the podcasting industry in early 2019 by buying three podcasting-related companies.
Despite the pressure, Donohoe has no doubts about EX-IQ’s potential.
“I imagine that we’ll probably acquire Amazon in about four years,” he said confidently. “You can put that in (the article) if you want.”