MEET THE DEVELOPER
This man can organise your life
Meet the researcher who created a new way to take notes, with his app Agenda.
Date-focused note taking
Agenda is a 2018 Apple Design Award winner. This award celebrates the creative artistry and technical achievement of developers who set the standard for app design and innovation on Apple platforms.
Unlike Alexander Griekspoor’s other apps, Agenda wasn’t cooked up in a lab.
While working on his Ph.D. in cell biology in the Netherlands, Griekspoor and his friend Tom Groothuis developed apps sparked by their scientific needs: 4Peaks and EnzymeX (both for Mac) help molecular biologists. Griekspoor built Papers while he waited for a fellowship to come through, because he wanted a way to organise his reading of research papers.
When he needed a tool to track his meetings and projects, he partnered with Drew McCormack, a former theoretical chemist, to create Agenda, a powerful notes app. Its premise is that when matters. Notes are organised by dates, so your meeting agenda pops up on the day it’s scheduled, and finding the thoughts you jotted down last Thursday is easy.
Here’s how he created the note-taking app of his dreams.
What problem were you trying to solve with Agenda?
I was kind of scratching my own itch. In a professional environment, almost all your notes are related to some event or date, and there wasn’t an app that solved that. When I got the idea for the name, I searched and agenda.com was available. I remember thinking, “There is either no place for this app, or there really is a gap that needs to be filled.”
What was your biggest challenge?
It took us a year to get to an alpha version. We gave it to about 30 friends we trust, and the feedback was disastrous. A big part of the problem was it was really attuned to my way of working. We had to take one step back. Technically the app hardly changed, but we had to give it a completely different look and feel. It set us back another year or so, but it was the right thing to do.
What was easier than you expected?
Getting back into programming and adopting [programming language] Swift.
When did you realise this was going to work?
I’d been using Simplenote for work, but after the redesign I started to use Agenda instead. And other people started to respond. We still had some people discussing the onboarding, but by that point we knew we were onto something.
How does your team work?
We’ve always worked remotely. We meet maybe two or three times a year physically.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Follow the gut feeling of what you think is important. When you work with a bigger team, you are making decisions with all these people, and things get kind of grey. You start to think, “Does what I think makes a good app actually make a good app?” Sometimes, just stick to what you think.
What’s next for you?
Agenda, for the next five or 10 years. We don’t want to totally change it or blow it up into a million features, but there’s so much cool stuff to do.