Start-Ups

How Notable PDF built an annotation tool for PDFs on the web

New Zealand startup Notable PDF has created an online tool to help users collaborate and annotate PDFs online.

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The Notable PDF team.
Image: Notable PDF

Way back in the early 1990s, Adobe released the Portable Document Format (PDF). Ever since, PDFs have been a key tool in getting work done — and that's about it.

For the most part, PDFs remain relatively unchanged. Not much has been done to modernize the PDF or make it more accessible online.

To improve the online work experience around PDFs, New Zealand startup Notable PDF has built a Chrome extension that allows users to annotate and collaborate around PDF files on the web.

"To put it simply, it's like having your Adobe Reader/Acrobat Pro on your browser," said Alliv Samson co-founder & COO. "Aside from viewing your PDF files, you can add text, highlight, draw, sign, share and collaborate your files. We are Google-focused, so we have apps and extension available for Google users, as well as we integrate with Google Drive. "

The team launched its first product while its founders were university students in 2012. The product, called Notable.ac, is a web app that allowed students to take notes, collaborate, and annotate in real time on lecture materials such as a worksheet or PowerPoint presentation.

Notable.ac didn't grow as the team expected it would, so they began working on a Chrome extension for PDFs in late 2013, eventually launching the Notable PDF alpha in March of the following year. By summer 2014, user growth and traction drove the team to focus all of its energy on building out Notable PDF.

The company was started in Auckland, New Zealand, which has a small, and relatively new startup scene. It's cheaper to build a business there, but sometimes it is difficult to raise funding.

However, Notable recently raised a seed round from a host of investors. Flying Kiwi Angels led the round, which also included US investors Scott Nolan of Founders Fund and Sam Altman of Y Combinator, as well as New Zealand Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF), Sparkbox Venture Group, EFU Investments Limited, and other angel investors.

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Notable PDF offers a host of annotation tools for PDFs.
Image: Notable PDF

David Russell, who invested in Notable PDF, first met the team when they were fresh out of school in 2013. He said the team is bridging the desktop to the cloud and bringing the PDF into the modern age.

"Notable saw how bad everything was and decided to do something about it. They are the first PDF annotation tool that uses HTML5 and JS to do the rendering and annotations purely in the browser. So unlike the website guys, everything works immediately upon dropping a file, no uploading or waiting."

Since the tool renders PDFs in the browser, Samson said, Notable PDF is protected against PDF security vulnerabilities. Samson said the Notable PDF stack is composed of HTML5, CSS, JS, Ruby on Rails, PostgreSQL, AWS and Java.

Individual users can install Google Apps and get the Notable PDF extension or app through the Chrome Web Store. Enterprise users can install it for network members through the Google admin panel. Non-Google users can go to this website to start using it.

According to the a press release, Notable PDF currently has more than 940,000 installs, more than 4 million saved annotations, more than 3 million documents open, and more than 250,000 users. Samson said that the company has many education users and professional users in fields such as medicine, law, real estate, and writing.

There is a freemium model of Notable PDF available. Users of the free version get access to the PDF viewer and a set of basic annotation tools. Advanced users can pay $2 per month or $20 for lifetime access to a premium license with access to advanced features and tools like drawing on PDFs or adding electronic signatures.

"Since we have a lot of teachers, students, and schools with 1:1 Chromebooks setup, we offer them a heavily discounted premium license called Notable PDF for Schools which starts at $2 per user per year," Samson said.

Samson also mentioned that the company is looking to launch a pro version, aimed at businesses and professionals, in a few months. "Pro features will include merging, splitting, converting and more," Samson said.

Notable PDF will remain concentrated on PDFs in 2015. According to Samson, the company will use the capital it raised to hire more engineers and build out the feature set.

"Notable has a huge market to pursue and possible features to add, and they won't stop at just PDF files," Russell said. "I see that they could become the standard tool for collaborating on document annotation on the Internet."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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