My trouble remembering people – an origin story

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As the first post on Revere’s blog, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the events that put me on the path to building the app. It came from a very personal problem: being bad at building relationships with people, mainly because I was bad at remembering names, details, and conversations I’ve had with people (and the embarrassment and guilt that came along with it). Revere is basically the more approachable, easier-to-use version of the cobbled together tool I made for myself that helped me be better. There’s a lot of interesting detail and drama in between the lines of the below story, but this is a good start.


Some people are just naturally good with names. Politicians, for example, are legendary. They meet someone for a minute and remember their name six years later. This is sorcery to me.

I’m terrible with names, I forget them constantly. I forget the names of people I meet within minutes, I’ve forgotten people I’ve worked with for years, and regularly go to parties and re-introduce myself to people I’ve already met.

Me: “Hey, I’m Mark. Nice to meet you”
Them: “Yeah Mark, I know. We met at Steve’s party last summer, also his wedding”
Me: “Oh yeeeeah… so how have you been?”

Everybody forgets things from time to time. We’re busy, we have a lot going on, unpredictable things happen, or we get side tracked. But forgetting most things doesn’t carry big consequences. If I forget to buy milk on the way home, my family doesn’t think I don't care about them, they just think it slipped my mind. But if I forget someone’s name or that they had a baby, well, that’s different. Because if I cared enough, I would remember, right?

Not exactly. There’s this notion that if something is important, we’ll remember it, but that’s not how the brain works. We can only keep a handful of things in memory at a given time, so if you’re preoccupied with something, or busy, or deeply focused, you can easily forget what’s not in front of you. Names in particular are hard to remember, because they’re arbitrary. Nothing about a person gives us a hint about what their name is.

Here’s the worst part: regardless of how common it is to forget names or details about someone, it still causes offense. On the other hand, when you remember someone the way a politician can, it’s properly impressive and powerful.

This was all on my mind as I was struggling with my own memory issues. I dreaded events and parties because it’s when these moments would happen most. If I could I would avoid them. Over time, I noticed myself being less and less social and meeting less people. It was becoming a problem and I needed to do something.

So I decided to take notes. I created a file on my computer for every person I met. It included their name, where we met, their family, and what we last talked about… everything I thought a good friend should remember. I saved the files in a folder synced to the cloud, then synced that to my phone with a special app. After meeting someone, I’d spend a few minutes writing a note or two. Then, before I’d meet them again (if I knew ahead of time), I would read over their file and jog my memory. It took a lot of time and effort to manage all these files but the alternative was not an option.

And it worked!

I still remember the first time this system I made saved me. I was sitting in a coffee shop, working, when a guy I recognized walked in. My first reaction was panic! This was a tiny coffee shop and there was no way I could avoid him – I was on a collision course to an awkward conversation. But then I remembered I had a file for him. So I quickly pulled out my phone and searched the only two details I remembered: he was an “accountant,” and we met at “The Rooster Cafe”. And there it was! A note with his name, his wife's name, and what he was working on. As I finished reading the note, he walked up and said hello (remembering my name, of course), and I did the same! I also asked how his wife was, and how his project was going. We had a great conversation.

What would’ve been an awkward moment a month earlier, was a triumph. I felt like I had super powers, and right then I knew I had to turn this system of mine into something others could use. I knew there were a lot of people like me who struggled the same way, and I knew they weren’t going to build their own kludgy, difficult to manage system of synced folders and apps. So I started turning it into an app, and that was the beginning of Revere.

Now, a few years later, I still take notes about people, but they go in Revere. And there are now special fields for family members and how you met. It’s also flexible enough to record miscellaneous things like gift ideas, their favourite drink, and whether their partner is a vegetarian (a key detail if you’re having them over for dinner). Most importantly, I can set reminders, so even when life gets busy, I have peace of mind that I won’t forget to check-in or call back (my original system never did this).

I still have the occasional awkward moment when people sneak up on me and I don’t have time to look them up, but it’s nothing like it used to be. Just having a place to add notes makes me more likely to write something, which makes me more likely to remember someone. Without exaggeration, I can say that Revere has changed my life.