The Rise of Evernote: An Interview with CEO Phil Libin (Part 2)

6/16/10Follow @wroush

Yesterday, we ran the first part of a wide-ranging conversation with Phil Libin, the CEO of Mountain View, CA-based Evernote. He talked about how he got recruited to the company two years ago by Esther Dyson, and how he has extended the company’s note-taking software across platforms to build a customer base that’s now 3.2 million members strong.

Today, in the second installment of our conversation, Libin talks about his strategy for growing the computerized note-taking service, which has been described as an “offboard brain,” and how Evernote stacks up in this increasingly competitive field. He also details Evernote’s business model; interestingly, Libin says that if too many people were paying for Evernote’s $45/year premium version, it would be a sign that something was wrong.

Xconomy: Here we are three years after you joined the company and rolled out a multi-platform version of Evernote, and you’ve got millions of users. You’ve spoken of it as a “cognitive prosthesis,” but do your users think of it that way?

Phil Libin: I think you know a technology is really going mainstream when people don’t think about what they’re doing as being particularly noteworthy. The vast majority of people who use Evernote don’t actually see themselves as pushing the boundaries of the human memory.They’re just using it to remember stuff. In fact, one of our big challenges is that people have such completely different ways of using it that it’s sometimes hard to unify around a consistent message about what you actually do with it. They are using it across platforms, and the vast majority use it on more than one type of device within the same day.

Adoption rates are very high. On a slow day we add 5,000 users and on a good day, 9,000 or 10,000. That has been sustained for the past few months now. We’re at 3.2 million users, and all of this has been done without any real social features. Evernote is not designed to be a viral product. It’s designed for you, not for your friends. There are definitely hooks in there for all sorts of sharing and collaboration, and a lot more of that is coming soon. But it’s meant to be your private, trusted, lifetime memory. But even though there are no viral features, it grows through word of mouth. We don’t do any formal advertising or marketing. It turns out that Evernote users talk about Evernote to their friends. So we’re growing at this incredible rate, as fast as Skype or Twitter were growing at a comparable stage, even though there are no network effects.

X: Not only do you have a lot of users, but you’ve got an increasing number of competitors. In fact, the whole idea of online notekeeping is hot right now, with companies like iCyte, Springpad, Snaptic, and Shelfster offering similar services. How many startups do you think this sector can sustain?

PL: There is definitely a lot of activity in this space, which is great.I want there to be as much stuff as possible. I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game. We are partnering pretty closely with a bunch of people, where there is enough difference between what we are doing and what they are doing that there are ways to integrate the products.

There are a bunch of people actively, expressly going after Evernote—where their whole marketing pitch is that “we are a better Evernote”—which is entertaining. It’s not just the little guys, but there are big players as well. Microsoft is starting to make noise again with OneNote, and no one is really sure what Google is going to do.

Competition is good, but I don’t think anybody is doing quite as well as we do. I don’t think anybody else comes close to having nine different native clients and … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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