(2018-09-19) Inside Evernote's Brain

Inside Evernote’s brain. With 225 million registered users spanning nearly every country on Earth, Evernote has indeed come a long way since Stepan Pachikov created the app, mostly to please himself

when he started thinking about note-taking, he was inspired by Apple’s Newton handheld computer. (Apple Newton)

The pioneering-but-unsuccessful gadget had shipped in 1993 with handwriting-recognition technology provided by ParaGraph, a company Pachikov cofounded in Russia; the collaboration prompted his relocation to the U.S.

What Pachikov especially liked about the Newton’s note-taking feature was the way you could scroll back and forth through every item you’d ever jotted, as if they were all on an infinite roll of paper tape. He wanted to push that approach further.

Pachikov increasingly saw his software as being less about any single note you might store than the aggregate power of having everything you ever wanted to remember at your fingertips, now and forever. A feature in the original version called “Time Band” let you jump back to any given month, day, and year; Pachikov initially thought that might be as useful as full-text searching, which Evernote also offered.

In this pre-iPhone time, Pachikov owned an early smartphone manufactured by HTC, and using it gave him the sense that “the smartphone eventually would be an extension of the human brain,” he remembers. Such a device, once it existed, would be the ideal home for Evernote, he felt.

Libin joined as CEO in 2007 and didn’t turn the company into an instant phenom; at one point, he was getting ready to shut it down when a reprieve landed in his inbox in the form of an unsolicited investment offer from an Evernote enthusiast in Sweden. But the iPhone—once it began to support third-party apps—was the sort of epoch-shifting device that Pachikov had fantasized about a couple of years earlier, and Libin’s Evernote was intrepid enough to seize the opportunity

Libin’s sense of showmanship was as strong as his timing. According to venture capitalist Roelof Botha of Sequoia, which invested a total of $70 million in Evernote in 2010 and 2011, “Phil is a Pied Piper. People would follow him, and he had an ability to whip up a frenzy and excitement around the company that was really amazing.” The app that had once seemingly maxed out at 80,000 users later reached 150 million people—most of whom used it for free, with the most serious adherents paying for premium features

By 2015, Evernote seemed to be well down the road to an IPO. Libin, who had always said he had no intention of being Evernote’s last CEO and now acknowledged that he wasn’t passionate about taking the company public, did something roughly comparable to what Pachikov had done eight years earlier: He replaced himself. The new CEO was Chris O’Neill.

Over time, O’Neill replaced Libin’s management team and implemented a variety of cost-control measures

In 2016, it also shed the responsibility of managing its own infrastructure, turning the job over to Google Cloud.

Through focus and financial disclipline, “Chris eventually saved the company,” believes Pachikov. O’Neill declared that Evernote, which had raised around $300 million over the years, had no plans to seek additional investment and would henceforth strive for self-sufficiency. In February 2017, in a blog post evocatively titled “Turning an Elephant,” he said that the business was now cash-flow positive

back in Libin’s day, Evernote introduced a service called Work Chat, which failed to pose a threat to the likes of Slack—but now over 20,000 organizations are customers.

what we’re doing is extending that to turning those ideas into action. So rather than just capturing them, you’re actually doing something.”

A real-time collaboration tool called Evernote Spaces, added to Evernote Business earlier this year, hints at this direction

Now, three years into his tenure and with some of the heavy lifting completed, O’Neill is ready for Evernote to call attention to itself again. “I’m spending some money on marketing for the first time in a long time, if ever,” he says. The brand refresh.

Eventually, “we locked onto this idea of focus being the thing that touches everything we do...”

Overcoming life’s complexities so that you can focus on what matters most was the essence of the new brand strategy. This idea of progress.”


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