Interview met Phil Libin, CEO Evernote

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Vandaag was dan eindelijk het moment daar, de Evernote - DutchCowboys meetup. Hét moment voor de echte Evernote-fans om ervaringen uit te wisselen. Als extraatje heeft DutchCowboys de CEO van Evernote, Phil Libin, even kunnen wegkapen van The Next Web Conference voor een gesprek met de fans. 

Voor de meetup hadden wij al even de mogelijkheid om met Phil te spreken en hem enkele vragen te laten beantwoorden. 

Interview met Phil Libin, CEO Evernote

What was your vision for Evernote when you joined in 2007?

I wanted to make a product that would act as your "second brain". Something that would make you smarter, happier and more productive. I originally had plans to manufacture hardware and software, but we quickly decided to focus on just software for the first few years.

Were you using Evernote before you joined the company in 2007?

No, it was a different company before 2007. There was a company called "EverNote" (with a capital N) which merged with my team to form the modern Evernote. The old EverNote had some Windows shareware products which had great vision and promise but didn't really appeal to me as an end-user. We kept the name, some of the technology and many of the people. We dropped the capital N. That was probably my biggest contribution to the success of Evernote - dropping the capital N. Superfluous capitalization ruins everything.

What made you move from "Credential Validation solutions for Identity & Access Management" to a company that offers customers to "remember everything"?

I haven't heard that slogan in a long time! Not so catchy.

You're talking about my second company, CoreStreet, which we founded as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001. We started CoreStreet right after 9/11 because, like everybody else at the time, we wanted to do something substantive and meaningful. So we went into the security space with some really great technology invited by Silvio Micali, one of the fathers of modern cryptography. This technology was going to change the world. And it did. But it turned out that only governments and really big banks cared about this kind of security. There were maybe 1,000 people in the world who really understood what we did and why it was important. And even those people didn't get really excited about it; no one gets really excited about some new algorithm buried deep inside an ID card. So we wound up selling the same important stuff to the same disinterested people and I became an expert in government procurement practices and budget cycles and one day I decided that I would rather not learn a single new fact about government contracts.

So we put the company into adult hands and started thinking about what we wanted to do next. My only requirement was that it wold be something that, if we did really well, a billion people would get excited about. I asked, "What can we make that, one day, a billion people will wake up in the morning and be excited about?" Andrew, one of my cofounders, said "Chinese breakfast". This was a pretty good answer, but we kept looking. Then someone said, "everyone needs a better memory." So we decided to build a second brain.

We called the idea "Ribbon" because some people tie a ribbon around their finger to remind them of something. Also because that's how they pronounce my last name in Japan. Pretty soon, we ran into Stepan Pachikov and his company called EverNote which had a very similar vision and a big head start in technology. Stepan and I talked and, after intensive negotiations about the upper case N, decided to combine forces rather than compete. I moved to California, brought in many old friends, and "remember everything" was born.

How are you using Evernote in your day-to-day life?

I live in it. I do all my research for board meetings using Clearly and the web clipper, then I put together my presentation in a shared notebook and send it to the board. I take pictures of everything I eat. I use it to remember where I parked my car. I use it to remember people I meet. I use Peek with an automatically-updating employee notebook to study the names and faces of all our new employees (we have about 170 and it gets hard to remember after 100). I keep my shopping list in it. I keep my eyeglasses prescription in it, so I can get new glasses if mine break. I have all my travel info in one place. I put screenshots of the high scores I get in games in it so I can brag to my friends. I have my receipts there. I'm using it to buy a new house. Right now, I'm writing this interview in it.

Are you more of a Apple, Windows or Android-person?

I am a giant nerd and love all hardware. I have an iPhone, a couple of Android devices, an iPad, a Windows Phone, a Windows 8 tablet, a Kindle, a Macbook and a big Windows desktop for playing games. It's good to be the CEO of a multi-platform software company!

If I have to decide which is "my" phone, however, the phone I grab by default when I want to do something, it's an iPhone.

I wait in line on release day to get new Apple products just like all the other fan boys. I guess that answers the previous question.

Knowing that you have been a software engineer/architect, do you still code stuff for Evernote? And if not, would you love to add some code to Evernote?

They don't give me access to the production code repository or the live servers, so I don't write any "real" code at Evernote. They do let me play around with the reporting servers (how much damage cold I do?) so I still write a lot of SQL for our analytics. I wrote all the code for our cohort analysis, which made me feel pretty useful. I am pretty heavily involved in the design of the apps as well.

Would there be any other company you would love to work for?

Like all proper nerds, I want to work on space exploration. I don't think anyone will hire me into this field, so give Evernote a few years and we'll get there ourselves.

Any plans while in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe? Or what did you already do and enjoy? And is it your first time here?

Unfortunately, my trip to Amsterdam this time is really short: only two days! I've been to Amsterdam a few times in the past, but would really like to spend more time here. My plans when traveling are always the same: eat as many varieties of the local food as possible.

Looking at Evernote, Evernote is mainly an application that allows customers to remember everything. There are some very light option of using it for GTD. Any plans on expanding on that in the near future or does Evernote stay true to its core values and stick to "remembering everything"?

We're going to be coming out with a lot more functionality to support both GTD and general productivity users: reminders, better to-dos, etc.

What are you expecting (experience etc.) to take out of The Next Web Conference?

I don't really know. It's my first time at TNW, so I'm not sure what to expect. I'm really impressed at the speaker list though, and honored to be in such a group.

Looking at Evernote Free users and Premium customers, are you hoping that more and more free users will start paying?

Yes, but that happens organically. The longer you use Evernote, the more likely you are to pay because your Evernote account becomes more valuable to you as time passes. So all we have to do to get more people to pay, is to get more people to use Evernote and to stick around. We've got four years of data showing this.

Any new features that you can already share which are coming to Evernote?

We're working on a lot of new functionality right now. In addition to the productivity features I mentioned above, we're greatly improving our sharing and collaboration capabilities, adding support for business accounts, and revamping the whole UX. We're also making Evernote much more intelligent. Our goal is to make the experience of using Evernote feel like it's completing your thoughts.

Of course, we can only build a small fraction of the perfect "second brain" by ourselves, so we rely on our developer community to create great things with the Evernote API. In fact, we just launched Devcup, our big new competition for developers: if you have any cool ideas for Evernote functionality or integrations, check out to get started.

What is your strategy on the different mobile operating systems. How do you make the decision on when and what to develop?

Our goal is to build a service that people will literally use for the rest of their lives. That's a long time and it means that you have to be comfortable that there will be a great Evernote experience on every device you'll ever own. Because of this we develop on virtually every credible operating system and platform. Also, all of our versions of Evernote are fully native on each platform because we want to have the best possible user experience. We always want make Evernote one of the showcase apps that can really show off the capabilities of each new device.

This approach to development is very expensive, but it produces the best experience, the best growth and the best engagement. It also makes it easier to hire the world's best designers and developers because everybody wants to exploit the full capabilities of their favorite device. It's also the most fun. When you're trying to build a 100 year start-up, the fun is a pretty big consideration. Speaking of which, we're hiring all over the globe. Come join us.

Houdt DutchCowboys zeker in de gaten voor meer Evernote nieuws in de komende weken! 

Arvid Bux

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