The Elephant Behind Evernote

4 min read • Feb 14, 2013 • Mike Alder

When I got my first smart phone in 2010, I was excited to personalize it with apps that I would use.  While deciding which apps to get I discovered an amazing app called Evernote. Everywhere I looked for recommendations (online, in the app store, and from friends) it seemed to be the one app that everyone suggested. I downloaded it not really knowing what it was.

When first launching the app a quick introduction video welcomed me. After watching, I was excited to try it out. I immediately started using it in my college classes. The coolest part to me, was having my notes from my computer sync’d to my phone and vice versa. I could have my syllabus, class notes, and voice recordings ready to review anywhere. I soon began using it for everything I wanted to remember.

Evernote was named “Company of the Year” in 2011 by Inc. Magazine. In the article written by David H. Freedman, CEO and founder, Phil Libin shares how Evernote began. Having already started two companies he wanted to do something more exciting with a goal to really impact the world. He even said, “A billion dollars isn’t cool. What’s cool is impacting a billion people.” Evernote has been on the “Editor’s Choice” and “Top Free Apps” in both the Apple App Store and the Google Play market for years. How does a company break into the productivity software market that Microsoft Office and others have dominated for years? Here are 5 reasons why I believe Evernote broke into the market successfully:


  1. Solve a problem: If you’ve been reading my blog, I’ve said this before. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have your product/service solve a problem. When Libin described his idea for Evernote he said, “…No one has applied the same great user experience that we see on something like Facebook to productivity tools. Microsoft office isn’t fun to use.” The biggest challenge I think Evernote solves is the problem of searching through notebooks, Microsoft Word documents, emails, and websites to find past information I want to recall. I’m able to have all my notes, thoughts, and any other important information at my fingertips, anywhere. “No one is happy with their meat brain. It’s overloaded by the time we’re in high school. It’s as universal a problem as you can get,” jokes Libin, “[Evernote] is the electronic version of having something at the tip of your tongue.”
  2. New playing field: If Evernote had been introduced 10 years ago it probably wouldn’t have been as successful as it is today. It would’ve competed directly with Microsoft Office, the goliath in productivity software. When Evernote started up they were joining a new mobile market, which was unexplored. The Cloud changed everything. Evernote was able to break into the mobile market with revolutionary, but simple ideas. Gaining a footing in the mobile market led them into the computer software market with the ability to sync both devices together through The Cloud.
  3. Work with people smarter than you: Being a CEO doesn’t mean you have to know everything or be the best at everything. Surround yourself with people who can fill in the gaps of what you and/or your company lacks. Libin originally was a programmer, but when working for another start up he admitted, “I was the least productive programmer, so I got stuck with the management job.” Through his experiences of working at several companies, he developed relationships with coworkers who were amazing at what they did. He built his Evernote team from previous coworkers and college buddies.
  4. Data is king: Libin had a difficult time getting VC’s on board because he pitched Evernote as a freemium (a free app with premium features). VC’s didn’t like that it didn’t have paid advertising and there was not much difference between the free version and the premium. They wanted to know, “How are they going to make their investment back?” Libin replied, “I don’t need to squeeze money out of [our customers]. I’ll have the rest of [their] life to take [their] money. It’s my long-term greedy strategy.” He then pointed out that 8 percent of users upgraded to the premium after a year. This is because the more someone used Evernote, the more they invested, and the more they invested, the more likelihood they would upgrade. After showing the data, Libin didn’t need to worry anymore about getting money from VC’s. Later data would even show 15 percent of users who used Evernote for 3 years would upgrade.
  5. Build a family of products: Evernote became profitable within the first year of its public launch. Libin knew that it was just the tip of the iceberg. He wanted to have several successful products that fed into Evernote—he has since created a family of applications. These applications can be used in various ways. He has even set up studios (teams at different locations) that allow each team to better focus on those individual products. As a result, they have successfully built a family of 9 different applications, including Evernote Business. Each application has the ability to feed into Evernote allowing everything to be stored and viewed in one place. This keeps users coming back time and time again.


Phil Libin started with the idea that, “…No one has applied the same great user experience that we see on something like Facebook to productivity tools. Microsoft office isn’t fun to use.” The key word is fun. Before starting Evernote Libin stated, “…I wanted people to be excited about [whatever I ended up doing].” Unless you are planning on starting a company and selling it, you should enjoy doing what you do. It makes it much easier to bring others on board if you are excited, enthusiastic, and believe full-heartedly in your business idea.

Do you have fun doing what you do?


Mike Alder

Mike Alder is a University of Utah business marketing student and marketing specialist at Lendio. Passionate about entrepreneurship, small businesses, and inbound marketing. Mike shows his passion by sharing stories of successful entrepreneurs and companies with small business owners on the Lendio blog. He makes these big success stories easy-to-apply in simple and easy to read language for the everyday small business owner and entrepreneur.  

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