One Reason Everyone Has Outsourced Their Brains To Evernote

CEO Phil Libin wants Evernote to be consistent on every device. Which has meant a lot more work—but a much better user experience.

Evernote CEO Phil Libin has this great story about the iPad launch. Let's crank back to April 2010, before tablets were everywhere and people debated about whether "phablet" was a word. If you'll recall, Steve Jobs was announcing a gigantic smartphone thing that people didn't know what to do with. The press posture was skepticism. And what about Evernote?

"We were super psyched," Libin tells This Week In Startups (watch the full video here). And so when a reporter asked his opinion—and other CEOs were playing it cool—Libin gave him a straight answer.

"We're going to support the hell out of it," he remembers saying.

Before Apple released a simulator, Evernote made cardboard mockups. They tackled the iPad like they tackled the iPhone, Android, the App Store. Once again, they kind of killed themselves to be there on launch day and catch the publicity wave.

It's consistent with Evernote's expansiveness. Instead of going narrow (like Instagram avoiding Android, or Mailbox launching for only iOS and Gmail), Evernote goes wide. They exploit the screen flap. They make food diaries. They become the company of the year. And what could be be a stretched-out weakness is a broad-based strength, Libin says:

We said, "We want to be everywhere." We want Evernote to be your external brain. Eventually, hopefully it will be implanted in your brain. Until that magical day we want it to be on every device you touch. So any viable platform we’ll develop for. It’s fun. We get really great developers that way. We do everything native. That was actually the big decision. Right from the beginning we said, "No common denominator crap." No HTML5. Just all native on every platform.

Yes, it's really expensive. Yes, it takes a ton of developers. But it works for Evernote: As Libin says, they've got independent teams for every platform. They compete to make the best version, steal from each other, and leapfrog one another. Since each platform is different—BlackBerry, for instance, has that keyboard thing—the versions are tailored to them. And each fits.

Bottom Line: Don't trap yourself by worshipping consistency, which Libin says can make "everything equally crappy." Instead, be uniformly excellent.

VIDEO: Startups, Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote

[Image: Flickr user Darren Tunnicliff]

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  • Schooner1984

    Not even a little bit. I started using OneNote in 2003, and it is far superior to Evernote. I guess if I started out using a Mac, I'd use Evernote. I tried it once on my phone and it was a confusing mess. For me, OneNote is the killer application for my TabletPC.

  • Steven Hallam

    I personally thought that Phil Libin wasn't interested in consistency. I saw him speak at SXSW where he indicated that consistency can only deliver mediocrity. e.g. you limit yourself to the lowest common denominator. He wants to make each platform utilise the best features of that platform.

  • MikeF

    We tried Evernote for a year or more a Resource Center for our clients at and it was a great place to start.  But, we switched to SpringPad because we found the interface to be graphically far better.  It allows us to be more organized and for our users to more easily find what they're searching for.  Evernote felt too much like a big junk drawer to us at the time.  The use of our Resources, by our users/clients and outside people has increased tremendously since we made the switch.  So, for us Evernote was not the place to outsource our collective brains

  • Michael Campos

    I absolutely love Evernote, especially being a fiction writer, journalist and content marketer. I've been using Google Keep on my Nexus 7 lately, but that's the only device of mine on which it works. Evernote's on my MacBook, smartphone, Nexus 7, AND I can access it from anywhere with an internet connection. I only gave Keep a run since I'm heavily integrated into the Google ecosystem. But I don't see myself ever giving up Evernote completely. It's a way more robust platform than Keep at this point.

  • Prasun Sinha

    Undoubtedly, Evernote had set the gold standard for note-taking apps. Ubiquitous presence and seamless sync eliminate any second thoughts you may have before starting to use it. The native interface surely helps. While I agree with the all-native approach for a consumer-facing app like Evernote, I would think that enterprises might have a different take on this while developing custom apps for their own needs. In such cases, if ubiquity is a requirement, I would favor HTML5 as opposed to native development.

  • HailleyGriffis

    Great article! I love Evernote, I have from the start, they are the perfect platform for organization and I love how they are doing everything native. 

  • Ed

    Right on! I use Evernote religiously -- in fact i would call myself an evernote evangelist -- to a large extent because it offers the best, most consistent cross-platform user experience BAR NONE. It's simply an outstanding app... whether I'm on my iPhone, iPad, Windows desktop version, or use any browser as a front end, it all looks, feels, and works the same. App developers could learn a lot from Evernote... and I hope they do. It's a model of consistency and functionality.