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.

One Reason Everyone Has Outsourced Their Brains To Evernote

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]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.