Evernote’s Guide To Making Startup Schwag

Evernote has started selling home office and lifestyle products as a new source of revenue. Here’s the secret to choosing the right stuff.

Evernote’s Guide To Making Startup Schwag
[Image: Flickr user Gilberto Taccari]

When Evernote partnered with Moleskin last year the collaboration made analogical sense. And Evernote learned something from this experiment, says the company: their subscribers were willing to buy expensive, aesthetically pleasing stuff. But Evernote already charges users–so the question is, how do you know when your users might actually pay more? And how do you know what sort of schwag to sell?


Evernote’s new online store, dubbed the Evernote Market, is the pet project ofJeff Zwerner, Evernote’s VP of Branded Sales, who worked on the Moleskin partnership when he joined Evernote in September 2012. The store launched last month with a new partnership with 3M’s Post-It line, nerd-gear like a scanner and stylus, and high-end apparel products like bags, socks and wallets.

Previously Zwerner ran a design agency in San Francisco for 13 years, was acting creative director of packaging at Apple from 2001 to 2003, and worked on brand design for Palm. We asked him how he knew which products would be right for the Evernote store–and how far Evernote can take the concept.

With your background, did the idea behind the Evernote partnerships and the Market speak to you? Could you kind of see where it was going?

Jeff Zwerner: Yeah, it was very obvious. No one has done this or made this kind of transition, so we set forth a very bold charter. And then it became, okay, what are the things that we want to focus on? Which products would we do this with? Taking products like the Scansnap, which is the top selling scanner around the globe, and is really relied on in a lot of places, but it’s not a widely known brand in the U.S..

For the Scansnap, the expertise coming from the core Evernote team makes sense.


JZ: Yeah, exactly. It’s the same engineers that are working on the Evernote app that were rewriting the software for the scanner. Scansnap has great optics, great hardware, and what we wanted to do is not only affect the physical hardware but the firmware, making the paper to digital process seamless, revamping the package and the set-up experience, and then rewriting the entire software experience. Those types of things, including the stylus are our top tier products in terms of the most explicit and direct integration with Evernote.

But obviously not all the products have that crossover, so how do you decide which products speak to the mission?

JZ: In our minds they’re all helping people be better at what they’re doing. Certainly there are more lifestyle-oriented products that are in the collection, and those are things that are just smart products. They’ve got great backstories to them. What I didn’t want to lose in this process is that sense of style, and making these things fashionable. So it’s not in a kind of a geeky way. It’s not geek-chic. There’s no reason we can’t make beautiful products that can live in the mainstream world and be seen as an object of desire. So that’s the point of view. The lifestyle brands and products all have a statement, they all have a great story, they all have standards.


The Market seems like a radical departure from developing apps.

JZ: Yeah. I’ve seen people say, ‘Hey, you guys should just focus on the core apps.’ But it has literally been on the backs of a very small number of people here, two designers that are actually making products and then the market team is seven, so it hasn’t necessarily taken away from our core mission. It has only been additive in that regard. We’re ecstatic with the success that we’ve seen, but this is intended to be an additional revenue stream. As Phil [Libin, Evernote CEO,] said we want to sell products direct, we want to put good products into the market whether they be digital or physical, and if we do then people will pay good money for them and we will be an incredibly successful company. We’re not apologetic and we’re not trying to create a smokescreen.

How did the Market come about? Where did it stem from?


JZ: We’ve been doing partnerships for quite some time and we had released the Moleskin notebooks last year. They were a more explicit transition into the analogue world and because of that success it really got us thinking about how the Evernote brand and the fervent community and love around the brand could really drive sales of a product. You know, how does 3M launch a new Post-It? That’s very challenging. Whereas, once you put Evernote near it and talk about the functionality and the integration to make people live better and work smarter, now you have something that becomes a compelling opportunity to both message and attract interest at point of sale.

If the Market is meant to target Evernote users, does that say anything about an Evernote user? That they’re people who can afford a $300 bag?

JZ: It certainly does. If we were trying to hit specific price points that were low, you have to make compromises, and with the launch of this Market we didn’t want to compromise. And I don’t think our users do either. So it’s up to us to telegraph that value, and obviously online that’s more challenging than if we have a physical retail store where I could individually walk people through each product and show them the details. But I think over time people will understand that that’s our value proposition. People will be willing to pay for that quality.


I actually have a friend who’s a huge Evernote fan and he was saying, ‘Oh my gosh I love everything, I love the socks, but I can’t pay $85 for socks.’

Ronda Scott, Evernote PR: It is really about a paradigm and about paying for quality. There’s some messaging that we have to do around that and there’s some amount of trust that we expect from our users. And these products won’t be for everyone, some of them will be a little too fashion-forward perhaps or have more of a design voice that some folks might not like. The price points might not resonate and might not work for everyone, but we’re confident and hopeful that there is a good group of people like your friend, who might not buy the socks but might pick up a t-shirt and a triangle commuter bag.

JZ: We had a physical market set up at our conference and I love retail, so it was great to see people who were literally moving all of their stuff from one bag into one of the new bags right there, and then throwing their bags into the bin. And some of the people, I saw them the day before, and so it took them a day to kind of go home and really think about what the $242 bag was about, but I saw them back the next morning. It was interesting, because people need to rationalize those dollar amount purchases.