A Fireside Chat With Evernote’s Phil Libin

By October 31, 2013No Comments

Day one of Pioneers Festival 2013 proved to be full of entrepreneurship, cutting edge tech, innovation and those all-important connections. One of the highlights was Phil Libin’s fireside chat entitled ‘Technology, growing your startup and changing the world’ with Daniel Gross from Newsweek and two rising young founders, Sylvie Chin of ClearKarma and Luca Boschin of LogoGrab. Here’s a little summary.

The 100-year vision: Building a sufficiently epic product

Daniel kicked off the conversation by asking Phil about the importance of a big and daring vision and if the Silicon Valley approach on revenues — get the users first, then find out the revenue — is the way to go when building a startup. Phil focused on the Evernote history; that the team wanted to build something great for themselves which they didn’t want to sell or exit to a bigger company. Thus Evernote is ready to give up short-term revenue for a larger one later on.

Bootstrapping or Venture Capital? Let’s do both

What is interesting about Evernote is that despite bootstrapping with paying customers, they still pursued VC funding. Daniel asked Phil why is that the case with Evernote where he was given once more the opportunity to shine the light on Evernote’s ambitious 100 year plan vision. The bigger portion of the raised money goes to the company — to isolate Evernote from macroeconomic conditions. The rest goes to pay existing shareholders, so people have liquidity throughout their involvement with Evernote and don’t perceive it as a one-time money machine.

Culture and perks

When asked about Evernote’s corporate culture, Phil couldn’t but insist on the importance of it and that as a CEO it’s his #1 task. Evernote is known for its flat corporate hierarchy and unlimited vacation days, but Phil said that these ‘free perks’ are not perks indeed, but rather a way to reward and make more productive smart, ambitious people work at Evernote.

Double-down on your strengths and start building relevant stuff

Phil jokingly replied that “it takes many years of practice to be able to act like a good person”. He continued that it’s always extremely important to experiment. A few years ago nobody knew what the right number of apps to have is, Phil continued, Evernote just experimented with it. What works should be optimized and kept and what doesn’t should be killed.

A sufficiently epic mission

On a final, ‘world-outlook’ question from Sylvie, Phil mentioned that Evernote’s goal is not disruption, it’s merely a side-effect. “This is not what we’re after,” he said. Business is not a zero-sum game, thus the key is to want to create new, bigger value out of things instead of tearing everything around you down. Phil said that his and Evernote’s goal is to “make everyone a bit more smarter. We want people to make slightly better decisions through using Evernote. This mission is sufficiently epic and all I wanted to ever do. I’d be perfectly happy if that’s all there is.

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