Wiretap: Evernote’s Phil Libin on the next big thing

Way back in the Pleistocene Era of 2001, I wrote about a pair of whiz kids at Accenture who were cooking up a “Personal Awareness Assistant” — an early example of wearable computing. With the help of miniature cameras, microphones and voice recognition software, the battery powered device would let you record everything you said and did, then whisper clues into your ear when, for instance, you ran into that sales prospect whose name you couldn’t quite remember.

Today, the widespread adoption of that kind of technology seems closer than ever, with the ubiquity of smartphones and fledgling efforts like Google Glass. And Phil Libin is right in the mix. The CEO of Redwood City’s Evernote says the company aims “to give everyone a photographic memory,” allowing them to save Web pages, snippets of text, e-mails, voice memos, photos and videos. Users can sort all that data into searchable “notebooks” stored in the cloud and accessible from all their devices.

Libin and I caught up recently as he prepped for the company’s user and developer conference, which kicks off today and continues Friday. It’s Evernote’s third annual conference, “and the most ambitious. There’s half a dozen company-changing things we’re working on,” he said. Evernote CEO Phil Libin, speaking at the 2011 LeWeb conference

There’s already been plenty of change afoot at Evernote over the past year. The user base has shot from 40 million to 70 million, “and the thing they all have in common is a really poor understanding of life-work balance,” Libin quipped. “They’re asking how to manage all this information that’s coming at them all the time, whether it has to do with their work or their kids.” (Not that I, uh, would know anything about that.)

The product is also maturing from what Libin called a “first phase” that lets users search everything they’ve captured, to an “augmented intelligence” approach that will push stored information to you before you even know you have to search for it. “We want it to complete your thoughts,” said Libin. (Another productivity app trying to do something similar is Cue, which combines your online calendar, email and contacts to alert you when you need to leave for that meeting – and show you the number of the person to call if you’re running late.)

Yet another new – and lucrative – initiative underway is Evernote Business. Libin said more than 7,000 companies have signed on since January, and he expects the product to make up 10 percent of Evernote’s sales this year. In 2014, he reckons it will be up to 40 percent. Evernote’s only other revenue stream is a $5-a-month premium version that offers individual users more storage, security, search and sharing functions.

“We don’t show advertising. We don’t do data mining. All of that crates conflict,” Libin, 41, said. “Everything you put into Evernote is totally private.” He also said the percentage of users who pay for the premium version goes up the longer they use the product: “After about a year, 5 percent pay. After two years, its 11 percent. Of the ones who’ve been with us about 5 years, 26 percent pay.”

That must be sweet music to the venture capitalists who’ve pumped more than $250 million into Evernote. But Libin’s not about to rest easy. “On the one hand, I’m amazed and very gratified that we touch 70 million users,” he said. “On the other hand, there are 7 billion people who don’t use Evernote. And they should, because it’s for them.”

 

 

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