Taking Evernote of Success

Discover the 3 key mantras that made Evernote the world's most popular note-taking app!


Evernote has established itself as one of the world's most popular note-taking apps with a user base of over 100 million and pre-installed deals with big-name mobile phone makers and telcos like Samsung, Motorola and Deutsche Telekom. So it comes as a surprise to most that the country with the greatest density of Evernote users is the tiny island of Singapore, with an estimated 20% of all mobile phone owners using the app. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that only four people run its regional operations from Singapore, and that the entire company has what its market development man, Foo Tiang Lim, calls a "startup" culture. At the e27 Founders' Drinks session on 26th of November: Exploring company culture, product fit and productivity with Evernote, Tiang shared what this culture is, and the three key mantras that made Evernote tick:

Have Perpetual "Founding Moments"

"Running a startup and companies like Evernote with a similar culture is a series of founding moments", says Tiang. Founding moments are defined by him as significant accomplishments that have taken a similar effort and time to achieve as compared to actually founding the company itself. These achievements are on a scale that affects the company worldwide and changes its direction.

Two significant founding moments for Evernote were shared by Tiang: the first was when the company's founder Stepan Pachikov first met current CEO Phil Libin. The two had been working on similar note-taking and handwriting recognition technologies on different sides of the United States, and decided to collaborate rather than compete.

The other being Evernote's recent decision to focus on the business market. As a note-taking app, Evernote has been excellent for all sorts of uses ranging from cooking recipes to shopping lists; however, its decision to focus on the market has given the firm "clarity" , as Tiang puts it; to rally the company's efforts in product development and marketing. This has resulted in specific features in the premium version that have most benefits for businesses like increased monthly upload limits, high speed word recognition in images, heightened security, and the ability to search PDF documents for text. This has also helped them to focus marketing efforts and expenditure on encouraging current users to stay rather than gaining new ones as, according to research, those who stay longer tend to convert to Evernote's paid premium services.

"Founding moments" and a startup mentality keep the company's staff invigorated and enthusiastic about creating the next direction or feature that is akin to founding a new company.

Binding Passion

Evernote's 400 employees reside in 11 countries across eight time zones. Yet, the company maintains a close-knit cohesion that resembles that of a startup, with issues caused by cultural and market differences almost non-existent. Tiang explains how this is done: "We only hire people who are obviously passionate about our product. Just about every employee was a fan and heavy user of Evernote even before he or she joined. This passion binds all our employees regardless of market". What is more surprising is that the company does not place rigorous KPIs on its employees; "so that everyone does not have unnecessary pressure placed on them, and all that drives them is their passion for the product, which we feel is far more effective and better for morale" shares Tiang. This passion has resulted in a very productive ‘dogfooding' practice where the company trials new features and products internally before release.

The "No A**hole" Rule

To maintain the strong cohesion fostered in Evernote, the company practices what Tiang describes as ‘the no a**hole rule'. "Basically, we do not tolerate anyone who is nasty, who doesn't gel well with the rest of the team," explains Tiang. "It is very obvious who such a**holes are – it will show in their attitude and work, and we absolutely cannot risk having them pollute the culture we have so painstakingly built and depend on for running our business", he concludes.

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