For the last few months things between Evernote and I weren't as good as they used to be. The direction the company is taking, focusing on enterprise customers, and monetizing its users' data, eroded my trust in it. Since I use Evernote as the repository for my most personal and precious data, trust is invaluable. And as this factor is gradually taken away, I've stopped adding new notes, and sadly started looking for alternatives.
My relationship with Evernote goes way back. I fancy myself one of Evernote's early users. A productivity nerd, I've used it since v.1 back in 2005, when apps were called softwares. Evernote looked a lot different back then. It was designed as one continuous note, imitating a cash register paper roll. This design eased my transition from the physical notepad I used to carry, and turned me quickly into a “power user”, accumulating hundreds of notes every year.
Soon Evernote became the hub for my digital life. I used it to take notes, log ideas, summaries meetings, manage todo lists, maintain contacts information, capture screenshots and whiteboards, and stash passwords. I also created workflows to forward information I wanted to keep track of, such as calendar appointments, text messages, scanned document, invoices, receipts, and workout logs using services such as IFTTT and FileThis. It grew to become an extension of my brain, just what it was built for.
I was a delighted user; so much that I decided to pay for a premium account, even though I didn't meet my free account's quota 1, and didn't need the premium features. Yet I wanted to pay, because I admired the product, and wanted to express my support and loyalty to the team behind it. And more than paying, I became an advocate. I often used Evernote as a showcase for how you can build a big company by focusing your strategy and product roadmap on the user.
Of course, not everything was perfect. I never liked the note taking editor, and even less so as I started to write markdown, which Evernote doesn't support, and witnessed the proliferation of innovative markdown editors. Keeping track of my notes became another source of grievance. Not being able to organize my notes the way I wanted meant that the more notes I've created, the harder it become to keep track of them or find the right note when I needed it. The hundreds of tags and dozens of notebooks I accumulated didn't make things easier. And my biggest concern was always the lack of portability of my data. Once I put it in Evernote, it was hard to take out. But I wasn't deterred by these shortcomings, because I knew Evernote's vision is in line with mine, and therefore trusted those issues will be sorted out eventually.
That's why when Evernote shifted its roadmap, I started to feel that we don't share the same vision anymore. At first, there were those small annoyances, such as promoting Evernote's physical stuff inside the app, and introducing features that work only with Evernote branded hardware. Then more concerning intrusive features, such as “Context” followed. But it wasn't until Evernote has gone full throttle on sharing and collaboration that I realized it's time for me to move on.
I'm not very surprised with the change Evernote is going through. You see, for 10 long years Evernote worked diligently to develop an amazing app, believing that's the only way to build an engaged audience. You can't build such a user base with less than exceptional product. But as it grew bigger, it got under pressure to show how it translates users into \$s. This pressure became unbearable when it started to plan for an IPO.
My speculation is that when Evernote took the IPO route, it found that 100 million users, 5% of them are paying customers, won't get it the valuation it desires. It won't, because when evaluating companies, Wall Street doesn't care about reality and past achievements. It is much more interested in future potential, in dreams. So for Evernote to be priced 10x it's revenue, it must convince investors that such a dream exists. Now, due to the amount of users it already has, Evernote can't project an exponential user growth. It can, alternatively, prove it can increase its users' LTV 2, or show growth in new markets or segments.
Evernote went both ways. On the one hand, it took more aggressive conversion tactics, such as the introduction of a new system of Plus and Premium plans, reduction of the monthly storage of the free plan by 94%, and a new communication strategy that nudges users to convert into one of those paid plans. On the other hand Evernote shifted its focus towards business users, with features such as “Work Chat” and “Team Workspace” that have crept into central position within the app.
As Evernote got itself into the race of cashing in on its users, I lost trust that this will be a service I can rely on for years to come. Hence my decision to jump ship, and seemingly I'm not alone.
I used to quote Phil Libin's reference to Gus Levy's brilliant “long-term greedy” strategy. Unfortunately, Evernote's long-term has arrived, and I don't want to take part in it.