Blog Post

Evernote CEO to users: We’ll do better

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

A variation on the old Chinese curse for software startups could be “may you have impassioned — and articulate — users.” Last week, Jason Kincaid blogged about his growing disillusionment with Evernote, the popular note-taking app, in a post titled: Evernote: the bug-ridden elephant. You get the point.

On Sunday, Evernote Founder and CEO Phil Libin responded in a post of his own, acknowledging that many of Kincaid’s points ring true and that the San Francisco startup will do better going forward.

Please read both posts for the whole story but here’s the gist from Kincaid’s point of view:

“Evernote’s applications are glitchy to the extreme; they often feel as if they’re held together by the engineering equivalent of duct tape. Browser extensions crash, text cursors leap haphazardly across the screen — my copy of Evernote’s image editor Skitch silently failed to sync for months because I hadn’t updated to the new version. Most issues are benign enough, but the apps are so laden with quirks that I’ve long held a deep-seated fear that perhaps some of my data has not been saved, that through a syncing error, an accidental overwrite — some of these ideas have been forgotten.

As of last month, I am all but sure of it.”

One of Kincaid’s biggest beefs was that Evernote support, in trying to help him recover lost notes, asked for his log file, which was riddled with personal information that Kincaid did not want to share with technicians.

Libin’s response should be a template for other companies suffering a major public meltdown.  Maybe Snapchat, which has acknowledged security issues with its instant photo service, has yet to offer a similar mea culpa, for example. Without uttering the word “apology,”  Libin nonetheless acknowledged most of the problems Kincaid brought up and vowed that Evernote will do better. (He also apologized personally to Kincaid, a former TechCrunch journalist.) Libin also outlined a problem endemic to startups — that for most of them growth is the top priority often to the detriment of product quality. Growth remains important of course, but …

” … there comes a time in a booming startup’s life when it’s important to pause for a bit and look in rather than up. When it’s more important to improve existing features than to add new ones. More important to make our existing users happier than to just add more new users. More important to focus on our direction than on our speed. This is just common sense, but startups breathe growth and intentionally slowing down to focus on details and quality doesn’t come naturally to many of us.”

Libin added said Evernote will figure out a way to boost quality while sustaining growth,  just as business giants Apple(s aapl), Google(s goog), Amazon(s amzn) and Tesla have and he promised that will be the company’s goal for 2014.

This is indeed a lesson for all startups and companies backing nascent technology. One of the criticisms of OpenStack, for instance, comes from people who think the community is rushing to add features at the expense of providing stability, for example. Sure, vendors want to add what’s shiny and new to their products, but too often they forget to prioritize stability, availability and all of the other boring “ilities” that are so crucial in both enterprise and consumer technology. Crucial, that is, if the startup wants to be around for the long haul.

11 Responses to “Evernote CEO to users: We’ll do better”

  1. Mark Holmes

    I’ve used Evernote for years now with actually no problems and I have hundreds of notebooks and some 7000 notes and haven’t had any issues. Now that I’ve cursed myself……

  2. The drive to constantly “fix what isn’t broken” and keep jumbling interfaces and features is baked into a programmer’s brain, it seems. It is completely unnatural to even suggest that they pause to create a stabilized version of their latest creation. As long as this ideal is followed, such as by the likes of Mozilla, with their “rabid release program” for Firefox, I don’t see programs ever gaining stability. To do so would require a complete upset of the programming community. The only solution is to stop forging ahead and spend time fleshing out and stabilizing what we already have. No one seems to want to do this.

  3. randy3023

    I still like Evernote. It still has its annoying adverts (such as the trumpet icon in the App) and occasional bugs (last week, the image snippets in my android search results stopped working; I ultimately had to delete the app to get them to refetch), but otherwise the Evernote App and desktop application have been updated regularly and things have improved nicely and predictably.

    No other app allows me to snap a picture of something so easily and have a powerful OCR engine provide me with text-based access months or even years later.

  4. @roland and @tungwaiyip i’ve been mulling a follow up post that touches on the points you’ve brought up. It does sort of mystify me how mad people can get when a free app fails them.
    If you are paying you should get support and service … if not, i’m not sure what you should rationally expect, but sometimes these things aren’t rational.

    • Roland Estrada

      @Barb I absolutely agree with you. I’m a paying Evernote member. When my subscription comes up for renewal this year I will not be renewing. I payed for both the Mac version and the iPad version of NoteSuite and will be transitioning to that as my permanent notetaking app. I am told NoteSuite will be releasing an iPhone version of its app sometime in the first half of this year. The unfortunate thing regarding NoteSuite for most people is that beyond iOS, it is Mac only. I seem to recall a video interview with NoteSuite’s CEO stating they would be trying to come out with a Windows version.

  5. Roland Estrada

    I think if you are using the free part of a freemium product, you get what you pay for. If you are paying for EN as I am, there is no excuse for having crappy code and UX/UI. For me, as soon as NoteSuite rolls an iPhone version, Evernote will be gone and forgotten.

    I think Evernote was in the right place at the right time with a mediocre product. Unfortunately for Evernote, there are much more talented engineers out there that are starting to make a dent in the note taking app market. It makes me wonder how long it will take before Evernote becomes the BlackBerry of note taking apps – “hundred year company”, give me a break!!

    • I just agree so much with Roland’s statement, but Jason is an ‘Evernotee’ of several years standing. What hope is there for the newbies amongst us? Which as far as Evernote is concerned includes me ;/

      I only started using Evernote 4 or 5 months ago & I have to say, it reminds me so much of Windows 95 that it’s scary. Obviously it’s not that out of date, but the philosophy of trying to include too many features, all those hidden but ‘essential’ in-app purchases, dependency on support, available only to ‘Premium’ users but essential for everyone who wants to really get down & dirty with it. An the sync problems highlighted in this article! Problems which are just the tip of a slow juggernaut of an iceberg.

      Above all I’ve felt a distinct old-school attitude of ‘get under the hood & tweak it’, ‘here’s a work-around’, ‘there’s a patch for this’ & … more frightening since I’ve sent in support tickets, ‘delete the files in question, un-install & then re-install it from scratch’.

      The most familiar feeling that really stays with me though is a kind of … ‘you shouldn’t expect it to be easy!’ taste that is fast feeling like tough old gristle.

      It’s also really outdated in its design as well as its style. I’ve been really impressed with Gneo recently which is so ‘Zen’ it appears to be in an opposite universe, but unforntunately one with a wormhole to Evernote’s event horizon. Evernote provides an unsettling, cluttered up & (in my case) untidy back-bone for it to synch to.

      I read several of the ‘two kinds of people’ articles, you know how it goes… those that swear by Evernote & those who swear at it, and speaking as a full paid up ‘dues’ customer, I’ve tried, hit a wall & tried again, but these past few weeks I’m really thinking I feel more at home in the land of the latter.

  6. I think the problem cannot be simply attributed as typical growth problem. Evernote is supposed to be the keeper of your personal data. If twitter drop some of your tweet into black hole, big deal. If Amazon screw up an order, it is fixable. If Evernote lost your one and only copy of notes or manuscript, it is irreplaceable. This totally violate the promise of Evernote to safe keep their data forever.

  7. I jumped on the Evernote bandwagon early, but I have pretty much walked away because they completely lost their product focus, first with Skitch which continues to be some crazy hack into the core platform and then, incredibly, physical product tie-ins…all the time leaving the reason they exist to slowly rot.

    • i tried evernote a year or so ago. It was ok, but being an “oldster” i prefer a moleskine or notebook for jotting thoughts (or if i’m connected i just use word or notepad. But others at Gigaom echoed your experience Madlyb — they liked it at first but felt it got to unwieldy and moved on.