Evernote CEO to users: We’ll do better

Evernote CEO Phil Libin

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, Google, Amazon 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.

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