Evernote is rolling out its first business product today, but CEO Phil Libin insists that it's not going to turn into a traditional business software company.
"We're a consumer company, and we're proud of it," he says. "It's interesting -- the phrase 'business class' means the completely opposite thing when talking about travel versus talking about software and tools. In travel, business class is nicer. When software is business class, it means it's crappy. The end user experience is unpleasant."
Evernote Business, first announced in August, gives employees a way to combine their personal notes from Evernote with information stored by their colleagues and company administrators.
For instance, if an employee is meeting with a customer for the first time, Evernote will look to see if other employees have taken notes about the same customer, then surface those notes. Evernote has also improved its browser extensions so this kind of serendipity can extend outside the app itself -- for instance, if you do a Google search on the name of a person you're about to meet, you'll see if your colleagues have done the same search.
Explains Libin, "There are lots of places where we try to find related business information to increase situational awareness of what you know."
The motivation for Evernote Business did not come from a wish to compete with Box or Microsoft SharePoint, or any of the other countless tools that let users store and share information in a company. It came from the same place it always does: Evernote's own employees.
"We're not targeting anyone. We're doing same thing we've always done, which is build systems we want to use ourselves and solve actual problems. We're now a 270 person company and we still want to use it for everything." Libin adds, "Why should my employees have a worse experience at the office than they do at home?"
Like YouSendIt, a similar consumer-first company that is gradually moving into businesses, Evernote has hired a small inside sales force to sell the business product into companies where Evernote is already widely used.
"Eighty-five percent of the people who use Evernote at work say it's not officially sanctioned at work," says Libin. "Our whole goal with Evernote Business is to make it easier to be official. We want to talk to IT organizations and figure out what requirements they have."
Evernote has already talked to many organizations as they were planning the business product over the last 18 months. The most important requirement turned out to be a clear division between personal and business information. But users also wanted all that information to be in one place -- not split between separate personal and business accounts.
"We tested an earlier version that had different accounts," Libin told us. "Nobody liked that. It wasn’t a good experience. If the company already had lot of Evernote users, there was a lot of friction back and forth, users had to think about what account [they] had to log into. End users didn’t like it, and administrators didn’t like it because they knew users would just keep using their personal accounts."
Libin is also careful to emphasize that Evernote Business is not for storing information that's heavily regulated. But that won't stop companies in regulated industries from using it for more general information sharing.
So what about data security? A lot of enterprise-focused collaboration tools have permission settings, and some IT managers will block services that they deem insecure.
But Libin says those companies are simply not his target audience.
"We're not targeting large enterprises. We wouldn’t presume to know what a great experience for a 20,000 person company would be. We know only what a great experience would be for ourselves and companies like us -- small and medium companies, and small and medium teams within large companies."
In the end, he says, security comes from trusting employees and enforcing policies -- not from technology.
"We think the kind of company can really benefit from using Evernote is the kind of company that fundamentally trusts employees to do the right things. When we use Evernote Business, we have policies that dictate what kind of information can be put into personal notebooks and what kind in business notebooks. If somebody wants to violate it, if somebody wants to steal information, they're going to do it anyway. You can't build tools to prevent people from printing something out and bringing it home, or putting it on Facebook or Twitter. Otherwise you get into a weird police state where the 99.9% of people who want to do right thing can't do it."