Evernote is in a good position coming into its fourth annual Evernote Conference here in San Francisco. With 100 million users, plenty of people are using the note-taking, memory-augmenting app across their smartphones, tablets, and computers at home and at work. A year ago, Evernote launched the Evernote Market, a shop for physical goods (like notebooks, scanners, and a stylus) designed to make it easier to get stuff into the system.
Today, CEO Phil Libin took the stage to announce a bunch of new additions to the Evernote platform, including a redesigned web app, a new mobile app that includes a document scanning feature, integrations with tools like Salesforce and LinkedIn for contextual information as you write notes, and a new presentation tool that looks very cool.
But the biggest news for the future of Evernote as a product is Work Chat, a full-fledged collaboration tool available by the end of 2014 that lets users share notes, talk to each other, and work together in real-time across platforms. Combined with what Evernote calls "augmented intelligence," Work Chat represents the company's philosophy that productivity is productivity, at home or at work.
It's sort of like Quip, the mobile-first word processor: Call in other Evernote users to work with you and their floating heads appear, kind of like Facebook's much-maligned chat heads. You can work together on documents or just message them like any other IM service. It's the same concept for the consumer version as it is for the Evernote for Business product.
Intriguingly, Evernote Work Chat doesn't include online/offline indicators for contacts, because in the mobile age, everybody is almost always available in one way or another.
"It doesn't mean anything to be offline or online anymore," Libin says.
Like many other collaboration platforms, Libin positions Evernote Work Chat as the solution to reducing our reliance on the inbox, which he characterizes as the "most harmful metaphor" in our array of skeumorphic metaphors for technology. If you're collaborating on notes in real time, you don't need to send emails with feedback.
Libin also discussed Context, a complementary offering to Work Chat, which surfaces news stories from the Wall Street Journal (online news? So passe) and other data from connected services like Salesforce, Concur, and LinkedIn to bring you contextual data on the people you're working with and the topics you're taking notes about, without friction. It seems like the Social pane in Microsoft Outlook or the People view in Windows Phone.
Of all the features and products announced today, I wanted to highlight these specific features for a reason: Evernote is the rare software company that's made the freemium model work, and it's done it in a novel way. The aforementioned Moleskine notebooks and scanners and styluses are completely optional for using Evernote. But Libin says that they've solid $12 million of product, and 51% of that revenue (which isn't profit, it must be noted) came from users who had never dropped a dime on Evernote before, even on the Premium version. The free version of Evernote, Libin says, isn't for lead generation -- it's the main platform, and it's the core business.
Which is even more impressive when you consider Libin's claim that Evernote for Business users are 3 times as likely to purchase Evernote Market goods as Evernote Premium users, and 80 times as likely as a free version user. So even when a company is paying for Evernote licenses for their employees, people love it enough to spend their own money on notebooks, scanners, and other tools that make it better for them to use.
"If you give [people] a great experience, they're going to look for something to spend money on," Libin says.
It's a dream scenario for any cloud software company that's trying to appeal to businesses with a user-first approach. They have a steady revenue stream from the subscriptions, bolstered by individual users who buy more product. And the free users keep getting Evernote for free, with apparently the same propensity for spending money on their own time.
Not every startup can follow in Evernote's footsteps, but it's a good object lesson in how there's more than one way to build a platform -- though the company does have an active developer community, judging from the Evernote Conference show floor.