Cloud

Evernote CEO says IPO is ‘morally correct thing to do,’ but not until 2015 or 2016

Can your diary organize your professional contacts or remind you to pick up a carton of milk? Not yet. But in the future it may, with the help of Evernote, a digital notebook that wants to be your diary, personal assistant and collaboration tool rolled into one.

The Evernote tagline “Remember everything” holds a certain charm. But chief executive Phil Libin wants to go one step further in actually boosting your cognitive abilities. “We want to make you smarter,” Libin said, referring to the popular note-taking service as an “external brain.”

Evernote has a worldwide reach, with 45 million people adopting this easy-to-use notetaking tool. The company has raised over $250 million in five funding rounds, led by investors like Sequoia Capital, Morgenthaler, and Valiant Capital Partners. And while previous reports have suggested Evernote plans a 2013 or 2014 public offering, Libin told us that an IPO is even further off that that: In 2015 or 2016, he says.

For most Evernote devotees, the app is a way to keep track of life’s minutia, meeting minutes, favorite web pages, and other things. But one particular customer struck a chord with Libin. Colorado Springs resident Patrick Jones suffers from a traumatic brain injury that has led to profound short-term memory loss. According to a blog post from a couple years ago, Jones uses Evernote to “piece together the basic memory flows we take for granted.”

VentureBeat invited Libin to our office to discuss his vision for his company’s future, which includes a new COO, and the host of new features designed to appeal to busy professionals. And don’t miss the short video interview on company culture at the bottom.

VentureBeat: Here’s a deceptively tough question to kick things off. How would you describe Evernote to your grandma?

Phil Libin: It’s hard to have a pithy one-line answer. Believe me, I’ve heard countless pitches. I say something like, “We want to make you smarter.” It’s a set of products and goals to give you an external brain. It’s a way to help you remember everything.

VentureBeat: Interesting. Have you looked into brain-training tools like Lumosity?

Libin: Yes, we were talking with them about making some games. I was a subscriber for a while, but I’d have to look into the science to see if it’s conclusive. But it’s the type of thing I could see us doing.

VentureBeat: Evernote has grown so rapidly; do you plan to keep up the pace of innovation?

Libin: Startups that get to our size can get paralyzed and afraid to innovate. But you have to keep innovating quickly until you find something that sticks.

VentureBeat: Can you shed any light on the company’s IPO plans?

Libin: I’ve always been pretty unambiguous. It’s definitely not going to be this year. We want to build a 100-year company and don’t want to be acquired. Going public is the morally correct thing to do, but it’s a step you can get wrong (editor’s note: research has found that most job creation occurs after a company goes public). We have been planning it for a while now and it will happen in 2015 or 2016.

VentureBeat: How about acquisitions? You’ve made about five or six so far. …

Libin: We bought five small teams and will keep our eye out. The size of the companies we acquire will get larger as we spend more on mergers and acquisitions. Our criteria is to look for products that we would want to use.

VentureBeat: I love that my Evernote notebook is just for me — it feels so personal. Will that change as you add more collaboration tools?

Libin: We used to say that Evernote is antisocial. But sometimes, when you are trying to achieve something, you’ll do it in a small group. With Evernote Business, we want to make it easier for five or 10 people to collaborate. But it can also still be private and all about you.

VentureBeat: Evernote is great for storing notes — but will there be any actionable or automated reminders?

Libin: Yes, we’re adding intelligence to the things you capture in Evernote. When you meet someone, for instance, you can push a button in the Evernote Hello app and it will automatically send an email saying, “Great to meet you and here’s my contact info.”

VentureBeat: I can see the upside to data analysis. But is their any kind of guarantee that my private thoughts won’t be packaged and sold to advertisers?

Libin: We just changed our legal terms of service to make it as clear as possible. Your data is yours; it’s not ours and we will never make money off of it!

For more, check out our video on Libin’s shift to a more user-centric design.

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