Evernote’s VP Linda Kozlowski: „The idea of work has changed“

Some four years ago, I started using Evernote. The company was there for more than three years and it seemed to be a very …

Some four years ago, I started using Evernote. The company was there for more than three years and it seemed to be a very simple note app. That was all I needed. What was different was the design. Evernote is imho a very beautiful app. That’s why I recommended it very often when people asked me about must-have apps (at that time I was an app review writer at Chip.de). In all that years I haven’t stopped using Evernote for two main reasons: First, for several time there were no Android app of the hyped Berlin startup Wunderkind, and second, Evernote fitted really well in every new job I had. And it seems so that the last called point was with purpose. „Evernote is where we want you to start and end your day„, said Linda Kozlowski, vice president of worldwide operations at Evernote, in an interview I did for Netzpiloten (here is the translated German version of the interview).

Here is the full interview with Linda Kozlowski:

Tobias Schwarz: I read that Evernote CEO Philip Libin said in an interview that he wants Evernote to become a 100-year-startup. Can you image what he means and how does it fit into your personal work-life-balance?

Linda Kozlowski: The concept of being a 100-year-startup is really about the concept of we are not necessarily looking for the exit, we want to build a company that is ready for the long term, something that is going to be be around for a really long time. A 100-year-startup is not only a company that is built to sustain itself for a hundred years, so that people can depend on the technology, but also the word ’startup‘ in here really means that we always want to be innovative, we always want to be thinking ahead, we always want to be aggressive. We never want to get complacent. That’s really what the 100-year-startup is about.

I think that it is really important to be with a company that is thinking about building a great product for the long term, not just something to sell to another company, not just something for an IPO. It is about building a great experience for users. That matches a lot with my personal philosophy about work and life. I am doing something that I love for something that I know its going to be around for a long time.

TS: Was there any company who was or is an inspiration? We are from Germany and you have companies like Mercedes Benz, who are there for 100 years and more and they still make a pretty good product. Is that something Libin could mean? Like the Mercedes of apps?

LK: It is funny, actually it is exactly that. There are so many more countries that have companies that been around for one or even 200 or 300 years. In fact part of it came from a visit from Japan, where you see a wall of companies that have been around for multiple centuries, not just one. And examples like Mercedes are exactly the type of things that we are looking for. Something that is premium, something that is high quality, something that is timeless and a design that really represents the maximum functionality, but also just something that is really, really enjoyable. So I think Mercedes is a very good example of the type of company that can sustain for a long period of time but constantly innovating.

TS: I used to work in a coworking space in that neighborhood. When I showed it to my grandfather, he was totally confused by the basic conditions of today’s work. I told him about the WiFi and other technologies and he explained to me where he would have put his telephone on the desk. Do you think the idea of „work“ has changed, too?

LK: I think the idea of work has changed a lot in the last several decades, and I think part of it has come about because of how talent has moved and how the people who are working have shifted. It has really changed from an economy where it was about the companies sort of dictating what employees would do and now employees have the opportunity to really set the tone and find their passion and find their lives work. Whether they decide to do that as part of an organization or whether they decide to do that on their own as a freelancer, which is getting more and more popular, or even starting their own business. So there is no real limit today to what people can do. I think that creates a unique work-environment, where it is less about a structured sort of nine-to-five or nine-to-six structure where you have to be there during certain times. It is more about when is the best time for you to work and who are the best people for you to come and contact with to inspire you in your day to day work.

TS: Evernote has more than 400 people working in eleven offices around the world. In which way are you using your own tool and which external tools are helping you to work together in one company?

LK: One of the most important ways that we actually developed Evernote is to use it for ourselves. When we use Evernote globally, we are really testing the limits of what we would want to do with our own application and also what we think users would want to do on a daily basis. So we are constantly tweaking and filing bugs and looking for new ways to improve the user experience through our own use. And part of the reason is because as Evernote grows internationally we continue to add offices around the world, we need to be able to connect people up to 50 different languages total. When you look at all the different languages around the world, but also not just marketing and sales but also development, we actually build our product in other offices including Zurich, and we really think about it not just about where can we actually take advantage of a market. It is more about how can we make the product better with global input.

TS: I read very often that Evernote is a productivity tool, but for me it is more like an organization tool, because it helps me to stay organized. What do you think? Are you using Evernote to stay productive or organized?

LK: So I use Evernote to stay both, productive and organized and for me it starts with the organization, it starts with the fact that I can find everything but really the ultimate goal for me is the productivity piece, because it is not just being able to organize thing but it is being able to find it very, very quickly. With Evernote because of our augmented intelligence aspects that we integrate into the product, we are very smart about surfacing the information you need when you need it and we continue to improve that and get better with that each day. So we are really trying to bring an experience not only let you put things were you can find them again but also starts to surface it to you in a way that makes your day more productive.

TS: That sounds to me like Evernote wants to be the place where you start your day and you live out. What is really interesting is your native app policy, because it seems very important to you to have native app clients on every operation system. What are your learnings from that, because I don’t know many companies who do the same.

LK: First of all, Evernote is where we want you to start and end your day. We look at it like the single modern workspace where you can get everything done. You can write there, you can collect pieces of information, you can find what you need to find later and you can even present it to colleagues and to friends so they can understand what you are working on. So that is an important part of it. We wanted to be a place you can go without having to switch context. The multi-apps-strategy really plays in to that, in the fact that we want to create an experience that a user on that platform would be used to. Instead of developing the same thing across all different platforms, we make the Windows client look like a Windows client. So anybody who is familiar with Windows and environment and comfortable there, will easily be able to work in the app. Same thing on Mac, same thing on iOS. So they look a little bit different from each other because we were trying to make it the best experience for that platform. You are really intuitively understanding how to use it from the moment you start working in Evernote.

TS: Two years ago, I met someone who was blogging in Evernote and then shared the link to the public and I was totally wondering that he used Evernote as a blogging platform. But last november Evernote raised $20 million from Japanese media conglomerate Nikkei. What are the benefits for Nikkei and why are they as a media company interested in Evernote?

LK: It is not unusual for us when we have a deep integrated partnership to raise money from that partner, because then there is invested interest in the success of our joint venture, as well as the investment. Nikkei invested because they were also a partner for us on the context platform, which is a big part of our augmented intelligence initiative. We were bringing in a third party media content like Nikkei, and we were actually surfacing that to users who are typing in Japanese and as they are working we are bringing them relevant articles. So it is a channel for Nikkei to get additional exposure to customers but it is also an important part of their strategy for pushing the envelope in innovation in the digital sphere. Their investment in us is definitely a show of trust and actually helping to strengthen and build that relationship.

TS: What about augmented intelligence? You mentioned it twice now, can you tell me a little bit more about it?

LK: For Evernote, augmented intelligence is an important part of our future and this is a key aspect that is different from other companies. A lot of companies talk about artificial intelligence, the idea of sort of replacing the human with a machine. We feel that it is more important to actually have humans and machines work together, we think this is actually the best way for things to move forward and to be the most successful. So we call it augmented intelligence because there is always a person involved and what we want to do is we want to involve the technology to actually make that person smarter, make that person almost superhuman where they can do things, they can recall things, they can be more productive, far more productive then they would either be on their own or a machine would be on its own.

Something that is very different about how we do augmented intelligence is that it is for the enduser. So a lot of companies when they talk about having big data, they are constantly using that data to monetize, serve advertising platforms, something like that. That is out of the scope of what that person wants to use the data for. Our augmented intelligence-programs are really about finding the best way to provide you the best search results, the best note taking experience, the best contextual experience, so you have all that information at hand, but the data is not being shared out. So it is a bit different from how other people look at their users data, we look at our users data as something very private, it belongs to them. We do not mine it for every other use but we do use augmented intelligence to actually make that data more relevant to their daily productivity.

TS: But in times of big data, aren’t you kind of a blind company if you don’t look at the customers data? Do you know who your customers are and what they want?

LK: So we believe in a simple direct business model. We create an application, we make it the best application possible and then people pay to use it. It is very clean, very direct, very transparent for the users. We could actually take advantage of mining and using the data, but unfortunately what that means is people would probably put less information into Evernote because they would be concerned about the trust of the platform. So it is more valuable to us to be very clear about what we are building and what people are paying for, than to actually monetize that data on the back end. At the same time we spend a lot of time talking to our customers about what they are looking for, how they use the product. We have ambassadors all over the world who talk to us consistently about not only how they use it in their own daily lives, but also how their customers and people they talk to use it. We get feedback from our customers support channels, to understand where people are running into problems, what we need to adjust and change. So we decided to use our conversations with our customers rather than their data helping understand better about what they need and how we can serve them better.

TS: The privacy issue sounds like a German thing but what do the ambassadors from other countries tell you? Are there privacy discussions about Evernote, too?

LK: I think there are always privacy and security discussions. This is an important issue and we want people to talk about it because we want people to be aware of how data is used and how we take care of their data. So it is extremely important to different countries in different ways but across the board it is an important global conversation.

TS: Sometimes as a journalist you don’t see the bigger picture of a company. That is why I would like to know from you, what did I forget to ask you about Evernote?

LK: I think one of the most interesting things about Evernote is how we are really integrating design into the concept of everyday work. When you start talking about building applications to make you more productive at work, a lot of people think about the standard enterprise applications that they are assigned to use when they come to work at a new company and they are usually not very attracted and they are usually kind of boring. And Evernote puts lots of effort into creating a beautiful experience that is actually designed to make you more productive. Because the more you actually enjoy using a product for yourself and with your team, the more you are going to engage with it and the more successful you are going to be. I think a lot of companies are moving to a concept of how they actually want to focus on creating and a design experience that makes people more productive and not just creating a piece of software. This includes everything from integrating with the device that you are using to the wearable trend that started now. How we actually work across all these different experiences to make you not only more productive, but to make you enjoy being more productive.

TS: Last but not least, Evernote seems to be a little bit of everything, like a mix of Google Docs and Slack. How do you see the future prospects of Evernote?

LK: I think you really touched on it earlier when you talked about you want to wake up in the morning and you want to go to bed at night. You know having used Evernote throughout your day and really what it is about is the modern workspace. People are moving to freelanced positions, to flexible hours or office spaces that are open and collaborative and not necessarily one person sitting in one place. So you want to be able to have access to all of your information at all times. It is about how we create that experience where everything comes together, not just a messaging client, not just a place to write, not just a place to take web clippings or for searching text and images – it is all of those things in one place. You can save time because you do not have to context switch throughout the day. The idea of productivity is not about one of those things. Productivity is about all of those things. And we want to bring it together in one package that you can just focus on. That is your modern workspace, that is were you get everything done, so you can enjoy your life’s work.

TS: Thank you for the interview!