At the G-Startup stage, Phil Libin told of his entrepreneurial journey. Evernote is a way to capture thoughts and ideas and access it from anywhere through a computer or mobile. The five year old company is now valued at US$1 billion and has over ten million users worldwide.
Libin was born in Russia and moved to America when he was 8 years old. He then started and sold two companies with some of his existing Evernote team and said “The first two companies we built it for someone else, but Evernote we built for ourselves.” Although receiving many offers to buy Evernote, Libin wants to build it into a 100 year lasting company that makes its customers happy.
On building a stellar team, Libin said focus and execution is critical. That’s why he only tells his team to prioritize twenty things at a time and entering China was at the top of the list for the last few years. At GMIC, Evernote just announced its release of a Chinese version. Libin believes that the best products are global and should be used worldwide. When asked, when is the right time to enter a new market, he said “as early as you can.” He also runs Evernote as a very meritocratic company where everyone feels like they can contribute and be rewarded for their effort. This creates the best possible team and “everyone can feel exactly what they are working on best motivation is to see millions of users using their work.”
On being a great CEO, Libin believes he will stay the CEO as long as he is passion. He believes his role as CEO is to be like a risk sponge and soak it all up so that his team can focus on working well.
Recently, Evernote raised US$70M funding but didn’t do it because they needed the cash. They did it because they wanted to build the financial and technical infrastructure to be 100 year company. One of their investors was China Broadband Capital which invested in MySpace China which failed in a big way. When asked why they chose CBC, Libin responded that they impressed him from day one about how they think about expansion strategy. He also said they paid for their own mistakes and learnt from it.
On acquisitions, Evernote recently required Penultimate, the fourth best selling iPad app of all time. Effectively a one man team, Evernote felt it was a good acquisition because they have the same mindset. Libin likes companies and founders that feel that being in Evernote is the best way to achieve their vision. On that note, Evernote is actively open to acquiring Chinese companies and teams that are building great products.
On his future plans, Evernote plans to go IPO. Libin doesn’t see this as an exit, but a way to make a long lasting company for 100 years so has started to plan for it. He also wants to build Evernote up into a 20,000 person company.
To prove that perseverance and making customers happy is a big factor of success, Libin told the story of how during the 2008-9 global financial crisis where they only had three weeks left of money. Their lead investor couldn’t close the next round o funding so pulled out. One day, Libin decided to close the company the next day but in a stroke of luck or fate, he received an email the night before. It was from a Swedish customer who said he loved Evernote and offered to invest US$500K. Two weeks later Evernote took the investment, is now valued at US$1 billion and on track to go IPO.