Evernote got off to a rocky start, but for a healthy stretch now, it has looked like a model Silicon Valley startup. It makes a highly useful product for taking and organizing notes, has 150 million users, and is the rare company here not to derive its revenues through invasive ad targeting. Instead, it sells subscriptions to power users and businesses, and hosts a quirky online marketplace for premium Evernote-branded goods. But over the past 18 months, the company has faced a drumbeat of complaints over its increasingly bloated, unfocused product. It decided not to hold its annual user conference this year. And last month, CEO Phil Libin abruptly said he wanted to step aside to let someone else take over day-to-day operations at the company.
Today that split is official. Libin will take the title of "executive chairman," and continue to work on the product, the company says. Chris O'Neill, who previously ran business at Google Glass, is the new CEO, and will focus on building a sales team and preparing the company for eventually going public. In an email interview with Recode, O'Neill offered up some empty boilerplate: "Global user growth looks strong as do early returns on recent monetization efforts. User growth and revenue are the oxygen for any successful company so we'll be looking to double down on this traction."
"We'll be looking to double down on this traction."
It's hard to square the Dilbertian corporate-speak with the kind of irreverent take on startups that Libin used to offer on the company's irregular but excellent podcast. But perhaps that's the point: the stakes are very high for Evernote, which has raised $290 million and must someday go public. It laid off 5 percent of its workforce earlier this year as part of a restructuring. And so now here's the adult to fully corporatize the company.
I reached out to some Evernote employees, and they expressed genuine excitement about O'Neill's arrival, saying it would let Libin focus on the product. But it's still hard for me not to feel like there's something off about the whole thing. Founders stepping out of the CEO role to "focus on product" isn't unheard of — Livestream's CEO did it earlier this year. Before him, TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque did it, too — only to get rid of her pick for CEO nine months later.
Libin isn't technically a founder — he joined as CEO when it was a Windows app with no ability to synchronize files across devices. To the world, though, he's the face of the company and its chief visionary. And that vision — a powerful suite of tools to help you feel smarter and more productive — is as necessary as ever. Here's hope it can survive under an outsider.