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The first dead Unicorn will be Evernote (syrah.co)
107 points by webmasterraj on Sept 15, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments

We tried Evernote for business in our office for around 6 months. The sharing and communication feature-set was really bad. In a shared notebook we ended up with 'conflicted copies' of lots of important notes that really needed to be an authority on things. The 'Work Chat' feature is spectacularly bad and unusable - to the point of comedy. Most of us flipped way to using Google Apps and Keep Notes, which just really nails collaboration and keeps everything nice and simple.

In my opinion Google doesn't get enough credit for it's Apps offering. I see lots of articles on here and elsewhere that deride it as a 'search company' that 'can't build product' - but I really think they're quietly building an excellent product suite.

I'm amazed they still haven't fixed the syncing/conflicted copy issues. We switched to OneNote pretty much right after they Mac/iOS versions came out and the "just works" live collaboration was a breath of fresh air.

Wait, Mac?

...Holy shit. OneNote has Mac and Android versions now? I only stuck with Evernote this long because it was the only thing that would sync across all my devices.

I don't need collaboration, just an external memory store. How is OneNote for taking structured/organized, rich-text notes for a single user? I'll check it out tomorrow, and I might switch immediately.

...I just use Dropbox and .txt or .rtf files for this? And Dropbox has had syncing across every platform ever, is good for collaboration as well but stellar for single-user usage. I manage all my personal drafts and notes and paperwork using my Dropbox personal folder, especially since it supports offline availability on my mobile devices too for files I use regularly.

I basically want three things: (1) easily searchable/browsable organization, preferably in a tree format; (2) decent rich text features; (3) clean syncing between Windows, OSX, and Android.

rtf+Dropbox would fulfill 2 and 3 (with the right Android app choices, anyway), but 1 is somewhat dubious. Previously I've tried Treepad/Jreepad, which is absolutely perfect for 1 but fails the other two; TiddlyWiki, which mostly manages 1 and 2 but requires a lot of manual markup, and (since it's all in a single file) would have problems with 3 if one copy got out of sync; and Evernote, which mostly manages 2 with a few hiccups, does 3 in theory if you don't mind frequent inexplicable conflict warnings and occasional outright data loss, and seems to be trying to break 1 more with each new version.

I'm hoping to have time to look into OneNote today and see how it measures up.

It is great. I use it across my iOS devices. It also comes with free cloud storage.

Google's Keep was the Evernote killer for me. It loads faster and I can start a note or list quicker. Trello fills the other gaps to the point that Evernote is just an archive of notes that I rarely have to consult.

Fab is already a "dead unicorn" in most people's eyes. During their Series D in 2013, they had a post-val of 1.17B, only to be acquired earlier this year for 15M.

I think the biggest problem these current VC-backed unicorns will face is when "venture tourism" comes to an end sometime in the future and all this available cash becomes harder and harder to raise as mutual/hedge funds back slowly away from the private markets:


I hear a lot of chatter about how IPO is the new down round in tech, and it seems to make sense to me. I don't foresee the high quantity of venture-backed companies worth over 1BN being able to keep up with such valuations ESPECIALLY if they try and hit the public market anytime soon. I also don't see how they're going to be able to maintain increases in valuations thus making it pretty safe to assume an impending "down round" period for those unable to find sustainable revenue. And lastly, there isn't a huge M&A market for companies with a price tag north of 1BN.

Hey, author here. You're right, there's some question about Fab, and I could have added that to the post.

I tend to believe the later story, which was that they didn't get there, but didn't mind all the press thinking they did and it was just never corrected (i.e. this story(1) in Fortune cites a valuation that happens to be under $900M).

Either way, there's definitely no way to know for sure, and I've seen it left off of plenty of 'unicorn' lists.

(1) http://fortune.com/2015/01/22/fab-billion-dollar-valuation/

As a paying customer, I see Evernote as awesome and terrible at the same time. I've enjoyed using Alternote on OSX as an Evernote client to get what I really want out of Evernote...a place to store, umm, notes. No chats. No web clippings and highlights. It's just notes I write, and associated attached media like document scans or images, in a clean interface. One of my favorite Evernote features is automatic OCR of images within notes. They do an excellent job at it.

I only use Evernote for my personal note-taking, and as much as I shake my fist at the massive clutter that has always existed in their first party apps, I can't live without it. (Notebooks AND Tags AND Search AND a map? Why?) It has never once occurred to me to use it as a collaboration tool. It boggles my mind why they would think this is something their customers want from them.

I've been using Evernote for so long the thought of having to move dozens of notebooks and hundreds of notes to another platform does not sound appealing!

I switched from Evernote to OneNote earlier this year using http://stefanstools.sourceforge.net/Evernote2Onenote.html to do it. I had to manually organize the tabs that were created based on my Evernote labels, but it only took about an hour after the tool had copied all my notes for me. I'm glad I made the switch.

Evernote lost some of my data, which is like a money market fund breaking the buck. You just can't allow that to happen. If you do you'll get carried out. Twitter could lose a few of my tweets and it wouldn't matter, you lose my valuable notes? GTFO

I should add that I was a paying customer.

I was already struggling with the crappy UI and looking for an alternative when the data loss happened. For a while I tried different apps, then Microsoft released OneNote for iOS. OneNote works great for me but now I'm snake-bitten and worried about Microsoft losing my data.

You can set up automatic backups on OneNote.

Same here. After that happened, never used it again.

It's microsoft, of course they won't lose it. They could just ask the NSA for a copy.

What on earth is this trying to say?

Evernote, located in Redwood City, CA, and directly on the 101, is a bit north of the tech companies that dot Silicon Valley and far south of those that have headquarters in San Francisco. In other words, Evernote isn't exactly on its own in terms of tech-oriented neighbors that it competes with for talent.

Hey, author here. You're right, this could be more clear. The takeaway is supposed to be that it's not as though HQ is in Cleveland or Cincinnati where there's a lot less competition for tech jobs - but I can see how the wording is weird!

Stop with the gray text on the white background. On the device I'm on I can't make out the text well enough to read comfortably, so I bailed. And realistically I won't come back to the article on another device later on.

Agreed, see http://contrastrebellion.com/ . We can't all be on the highest contrast screens and have perfect eyesight. The font should be black.

I understand the sentiment (and we'll be improving the overall contrast issue), but just saying the font should be black doesn't help anyone. White is still the overwhelmingly most popular background color for text online, and nobody is doing black text on white; this also becomes uncomfortable for many readers. We(I) made some guesses about what looked good on our test devices, and it turns out the general consensus is it should be a little heavier and a little darker. Certainly not black, though.

See also: http://www.ironicsans.com/owmyeyes/

Although with proper line spacing and font size and a lowered contrast the effect is diminished. People tend to lower the contrast too much or don't set a comfortable line spacing.

The problem?

Most people don't read their own site often enough.

I wrote the entire code base; I look at it, use it, and read posts every day.

We're in beta and weren't expecting the post to be widely read, so we are still tweaking things. Appreciate the feedback.

One thing I've used to great success is to detect pixel density and bump up the font-weight for those users. CSS snippet:

  .co-m-text-light {
    font-weight: 500;

  @media  only screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 1.3),
    only screen and (-o-min-device-pixel-ratio: 13/10),
    only screen and (min-resolution: 120dpi) {
      .co-m-text-light {
        font-weight: 300;

They should have just said, "just South of Oracle".

And this is a problem because devs in SF don't want to commute south and devs in the Valley don't want to commute north? I really doubt this is in the top 10 reasons Evernote is (apparently) failing.

Yeah, weird wording - apologies. I'm trying to make the exact opposite point, in that you can go 10 mins in any direction and be at another large tech co.

If you check Glassdoor, though, you actually will see people complaining about the commute to Redwood City! (Though this is not factored into my post at all, I just find it an amusing anecdote as someone who has never had a < 60 min commute)

I thought what it was saying was the talent pool they're competing for is sapped both by SF-based companies and Valley-based companies. But rereading it that doesn't make sense either...

Same. I Thought the implication being that EverNote doesn't need to care about competing employers because of the distance.

I ported all my writings from Evernote to Google Docs the day when I read that their CEO said that he was building a "corporation for the next 100 years" a couple of years ago. There's nothing wrong with such desire, but I thought that the lack of realism/humility of this CEO would run this company into the ground.

If the original author reads this; I found the combination of webkit anti-aliasing with a thin body weight to be instantly eye-strain-inducing, and the deliberate hiding of scroll bars even on non-mobile viewports made for a persistent sense of unease.

Came here to say this. Nearly unreadable without changing font-weight:400. Luckily it's not also scrolljacking or fixing headers or share buttons or some other crap.

This is one of my core 'why haven't we fixed this' frustrations with the web. Despite pre-dating social networks, blogging is stuck in its own kind of myspace era where authors have near complete control and proportional ignorance of how to present content, and every article is a surprise for the reader as to how it will look/feel/perform.

For such a simple thing as the written word, the inability to personalize to users basic reading needs is kinda bonkers and exemplary of how different the web has turned out from its intended use. Safari Reader View is alright but unavailable or cuts off on many sites like this one, and the RSS standards are sadly out of favor. Sigh

It's not the author's fault, directly – it's a problem with the platform (syrah.co). I upped the font-weight from 300 to 400 in Chrome dev tools, and everything was instantly better.

I'd say the author is pretty directly responsible; he is the CEO and founder of the platform :-)

Personally I just switched to reader mode, but that's not actionable feedback.

I know, I'm the worst :( Thanks for the feedback :)

I'm the author of the post and I wrote the entire site's codebase (syrah.co), and I did all the design, so it's all on me. You're right, we will be fixing this in an update soon. Syrah is still in beta and we weren't quite expecting this to get as widely read as it's becoming, so hopefully you'll forgive the crappy formatting :)

Appreciate the feedback.

Reader View / RSS also cuts off right before the tweet FYI.

EDIT: I was under the presumption that reader view used RSS, which it turns out it may not. Anyway, very good article with a lot of good facts, forgot to mention that in my slight rant about styling on the web above :)

Ha, completely fair and appreciate the feedback. I happen to like it the way it is, but the general consensus does not agree with me, so we'll fix it soon.

Didn't know RSS worked at all, actually, as I definitely haven't written any code to support it. Thanks for the info.

Wish I had a browser extension that changed any font weight lower than 400 to 400, any foreground color lighter than #e8e8e8 or so to #e8e8e8 and any background color darker than #101010 to #101010.

I turned on reader mode in Safari because that font was so bad. Also, I HATE when sites make me unable to zoom on mobile. The designer does not know better than the reader how the page should be viewed, let me zoom in so I can read your stupid skinny font.

Reader mode seems to work fine on this blog.

So what's the alternative to Evernote?

The article lists Google Docs, which doesn't really seem equivalent, and OneNote. I'm using OneNote right now to organize planning for a media/writing project, and the experience leaves a lot to be desired. The writing interface in particular is clunky, in the web client and on Android -- on my phone, I have to pop open a menu and then a drawer just to switch bold text on or off. And the Office365/OneDrive setup just isn't well integrated overall -- navigating OneDrive is confusing, and you can't, for example, insert a picture stored in OneDrive into a note.

Google Keep doesn't fit my needs, as it's missing support for any sort of real organization. It seems more geared toward quick digital post-its and todo lists.

Is Dropbox's Notes product any good? That seems to be in closed beta still...


It's like Evernote used to be. Just text, not even formatting. It just works for me. There's clients for mobile, mac, web. For Windows there's a client called ResophNotes:


I've been using this for the last couple of years, and it's perfect for my "synced cloud notepad.exe" use-case.

I've used Simplenote in the past, and it definitely lives up to its name -- very simple and smooth, great when all you need is text. And it does support some organization via tags. But for the sort of structured planning I'm doing right now (story outlines, character notes, etc), that doesn't work as well as the hierarchical folders/notebooks model in Evernote or OneNote. And the lack of formatting hurts in my specific case.

Thanks for the suggestion, though!

It's kind of strange to me that you think OneNote is clunky. I might have agreed with you about the iOS app six months ago but it has improved quite a bit since then.

Ah, sorry, I should have specified that I'm referring to the Android app. I've updated my comment accordingly. Not only is the interface a pain to work with, it has frequent syncing issues as well.

On the desktop, I'm forced to use the web client for OneNote and OneDrive, due to the lack of Linux support. I would definitely describe both as "clunky", though OneDrive is decidedly the worse offender of the two.

Ah, well I must tell you the Mac and iOS apps are first rate. The iOS app is easily one of the top 10 apps (in terms of polish) on my phone.

OneNote was great before but for me on Mac and iOS it seems like the basic text editing has gotten clunkier and buggier (most of the issues revolve around mixing roman and CJK languages I think)

I use Google docs for long form writing. That said, I use a personal Mediawiki for organizing my brain. The wikitext, hyperlinking, search and all the misc stats and queries are what I like about it.

Mediawiki is going to be around for a long time as a project so I feel comfortable making it my digital brain. I started this a few years back and it has scaled really well for me as the amount of informatiom I collect in it grows.

I'm a devops guy, so I don't mind the admin overhead too much, but it wouldn't really be practical for most people who aren't familiar with system administration. There's probably a Mediawiki SAAS out there, but most of the stuff I've looked at in the hosted wiki space isn't using Mediawiki as the underlying platform.

I like the idea of a personal Mediawiki. I'm fine with doing my own hosting, and interlinking would be really useful for connecting ideas. Is there a nice way to edit on Android?

Their isn't a great way to edit on android. It really is great when I am doing really deep research on a topic and I'm generating a ton of notes that I want to go back to in a bit. The ability to just link everything together in a hypertext mesh is really nice. While on the go I just send myself emails and put them in the wiki later.

Hey, author here. The comparison of Evernote to Google Docs was primarily on an enterprise/business level. While you're right, and the products aren't completely similar, Google has done well with market penetration for Google Apps for Business (at least as far as companies who aren't running a Microsoft stack). Even if Evernote is in many ways "better" than Google Docs for a particular purpose, if you have Google Apps paid for, it's "good enough" for most uses (especially sharing/collaboration). So it's equivalent in some senses, but certainly not all.

I use WorkFlowy (YC S10). It's not as robust as Evernote or OneNote and updates are lacking, but it's pretty flexible and works for my needs. Text-only.

I've primarily moved to a combination of Google Apps and Dropbox (for pure file storage). I can pretty much use Google Docs for the note taking I did with Evernote or I can use other apps that sync or export to Google Docs.

Add note:

cd ~/Documents/Notes ; vim `date` ; git add -A ; git commit -m . ; git push origin master


cd ~/Documents/Nodes ; grep -l 'search terms'

and on mobile?

I was joking a bit -- just pointing out that the core functionality is extraordinarily simple and that most of the value is in UI, UX, and network effects.

Paper notebooks are awesome.

you aware of Google Keep?

I just tried it, actually. It looks kind of nice, but doesn't seem to support any real organization, beyond maybe color-coding notes. The lack of support for text formatting isn't great, either.

Seems like it would work well for day-to-day tasks or reminders, but it's lacking the power that Evernote or OneNote have for structured projects.

I've moved away from Keep for one reason: Keep on Android downloads everything. One day I was trying to figure out where my space went and found Keep with hundreds of megabytes in space used. I was it was a true cloud service.

Now that they added tagging, I feel like the only things they need to add to replace Evernote for me is real, all-type attachments, (simple) formatting and a web clipper.

Well technically, Fab had a $1B valuation and has died, so that's the first dead Unicorn right? ;)

Evernote: "Bring your life's work together in one digital workspace. Evernote is the place to collect inspirational ideas, write meaningful words, and move your important ..."

And they're going down. Not good.

How to export your data from Evernote.[1]

[1] http://jasonfrasca.com/deconstructing-everyday-blog/evernote...

I find Evernote quite useful for specific domains, namely interviews. When preparing to give interviews, I gather all the info online using clipper. I can then categorise information based on the interviewee. After publishing interviews, I probably won’t access that information again until relevant information appears when researching about my next interviewee, e.g. a statement or an allusion to the previous person.

The latest significant development I saw from Evernote is its tie-up with the Nikkei newspaper, which was still a meager addition of the “Clip” button to the online version. (It’s well-known that Phil is a fan of Japan; Evernote even tied up with the Nagatanien bottled tea.)

Perhaps, Evernote can expand its offerings into paperback books, in which annotations are not yet effectively digitised. I’d also appreciate if they could release a suite for members of the press, who need to research, organise, and release information.

I was a heavy evernote user a few years ago and then migrated to OneNote. I think one of the challenges that is causing evernote users to drain off is as its organization model for notes is broken unless you are highly disciplined in using tags.

As your usage grows the product becomes worse for you for non-search navigation and discovery.

MS OneNote on the other hand feels like an upgrade from evernote in terms of its ability to provide a simple hierarchy for organising and navigating between notes and notebooks.

A key thing for any productivity tool is to balance between it being easy to adopt for new users and continue to improve its utility as usage grows over time. Very few companies have managed to do this effectively.

Last time I tried OneNote, its text editor allows click and type anywhere. I found this behavior is weird and there is no option to turn it off. I know it makes sense if we use touch pen, but not for typing with keyboard.

This! I use OneNote, but I hate that "click and type anywhere" feature. I'd like to have something like Markdown, but with easy tables and embedded images.

I use evernote every day, multiple times a day. I don't care... I find it damn handy.

tags + notebooks + cross platform + rich text + search + clipping + images + shortcuts. I don't know of a offering that rivals it. Google keep is for kids, not for real work.

good reminder to back things up.

Do you pay for it?

I was afraid of this, I've spent years optimizing my workflow to store stuff in Evernote, because I love it's search feature. (IFTTT recipes to save everything from twitter/reddit/etc into it). I'm extremely ADD, and even have audio recordings from years ago that I'm hesitant to jettison. anyone know the quickest way to push everything (audio+pdf's) to an alternative?

Also, do One Note/ any other alternative do search within PDF?

I was a heavy user of Evernote until I tried using it across multiple platforms. I'm not sure if things have changed since then but a while back my notes on my laptop and iOS and Android would all render differently, I couldn't control or edit as easily on any of my mobile phones and the syncing was never consistent. I constantly found myself reopening the app and forcing a sync to make sure I could access a note on another device.

While I do like OneNote better in some ways its organization style is very old fashioned (at least with Evernote it was easier to stuff tons of things into it, tag it properly and get it back easily). Once you get past 10 or so notes in a single section (depending on screen size) you have to scroll in OneNote and it just makes things a pain.

Google docs is awesome for documents but for notes? No thanks, it's too much of a pain in the ass to navigate. At least with Evernote or OneNote I can quickly access a note within the same interface.

Honestly I feel like there is room for a killer note taking app here that can go cross platform. But it would quire so much effort to build something even to parity that I don't know when or if that would happen.

Used to use Evernote 10+ times per day. Now it's a few times a week at most. Seems the product has stayed stagnant for a while now.

Interesting that engagement seems to be waning from a lot of Evernote users (based on this anecdatum and the article). Is it because the product has gotten actively worse, or do you find less need to use it these days (e.g. you realized it was more hassle than it was worth)?

For me, it's definitely gotten worse. They've gone from a relatively tightly-focused product to one that does a million different things badly.

That, and they lost a bunch of my data, and then waited three goddamn weeks before responding to my ticket. I submitted it on New Year's Eve, so I would have understood if it took a couple of days, but January 20th is completely unacceptable.

Not worse, just not any better. The use case was, for me, fragmented into many other services. Evernote was sort of my second brain before, not any more.

What services do use instead of Evernote?

I'm using it daily for several years now and I don't mind it doesn't have tons of new features. I don't need tons of new features, I need it doing what I use it for - organizing and storing random bits of information.

It does have tons of new features. That's the problem for me. They keep adding chat and sharing and geotagging and collaboration and all kinds of crap that is completely unrelated to actually storing notes.

I agree, that sounds like a loss of focus and annoying. I usually ignore such things as chats, etc.


> As an user of Evernote, my guess was that it was a small operation with may be 50 people tops, may be with 10-20 million dollars of funding.

Evernote has had a very large, prominent building on highway 101 from SF to the valley for quite a few years now. The building has no other signage on it, so I assume Evernote occupies a large part of it. Is that the norm for 10-20 million funded startups, or is your estimate way under?

The only thing I use, and pay, Evernote for is digitising printed receipts and similar documents, managing which otherwise I find troublesome. The document photo taking features which make taking pictures of receipts easier is pretty nice, as well as the ability to search for text through saved images.

I like Evernote. I like how its available across devices. The Web UI is really nice, though the Desktop Native app needs a facelift. I use it to write "private blogs" on my tablet. I used to use Svtble for this as I love the simplicity and the UI but they dont seem to have a native android app, so Evernote is how I do things now and would be sad to see them go.

Does anyone know of any better apps for my usecase (writing loads of text on tablet and have them easily available across devices. Preferably native Desktop app as well)?

Ps: I love OneNote but... it does't feel like its meant for dumping loads of text into it and the Android app has horrible reviews so i haven't risked downloading it yet

I used to use Evernote back in 2012. I found the ui confusing and not very useful for my needs. I then adopted Workflowy for simple to do lists, organizing info, and that works great for my style; have not gone back to Evernote ever since.

With the risk of sounding bitter, I am truly not, I always wondered why does it take close to 300M and 400 employees according to Crunchbase to build a note taking app, even at scale.

The money was not raised to build a note taking app, they had already done that (in the US at least). Much of it was for international expansion (which they've done, particularly in China) and new things. Some of those new things (like Work Chat) were built and haven't seem to have gone anywhere. But just because a product seems DOA doesn't mean it was dumb to try. Slack raised $250mm and locked it away for a rainy day, I'm sure Evernote did much of the same.

Sad, if so. I'm a paying user of Evernote. I have noticed that it hasn't really gained new features lately.

We make a better more collaborative app that centers on really simple notes as the core thing. You can jot some Knotes but you can also share them natively like slack and put lots of content from other services into them. Knotable.com

Feedback welcome. Still beta

But the Chrome extension is 1.0 and doing really well!


I use Evernote purely as a tool to store bookmarks. I could probably use anything else but Evernote generally suits my needs for that. Rarely, if ever, use it for taking notes or anything that isn't a bookmark. Best export my bookmarks if the story is correct.

Doesn't it seem nasty to claim that a large established company may go out of business? Just the claim can hurt their business.

Evernote is fairly useful. I pay the minimum amount above the free tier. I enjoy the product but I only use it perhaps 10 minutes a day, on average.

"Doesn't it seem nasty to claim that a large established company may go out of business?"

I'm not sure how you can consider a company that's still dependent on VC funding for survival to be an "established" company. During that phase, a company is still in a precarious state, and its survival beyond the current funding round is hardly guaranteed. The investors, management, employees and customers are all aware of that (or should be).

And even companies that have been self-sufficient for a long time die on a regular basis. Technologies come and go, new competitors enter markets, management screws up, etc.

The business press writes about companies in trouble all the time. Potential investors and customers need to know what the downsides are before investing in or adopting a company's technology. Journalists who just write happy stories about companies are doing their readers a disservice.

The post is not about them going out of business; in fact, numerous times I suggest that that is not likely to happen. The post concerns the $1B valuation's validity. It's possible to have a very nice, profitable company making a note taking application and also not be a unicorn.

Thanks for the clarification Josh! I just went back to re-read the article.

It is an interesting scenario of a company receiving a lot of funding, having a huge paper valuation, but in the end just being a mildly profitable company with little return on investment.

Anyone can claim anything, even selling a stock is a claim of sorts.

i'm using evernote with the web-browser extension Clearly, this way its useful to me..(as for example, if i want to clip an article for later reading etc..)

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