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How Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, Works (lifehacker.com)
124 points by bmaeser on Feb 7, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments

Is it a bad sign that I googled for 'Fire' and 'The Wheel' thinking they were some kind of hip Web 2.0 productivity tools?

Don't blame yourself entirely. They were (incorrectly) capitalized in the article.

It's a bad sign. I also read them and thought they were something new I hadn't heard of. I didn't even click until I saw your comment.

I think the capitalisation of the words was intended to solicit exactly this response. The point is that that recent things such as Google, Wikipedia and GPS are just as important as those previous innovations.

A lot of people seem to be taking this interview in a negative way. I find it nice an humorous, lacking in "real" content - but then most of these articles are lacking in content. Much as a I love the "Uses This" type series, it's basically "geek gossip magazine" - how much does it really tell you to hear that another person is using a MacBook with Sonos speakers and TextMate?

One nugget from the interview is the "Todo" questions, which makes me really think that Phil knows his product well:

"Q: What's your favorite to-do list manager?

A: You know, I don't actually have one. I use Evernote, which isn't particularly great for to-dos yet. Yet."

I've started moving more and more of my thing into Evernote, and I think the biggest thing it does wrong is: it doesn't do any one thing very well. One of those One Things I'd love it to get right is TODO management, and Phil is here hinting that it's in the works.

All in all, I came out of this interview with a smile on my face, and some more hope for the future of a product that I use a lot, and really really want to love.

Funny interview but to me it sounded like the guy was trying too hard to look human, or he wanted to hide something, or he wanted to embarrass the interviewer, or he is a stand-up comedian wannabe in real life.

I am all for humor, but reply the interviewer questions! Don't act like a politician!

I thought he was just a genuinely funny guy.

He really is. Had the pleasure of running into him last week and he is one of the most genuinely nice people I have ever met.

So did he talk to you first? or did you have to start?

Cliff's notes:

  Like pretty much everyone else in that space, I use all
  the iOS devices and a mac osx desktop. And my company's app.

  My nugget of wisdom: nerds don't get laid.

You forgot the Macbook.

Personally, I find the "everything" nature of Evernote to be in conflict with the statement...

"That's what we aspire to build at Evernote. Something fundamentally tool."

Via browser or phone, Evernote is multiple panes, functions and I don't how many buttons where every action seems to come with an extra dialog, step or three.

That doesn't say tool to me, more like a borrowed toolbox. Sure, I can accomplish a lot with the assortment found inside, but I'd get things done a lot faster and easier with purpose-built tools.

Also, I find the inclusion of both a mini-bat and sledge on the on the desk shot a bit odd.

There are people that organize their entire lives with it. Following GTD and http://www.thesecretweapon.org/. For them it's absolutely fundamental.

That's great, but evoking the inclined plane sets a totally different context for the meaning of "fundamental" than does an organizer.

Am I the only one who on hearing investors and top enterpreneurs saying oh I love Uber sound like saying oh I am rich and love my Rolex? Sometimes the talk about comparing expensive limousines to taxis seems so absurd.

Uber is awesome, even the taxi version of it (which I primarily use unless taking the wife on Big Dates). For only a little bit more than a usual cab (which basically comes even to a large-ish tip), you get:

- Improved safety. You know the name of your driver and your trip is logged. Many of my wife's friends like this aspect a _lot_.

- Cleaner. At least in Chicago, many cabs are a stinky filthy mess. In Uber, with the ratings, such cabs would be out of the rotation pretty quickly.

- No standing in the sleet.

- No fumbling with cash or the argument over "broken credit card reader". Cabbies in Chicago make less on credit cards, so on most of my non-Uber trips where I want to use credit, the driver and I basically come down to a lying competition about me not carrying cash (lie) versus his machine being broken (also a lie).

The last time I was in SF, I found that using Uberx and Uber Taxi was only a dollar or two more than taking a cab.

UberX is $1 more per mile than a taxi. Also, the minimum fare is $10 for UberX vs $3.50 for a cab.

Uber Taxi charges a fixed 20% tip and $1 booking fee.




Yea, I used it yesterday. It's not that expensive, the app is awesome, and their responsiveness is also great.

You and me both! I love the idea of Uber, but I can never seem to justify paying the insane extra expense when I can easily take the alternatives for much cheaper.

Then again, I guess I'm not super rich.

A five mile trip in SF by taxi would cost $16.70 plus tip while Uber would cost $24.50 tip included. An extra five bucks to have a hassle free experience does not seem that extravagant, especially considering what it costs to live in SF. Certainly not "super rich" territory, it's more on the order of staying at a 4-star hotel instead of a 3-star hotel. A nice perk, but the super rich guy is getting an amazing sweet you didn't even know existed.

I live in LA and found it (uber black sedan) to be 1.5 to 2x the normal city taxi rate. So I use the taxi magic app, and works great like uber. Although, most drivers prefer you pay cash unless it's a high fare.

This is making me glad I live in Bangkok. A 5 mile trip would cost less than $3 US, unless traffic is really heavy, and there's enough taxis everywhere that you almost never wait more than 5-10 minutes to hail one curbside. No fancy tech required.

I note that in your example, it's $7.80, not $5.

There are other companies in the same general space as Uber ("hail a cab with your smartphone") that focus more on the lower end of the market.

It's ~$5 when you add tip to the regular taxi ride.

I live in Chicago.

I love Uber. I also don't have a car and use public transit 90% of the time.

You know how you have a budget for your car loan/repairs/title/gas/insurance/parking? I have one for Taxis/Public Transit, and it's a lot less than what I used to pay for my car.

I'm sorry, but this is such a 'try hard' interview it's painful. Tell us what you really think, it doesn't matter if it's a bit left of centre or weird, it'd be much more interesting than this saccharine take on what you think the geeks "wanna hear".

"I think it's important to have an identity mug."

No, it isn't.

> Tell us what you really think, it doesn't matter if it's a bit left of centre or weird

I think it's important to have an identity mug.

> No it isn't.


I enjoyed the humor. Perhaps his responses didn’t entirely serve the How I Work series, but it made Libin seem more approachable.

open office plan is for grown ups. i wish we had an open office plan, i hate these cubicles and walls that divide.

I wish I was blessed with your mental filters for blocking out distractions. Open office plans drive me absolutely bonkers.

agreed. for me i think the cubicle farms are perfect for technology work

this, +11

I am wondering if you have ever worked in an open office layout for more than 3 months.

I have, and continue to - it sucks. If I want to do any work that requires deep thinking or focus I have to work from home.

Agreed. I should have specified I was asking segmondy.

The position of his equipment suggests that the photo does not describe his actual workspace.

Curious, why? Also, do you mean to suggest that they staged a working area so that he could seem like a cool "desk with the rest" CEO on the internet?

That sounds a bit too personality cult to be true, to be honest. He's some companies CEO, not Kim Jong-un.

My assumption was simply that he's on the move a lot, and doesn't spend that much time at his desk to make it work good for him. Some of us need a perfect working spot, some others just don't care enough.

He doesn't do any "work". I was commenting on the background set up.

My favorite Phil Libin quote:

I’m here to talk about entrepreneurship. I travel around quite a bit, and I’m lucky enough to be able to coach and mentor lots of entrepreneurs worldwide, and the common question I get asked is what advice I have for someone who is thinking of being an entrepreneur.

I’ve narrowed it down, really boiled it down, to one core piece of advice. If I can only say one thing, and I don’t know you any better, it’s: don’t. Don’t do it. Seriously.


I, for one, am VERY excited to see the todo features that he hinted at in the article. Evernote is fantastic, and I'm not sure it would be a main todo system, but if there is an area it has been lacking, it is in the handling of todos.

this was really well put:

> That's the real magic of the human brain; how quickly it rewires itself around a fundamental new tool as soon as you really grok it. Think about it: at some point in your life you didn't understand the concept of "hammer", and then you understood it and the whole world changed in front of your eyes. Now, when you look at the world, you do it with the understanding that hammers exist. Same thing for Skype. One day you're worrying about how you'll pay for that call and the next day you just know that you can talk to anyone at any time. That's what we aspire to build at Evernote. Something fundamentally tool.

What really upsets me about this article is how he gave advice to that friend of his to suppress his hobbies/interests to get a girlfriend. What kind of bullshit advice is that?

That left me pretty sour, and makes the article feel a lot more artificial/fake.

"Be about something more than just Star Trek."

I happily consider myself a lifelong stereotypical geek but my wife is not. While she accepts and loves me for who I am, I need to have more in my life than just math and Internet spaceships and hacking or we wouldn't relate to each other well.

Hopefully his friend really does have more going on in his life than carefully-organized Star Trek VHS tapes for the sole reason that only having one dimension to his life means he's missing out on a lot.

it's a humorous anecdote, told in a light way. it seems like some people are grasping for reasons to dislike this guy.

I read that little anecdote completely differently. It came across to me not as a story about suppressing hobbies/interests but rather being willing to extend your boundaries/experience new things or live with a bit of chaos in your life. Something that his friend with the perfectly arranged Star Trek VHS collection might not have done. (I know I'm generalising massively here but whenever an anecdote is reduced to a sentence or two it typically relies on stereotypes and generalisations to paint a fuller picture)

Judging by a lot of replies in this thread I think the below statement might be well on the money:

> it seems like some people are grasping for reasons to dislike this guy

The point is not to suppress his hobbies, just to be a little more conscientious about how you present yourself. He didn't say get rid of the star trek tapes.

Come on. Not about suppressing your hobby, it's about not being identified solely with it.

That's the stuff you pull out after you get married. Then it eventually ends up in a small closet about 5 years later. Ultimately, it ends up being what you have around you as you get old again. Life's funny that way.

I agree with your advice, but I don't think that's what he's saying.

I mean, a paragraph later he talks about getting an "identity mug" and earlier about wanting to get Shire wallpaper and how he listens to dwarf music. I can't tell if he's being ironic or dense or if he doesn't like Star Trek.

It wasn't his hobbies per se, it was his choice to use them to decorate his entire home.

He's a CEO. He knows that first impressions are lasting ones. It was good advice.

"The Evernote office is all open seating. My desk is the messiest. We don't have any desk phones, but lots of conference rooms if you want to talk to someone."

Is a lack of desk phones unique to Evernote, or is this becoming more common in the Bay area? It's not a bad idea. Sitting next to someone saying "Thank you for calling Initech, please hold..." all day can be distracting. As can a phone which rings every fifteen minutes with someone who wants some minor thing.

Maybe it's a West Coast thing...I've worked jobs in Los Angeles and now the valley and company cell phones in lieu of desk phones is the new standard I think. That, and Facebook video chat/Google chat/Skype...

When I started at my current, you could get a desk phone if you specifically asked for one. Most didn't. About a year later, I think they phased them out entirely.

I don't know why but I find hearing half of a phone conversation infinitely more distracting then having two coworkers discussing something in person nearby.

Loved the Star Trek story. Although I'd love to hear more about what software he uses: he only mentioned Evernote, Google and a couple more.

It isn't cross-platform: no Linux support at all.

I have their extension on installed on chromium...

It has a web app thats very usable.

I can't speak for myself because I don't use Evernote, but I read good things about Everpad: https://github.com/nvbn/everpad

Nixnote [1] (formerly Nevernote) is an unofficial Evernote client for Linux.

[1] http://sourceforge.net/projects/nevernote/

I use Nixnote every so often to export/backup my evernotes. (I learned my lesson long ago about leaving data like that on a company's servers.) It seems to work fine for that purpose, although it's Java so installation can be a bit odd and it sometimes just breaks.

It runs on Android! :)

"I actually sleep really well; it's sort of my core competency; I can fall asleep anywhere, at any time, on command. My brain doesn't understand time zones and I don't get jet lag. This is my super power. I go to sleep at random times and wake up at random times, but I probably get about eight hours of sleep on average. I know how incredibly lucky this makes me."

His brain seems pretty unusual regarding sleep. I never heard something like this. We need to study his brain asap!

I have that sleep pattern.

Fall asleep anywhere, any time. Wake up at random hours and do work.

I think it's a product of having your life be your work, or the other way around.

It's pretty common with old people.

I was impressed that that long German word was both spelled correctly and grammatically internally consistent. It shows an attention to detail that's often lacking in this day and age and something you don't see often. And I don't even try to use umlauts on my US keyboard anymore.

Excellent article. I love Phil's sense of humor. Seems like a great guy running a great company!

Anyone know where I can find more in depth articles like this? I'd really like to see a breakdown of the habits and daily routines of successful people more than just the normal 'work hard and do something you enjoy and you'll be successful'

Not necessarily an article but the video series produced by Kevin Rose, http://foundation.kr/, are pretty insightful into the more human elements of some of the people you may have heard of.

well this is part of a series for Lifehacker -- they've had some other interesting ones in the past (including the Editor of the MIT Tech Review.)

you can check out usesthis.com

Are you supposed to interpret his answer to the best advice he ever received as to cheat?

Or to not waste your time beating your head against absolutely pointless mastery.

I guess you could.

My first thought was "He must be a truly terrible player". By the time the first Konami code game showed up he would have been 14.

Most likely it was a joke...

Interesting that his girl advice was to suppress your geekiness, not own it.

Best advice I ever got was: Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right B, A, Start

OK, I'll admit it: I had to Google it.

This was a cute read, but there isn't much of a takeaway.

Can someone explain to me about the best advice he's given? The star trek enterprise and rearranging it and what does that mean?

It's the "only geeks like Star-Trek" cliche. By making it less obvious that he's into Star-Trek, he's more likely to gain a girl.

Thanks @Shank. So basically, he is saying be less geeky? Btw, not trolling because I like technology but haven't watched star trek series or even the first star wars.

Nice article. And he knows (and likes) the Konami code! Memories of Gradius on the NES. Don't know if other versions had it?

> Also, I want to know how to make Evernote better! Email me and let me know.

I've got a few ideas. What is your email address?

Considering you know his name, title, and company, there are like 4 different possibilities, just email them all.

No wonder why the windows evernote app sucks so much once you realize what a huge apple fanboy the CEO is.

I think this ranks pretty much up at the top of my list of "Best Interviews with a CEO Evah"

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