Setting up in Ireland is ‘definitely a possibility’ for tech leader Evernote

MAN ON A MISSION: Evernote chief executive Phil Libin

– 11 August 2013

The notesharing giant could be joining Google, Facebook and Twitter here, writes Technology Editor Adrian Weckler


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WAS it someone in Silicone Valley who first said: “Blessed are the geeks, for they shall inherit the world.” Whoever said it first, it happened again last week. The guy who makes Kindle eReaders — Amazon‘s Jeff Bezos — bought the Washington Post for €188m.

The move earned Bezos kudos from other global tech titans. One of them is Phil Libin, boss of Evernote, the online note-sharing giant matched only by Dropbox and Google in scale and size.

“It’s the geek CEO’s equivalent to buying a sports team,” Libin told the Sunday Independent.

“Jeff could have had a sports team. But it’s much cooler to buy the Washington Post. And it’s much more useful to the world.” Libin knows a thing or two about useful applications. His Evernote service has become one of the most popular digital downloads in the world.

For those who don’t know it, it’s the Microsoft of documentsharing services, consistently dominating app downloads on smartphones and tablets.

Its wild popularity has brought some riches. But the thick end of the lucre-wedge will come in an €800m IPO, expected some time in the next 18 months.

Investors — who have ploughed €150m into the site — can’t wait. Libin, though, really isn’t that keen.

“I’m really not looking forward to it,” he says. “Why would I? For one thing, it’s a lot of administrative hassle.

For another, I think it’ll be harder to run a company with a long-term strategy when you have people openly betting for you and against you.

“When you’re private, you can have enemies. But there generally isn’t anyone who has an active stake in driving down the company.” The other driver for public flotations — a cash safety net — isn’t the attraction it once might have been for Libin.

“People used to look forward to IPOs in this industry because it was great for making money. But that’s not true anymore. You don’t need to be public to have liquidity. So the short-term reasons for IPOs have been eliminated.” Despite this distaste, Libin is committed to bringing Evernote to flotation “in 2014 or 2015”. This will happen, he says, because floating a company is the “moral thing to do” in the long term.

“If we’re asking the world to trust us for 100 years, part of the that trust is allowing people to be owners,” he says.

The notesharing giant could be joining Google, Facebook and Twitter here, writes Technology Editor Adrian Weckler MAN ON A MISSION: Evernote chief executive Phil Libin “There’s something elegant and beautiful in that. People should be able to go and buy some shares.” In the meantime, Libin has other things on his plate. One of them may include greater familiarity with Ireland.

Like other successful online companies, Evernote has now reached the point where it is starting to build international sales, finance and support divisions. For any tech multinational entering this stage, one EU country immediately comes into focus: Ireland.

“Ireland is definitely a possibility,” says Libin. “I’ve had several discussions with other CEOs who are quite happy there. And lots of great companies are going there.” Libin won’t give too much away, but says that he has received official assistance in sussing out options for locating in Ireland. That may come to a head in October, when he’s at Dublin’s Web Summit, co-sponsored by the IDA.

If Evernote does open an office in Ireland — and it would very likely be in Dublin, beside operations such as Twitter, Facebook and Google — it will be yet another Irish employer where the lines between work and lifestyle become blurred.

Hi-tech companies here offer the best, airiest offices with well-paid positions and as many free smoothies as you can ingest. But you’re expected to take on your work as your personal passion.

Libin is on board with this.

He sees working as a vocation.” Tech companies have always been entities that attracted this kind of person, this kind of passionate worker,” he says.

“The idea is not that you need to work long hours. The main idea is that your job should be the main thing that you identify with. “We want people for whom their work at Evernote is their main mission.

It’s their life work, if you look at it that way.” It was this identification of workaholicism that inspired Libin to come up with Evernote in the first place.

“Our core user is someone who has poor understanding of life-work balance, someone who’s always doing both,” he says.”It’s someone like me, who constantly strives for work-life integration. And there are more and more people like us who need services such as Evernote.” With that in mind, Libin is now dealing with some fundamental issues facing the company.

Like what it’s going to make next. It has already branched into physical products, with an Evernote Moleskin notebook with paper that is designed to translate notes, text and doodles into digital, shareable copies.

“It’s very difficult if you’re not making tangible things,” he says. “One of our long term investments is that tangible things will start to have a digital life in the next few years, that this division between hardware and software will become blurred.” What’s he thinking of ? A tablet? A phone? Two weeks ago, he tweeted about a possibile “jet pack time machine”.

“I was half-serious,” he says

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