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Given that digital focus, Evernote's putting its name on pricey luggage and leather goods might seem like a branding non sequitur. To Libin, it is in line with the company's view of itself. "Nike broke out and became the first worldwide mainstream brand for people who care about athleticism," he says during an interview at the company's new headquarters in Redwood City, Calif. (The offices are festooned with inspirational mottoes like "Forgetting sucks.") "We want the same thing, to be the worldwide signature brand for people who aspire to being smart." He says it's all part of "a sufficiently epic quest" to keep the company busy for the next century.
For its most hardcore users, using Evernote is already the lifestyle statement Libin wants it to be. Some become Evernote ambassadors, an unpaid position that is part tech support, part missionary work. "You have to tell people how much you love Evernote," explains Austin-based food writer Kristi Willis. She specializes in assisting freelancers like herself. Not surprisingly, organization gurus love it. David Allen (Getting Things Done) and Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Work Week) have rhapsodized over it. (Ferriss is an adviser to the company.) Michael Hyatt (Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World) was once a believer in handwritten notes but says Evernote has let him go entirely digital.
One thing Evernote is not is a classic Silicon Valley success story. The service is not a social network, and unlike Google, Facebook and Twitter, it has pledged never to mine what it knows about its users to target advertising. There are no ads at all. Instead, the company makes money chiefly from the small percentage of users--about 4%--who have paid accounts. Evernote Premium costs $5 a month and offers increased upload capacity over the free version. About 8,000 businesses pay $10 a month per user for a version geared toward working in teams. The company won't disclose its revenue but says it is currently losing money as it expands. Venture-capital firms like its prospects, though. They've plowed more than $250 million into Evernote, giving it a valuation of over $1 billion.
Libin talks about evernote with such exuberance that it's easy to assume it is his creation. It isn't. The product was the brainchild of Russian-American computer scientist Stepan Pachikov, whose previous work includes contributing to the handwriting-recognition technology used by Apple Newton devices and Microsoft tablet PCs. "I realized one of the problems I had was that I didn't have any good tool to remember a lot of stuff and very quickly find it," he says. Pachikov's solution was Evernote, initially created in 2004 as PC-only software. It garnered good reviews and about 80,000 users but struggled to make money. "By the end of 2006, we had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that you couldn't make a business out of a Windows app," says Dmitry Stavisky, an early employee.