How Evernote Is Changing the Free Model

Marketing podcast with Phil Libin (Click to play or right click and “Save As” to download – Subscribe now via iTunes

evernoteFor this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast I had the chance to visit with Evernote CEO Phil Libin.

Evernote is a simple service that allows you to track and store everything you want to remember and get it out of your “meat brain” and housed somewhere safe and trustworthy. About 9,000 people a day are joining the free version of this service that also syncs incredibly well with iPads and mobile devices. (GTD fans, funny David Allen story here)

One of the reasons I wanted to record this show is that on top of being a user of the service, I’m taken by the fact that Evernote has also figured out how to get serious numbers of users to upgrade from the free to the premium version. The traditional freemium thinking is that you get lots of users and figure out how to turn them into paying customers.

While the web 2.0 landscape is littered with lots of bad freemium ideas, Evernote is turning users into fanatics and fanatics into profit. So, how do they do that?

According to Libin, “focusing on the free part is where people make the mistake. Evernote focuses instead on how many people are paying and how much it costs to get them. That’s the approach all businesses need to take. Freemium doesn’t change that approach, it just changes the math.”

To get a million people paying you just need to get ten million people using it. The free users are just part of the cost.

While this explains, to some extent, why Evernote is profitable, it doesn’t capture the other part – why people would pay for it. In my view, Evernote has done a couple things that people find attractive and worthy of commitment. They’ve created something that works and is simple – simple to use, to explain, to adopt. And, they’ve captured trust – repeatedly stating that your memories are safe. Evernote is adamant that they have no data deals in the works, just put your stuff here and don’t worry about any funny stuff or privacy issues. Those two items are central to what gets people to want to pull out their wallet and pay for the premium version – there’s actually an element of support as well as value.

Too many freemium offers start off with an offering that’s not worth paying for, assuming lots will jump on board simply because it’s free.

I’m working on my next book and using Evernote as a significant bridge to all the information I need to explore and save for this project.

So, tell me your Evernote story, how are you using it?

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  • Suneel Sawant

    Great advice, good details. – Suneel Sawant

  • FranciscoLG

    I think they were so clever setting the free capacity in 50 MB. It is so precise, that when I became a “hardcore” user, I was always surpassing that level, no matter how hard I tried to keep it below. I had no other option than pay. Evernote became part of the way I work, so being limited to 50MB wasn't enough. So, the formula for them is that if you get to convince a user that he should work with Evernote, that user, sooner or later, will have to become premium or will be pretty damn limited.

  • ducttape

    Actually I've found that as I keep more on it, it becomes more important over time

  • Tim

    We've used it for our business to keep track of ideas. Lately we've been using Google Docs because of the multi-viewer, instant update feature. A nice feature to evernote is their great iPhone app – a feature I haven't seen with Google Docs.

  • Tim

    When I say 'ideas' we actually have a folder called 'idea inventory' – because evernote is a great tool to store random thoughts and ideas.

  • Gil Reich

    OK, you got me to try it. Nice post. Maybe after using it I'll also understand what you're saying about what they're doing right. Thanx

  • Ike Pigott


    I used Evernote while taking my daughter around the neighborhood to sell Girl Scout Cookies.

    At every house that placed an order, I copied the name, address, cookies and method of payment. I took a photo of the front of the house with the mailbox showing, and I geo-tagged all of the entries right there in Evernote.

    Of course, my daughter lost her original form.

    But we had all the information stored, and even exported a Google Earth map that had all the sales geo-tagged and annotated, ready for delivery.

  • contrapuntist

    I was an early adopter of the service, but I only it to a certain degree and no very regularly. But lately I find myself using it more and more to keep track of blog stories I want to write about later or reference in a particular story. Also, I good place to add general streams of consciousness.

    What I love about this service is how easily you can access information or add to it. Then you have the opportunity to organize it to your choosing.

    The only reason I don't use it more is my mobile phone sucks and upgrade to one that is more user-friendly in that department. Can't fault Evernote for that.

  • JoeTaxpayer

    I use it to stay organized, clip articles for later reference, and scan loose papers instead of filing and never finding them.
    I went premium after the third month of hitting the free limit. This month, I'm on a pace to use about 450MB, so it would have taken some time to load everything I wanted to.
    EN on iPad is amazing. Drop a PDF on desktop app, sync up, and there it is. It's on my short list of iPad killer apps.

  • ducttape

    I love this – the digital life!

  • Chad Biggs

    May be easier to list the ways how I don't use Evernote… it has become part of my every day transcending both work & personal organization. It was especially useful as a freelancer when I had a personal laptop, home PC and client laptop and needed to access information from each since they varied with operating systems, applications, etc. The premium version opens up the file options and was very helpful in keeping one common version of a working draft regardless of where I was working. Today I share client folders with co-workers so they can see the different pieces I'm working on and add ideas or make edits.

    Beyond that, I track articles with the Web clipping function, capture ideas and organize pitches, purchases, misc. research, honey-do lists and everything else imaginable across Mac, PC and multiple smartphones since joining Evernote. I've literally taken pics on my phone of landscaping options while holding a squirmy two-year-old and uploaded them to Evernote. I haven't tapped into the all of the options Trunk has to offer yet but its only a matter of time…

  • grahamjones

    I use Evernote to keep clips of websites, to store PDFs and to collect all my research notes in one place. I also open up Evernote when I am at meetings and conferences to type in notes, add pictures of slides etc. Plus I keep my notes for my new books and articles I am writing in Evernote. And I… other words, Evernote is pretty important to me…! Thank goodness they invented it…!

  • Scott Jorgensen

    If you want to gather business ideas and you like Google Docs, you might want to consider an innovation management app more like Ideas from It's super simple to use and you can import your spreadsheet to get started.

  • Will Norman

    I'm listening to your podcast: very informative interview, John, and Phil Libin convinced me to check out his website. He has the best Learn More video.

  • Paul Thompson

    I'm using Evernote as a clippings ervice to fuel blogging articles. Used together with their Google Chrome plugin, it takes seconds to grab interesting pieces of posts which you can use as ideas for future articles.

    Having everything available everywhere makes it a killer app for me.