It’s January, a new year has begun, so it’s an appropriate time for an update on where we stand in our efforts to bring you a better Evernote.
One year ago, in my early days as Evernote’s CEO, I said that to move Evernote forward we had to start by improving its foundations. I set three goals as our priorities for 2019:
- We wanted to create a more coherent, more consistent Evernote experience; an experience that fixes the essential features on which all of us depend.
- We decided to change the way we develop and deliver software, so we can ship improvements and new features faster and with better quality.
- We committed to improving the core infrastructure that powers Evernote, so we can deliver a service with the speed, reliability, and scalability that all of us expect.
I’m pleased to say that we’ve made substantial progress against all of these goals, even beyond the progress we’ve regularly shared over the course of last year. I’ll get to that in a minute.
But first, it’s important to be bluntly honest about where we stand. As we enter 2020, we’ve not yet achieved everything we set out to accomplish a year ago. We have yet to reach some major milestones in delivering against the three goals above. We’re not where any of us—the Evernote team, our customers, our community, or our partners—wanted Evernote to be at this point.
The most visible hole in our delivery plan is our failure to ship new mobile and desktop apps in general release. My best estimate is that we’re running 3–4 months behind our plans. It’s certainly not for any lack of trying or a lack of focus. But some hills turn out to be harder to climb than you think when you set off on a trek, and we’ve had to do a lot of climbing so far in our journey.
The result is that many of the improvements we’ve demonstrated in our Behind the Scenes videos are not yet available for you to enjoy. That’s disappointing for you, and it’s disappointing for us. We will continue to work hard to bring those improvements to market so we can all enjoy a better Evernote, and start to innovate quickly upon that improved foundation.
But the past year has not been without significant accomplishments. Let me recap for a moment some of the highlights we experienced together in 2019:
Your collective reaction to the new note editor, made available through our modern web experience, has been very positive. The methodical process we followed to beta test, gather feedback, make improvements, and incrementally release the new note editor was very effective. And this first release of the new note editor is just the start; we plan to continue improving it in the months ahead.
Our new search experience, also made available through the web app, has had an extremely positive response as well. We modeled that release process on what we learned from the editor. During the search beta, we made changes to functionality and improvements to relevancy algorithms as well as finding and fixing bugs. We continue to get feedback from customers about how they imagine this search interface playing into their desktop experience; we will keep investing in search in the months to come.
We created a new communications channel using our Behind the Scenes videos, balancing transparency about what we were working on with the pragmatic reality of where we were in the process. The entire company was inspired by the constructive way in which you received, reacted to, and engaged with these videos—in many cases providing feedback that refined the trajectory of the work even before our initial releases in market.
And from a business standpoint, Evernote continued to grow. We ended 2019 with more subscribers than when we entered it, generating positive cash flow for the year. A healthy balance sheet may not at first sound like a highlight, but a financially sound Evernote is a company you can depend on to serve you for a long time.
If you’ve been following along all year, nothing I’ve said above is news. So let me turn to some recent accomplishments we haven’t talked about much yet:
- a re-engineered modern web experience,
- the first preview release of our rebuilt mobile clients, and
- a successful data migration in the cloud.
In December, we released a completely re-engineered version of our modern web experience to a small group of customers. And, as planned, they didn’t notice. On the outside, this version is almost indistinguishable from what many of us already use on a day-to-day basis. But on the inside, its codebase has been substantially renovated on top of a new code library that governs communication between client and cloud (more on this later). This is a major deliverable against the second goal I set for Evernote at the beginning of 2019. Our objective with this initiative was to swap out some old, rusty underpinnings for a gleaming new undercarriage, without anyone noticing. And so far, so good. We’ll continue to release in the coming months until 100 percent of web customers are on the new-and-improved client infrastructure.
Again in December, we released the first version of our completely rebuilt iOS and Android apps to a small pool of beta testers. These apps (shown in a December Behind the Scenes video) demonstrate how we’re trying to deliver on our first two goals, with mobile design and functionality consistent with the innovations we’ve made on the web client. This includes adapting the new note editor and new search for the small screen, consistent navigational cues, and improvements made on one platform applied to both mobile apps (for instance, tags are now first-class citizens on both iOS and Android).
None of the above would have been possible without our Beta Program testers. Your feedback is critical to helping us build apps that meet your needs, so please keep it coming. We still have work to do on both functionality and performance, but we will keep ramping releases of the new mobile apps through the coming months.
As I indicated above, both the new re-engineered web release and the rebuilt mobile clients share the same code library governing communication between app and cloud. While this might not seem relevant to you as a user, aligning our code bases and internal architecture across all Evernote apps is a huge step toward a better Evernote experience for everyone. It results in service behavior that is predictable and consistent across platforms (for example, sync should work the same way on different devices). It also minimizes bugs by reducing the volume of code we need to test and simplifies and speeds our ability to find and stamp out bugs when they do occur.
And finally, what no one has noticed—and again, this is a good thing!—is that since late November, 100% of your note content is now synced and served from a completely new storage system in our cloud. This is a remarkable step toward our third goal. Moving more than 9 billion notes on a running service from one storage architecture to another, without anyone noticing and without any downtime, is like changing the wheels on a moving bus. It required a tricky migration from the (warning: geek speak ahead) legacy sharded architecture, which had for years formed the basis for Evernote’s server architecture, into a scalable, horizontal “cloud” implementation. There is yet more work to do on this front (next up: sharing permissions), but when we are done with this process, we will have eliminated one of the larger roadblocks to our ability to innovate—a constraint that has been hindering Evernote for years.
These more recent accomplishments are foundational building blocks for delivering on the three goals we set out for Evernote at the beginning of 2019. At that time, I asked you to be patient with us, and as I stated above, we’re running late. None of us are happy to enter 2020 still asking you to be patient. But the good news is that we’ve now got ourselves (and you!) onto the launching pad.
The re-engineered web client (in limited release), the new mobile clients (in first preview), and the (as yet unreleased) new clients for Windows, Mac, and (yes!) Linux, along with the ongoing re-architecture and data migration we’ve been doing in the cloud, will set up Evernote to be able to innovate and ship with quality at a pace we haven’t seen in a long time.
And what’s most exciting to me—and, I hope, to all of you—is that the “finish” line to fixing the basics isn’t really a finish line at all. It’s the starting line of a new race: the race toward a whole new generation of innovation and improvement in the Evernote experience. In some quiet corners of Evernote, we’ve already started running that race, and I’m looking forward to sharing that work with you when the time is right.
Thank you for your enduring patience and support. We are continuing to work hard to make you proud, to live up to and keep earning the trust you place in us, and to deliver an Evernote all of us can fall in love with all over again. Together, we will make Evernote #everbetter.