Evernote Business chief: 'This is not a zero-sum game'

Old habits die hard -- even in the tech industry, which is constantly measured by the pace of innovation. The head of Evernote Business explains how the cloud is curbing those habits for good.

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SAN FRANCISCO---After its new buzzphrase the "Internet of Customers," boasting about an overwhelming pool of industry partnerships is arguably the top theme at Salesforce.com's Dreamforce expo this week.

One example is Evernote, which has been rapidly ramping up its business services for more than a year .

Starting out as a note-taking and memory-sharing app, Evernote has grown to produce a business arm now utilized by more than 9,500 companies.

I had a chance to sit down for a moment amid the hubbub at San Francisco's packed Moscone Center this week with John McGeachie, chief of the Evernote Business unit to talk about the deal and how it plays into the software market at-large.

"I think were passed the cloud as the disruptive thing," McGeachie reflected. "Salesforce blazed the trail for the last 10 years. People now are comfortable with and rely on the cloud."

When asked about which industries have been gravitating toward the platform most, McGeachie responded Evernote serves everyone from venture capital to real estate.

"Evernote Business is a mirror for Evernote," said McGeachie. "It's used across every walk of life in which people are communicating electronically."

There's also already a solid foundation between Evernote and Salesforce. Back in September, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff even made an appearance at Evernote's annual developer summit, EC3, to introduce Evernote for Salesforce.com, targeted at sales teams for hosting shared resources.

McGeachie recalled that it was Salesforce.com that approached Evernote about concocting an integration, and the Evernote team thought it would be "a useful overlap."

In a nutshell, customers of both Evernote and Salesforce can link up accounts across both platforms. When working in Salesforce on different accounts, leads, and custom objects, users can pull up related notes from Evernote libraries. McGeachie provided the example of an industry study about top 10 design firms. Users can attach and share their own notes as well as search content shared by colleagues on Evernote.

McGeachie reiterated that it's all in the context of Salesforce's Sales, Service, and Marketing Clouds and linked to customer information.

"They're obviously comfortable with using Evernote for structured and unstructured information, but now they have the best of both worlds with structured information from Salesforce," McGeachie observed. 

"Business users are consumers also," reminded McGeachie, arguing that at Evernote, "We think of all of those people as people -- not as objects or money sitting on the table."

At this point, Evernote doesn't have any studies or data ready to share about financial rewards and return-on-investment figures about this integration. But McGeachie assured that customer feedback has been positive. 

Another catalyst for industry integrations like this is that the cloud has become a de facto attribute of information technology today.

"I think were passed the cloud as the disruptive thing," McGeachie reflected. "Salesforce blazed the trail for the last 10 years. People now are comfortable with and rely on the cloud."

The vice president of sales at Evernote suggested that the biggest disruption playing out now in IT is the app marketplace and how this playing field is being leveled by consumers. 

Quite simply, he posited that "a tsunami is sweeping over the state of enterprise software," explaining that consumers choose what tools make the most sense for them and that carries into the enterprise world.

"Business users are consumers also," reminded McGeachie, arguing that at Evernote, "We think of all of those people as people -- not as objects or money sitting on the table."

"This is not a zero-sum game. There will always be areas of overlap between different applications," McGeachie replied. "I think people are comfortable choosing among an arrays of what they know best."

But the growth of those app stores has also opened the flood gates, giving way to an increasingly crowded market for cloud-based storage, sharing, and collaboration apps. Even Evernote and Salesforce.com have competing abilities. Just one demonstration is Salesforce's recent revamp of its file creation and storage service Salesforce Files, previously known as Chatterbox.

Nevertheless, McGeachie doesn't seem worried about this.

"This is not a zero-sum game. There will always be areas of overlap between different applications," McGeachie replied. "I think people are comfortable choosing among an arrays of what they know best."

A popular trend that has emerged hand-in-hand with cloud computing has been a rise in establishing (or at least heavily promoting) third-party integrations. Many cloud providers will argue they are trying to offer their customers as much flexibility and options as possible -- to a breaking point in which a plethora of choices will inevitably fluster customers.

Because of these deals flying all over the place, a lot of companies appear to be reluctant about calling out competitors directly. 

Even when Amazon Web Services introduced its new virtualization and data analytics solutions at re:Invent last week, the cloud giant didn't name names, but it was obvious to even casual observers of this field that the Seattle-headquartered operation had folks like IBM, VMware and maybe even Salesforce in the cross-hairs.

But for cloud software providers, hardware actually tops the list as the top threat still.

Executives at cloud storage businesses like Dropbox and Box usually reply that it's about convincing users why their platform trumps USB drives.

At Evernote, McGeachie specified, "We're competing against inertia." He translated that to mean e-mail. 

"The scanner is great because you can feed all this stuff in there. People are just drowning in paper," McGeachie quipped.

"The challenge is to open people's eyes to leverage information coming across their desks," McGeachie said, lamenting it can be difficult for people to change their habits, such as e-mailing themselves documents. 

Evernote's task, he continued, has been to make the productivity app as simple and accessible enough to get them started with it -- rather than letting pieces of paper accumulate into mountains on desks for scanning later.

"The status quo often feels like a poor experience, but they're often sure how to solve it," McGeachie remarked. "That's why we invest so much of our marketing resources and time in user stories. We talk all about how people use Evernote as journalists, architects, and engineers."

Nevertheless, Evernote seems realistic that it's going to be a long time before people abandon these pesky habits and old ways. To help move things along, the Redwood City, Calif.-based company has been forming third-party partnerships of its own -- with hardware, design and retail companies -- to produce a suite of physical productivity goods such as a petite scanner ready for multiple files at once as well as a high-end stylus.

"The scanner is great because you can feed all this stuff in there. People are just drowning in paper," McGeachie quipped.

All of these items, from digital to real-world objects, are designed and released with a specific strategy in mind: eliminating the labor process around tools and enabling people to use their brains for more interesting purposes.

"You're paying people a decent amount of money to think," McGeachie asserted. "You're freeing them to work they way they want and be happy doing what they're doing. That will make them more productive."

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