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Responding to Criticism: A PR Lesson From Evernote's Phil Libin

A few weeks ago, I came across a scathing review of Evernote, my favorite note taking application. Evernote, the bug-ridden elephant, was written by Jason for whom the app had evolved from habit to instinct over several years and nearly seven thousand notes, including heaps of audio files.
I may not be up to 7,000 notes and have few media files stored, but do relate to the love affair with Evernote as it has become my go-to app for taking notes and storing (and remembering) stuff.
In a nutshell, the post claimed that Evernote was glitchy, app integrations wonky, and worst of all, concerns about lost data. Also, Evernote’s support was less than helpful. Jason spared no mercy:

Evernote’s applications are glitchy to the extreme; they often feel as if they’re held together by the engineering equivalent of duct tape…Teeth grinding, I contact Evernote support. The process is slow and bumbling.

The uproar continued in the ensuing comments – 180 and counting. The next day, Evernote’s CEO, Phil Libin, responded in a remarkably candid post: On Software Quality and Building a Better Evernote in 2014.

Taking ownership

Mr. Libin didn’t try to tiptoe around the issues or make excuses. He acknowledged the problem in the opening paragraph:

I got the wrong sort of birthday present yesterday: a sincerely-written post by Jason Kincaid lamenting a perceived decline in the quality of Evernote software over the past few months. I could quibble with the specifics, but reading Jason’s article was a painful and frustrating experience because, in the big picture, he’s right. We’re going to fix this.

Providing background and context

Mr. Libin talked about explosive growth – not as an excuse, but as a segue to acknowledging and addressing the concerns of existing users rather than potential ones.

We’ve grown massively as a company, a community and a product. And we’re still growing quickly. However, there comes a time in a booming startup’s life when it’s important to pause for a bit and look in rather than up. When it’s more important to improve existing features than to add new ones. More important to make our existing users happier than to just add more new users. More important to focus on our direction than on our speed.

Blueprint for fixing problems

“We’re going to fix this,” Mr. Libin promised at the end of the opening paragraph.

Quality improvements are the sort of thing that you ought to show, not just talk about, so we hadn’t planned on discussing this theme until closer to the end of 2014. However, Jason’s article hit too close to home to leave unremarked, so I decided to be up front about what we’ve done in the past few months and what we’re going to do in the next few.

He went on to detail what they’re already doing and what they plan to do about each issue, including stability, mobile, design, and staffing.
He added, “Our new philosophy is to find every spot in our products where we’ve been forced to make a trade-off between doing what’s simple and doing what’s powerful, then rethink it so that the simplest approach is also the most powerful.”
I’m good with that. And, I’m still a loyal Evernote user.
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