Phil Libin steps down as Evernote CEO, taps Googler Chris O’Neill

Phil Libin — the founder and long-time CEO of productivity company Evernote — has stepped down as CEO, and former Google exec Chris Neill will be taking on the CEO job starting next week.
Libin had announced a month ago that he wanted to step down and rededicate himself to development of the company’s products. In an interview with Re/code’s Arik Hesseldahl, Libin displayed a deep ambivalence to the demands of a CEO in a growing company, one headed toward an IPO:

I’ve always said that I wouldn’t be the company’s last CEO. And I realized years ago that I didn’t want to be the CEO when the company went public. I realized I wasn’t passionate about being the CEO who will take this company public and that I should find someone who will be passionate about it.

O’Neill joined Google in 2005, and grew Google’s Canadian operations, becoming managing director there. He moved to business operations at Google X, but left after 13 months on the job, around the time of the surprising shut down of the Google Glass Explorer’s program. Now Tony Faddell is heading Glass initiatives along with Nest, which Google acquired in 2014.
The company now boasts 150 million users, up from 100 million six months ago. It is that growth curve that Libin sees pushing Evernote toward an IPO.
Libin’s passion for product has led to a strange sequence of events at Evernote. The central product is the eponymous Evernote, intended principally as an individual productivity tool for capturing notes and other information, and syncing that across various devices.
Leaving aside individual use — which makes up the majority of the company’s customers — Evernote has attempted several moves to get into the business sector.
In 2012, the company released Evernote Business (see Evernote launches Evernote Business), and at that time I wrote,

Evernote Business is basically a team-oriented Evernote, with sharable notebooks as well as private personal notebooks. The shared Business notebooks form a business library, which can serve as a corporate intranet.

Evernote Business was coming at a different angle to the same problem that Dropbox and Box are solving for business: a way for teams to share information, and for that to be automatically synced as changes and new documents are added.
Last fall, Evernote announced work chat, an effort to make Evernote Business more of a complete ‘work collaboration’ tool, and a counter to products like Slack and Hipchat (see Evernote releases work chat). That has done little to slow the growth of other chat tools.
At this point, I’d say that Evernote’s attempts to push into the enterprise have been ineffectual, and that the product is still seen as limited to use by individuals and small teams. O’Neill will have his hands full countering the strengths of Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, and Box in this sector.
Some of the moves that Libin made as CEO had me scratching my head, like the Evernote Store that was selling printers, knapsacks, and clothing (see Evernote wants to sell you… socks?).
So, Libin now wants to move back to product vision as Executive Chairman. We’ll have to see how that works out, but my bet is that this is actually a temporary relationship, and that Libin will leave before year’s end to become a VC, philanthropist, or to found another start-up. Trying to drive product innovation in a 500 (soon to be 1000?) person company from the Executive Chairman role seems a stretch.

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