Sunday, 4 October 2015

Evernote is in trouble; my software business beliefs are validated

A month ago at a conference I chatted with an ex-Evernote employee. I mentioned that they have a great, free, iOS scanning app. "Why do they give away such an excellent product?" I pondered aloud. He replied, "Evernote's reluctance to charge money frustrated me; it is a major reason for why I left."

Now I read that Evernote is in deep trouble:

Evernote has laid off roughly 18% of its workforce in the past nine months, and said it will shut down three of its 10 global offices last week.

and

Several former employees believe a lack of focus hampered Evernote's growth. Instead of focusing on its core note-taking product and on converting users to the paid service, Evernote spent more time releasing a bunch of new products and features that only helped it grab news headlines, they said. 
For example, in early 2014, a former TechCrunch writer published a scathing blog post hammering Evernote’s glitch-filled product. Libin quickly addressed the issue, even personally reaching out to the writer and vowing in an all-hands meeting to focus on improving “quality” that year. 
But six months later, Evernote was back to pumping out new releases that often didn’t live up to expectations.

From this article, I have some of my software business beliefs validated:

  • don't be afraid to charge money. I charged good money for Poker Copilot even when I released the first version, 30 days after I started preparing it to become a product. I could have had a long, free open beta, but I like earning money for my work. We don't do free, and we don't do freemium. You want our product? Then pay for it.
  • release frequent, small updates. Users tolerate this much better than infrequent big updates with major changes. I relearned this twice this year as Barbary Software released two major products; one that was a replacement for another product, and one that was the next major version of Poker Copilot. In both cases, plenty of users were not happy, and were perhaps lost.
  • focus on quality. Every update should include several bug fixes. As much as possible, fix bugs before adding new features. Bugs are the bane of the software industry. But bugs are also a reality. Even NASA, with its massive software development budgets and industry-leading quality assurance, suffers from catastrophic bugs in production. Your product will have bugs. But if, as a rule, version x+1 has less bugs than version x, and you make frequent small updates, you software's quality will be way ahead of most software companies. 
  • focus. Put all your eggs in one basket, to some extent. This year I've canned a product that was earning close to zero money, but still requiring support and maintenance. I canned a side project of mine that was distracting my interest. Instead I've focussed on our main product, made it better, given it more love, and expanded its reach.
  • watch costs like a hawk. Operating in ten locations sounds like Evernote let their costs get out of control. It is easy in any business to hope that finances take care of themselves. When there is plenty of money in the bank it is easy and tempting to expand, acquire, and develop some undesirable flab in the company processes. But this is an approach that ultimately leads to failure.