Cristina Riesen, General Manager, EMEA of Evernote talks to us about building a ‘100 year’ startup, design and the future of the workplace.
What was your journey to Evernote?
I joined Evernote in early 2012 after seeing our CEO speaking at the Le Web conference in Paris. He spoke about building a ‘100 year startup’ and creating an amazing product that changes peoples’ lives. I was impressed with his vision and started using Evernote right away. At the time, I was doing research for an Executive Masters of Science in Communication. Evernote was a life saver. Storing documents for my research project became easy. It was especially helpful as I was doing consulting projects on the side. Following my Masters, that same friend said that Evernote was looking for a communications expert in Europe. I thought it was a unique company with a product that could change the world. I applied and they hired me 3 years and 2 months ago. We are now 20 people in the Zurich office (Evernote’s International HQ) including teams working in product development, sales, marketing and PR. We have really grown.
What are the greatest challenges in your work as European General Manager and how do you overcome those?
My biggest challenge is to explain what Evernote does in different countries and cultures, using the right way to communicate value and address peoples’ reservations about the product. All of our communications need to reinforce the value of Evernote and ensure that it is at the top of peoples’ minds across Europe when they consider their personal productivity.
On a corporate level, our challenge is keeping the spirit of a ‘100 year startup’ as we grow. This doesn’t happen automatically. We need to constantly be making sure that we are communicating our values and hiring the right people. It is both a challenge and opportunity at the same time.
You previously worked with the Vitra Design Museum. Has your love of architecture influenced your work at Evernote at all? If so, how?
When you care about design, working for Evernote is very rewarding. Evernote won awards at both the Red Dot Design awards and an Apple Design Award. The beauty of technology is related to that of furniture. In both cases, form follows function. The best UX comes when you are interacting with a beatifically designed product. Every single feature has been designed with seamless UX in mind. It’s great to be able to be part of a company so sensitive to design.
Please talk to us about the collaboration of Evernote with Moleskine? What inspired that collaboration?
Many people believe that Evernote's biggest competitor is pen and paper. We didn't see it that way. We wanted to be humble about the way we approached note taking. Why should we kill pen and paper? Instead, we thought, let’s give a digital life to people who love pen and paper. We know that the moment you fill your notebook, you have to start a new one. After a while, you accumulate many and searching through them can be very time consuming. We thought we could make that search easier by giving paper notes a digital presence. Therefore, making searching easier. Along side, Moleskine was wondering how they can still be relevant in digital landscape. This was an excellent opportunity for us to get together and come up with a compelling solution for an audience we both care about.
You spoke fondly of the book Great by Choice by Jim Collins. Why does this book resonate with you? What other books have changed the way that you see the world?
Great by Choice kills one of the main preconceptions we have that success is based on luck, destiny, and on things that are beyond our realm of control. The book emphasises that and discipline, focus and vision are integral to success by illustrating how very successful companies manage to grow by taking this disciplined approach. These businesses excelled not because of their idea, but because of execution, focus and taking small but consistent steps.
What do you find special about the London startup scene?
London is by far one the most dynamic startup ecosystems in Europe. There is an amazing amount of talented people. There are many smart and talented people who are not only thinking up great ideas, but making them a reality. There is also a great level of support in London. It was great to visit the co-working space Second Home recently and see groups of passionate people working diligently.
What do you think is the future of the workplace?
Technology will be anticipating what you need and be an extension of the way you work. The Apple Watch for example will allow us to have a much more seamless experience. If something is urgent you will have fewer steps to deal with it.
Outside of your work, what keeps you engaged?
My kids and family. It is great to see how fast they are growing. I read a lot and am constantly learning. I read a mix of non-fiction and fiction books, as well as articles and magazines. I like to stay connected to platforms and opinion leaders across the region. I’ve recently started meditating too and it has had a huge impact on my wellbeing. Discovering new cultures and travelling are also important to me, as is learning new languages. I’d love to be able to speak Japanese.
What key lessons can early stage startups learn from Evernote to help them become successful?
Our CEO’s main piece of advice is not to do it unless you are super passionate about your idea and your work. Despite the fact that your product need not be perfect in the early days, striving towards quality is something you should obsess over so that people will love your product and you’ll (hopefully) achieve organic growth through word of mouth. People need to see the benefit of your idea or business very quickly.