What Evernote's Phil Libin Learned from Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman, and Others (#95)


Phil Libin (@plibin) is the co-founder and executive chairman of Evernote.

Evernote has roughly 150 million users, and I personally use it at least 10 times a day. It is my external brain for capturing all the information, documents, online articles, lists, etc. in my life.

In this episode, Phil and I cover a ton. Here are just a few examples:

  • Philosophical and performance systems: Stoicism, electrical brain stimulation, and more
  • Phil’s favorite lessons learned from Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), and Hiroshi Mikitani (Rakuten)
  • Creating tech “for yourself” and Evernote’s genesis story, leading to approximately 150 million users
  • The best toast in Singapore, the best hamburger in Tokyo, and why “Goat Simulator” is amazing
  • Long-term (10,000-year) thinking and real versus imagined threats

More importantly, he digs into his “a-ha” moments, and what you need to do to bring your next big idea to life.

#95: Lessons Learned from Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman, and More

Want to hear another podcast with more detail on brain stimulation for performance enhancement? — Listen to my conversation with amazing neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley. In this episode, we discuss what happens when you combine cognitive-focused video games with neurofeedback, magnetic and electrical stimulation, and even performance-enhancing drugs (stream below or right-click here to download):

#83: The Maverick of Brain Optimization


This episode is sponsored by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. Did you know I used 99Designs to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body? Here are some of the impressive resultsClick this link and get a free $99 upgrade. Give it a test run...

This podcast is also brought to you by Athletic Greens. I get asked all the time, “If you could only use one supplement, what would it be?” My answer is, inevitably, Athletic Greens. It is my all-in-one nutritional insurance. I recommended it in The 4-Hour Body and did not get paid to do so. Get 50% off your order at Athletic Greens.com/Tim

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: When you think of successful products, what is the first that comes to mind? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Selected Links from the Episode

Elite Dangerous | Goat Simulator | Radical Rappelling

The Gatekeepers | Cosmos (Tyson) | Cosmos (Sagan) | An Honest Liar

Twitter | Evernote

Show Notes

  • Why shave the trademark beard? [0:45]
  • How I was introduced to Evernote: what it is and how to use it [2:30]
  • The “aha” moment at Evernote and theological horizontal integration [8:15]
  • Common uses of Evernote and how Phil personally uses it [10:45]
  • The CEOs and leaders that Phil admires [18:15]
  • Important lessons Jeff Bezos gave Phil that changed his life [25:30]
  • Lessons for scaling businesses from Hiroshi Mikitani [29:05]
  • What makes Reid Hoffman compelling [39:30]
  • Thoughts on religion and philosophy [43:30]
  • Most used apps besides Evernote [49:55]
  • Thoughts on living in space [53:45]
  • Thoughts on the end of the world scenarios [55:10]
  • Favorite documentaries and movies [1:0045]
  • Phil’s strategies for taking great notes [1:09:35]
  • When you think of the word “successful,” who is the first person that comes to mind? [1:16:00]
  • Which historical figure do you most identify with? [1:18:10]
  • Phil’s meditation practice [1:21:45]
  • In the last 6-12 months, what purchase of $100 or less had the most impact on your life? [1:29:50]
  • Phil’s morning and evening ritual [1:34:05]
  • Phil’s most recommended books [37:40]
  • Why philosophy is important for decision making and leadership as a CEO [1:39:25]
  • If you could have one billboard anywhere, where would it be and what would it say? [1:44:00]
  • Advice for your thirty-year-old self [1:45:45]
  • Parting advice or suggestions [1:46:55]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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59 Replies to “What Evernote's Phil Libin Learned from Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman, and Others (#95)”

  1. Great interview, Tim! I’m such a big fan of Evernote, due to you and your first book! I use it constantly for literally everything in my life. That would totally be an example of a great successful product for me. Among others, though some might argue, is Photoshop 🙂

  2. Catching up on some of the podcasts just now. So grateful for this mind food. Thank you, and keep them up–please!!!!!

  3. Very informative and inspiring as always! But the times for the show notes are off by about six and a half minutes due to the show introduction.

  4. La Croix. I’m drinking one now. Great right from the can (for some reason they stay cool even in a hot car), and lovely with vodka.

  5. Hi Tim,

    Well done on the coconut oil 😉

    Happy to listen to your podcasts again. Going from Bali to NJ gives me a fast connection again.

    Thanks for sharing!


  6. Another great interview. I’d love to see more podcasts with the CEOs and other notable people that work for the businesses that Tim advises/invests in (e.g. Shopify, Uber).

    Question of the Day

    Sorry to go low-tech, but I just got done cooking dinner so the first thing I thought of is my Lodge dutch oven. The thing is an amazing piece of cookware. I can use it on the stovetop, in the oven, or over coals. As long as it is taken care of, it will last for generations. It’s definitely reigning as the best purchase I’ve made for under $100.

  7. Are these show notes accurate? I went to 1:39 25 and couldn’t find the corresponding answer. I also went to 1:0935 and didn’t get the answer. Just checking if the show notes were for the podcast: ” Lessons learned…”

    1. The last time I tried to follow the cues on the show notes I came across the same thing. I’m not sure that those times account for the ads at the beginning of the podcast – I was able to find the answers to the corresponding question a few minutes after the time listed in the show notes. Hopefully this helps clear up some confusion.

  8. Tim, love the podcasts! The show notes are fantastic, as they let me access the tasty bits at my leisure…great plan!

    So, the first product that comes to mind is one that defined a niche: the iPod. Before this, mp3 players were already a thing, but the iPhone’s form and function allowed it to become the definitive iteration of that product type. Then you can add the iTunes ecosystem and following products like iPad and iPhone…

    Do you know how much it kills an Apple anti-fanboy to say this??

  9. Interesting podcast. Her sister Kelly McGonigal is also reallycool. I’d well recommend reading her book ‘The Will Power Instinct’ particularly the audiobook… really nicely done, informative and actionable.

  10. I consider Basecamp as a very succesful product. Is easy to use, simple and every element is designed beyond the users experience. Also Basecamp makes me feel more profesional and productive.

  11. Tim – Perhaps I misunderstood Phil Libin’s relationship with Reid Hoffman, but I didn’t think repeatedly asking Libin about what makes Hoffman compelling was very effectively. If I were interviewing Evernote’s co-founder, I’d ask —

    1) More about his use of the product: lots of notebooks or one general notebook? heavy tagging or minimal tags? when does he decide to archive notes? More of a searcher or more of a categorizer?

    2) Re: OCR recognition in photos on Evernote — it’s a neat trick, but it’s not a substitute for extracting information and summarizing it. For example, I can photograph business receipts and maybe search them, but ultimately I am interested in the information across my receipts and compiling it to create a record of my total expenses. So do you tend to photograph — or enter the text with more context??

    3) Companies are buzzing about big data and using data analytics to understand their customers and processes. How would you think Evernote could empower its customers to apply data analytics to better understand their own information?

    4) Are you organized or messy in your own workspace? Any observations about employees of Evernote?

    5) A lot of Evernote users (and Tim Ferriss listeners) probably are familiar with Getting Things Done (GTD) systems — whether it’s David Allen’s method of that name or another productivity-boosting system — why do you think these methods have blossomed? How does Evernote figure into this?

    Just thoughts … maybe you didn’t want the interview to be so work-centric … but I figured many (most?) of your listeners are familiar enough with Evernote that it would be interesting to hear more about how the creator of Evernote uses it.

  12. I think you may be on to something with the D&D game play early on in life and becoming successful. I think Vin Diesel was also an avid D&D gamer as well. For whatever reason it seems that game gets mentioned a lot.

    Will try the Enji Burger this week, sounds awesome and will let you know what they’ve named the so called Fried egg burger.

    The time machine bit was classic. Probably the best and funniest answer I’ve heard yet to that question.

    I am going to ask my friend in the Ad biz here about the chances of setting up a Suntory photo shoot for Phil.

    Tim, you are absolutely crushing it with the podcasts! Inspiring to say the least.

    Ja, ne.

    1. The Enji Hamburg was fan-friggintastic. It’s called the Sendai Beef Hamburg, and found out why Phil was getting such a hard time with the fried egg topping. They serve you rice with a raw egg to put on top. Even though they now have a fried egg listed as a topping, they asked me if I still wanted that because of the raw egg that comes with it. I’m not sure if they have English menus, but if your Japanese is skosh, just order the item at the very top of the lunch menu. Then say “medama yaki onegaishimasu” for the fried egg topping. Then just keep saying “daijyoubu” when they start explaining the raw egg and rice deal. Yukkuri douzo!

    2. Hey did you try the burger? I am going to Tokyo in 4 days and would love to try it but can’t find it on google. Can you give me any tips on the address?

      Thanks in advance.


      1. Viktor,

        Thanks for asking and the burger was great. I’ve been there three times already since I wrote the last comment. Here is a good link with a map to their location – http://www.kazenoshiwaza.com/enji/index_english.html

        The menu is in Japanese, but they might have one in English. If not, choose the burger that is second from the top. The top one is regular and the one just below that on the menu is smoked. The lunch is priced very reasonably at around 1,100 yen. Dinner is by reservation only and will cost at least 5,000 yen per person.

        I stop at the Shimbashi Station on the Ginza Line to get there. It is about a 5 minute walk from there. Also, here is the kanji for Ginza Enji which is what you will see when you get to restaurant – 銀座 煙事.

        Let me know if you have any other questions and enjoy the burger.



  13. Yeah, the title got me. But it made me hate you. I saw Jeff Bezos and said to myself, “Damn! The Awesome Tim is interviewing Jeff Bezos!”. Then I took a moment to click through and discovered you had baited me.

    You don’t need to bait me. I love you. I look at all of your blog posts.

    One of the reasons I love you is because I trust you. I often think about the difference between you and Dave Asprey. I like Dave but I don’t really trust him. He’s such a good salesman that he’s not believable. Or perhaps because he’s always selling – he’s constantly trying to get me to buy – I never know if he’s telling me the truth in full. You, on the other hand, rarely say something that raises my doubt/BS flags.

    So when you deceive me I feel triply upset.

    I will get over it. In fact, I’ve moved this podcast to the front of the line because I’m interested in hearing Phil’s progression story from founding to success. It’s timely. Thanks as always for the great interviews.

  14. The “AI will kill all humans” point is pretty easy to understand. By default an AI will only care about what it’s programmed to care about. If you don’t explicitly program it to care about people being alive and happy, then it will view humanity as at best as a nuisance and at worst as a competitor. Assuming that the AI will learn to care about humans because it is smart is overly anthropocentric. The burden of proof is really on the person who believes an AI would be friendly by default.

  15. This podcast was excellent (as are all of the podcasts).

    During this podcast in particular (quite possibility due to the subject of Evernote— a tool I could NOT live without), a curiosity came to mind, which may have already been brought up at a previous point in time (please mind my ignorance if so).

    Question/Curiosity: Is there or has anyone created a full list of the books mentioned every podcast from the past?

    I personally could imagine creating a single reference (in Evernote of course) for every book ever mentioned during a podcast, maybe including metadata as well or a system for highlighting books mentioned more than once during different podcasts.

    Tim does a fantastic job at listing this information in the show notes of course, but I can’t help wondering if a list like this (aside from his other book lists) has been created by anyone already. If so, I would be grateful to gain access to it and if not, I feel it would be a worthy effort to go through each of the podcast show notes and retrieve this information.


  16. Great product….hmm. Going to recommend something that has been around for centuries and for good reason — the axe. Specifically a Gransfor Bruks axe. Hand-forged, razor sharp, and built to last 3 lifetimes if taken care of. So many uses and for those of us who are not just interested in tech, but more “hands on” gear, this is it. Requires skill to use, sharpen and own. It is a tool and a teacher.

  17. Hi Tim, great podcast, as usual–just wanted to point out a couple of corrections re: Thich Nhat Hanh.

    1. That’s how you spell his name.

    2. The “first book” you’re thinking of is probably The Miracle of Mindfulness. It was written for members of the Buddhist service organization he was running during the Vietnam War. Very much a field guide for people practicing mindfulness under extremely difficult circumstances–which also makes it relevant to the stoic entrepreneur set.

    3. Peace is Every Step is a different book but also great.

  18. Note to your 30 year self…”Dude, don’t worry about anything, cause it thirteen years you’ll have a time a machine.” Brilliant:)

  19. When I think of a successful product, the first thing that comes to mind is the ability to be universally understood. It doesn’t have to be accepted by everyone, but even people who don’t like it will still understand why it’s important.

    “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” (the old version) has been an enormous help in developing our “Cosmic Mugs,” specifically owning exclusivity while setting up a new category in which we have the opportunity to be first. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Phil is right about the effect that physical note taking has on people. Last year, I was prospecting galleries in Milwaukee. I met an owner, asked him questions and wrote down answers in my leather-bound journal. He insisted I come to dinner with him and his other artists, and then proceeded to buy me whiskey, beer and kickass BBQ. He wouldn’t let me pay a dime, but did accept some of my best pots as a thanks. He said, “Keep writing in that journal, people will keep inviting you places.”

    P.s. Phil’s got a point with the Empire Strikes Back…the Battle of Hoth? Tauntauns? Yea bro!

  20. This dude is hysterically awesome! Great episode.

    Also, Kumare is one of my fav documentaries (as recommended by you) so thanks for that also.

  21. Phil is a master of humorous irony. Tim – enjoyed your moments of pivot in response and thoughtful questioning as ever. My “must go back to”s:

    0:40 – on job cycles, Silicon Valley versus Europe

    1:19 – on meetings, connecting and levering how our memories work

    1:23 – success. I loved Phil’s angle. And – as with the philosophical-successful, homage to luck.

    Thank you both.

    – noted in Evernote….;)

  22. Tech companies nowadays seem to lack attention to detail and rush to chase the new fad, e.g. new UI. Why. after many years, are we still unable to print from Evernote without bold and italics being messed up? Guess it’s not sexy to work on the boring mundane, but essential, things…

  23. I am shocked to hear that Phil found it so easy to get “coaching” from several iconic CEOs, and really impressed to hear that he would send an open invitation to meet him during his lunches. I love the attitude of making himself accessible and to some extend paying it forward.

    Tim, I’d love to do my small part to help you and contribute to everyone’s learning, but I’m struggling to get in touch with you.

  24. Great interview Tim! I have been a long time fan and avid user of Evernote. It really helps me to keep track of everything that is important! Keep em coming!

  25. This re-sparked my energy for using Evernote after IT at work out a downer on it by making it not work 9-5.

    I just tried to buy the laptop stickers, but I don’t think they actually sell them any more 🙁

  26. Great interview….. just started using Evernote after listening to the podcast. Thank you! I have been looking for such a tool to capture all my content and ideas. Thanks Tim…

  27. One of your best interviews….Phil is such a down to earth and real person. Sometimes your guests are so successful that they don’t seem to be from the same planet as the rest of us, but I feel like most listeners connected with Phil as one of us who has made it big.

  28. Great podcast – there was mention of a growth rule – 3 and 10 where processes and systems break each time a company triples in size. Where can I find more info on this topic? Keep up the great work. 🙂

  29. Great interview Tim. Evernote is an expanded aggregate of everything I have in my brain. Its a way of keeping my crazy calm on the inside. I think that if I was to pass away that my children would be able to know who I was and what I was thinking or what inspired me by going through my Evernotes.

    Loved the Hiroshi Mikitani aspect of scaling – GOLD, pure GOLD. I have always used the military span of control (1 to 5) to command and control through leadership. Which isn’t fluid enough for civilian life. Thank you!

  30. Fascinating and funny guy but, yikes, uses the word “like” more often than a junior high cheerleader. Just a little distracting…

  31. Speed of Change:

    Another way to think of the ‘3 Employee Turnover’ rule for change – These are ‘generations’ (think ‘Structure of Scientific Revolutions’). Faster generations = faster evolution.

    Also may tie into ‘First they ignore you (current generation), then they ridicule you (second generation), then they fight you (third generation), then you win (culture is ‘changed’).

  32. In the middle of the podcast now, just past the A.I. discussion and had to post this. I have recently run into Tim Urban’s long form blog, “Wait but why”. I started with his huge, multi part post on Elon Musk, Tesla, and Space X – excellent. Great writing.

    Then I started to read his other blogs. One particularly horrifying one on A.I. His explanation of how Super Intelligent A.I. can “turn bad” is eye opening and unimaginably simple.

    A MUST READ for those wondering about A.I.

    Anyways, back to the podcast…

    Thanks, Tim for all the great information you put out there.

  33. surprised how quickly he backtracked on his entire life’s goal of getting to Mars, lost credibility, Bezos is that intimidating???

  34. Would you recommend hiring someone with experience to do the SEO,

    or do you do it in-house?

    What Evernote’s Phil Libin Learned from Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman, and Others – The latest addition to my

    weekly read!

  35. Loved the Hiroshi Mikitani aspect of scaling – GOLD, pure GOLD. I have always used the military span of control (1 to 5) to command and control through leadership.

    [Moderator: website removed]

  36. Great job Tim! Evernote helps organize my day to day activities big times. I’m looking forward to more podcasts with other CEOs if possible.

  37. Capitalism is on its way out Tim. Being a capitalist is not going to be cool anymore. How we serve others with the money we attract is the call. How do we give and help others live and not hoard for security and power is a big call from our Mother Earth. Thank you.