Tiang Lim Foo, APAC Market Development Lead, Evernote
Three years ago, US-based productivity brand most famous for its eponymous note-taking app Evernote saw an opportunity in Asia Pacific (APAC). It didn’t just put it on the to-do list; the firm hired an unofficial evangelist and pro-user to help out with expansion plans.
In mid-May 2014, the firm announced that it has more than 35 million users across all its apps (like Skitch and Penultimate) in APAC, which makes up about 35 per cent of its total user base.
Other regions are busy catching up, with Europe, Middle East and Africa at 31 million, US and Canada at 27 million, and eight million in Latin America.
Evernote’s APAC Market Development Lead, Tiang Lim Foo, sat down with e27 to talk about how the company will reach out to more users in the region. Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand are the markets that come within his purview.
Mobile is key
Firstly, the surge in internet penetration and access to smart devices is definitely a reason why consumers have started to use Evernote in APAC.
Asians in developing countries see the world through their smartphones. They download free apps featured on Google Play or the iOS App Store. “That’s (app stores) a very good discovery channel for us. We tend to see that more Asians are using Evernote on mobile,” said Tiang, “versus more matured economies or US or the West, in general.”
However, the reason behind these consumers staying on as Evernote users is universal, regardless of location. “They (consumers) aspire to be more productive,” he added. This point in itself is evident that the firm sees itself beyond being just another app for people to take notes with. Users can share, collaborate, record and insert photographs or sound bytes, or even make mind maps with their notes.
“There’s nothing stopping them,” said Tiang, who pointed to this author’s notebook and pen, “It’s the same as pen and paper but when you want to do more, … we’re there for you. It’s an option.”
Partner the telcos!
Secondly, its partnerships with telcos have definitely proven to be beneficial, he said. In August 2013, Evernote announced its partnership with Singaporean telco Starhub to offer post-paid, re-contracting and new customers with a complimentary one-year Evernote Premium subscription worth S$58 (US$46).
“They (telcos) have reach, they have distribution, they’re always finding ways to be more innovative,” he said. The firm has also partnered up with other telcos such as Japan’s NTT DOCOMO and Taiwan Mobile in Northeast Asia.
Tiang declined to disclose the number of paid customers in APAC. “It’s good enough. We don’t usually talk about that number,” he added.
One cannot help but wonder if Asians are inclined towards paying for services. He shared, “When we look at the data, it’s very consistent. By digging deeper, we realised that the key towards a premium user is to get them active in the first place.”
While the rest of Asia may or may not gravitate towards emptying their pockets and saying, “Take all my money!”, Japan has been a great supporter of Evernote. In 2013, Phil Libin, CEO, Evernote said, “About 20 per cent of our users and 30 per cent of our revenue comes from Japan.”
Consumers typically do not just jump on board offering to pay after using the service for a short period of time. They would test, test and test, until they find the platform satisfactory. They will fall in love with the brand. They will evangelise to their friends. The challenge for Evernote is to keep these users going.
The more features, the better?
“Loaded with features,” that’s how Jon Russell of The Next Web described Asian chat apps LINE and WeChat, compared to the more minimalistic WhatsApp and Telegram. While Asia is a huge place, and definitely not homogeneous in the sense that generalisation should be avoided, are the consumers in the region greedy for more? Are they all walking around with the mindset that more is better?
Tiang told this author about how the premium subscription for Evernote comes with a bevy of new, exciting features. For S$7 (US$5.58) a month or S$58 (US$46.20) a year, users can annotate PDFs, transform notes into presentations in less than a minute, scan business cards, get your articles read to you via Clearly, and turn into the world’s most productive person.
While a ton of features might entice the typical Asian user, the key here is relevancy. If the user is the only person in his or her office using Evernote to take minutes, the ability to collaborate might not make any sense. If the user is your average home-maker, the ability to conduct presentations might not matter.
Features also vary according to the platform the app is on. For example, while the Android app allows users to doodle and annotate via its handwriting feature, the iOS app does not. “My guess is that Android phones have bigger screens anyway,” he shared.
“The idea is not to design the same interface across all platforms,” said Tiang. He added, “You can’t truly surface the unique strengths and differences of each platform.”
Northeast Asia doing well, Southeast Asia getting there
In APAC, Evernote has a huge base in Australia, said Tiang, who estimated the number to be about 1.5 million users. “China is doing well, and Japan, Korea, Taiwan, lately we see accelerated growth, especially in Southeast Asia,” he added. Countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are doing “exceedingly well”, thanks to the aforementioned surge of smartphone sales.
Tiang also said that there are more premium users in “the more matured markets” as Evernote has been sowing its seeds in those locations for a longer period of time. “Compared to developing countries, not so much (growth in premium users). But that’s consistent with all digital services, anyway.”
In the next six months, consumers in Asia who are fans of Evernote can look forward to even more features, which he declined to reveal. He, however, did mention that the firm will be looking into how it can promote Evernote Business, and hold more events.
“Asians tend to respond better to events and meet-ups. Because of that, we tend to organise more in-person and “offline” events,” concluded Tiang.