Building a Productive Tech Startup Using Evernote Business

In a normal office situation, you usually know whom to go to for which information. Perhaps you have a short chat at the water cooler, or you plan a face-to-face meeting to have a more difficult question answered.

As your company grows, this becomes more challenging. Not only does it get more complicated to figure out who holds what information, there might simply not be a way to know what everyone else in your company knows.

Maybe that senior engineer at the other end of the building, is taking an online course on growth hacking in his spare time. Or the receptionist holds a treasure of research on Chinese culture, because she lived there as a student. Often the only way to figure this out in organizations of 30+ people is by pure coincidence. Usually this doesn’t happen at the moment when you’re actually looking for that particular knowhow.

Multiply times five for remote workers

When you’re building a company of remote workers (like we’re doing at Saent), this problem increases exponentially. You hardly ever have real face time with your team mates (though you might be doing a lot of FaceTime 😉

Knowing what everyone else in the team knows becomes extremely difficult. This is why the first tool we’re implementing and “standardizing” at Saent is Evernote Business.

Evernote Business?!

Lots of people are still wondering why they personally should use Evernote, let alone why a whole team would need Evernote Business?

Here’s the short answer (taken from an internal memo on the subject I sent the team):

We’re digital knowledge workers. A lot of what we do comes down to information, which we need to process, share and be able to retrieve. Doing this well presents a competitive advantage, ensures your sanity and saves time.”

Evernote Business helps us do that.

Of course this leads to more questions, such as:

  1. What’s the difference between Evernote and tools such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or even Word?
  2. How do we use Saent at Evernote Business?
  3. Why are we sharing this?

1. Why Evernote is different

I’ll admit, the name is a bit confusing. With the word “note” in there, Evernote can easily be mistaken for a simple note-taking app. I wouldn’t blame you for doing so.

Nevertheless, throw that notion overboard now.

Yes, Evernote is build up out of notes and notebooks, but you can do much more than virtually scribble things down. A better way of describing an Evernote note is like a digital shoebox. You can write notes in it, but also put other virtual stuff in there, such as pictures, audio files, articles, basically anything.

You can then organize these notes in whatever way you want. You put them in notebooks, which in turn you can put in different stacks of notebooks. This is similar to a tree structure, like what you would do with folders on your computer, or on Google Drive and Dropbox.

There are two features which make this much more powerful though:

  1. Tags. You can add as many tags to each note as you like. This means you can not only find your notes by going through the standard hierarchy of notebooks and stacks (vertically), but also by searching on specific tags (horizontally).
  2. Powerful search. Evernote comes with a great search function that goes deep into your notes. It searches through all the content, even going as far as recognising text in images you took and stored in Evernote (Premium feature).

In our internal memo, I explained this as horizontal and vertical axes:

Hierarchy of folders and notes:
Vertical axis (like folders)

Stack = collection of notebooks
     Notebook = collection of notes
          Note = media container

Horizontal axis

Tags: can be attached to individual notes.
Important note (no pun intended): you can not create sub-notebooks, so the deepest level of hierarchy you can create is: ‘Stack > Notebook > Note’.”

Your external brain
The combination of these features means that Evernote is the perfect place to store everything you might ever want to remember. You could attempt to do something similar with Google Drive or Dropbox, but the workflow is much more clunky.

Want to file an article you read? With Evernote, you simply use the Web Clipper to suck it into your external brain right from your browser. With Google Drive or Dropbox, you have to first save it as a PDF, make sure you give it a good name and then add it to a folder. This is cumbersome. Actually finding that information one year later is even more complicated, if you ever find it at all.

In other words, what Evernote excels at is not note-taking, but managing knowledge (information). Storing it, retrieving it and, perhaps most importantly, sharing it.

2. How we use Evernote Business at Saent

As an innovative technology and productivity company, knowledge is perhaps our most important asset. By giving everyone in the team access to Evernote Business, we all tap into the same external brain.

Everyone in our team is encouraged to store as much as they want in Evernote. Not just articles on topics that are directly related to our business, but also on subjects that simply spike their interest. Notes on meetings. Rough ideas. Contracts. The more we have in there, the more valuable it becomes.

Why?

Evernote is like our internal Google. When you’re looking for new information on a topic, the first place to search is within Evernote. This tells you two things:

  1. What kind of information do we already have within the team?
  2. Who has been adding this information, hence probably knows about or has an interest in this topic?

In fact, Evernote Business has several features that help you answer these two questions, even if you’re not specifically looking for those answers:

  • Context: when I’m drafting a document or article in Evernote, it will automatically show me notes with related info on what I’m typing about.
  • Search results: when you install the Web Clipper mentioned earlier, you can turn on an option to also show Evernote notes from your own team in your (Google) search results.

This means that whenever you’re writing, doing research or simply searching for something, you’ll automatically know who has been involved with that topic before.

How to structure this?

You might wonder what kind of information to put in there and how to structure it. Especially when you’re new to Evernote, the blank canvas you’re presented with can be overwhelming and puzzling.

Here are some examples of the notebooks we use (copied from our internal memo. You can read the full list in the actual memo here):

Stack: The Brain

Notebook: correspondence
Contains copies of all important communication which is sent out. Explanations, feedback, proposals and agreements should all go in here. This can easily be done by bcc’ing Evernote in any email you deem worthy to store here.

Notebook: shared articles
Here any one of us can (and should 🙂 save and clip articles (and PDFs) that can somehow be of interest to someone within the company. These don’t have to necessarily be productivity related, but can also be about management, product design, history, futurism or anything else which can provide inspiration, insights and wisdom, now or in the future.

Notebook: FUI (Frequently Used company Info)
This notebook is for storing any info which often needs to be referenced. Think of the company office route description (if we had an office :), phone numbers, biographies, color codes for the logo, etc. Feel free to add notes of stuff which you think is relevant and needs to be referenced by either internal or external people (you can share access to a specific note with others. Make sure to mark these notes with [public] in the title).

Stack: The Lab

Notebook: product research
Here you’ll find articles and notes with anything relevant to our current product development. It includes competitors, clipped articles and other thoughts on the product. This will clearly need some (re)organization as we develop more products and start adding more stuff in here, but it’s a good place to start searching for info on a certain topic related to the product.

Stack: The Safe

Notebook: legal documents
As the name suggests, copies of contracts and other legal documents are kept in this notebook.”

There are definitely more features and ways to use Evernote Business, but we’re just getting started. Knowledge managing and sharing is the core purpose, for now.

3. Why are we sharing this?

Like other (remote) companies such as Groove, Buffer and Zapier, we put an emphasis on transparency in as much of what we do as reasonably possible. We believe a lot of issues within (traditional) organizations are caused by information hoarding.

Being transparent in everything you do, ensures accountability and honesty (it also filters out people who are not comfortable with those things automatically, as they would never want to have their ideas, emails and documents exposed).

The same goes for sharing ideas and best practices publicly. By sharing this, we hope to hear from others on how they use Evernote Business (comments welcome below), or perhaps how they solve the issue of knowledge management and sharing in a different way. This benefits everyone, including us!

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