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The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth: A Student Perspective

John Yang-Sammataro, Stanford University January 31, 2012

During my first year as a teaching assistant for the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) seminar, I was as a green as could be. I wanted to go in every direction at once (and I still do). One night, the lead teaching assistant at the time, George Tang, took me aside. “You need to focus,” he said. “You should meet Phil. Phil Libin at Evernote. Phil is a really good guy.” A year later, I found myself in front of that very man.

Phil Libin

During his fall quarter ETL lecture, Libin joked, “I was so nerdy the high school chess team wouldn’t hang out with me!” While this may be a joke, you can see he really means it. Along with his enjoyment in entertaining an audience, two other things immediately standout when meeting Phil Libin.

Passionate Geekdom

First, Libin excludes an interminable passion about everything he does. You can see his eyes light up when he talks about his early obsession with “transcending the end of the world,” as a youth growing up in Soviet Russia. And a smile always creeps across his face when he mentions an interesting technology he played a part in building.

To Libin, Evernote is a company for the long term, with no exit strategy.

Most of all, Libin is unabashedly in love with his own product, Evernote, an idea and inspiration capturing application. He began his talk by taking a picture of the audience and uploading it to his Evernote account. To Libin, Evernote is a company for the long term, with no exit strategy. Libin is one to choose his passions and go all in. The feeling is infectious.

Advancing Goodness

Second, as George Tang told me a year ago, Libin is a really good guy. He is driven by goals of having a positive impact that are larger than him. His childhood desire of helping humanity preclude the end of the word is just one example.

When merging his startup with another to form Evernote, Libin talked of focusing on the best interests of all the individuals involved. He also applies this principle when Evernote acquires other startups. He stresses working with the cofounders of companies that Evernote acquires to take their product further than they could without it.

This focus on a better product exemplifies Libin’s vision of Evernote as an extension of humanity’s collective mind being used to combat what he sees as a plague of commonplace “stupidity” that threatens apocalypse. He is always thinking about creating products that support the goodness of the world.

Libin’s intense geek-passion for his product and his genuine mindfulness for the common good are qualities that I feel are sometimes overlooked in Silicon Valley. At Stanford, it often feels like startups are popping up everywhere. It is easy to believe that they also happened over night. Listening to the story of an entrepreneur like Libin puts things back in perspective.

Many of the greatest and longest lasting companies were decades in the making. Libin’s experience reminds me of something that a venture capitalist once told me — the best founders are those whose motivations for their company lie in their childhoods. The 100-year companies come from the ideas that inspire founders from their earliest ages. It is a matter of finding what those noble passions are and latching onto them with geek-like intensity.

Enjoy Evernote CEO Phil Libin’s ETL seminar.