Notion: from bust to absolute rockstar

Notion: from bust to absolute rockstar

The Notion team was kicked off in 2013 by two friends - Ivan Zhao & Simon Last. Notion has now evolved into a suite of project management, collaboration & communication tools for today's digital world. Notion started as an idea in the minds of two friends but quickly became one of the fastest-growing startups in Silicon Valley! Notion has grown from nothing into a rockstar success story with over 200 employees and 20 million users worldwide.

We'll discuss some principles of how the two founders came back from the brink of extinction after building an app that didn't resonate with users (a programming application for non-coders). Then, as they began to test the market - at that time, they figured users didn't want that solution (although, sounds pretty appealing now... Ivan? Simon? Any chance?)

A few key principles we think Notion got right:

  • Design First Thinking
  • A focus on conversion rate optimization (CRO) & community-focused marketing.
  • Intuitive UX design
  • A team-first, collaborative approach

Design First Thinking

Design thinking is a human-centred problem-solving approach in which individuals or teams in business, education, government, or any other type of organization. Design thinking focuses on empathizing with the user, defining the problem, ideating solutions, prototyping, and testing.

The Notion team applied design thinking to their app when re-starting from scratch (Rumour has it Ivan was a Figma 'Super User').

First, they interviewed potential users to figure out what they wanted in a programming application. This helped them focus on building an intuitive and easy app to use, which also looked beautiful, resulting in high conversion rates.

A focus on conversion rate optimization (CRO)

Today's App market is more than just downloads. It's an intense battle to grab the attention of new users and convince them that your app is what they need. When it comes to convincing people, there are several key factors involved. Still, one of the most important numbers on your dashboard is your conversion rate. This means how many people download or visit your app after seeing a link or ad for it.

The Notion team realized early on that user acquisition was super important & focused on community driving. There is no better advertising than genuine positive reviews from users & word of mouth - advocacy is one of the most effective forms of marketing. An impressive 85% of their traffic is driven from organic search & their Reddit community is over 165K strong - an approach rarely seen in a typical business model & shows the strength of their product & founder/user relationship.

They invested a lot into building an engaging product and optimizing their app for better conversion rates (which lead to more advocacy &, therefore downloads). They adopted a feedback loop like this:

  • Users use the app & give inputs on what works/doesn't work via open community forums.
  • Data collected from each step of the funnel & founder engagement to allow users to feel part of the journey
  • App developers make changes based on data collected & new features launched back to users.

This process helped them iterate towards a solution that catered to different types of users - making it easier for them to be converted. It also showed their strength as a business for not relying on mounting advertising costs & VC funding.

Notion - Dec 17, 2018

Intuitive UX design

UX, or User Experience Design, is another way of saying how easy it is for users to interact with and use your product. Regarding apps, people are used to quickly browsing through a list of app icons on their phone, clicking on the one they want, and using it. Therefore, if your app's design is confusing or cluttered, users will be frustrated and more likely to delete it.

The Notion team made sure their app was easy to use by focusing on intuitive UX design from the start. This included designing an easy-to-use interface with helpful tooltips, designing for different screen sizes, and creating a logical layout that made sense.

Notion, Dec 17 2018

A team-first, collaborative product

Notion is the perfect example of a team-first product. In a growing, remote-focused world - online collaboration is becoming more critical. Tools that accommodate working together to come up with new ideas, testing and iterating on prototypes, and working around each other's strengths and weaknesses are crucial in today's working world.

Notion was created with this in mind. The team worked together to develop a product that would help them all be more productive. They focused on creating a tool that would make it easy to share ideas and work on projects together - in real-time.

If you enjoyed this article, stay tuned for the remainder of our 'Notion Series':

  • How storytelling enabled Notion to grow to $10Bn & a robust organic community.
  • How Superhuman used storytelling to create a 'red carpet' brand.

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