Deciphering Notion’s entrepreneurial story: How can a small No-code idea subvert the global 60 billion productivity market?

concept startup insight

Preface

As a planning geek, I have used various productivity software, such as Evernote, Obsidian, etc., but I finally returned to Notion. After all, Notion's operation is really the most intuitive and the interface is the most beautiful. After moving your life to Notion, because you can completely customize it according to your own habits, it really feels like growing a second brain. 

During the process of using it, I couldn’t help but wonder, where did the idea of Notion, a “life hacker” come from? What is the interesting entrepreneurial story behind Notion?

So I deeply understood the background of the founder and Notion’s unique competitive advantages. Today I will share the founding story of this legendary company, product features, and how Notion gained a foothold in the productivity market!

If you only have 1 minute, you can just take away 3 takeaways

  1. More deprofessionalized services:
    The original intention of Notion is to provide a No-code platform for people who cannot write programs and define their own productivity tools. The core concept of "simplification and down-to-earth" is the key to Notion gaining a wide range of users.
  2. The era of high customization has arrived:
    Especially for productivity tools that are encountered every day, high degree of customization can increase user participation. After conquering the self-employed, they can then be promoted to the battlefield of corporate collaboration.
  3. The emotional connection between users and software is important:
    In the process of users building tools, it is like assembling IKEA furniture. You will have a higher emotional connection with the furniture you assemble, and the same goes for Notion productivity tools.

We have entered an era of global productivity madness

 

In 2024, the global productivity software market value will approach US$60 billion, and is booming at a compound annual growth rate of 14%. At the same time, as awareness of remote work becomes more and more popular, people's demand for collaboration software is also growing rapidly.

 

productivity software market

When it comes to productivity tools and enterprise collaboration software, it’s hard not to think of Notion, which makes “everything a block”.

Notion’s official website describes itself this way: “A space where thinking, writing and planning come together.”

concept workspace

We can build a personal database, manage calendars, and even use this space as a personal portfolio website. Notion is like our second brain, but it is more organized and structured at the same time.

 

Notion’s founding background

Founding philosophy: Specializing in serving people who can’t write programs,Create your own life tools

In 2012, Notion founder Ivan Zhu was helping his girlfriend build a fashion graduation portfolio website. As one of the few among his friends who could program, he built five websites to customize web pages for these talented designers.

notion founder Ivan Zhu
Ivan Zhu in Notion’s San Francisco office

But Ivan suddenly realized that this group of people had a sense of beauty and were full of ideas for website layout, but they were unable to implement their ideas due to lack of programming skills. Or there must be another group of people in the world who are good at project management and have great teams and products, but lack the programming foundation to build a customized platform to speed up their communication process.

Despite how much this society emphasizes the importance of programming languages, most people still can't write programs.
The demand for programming languages has never diminished: more customized websites, more automated collaboration spaces...

So Ivan and Chief Technology Officer Simon Last founded Notion in 2013, hoping to create a software that empowers non-technical people so that they can create their own online tools.

By developing Notion Beta (No code tool), the two began to create "Productivity Lego”, and received an initial angel investment of US$2 million. However, due to the "Lego" nature of Notion and the very young technical environment used at the time, the stacking of building blocks led to frequent system crashes. After three years of running out of development funds, the two founders laid off four employees and decided to leave San Francisco and start over.

From San Francisco to Kyoto, cutting off and retraining again and again

In 2015, Ivan and Simon decided to move to Kyoto, where the cost of living was lower, and began the journey of rebuilding Notion. While in Kyoto, the two spent more than 18 hours a day designing. They worked hard like this for three years. They stayed in the collaboration tool Figma for so long that the official noticed them!

Figma officials also wrote an article for them to record their entrepreneurial story:https://www.figma.com/blog/design-on-a-deadline-how-notion-pulled-itself-back-from-the-brink-of-failure/

Finally, Ivan and Simon released Notion 1.0 in 2018, a platform that combines notes, task management, and databases. Later, more embedded functions were added, such as media, web page bookmarks, etc.

concept users

These "Productivity Lego" building blocks came in more diverse shapes and colors, and eventually became a widely used collaboration tool today. In just 7 years since its launch,Notion has accumulated more than 30 million users, received more than US$350 million in financing, and is valued at more than US$10 billion.

Product Features: What is the difference between Notion and other productivity tools?

Creating tools that help people think is the value of Notion

notion tools

For Ivan and Simon, common tools such as Google docs and Dropbox only move paper documents to the cloud. The process of constantly copying and pasting text is no different from the past when we stapled documents together and put them in folders.What people need more is an integrated workspace. When information is integrated, it can truly assist users in thinking more comprehensively.

Productivity tools that take advantage of AI

concept AI

Notion continues to iterate and add application scenarios, such as to-do lists, product flow charts, customer databases, etc., which also allows Notion to carve out a niche among strong competitors such as Dropbox and Oracle.

The recent AI craze Notion is also used vividly. You can call the AI assistant to write various documents through a simple space key. It also fits the purpose of "helping you think":One-click Brainstorm ideas, from thinking about product functions to product names, it can also be connected to meeting records. In addition to daily applications for self-employed individuals, it also targets the core needs of enterprise users.

Core Competencies: Why has Notion become the dominant productivity tool?


A $10 billion growth engine thanks to two psychological effects

However, productivity tools combined with AI have sprung up on the market. For example, Microsoft launched Copilot, the old note-taking software Evernote, and the collaboration software Slack are all continuing to evolve. How does Notion continue to lead in the red ocean market of productivity?

IKEA effect

Why doesn’t IKEA just sell assembled furniture? Because when we buy parts from IKEA and assemble them ourselves, by personally participating in the creation process,We tend to give these pieces of furniture a higher value.

The same psychological effect applies to Notion. The page was originally blank. After we thought about our own needs, we started to build productivity Lego and created our own templates to track to-dos and manage life. Such a highly customized space allowed us to build it ourselves but never tired of it and couldn't bear to leave.

Notion, unlike other productivity software, provides users with more potential emotional value.

Maslow's Hammer Principle

"If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Notion uses a very low threshold (no code, ultra-intuitive user interface) to capture the most customers first, and then uses the cognitive biases that people have. The more you get used to using Notion, the more you start to place your entire life on this platform. , you will want to use him for everything.

Unique business model: You don’t know you are being sold!

Notion’s revenue source? Don’t rely on Sales, rely entirely on “penetration”

Most of the people who buy Notion products are corporate users, and Notion uses a very clever way to allow B2B customers to automatically purchase software, that is "product-led growth”.

Going back to the features mentioned in the Hammer Rules, Notion’s extremely low threshold for use allows self-employed individuals to use it for free, and these self-employed individuals will definitely include employees of some companies or even the founders of a certain company.

When Notion fully "penetrates" into their lives and creates stickiness, it is only reasonable for the company to choose Notion instead of random software as a collaboration tool in order not to cut off this smooth tool experience.

The great thing about Notion is that through inertia, sales are invisible and consumers are willing to buy.

This is the formula for Notion's success.

Conclusion

3 Notion takeaways for us

  1. More deprofessionalized services:
    The original intention of Notion is to provide a No-code platform for people who cannot write programs and define their own productivity tools. The core concept of "simplification and down-to-earth" is the key to Notion gaining a wide range of users.
  2. The era of high customization has arrived:
    Especially for productivity tools that are encountered every day, high degree of customization can increase user participation. After conquering the self-employed, they can then be promoted to the battlefield of corporate collaboration.
  3. The emotional connection between users and software is important:
    In the process of users building tools, it is like assembling IKEA furniture. You will have a higher emotional connection with the furniture you assemble, and the same goes for Notion productivity tools.

Notion template recommendation

Templates officially organized by Notion:https://www.notion.so/templates

Collection of other templates:https://www.pathpages.com/blog/best-free-notion-templates

Notion AI Tutorial:https://fc.bnext.com.tw/solutions/view/notion-ai

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