Organic SaaS Growth: #9 Breaking Down Notion's Organic Growth Strategies

By Ankur Tiwari on 23-02-2020

Notion is valued at more than $800 million, has one million users and upvoted by more than 6000 Product Hunt users.

This over the top growth is a lesson for early stage SaaS startups.

Why?

Because almost all of Notion’s growth has been organic.

Breaking Down Notion's Organic Growth Strategies

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Originally started in 2014 with a seed round and a team of 4, Notion has survived, pivoted and reinvented itself to become one of the most looked after SaaS companies today.

Notion is a notes taking app which calls itself “All In One Workspace”. You can do a lot of things on Notion and replace multiple apps generally used for notes, wikis, tasks, projects, spreadsheets, CRM and much more. Evernote is Notion’s nearest rival.

For all its success, Notion’s growth activities remained almost surgical. In this issue, I am taking you deep into Notion’s organic growth strategies.


Product

Notion’s story is a true product lead growth story. It is an “all-in-one” productivity app. Ease of use fueled by drag and drop functionality impresses its users.

This decade has been different from its predecessor in terms of role the design has played to the success of internet companies. This decade saw deep research into user journeys and ease of use. Design has come to play a key role and became a differentiation. A lot of Notion’s users talk highly of its product design.

Notion as a product is built largely as a "one stop solution”. Once you are in its ecosystem you do not really to talk to other services significantly. Hence they have not built multiple integrations like Zoom or Slack has done. However to make it easy for users to adopt Notion, they have built easy integrations.

notion's integrations
Integrations offered by Notion

These integrations are limited to those services from which users are expected to migrate.


Traffic Analysis

Over 93% of Notion’s traffic is organic which largely constitute of direct and search traffic.

Notion's website traffic
Notion's Website Traffic

This means majority of visitors are coming to Notion directly using their URL. This indicates that visitors were aware of the Notion before hand. A highly targeted community based engagement has the potential to result such traffic.

Notion is in fact engaged in building a community . They organize meetups across countries and have built location wise local groups.

They curate apps created by users in the Notion Template Gallary .

Notion's search traffic
Notion's search traffic

Here are the Notion’s top keywords which are all branded keywords:

Notion's top keywords
Notion's top keywords

Having Github as a major traffic source is an indicator of developers building apps on Notion.

Why is YCombinator sending the traffic? We will find out soon.

Top sites referring to Notion
Top sites referring to Notion

Key Takeaways

  1. If your product is such where developers, designers etc can create their own work, give them a platform to showcase it.
  2. Build local chapters and communities. These high touch engagements go long way in improving customer life time value (LTV).

Distribution

Over half of the startups from YCombinator’s most recent batch are Notion’s customers. Notion has also approached accelerators like 500 Startups and TechStars offering their startups $1000 in free credits.

AWS does this too. They readily sponsor startup competitions and offer $1000 in free credits. I had once received such a coupon. It is a different matter that even after more than 18 months I have used only $113 out of it as I find AWS too complicated for me.

Targeting startups so early in their journey is a very smart play. Notion counts companies with 100 or less employees as their core users. Becoming an 'operating system’ for startups when they are still in incubator programs is an easy way to ensure continuous flow of new users for years to come.

Top sites referring to Notion
Top sites referring to Notion

Key Takeaways

Clearly define who your customers are and where they are found en masse. Target those channels with all you have got.


Users’ Journey To Value Discovery - Help In Decision Making

In issue #7 of this newsletter I had discussed about Shortening the Users’ Journey To Value Discovery. A key step in user journey confusion and decision making. Every company must try to help users at this stage. Helping users fight confusion and make a decision in its favor.

On its homepage Notion features multiple gif showing the usage of its product. These gif quickly helps in showing the value of the product to visitors.

Some companies do it using images and explainer videos. I personally favor gif as they are light weight, non intrusive and quickly show the value.

product explainer gif
Product explainer gif

Notion also creatively poach customers from its competitors. Notion does this by boldly calling out unsatisfied users of Evernote. They have built a dedicated resource to help such users migrate to Notion in just few clicks.

targeting evernote's unsatisfied customers
targeting evernote's unsatisfied customers

Key Takeaways

  1. Shorten the Users’ Journey to Value Discovery: Build resources to help them fight confusion and take a decision in your favor.
  2. Make it super easy for unsatisfied users of competitors to migrate to your product. Entice the ones sitting on fence. This will require building efficient single click tools. It is an engineering activity.

WSJ Article and PH Launch

Notion saw explosive growth in 2018 with the launch of Notion 2.0. In March 2018, they launched on Product Hunt. Team Notion had experience launching on PH. Back in 2016, they launched Notion 1.0 on PH which got hunted by Naval Ravikant. Since then they have been launching updates and products every year on PH.

During the same month, David Pierce published an article praising the app on Wall Street Journal .

Though I could not find any back story, my hunch is article on WSJ and successful PH launch did not happen by themselves. Media article had helped Zoom too, to gain initial traction. However to make this happen, Zoom team systematically engaged Walt Mossberg over months, even meeting him in person for a demo.

Key Takeaways

  1. Research well on Product Hunt launch. To gain first hand experience, launch product every time you have a new version. Also launch blog or any other resource you have built to help users. All with same brand name.
  2. Engage with superstar users on social or email. Canva in its early days found out that Guy Kawasaki is using their product. They met him in person and roped him as their evangelist. Guy loved the product so it was an easy deal. Someone with following like Guy Kawasaki talking about your product in high spirits is worth his weight in gold. I am very sure that being hunted by Naval Ravikant in 2016 had helped Notion build credibility.
  3. Engage with industry analysts and journalists. This is easier than it sounds. By nature of their work, they are on lookout for interesting stories. If you reach out to them to share your product months before you want to get published and keep them engaged with stories, chances are they will write about you. I for once chanced upon a journalist who had changed cities and was between jobs. She happened to write on something related to the domain of one my businesses. I readily helped her with domain research as well as offered her a free copy of a ebook I had written. We ended up being covered in one of her articles later.

Paid Advertising

I could not find any of Notion’s Google ads. However they are running a handful of facebook ads with a single funnel:

Facebook Ad > Free Notion For Students

notion's facebook ad
Notion's Facebook ad

To be very honest, there is nothing exciting in their Facebook ads neither the company seems to be going big on ads.

This should act as a reminder that paid advertising has nothing to do with SaaS companies atleast for first few years.

In the issue #3 of this newsletter, I have argued for using Facebook ads to determine the positioning by generating statistically significant data. Using ads for growth experiments is different from using ads as acquisition channels.

Key Takeaways

  1. If you are a new company, stay away from paid ads. Improve product and positioning, build a repository of user research and build as many organic channels of growth as possible.
  2. Use ads for growth experiments if required.

That’s all I wanted to discuss today on Notion's organic growth strategies. I hope you enjoyed this research.

Thank you for reading the #09 issue of the Organic SaaS Growth newsletter. If you have not yet subscribed to the newsletter, please click here to subscribe.

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