How Notion Grows

What we can learn about product-led and community-led growth strategies from a $10bn SaaS startup.

Jaryd Hermann
5 min readOct 20, 2022

Every other week, I pick one company/startup you probably know, and go deep on their go-to-market strategy, how they acquired early customers, and what their current growth engine looks like.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, join the other folks interested in growing a company by subscribing to my free newsletter

Hi friends 👋

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been going down several a rabbit hole to learn as much as I can about a humble little multi-billion dollar company called Notion — trying to get a solid understanding of what’s made them such a startup success story, as well as what actionable, no bullshit, advice I can extract for us to use on growth — and there’s a lot if it!

So, in this first ever How they Grow essay/newsletter/post/memo/piece or whatever we end up calling this, I excitedly bring you…

Here’s what to expect:


  • What they do, where they came from, why we should care
  • Market positioning

How they grow

  • Product-led growth
  • Community-led growth

As we go, I’ll be calling out key learnings and takeaways that can help all of us build and grow better businesses, and also sound smarter in our next meeting. 😎

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from this deep dive!

  • Try solve your own problems. One of the best ways to find a startup idea is to just be observant to your own problems and needs. Solve your own problems and you’ll have a good grip on who your customer will be.
  • It’s okay to copy. Ivan Zhao said on an AMA forum, “Our guiding light has always being history. To be honest nothing is new in Notion. We copied everything from earlier systems.”
  • Bring in people with the right experience. Everyone Ivan brought in to co-found his idea had a background that made sense and contributed — this creates mindshare.
  • Have a big vision, but find your Trojan horse. A big and inspiring vision is what get’s people to quit their job, get paid nothing, and go to Tokyo with you. But sometimes that vision is hard to communicate on your homepage, and isn’t what resonate most with your new users right now. Find a wedge — a specific problem and use case that is real and relatable to the people you want using your product, one that is stupid simple to explain.
  • Be versatile. This can mean many things — but essentially, have strong convictions, but loosely held. Don’t be married to your ideas or plans — because in the beginning they are sure to not go the way you think. Adapt to what people actually want, not what you thought they would, and pivot or rebuild if you need to.
  • Make hard choices. Letting go of friends you work with, or packing up your life to go to another country — those are not easy calls to make, but they might be necessary.
  • Know when to take peoples money. This is a tricky one, and a balancing act that can be very difficult to get right. If someone’s offering to give you money right now (i.e this down market) — take it! But generally, there’s a lot to be said for creating scarcity for yourself in the VC market, and taking on money to scale when you have something that’s in a healthy position to have fuel thrown onto it.
  • Move to Kyoto if you need to. This ones a joke, but the underlying lesson is very true. Do whatever it takes to survive. Hustle, be creative, and have grit and perseverance.
  • Product-led growth is a scalable G2M strategy. With a great product that helps people throughout your funnel — you bring down the time and cost it takes having to use a sales team to bring in customers (bottom-up). The more you have to sell, the higher the cost will be that your customer absorbs.
  • Start with a very simple value-proposition that solves users’ immediate problems. It’s okay to have a product that does more — but you need to create a wedge to help you explain your product, and then guide people towards “unlocking” more valuable use-cases. Otherwise you’re going to confuse the heck out of people and limit the top of your funnel.
  • Call out your competition. Creating a direct comparison point helps you explain your product to people much quicker, and is a handy way to help with a positioning problem. Be bold, creative and edgy here — people love a bit of banter. This is one of my favorite ads between Coke and Pepsi (30s).
  • Make it easy to try your product. Whether you’re B2B or B2C — you need to break down any friction around trying your product. Remove risk, preempt questions, and make the decision easier for people.
  • Build in a single-player mode. By making your product valuable even if you have just one user, you set yourself up for lower churn, and give yourself more time to move users along the value curve.
  • Personalize your user experience. This is what people want and expect, and it doesn’t require a whole lot of user data to do right. A simple quiz can be enough to set users down the most relevant path and help them find value.
  • Think in loops, not funnels. Growth loops lean into the most powerful force in the universe — compound interest. While funnels are not irrelevant, loops are a better framework to think about your entire growth system. Think about how one cohort of people, or one set of actions taken by users, will lead to more of the same. Find that and you have your loop.

To read the most comprehensive piece on how Notion grows + get more key takeaways — hit the link below to read my full piece.



Jaryd Hermann

Get my free newsletter for deep dives on how the startups and companies you know kickstarted their growth, and drive growth today 👉