Today marks my 2nd anniversary running the Notion Platform. Over the last two years we’ve built a great team, a library of value-added services, run hundreds of workshops, strategy sessions and events with our portfolio, hosted two Founder’s Retreats with 50+ attendees and launched two big thought leadership reports (Exiteering and US Expansion).
During that same time, the investment team has made more than thirty new investments and launched a new later stage fund. We have had two exits and too many ups and downs to mention.
But more than all of that, I reflect on two things. The trust we have built and the lessons we have learned.
The trust thing isn’t about the platform but about Notion as a whole. It is the trust that allows our portfolio to be open and even be vulnerable with us about what they are worried about, the problems they face, the opportunities they have identified, and it is the trust which allows us to support them on those challenges.
They know we are playing a long game, that we will challenge them (and be challenged in return) every step of the way, but that more importantly, we are committed to helping them fulfil their potential.
What have we learned? Personally, I feel that I have learned more about the enterprise tech entrepreneurial journey in the last two years than in the previous twenty. And that we as a team learn more and more from every interaction with our portfolio and the experts we surround ourselves with, helping us support more and more.
By starting with an acceptance of ignorance, but an open mind and willingness to learn, we can and do make real progress to offer ever greater value.
How do those two things combine and help us continue to progress?
There is a simple truth at the heart of what we do as the Notion Platform. I don’t kid myself that the support we offer – more below – makes a material difference to the outcome of our portfolio in building massive enduring category-defining companies.
That is so far out of my control to be naive, ridiculous and condescending to our founders and would also I think drive us to ignore a fundamental truth: that companies success (or failure) is very often shaped significantly by external factors, particularly competitors’ moves and the overall economy.
However, by supporting them on their immediate and most important challenges and long-term priorities, we ensure they have an experience of working with Notion that is about way more than money.
So we focus on one thing – the highly relevant experience they have when they interact us. And by helping them with their challenges when and how they need it, through the ups and downs, treating both the same, they – hopefully – become passionate advocates for us.
And their advocacy and introductions help us attract ever-better entrepreneurs, accelerating our learning and adding value to our whole portfolio and wider network.
That’s the essence of the venture platform.
Don’t kid yourself you are changing the world. Focus on the stuff your founders care about most, do a few things and do them really well, connect them with incredible people and get out of the way.
And then empower them to make referrals to more entrepreneurs just like them.
How do we do what we do?
There are two things you have to have to be able to support your portfolio effectively – trust and a willingness to learn.
Three things that help us specifically…
- A coherent portfolio – our companies are all building enterprise tech companies. They are all different, but they have much in common – structurally, organisationally, technologically – and it’s those commonalities that allow us to support them individually and as a portfolio as a whole.
- A shared experience – we all share the same entrepreneurial and enterprise software DNA, meaning we have relevance and context and the benefit of learning by many years of doing, with those skills being honed ever sharper and faster.
- A shared purpose and a desire to “do the work”. As a team, Notion is committed to helping our companies – and the wider ecosystem – fulfil their potential in building category-leading enterprise tech companies by creating the conditions for success – a magic combination of money, knowledge and resources. And we enjoy leaning in and figuring out solutions to the challenges our companies face.
So what do we do?
We believe passionately in the value of shared knowledge and ambition and obsess about creating the ingredients for extraordinary success, learning from every interaction across our portfolio to benefit all.
Through our platform we offer a combination of knowledge, resources and access:
The enterprise tech scale-up journey: We support our companies on their individual growth challenges, helping them to accelerate through their startup, grow up and scale up journey. All of our companies are different, yet have much in common and these commonalities enable us to learn from every interaction, offering better advice and support.
We focus on fast learning and constant improvement and every time we think we have this nailed – the journey from startup to grow up to scale up – we meet another of our founders and realise we still have so much to learn.
Building the tribe: The greatest impact we see is when we bring our founders and leaders together and get out of the way. They have so much in common and so much to gain, that if there was only one thing we could facilitate it would be this. To build a tribe of passionate, open and challenging entrepreneurs who proactively collaborate.
Learning, creating and sharing: Our portfolio companies share many common scale up challenges and there is an incredible depth and breadth of expertise. We are simply the librarians curating knowledge and applying structure so it can be discovered, sharing that knowledge as openly and widely as we can.
From SaaS Sales Models, to Product Management, Customer Success, Account Based Marketing, SaaS Metrics, Pricing and so on. We are also addressing big common challenges such as US expansion, Exit Readiness, Asian Expansion, 10X People and The Pain of Scale to name a few…
Talent: Helping our founders to hire ever better people and – as above – get out of the way. We are developing a deep understanding of what constitutes extraordinary talent within our portfolio and why, whilst assiduously building a network of the very best scale up execs, experts and advisors to help our companies grow faster and faster…
Business development: Building long-term relationships with our portfolio’s most wanted customers and partners, regularly running enterprise innovation briefings and targeted events for our portfolio to meet with heads of innovation.
Later stage investors and acquirers: building relationships with later stage investors, particularly in the US.
How do we measure success?
Clearly, as a firm, we are focused on the returns to our investors. And then on the portfolio as a whole – and individually – measuring performance empirically, based on their traction, metrics and teams.
But in terms of our value-add, we focus on two key measures – Net Promoter Score (NPS) and referrals.
We track NPS based upon Notion as a firm (we are currently wrapping up our 4th annual NPS survey on this) and our value add platform (just completed a 2nd annual survey) and then use the intelligence we glean to help us improve our services year on year.
Referrals are the lifeblood of venture. Not sure we have done as good a job as we could in terms of enabling this and empowering all our founders – and their teams – to make introductions. So this is a big focus for 2018 and beyond.
Written by Stephen Millard, Chief Platform Officer at Notion