The journeys we as VCs embark on with the founders we invest in are long, non-linear and more often than not characterised by ups, downs, pivots and challenges. Ultimately though, we’re all working towards the same end goal – to build global category-dominating companies at massive scale.
So when the journey is this long and complex and ultimate success (or failure) often cannot be quantified for up to a decade, how do we as an investment partner ensure we’re on the right track, and course-correct when we’re not?
One of the wisest pieces of advice I was given early on my career was “measure everything”, it was great advice and continues to hold true many years and several roles later. But how can you measure success when it’s too early to measure success?
Trying to define and quantify success in a founder-VC relationship three months, a year or five years in can be a tremendously difficult task. The relationships we have with each founder are entirely unique, the journeys are very different and their needs vary greatly at any one time.
As a hands-on value-add venture partner working with an early stage seed company or with a first-time founder, we are often very engaged, offering a huge amount of support and resource.
Conversely sometimes the right thing for us to do is just get well out of the way and let the founder execute on their mission.
There are many things we can (and do) measure and track, but ultimately the one thread that runs through every relationship and every interaction we have is founder experience. Do the founders and CEOs we work with have an exceptional experience working with Notion from first meeting through to exit and everything in between?
Each year we survey our founders to benchmark their experience working with Notion, to learn more about the value of the support we’re providing and help us improve as an investment partner.
This year for the sake of transparency and pushing ourselves towards constant improvement, we’re sharing the results and feedback from that survey publicly.
You can find a full summary deck here (or download on the left), a copy of the survey here and some highlights below…
So what did we learn?
In short, there were a lot of very positive takeaways that the whole team can be extremely proud of:
- We’re delivering real tangible (and sometimes intangible) value that is making a meaningful impact on the founders and companies we invest in;
- Our approach to post-investment support is recognised by our portfolio as unique for a European VC and a real differentiation;
- Our Platform offering is maturing, becoming increasingly valuable and accessible;
- We’re trusted by the founders we work with; and
- We’re delivering increasingly valuable content, insights, events connections and support.
However we still have a long way to go to deliver on our ultimate mission to create the conditions for extraordinary success in enterprise tech in Europe:
- We’re not yet geared to scale all aspects of our support efficiently as our portfolio grows;
- Our platform support is still very UK centric – a real challenge as our growing portfolio becomes increasingly geographically dispersed;
- We’re not working in as joined-up a way as we could be (within the Notion team and externally with founders) – an interesting tech challenge to take on through 2018;
- We’re not making the most of the huge amount of insight and data and insight we generate / have access to – a huge opportunity to learn; and
- We’re not yet mobilizing the immense talent and expertise surrounding Notion and the wider ecosystem – how can we activate this network without Notion becoming a bottleneck?
Defining the value add
We asked our founders what they believe Notion is doing well. Four areas were referenced time and again as providing significant value:
- The connections and introductions we make – to talent, advisers, scale-up experts, peers, mentors and partners.
- The Notion Platform – an increasingly mature, valuable and accessible resource for founders and their teams.
- The support and insight we offer – though early stage, grow-up and scale-up at board level and via the Platform.
- Our annual Founders Retreat – a highlight of the year and a great opportunity to challenge thinking and build relationships.
All areas we have invested in heavily over the past couple years and will continue to prioritise moving forward.
Identifying the gaps
We also questioned founders on where they think the gaps are and where Notion could make improvements. Again there were a few key themes that came through in the responses:
- Help us learn more quickly – from each other, from Notion and other best-in-world companies and founders.
- Improve access to platform support – for founders and teams based outside of the UK.
- Enable peer-to-peer connections – enable founders and C-level execs to to connect, support, advise and mentor each other without Notion being a bottleneck.
- Make more and better introductions – to further improve the Notion network and enable connections with world-class people.
Interestingly – but not surprisingly – both of these questions highlight just how critical people, connections and shared knowledge and experiences are. All things that we have learned are extremely hard to unlock at scale whilst retaining quality – a great challenge for us to tackle as our portfolio continues to grow.
The power of advocacy
We believe a critical measure of a great experience is advocacy and therefore core to our ability to measure success is being able to measure the referrals and recommendations coming into Notion through our network, particularly the founders and other senior executives we work with.
Whilst Net Promoter Score (NPS) isn’t a perfect tool, it provides a solid year-on-year benchmark of satisfaction. We ask the question: “Would you recommend Notion to a fellow entrepreneur seeking investment?” and have received a consistently high score of 80+ for three years running.
All very well but it doesn’t tell us very much other than that we’re consistent.
To add colour and depth to the standard NPS question, we also ask the respondent why they chose that score, this is were we really learn what matters to our founders, where we can make an impact and where we can improve.
It is widely accepted in the customer success world that the most powerful advocates are those that were once detractors. Last year we had two “detractors” of the Notion Platform (a detractor is defined as a respondent giving an NPS score of 6/10 or below).
Both are extremely experienced founders who told us that the support we offer for the platform wasn’t hugely relevant to them. Fair feedback and something we’ve taken on board when looking at how we can best support the full spectrum of founders in our portfolio, not just the less-experienced and first time founders.
In this year’s survey one of those founders has now become a promoter, giving us a score of 10/10 – and we’ve set ourselves the challenge of converting the other remaining detractor to promoter status by the end of the year.
In addition to NPS, in this year’s survey we also added the question “Have you recommended Notion to a fellow entrepreneur seeking investment in the past year?” hoping to get a clearer picture of actual advocacy rather than theoretical.
This was an extremely telling exercise.
9 out of 10 founders answered Yes, with an average of 4 recommendations made per founder.
These numbers were significantly higher than we had anticipated, highlighted a great opportunity for us to build out a formalised referrals programme – something we’ve already started working on and will be launching later in the year.
The feedback we’ve received through this process has helped shape our focus, particularly for our platform team, for the coming 12 months so with that in mind we’re committing to:
- Improving year-round support for founders, CEOs and their senior leadership teams companies based outside of London and the UK.
- Unlocking our network to make more, higher quality, timely introductions to: talent, later stage investors, Saas experts, advisors, mentors, customers and potential acquirers.
- Enabling a peer-to-peer network for our founders, CEOs and their leadership teams to build valuable connections with their peers from within the portfolio and with world-class leaders from across the wider ecosystem.
- Promoting shared learning enabling our portfolio accelerate their journeys as efficiently and effectively as possible, from each other and from best-in-class entrepreneurs that have been through it already.
- Becoming increasingly data-driven in our learning internally here at Notion.
We’ll report back in a year to let you know how we get on!
Let us know what you think… Whilst our methodology is hugely insightful, it certainly isn’t perfect and I’d love to get your feedback on this, particularly from founders and other VC firms – how do you measure success and is it a truly insightful process?
Written by Kate Hyslop, Head of Platform at Notion