Every year, we take our founders away for two days of networking, learning and fun, on our annual Founders’ Retreat. We are joined by a great mix of speakers, sponsors and guests from the Notion network. This year’s retreat took place at the fantastic Coworth Park in Ascot, a venue with close proximity both to London for our local guests and to Heathrow airport for those coming in from abroad.
We began the Notion Retreat in 2016 as a way to take our founders out of their everyday lives, give them some time to breathe, to think about the big challenges that lie ahead, all whilst learning in a relaxing environment, surrounded by like-minded people. It gives them a chance to connect with peers, the wider Notion team and industry experts.
The number one priority for the Notion team is to ensure that founders get as much value as possible from the retreat, actionable and thought provoking learning, networking and relaxing. We are fortunate that all our investments are in SaaS and enterprise technology companies, so while each company is different, they have much in common and those commonalities allow us to deliver more value every year as our portfolio grows.
Whilst the retreats have so far proved productive and successful, we are always looking to make it better and to ensure our founders gain ever more from the experience.
Key Learnings and takeaways
Location is key. By providing a venue to easily accommodate most guests travel plans, we were able to instantly ease the journeys of our guests, as one guest said “Great location, great to be local”. On top of this, the venue itself is lovely and, with it being set in the English countryside, it really allows for the mind to take a break from the everyday grind, take a step back and look at the bigger picture, with one guest saying they valued the “Time to reflect’ .
Networking, or rather spending time with peers, is one of the most valuable – if not the most valuable – aspect of the Notion retreat. When asked what guests valued the most, this answer was given by all recipients. Guests repeatedly say they value, “speaking to other founders and knowing that they have gone through or going through similar challenges and understanding how they are tackling those challenges.” Getting them together in one place for a few days, once a year, helps those relationships and conversations to build and grow between the annual event, and emphasises that founders are not the only ones going through the daily challenges of running and growing business.
The retreat allows founders time to step back and focus on key areas, such as leadership development, sales and pricing strategies, product innovation, culture and strategic planning , that they may not always have time for on a day-to-day basis. This is where some of our fantastic speakers, such as Profitwell’s Patrick Campbell and Winning by Design’s Jacco van derKooij step in, “I was energized and inspired by the talent and also humility of speakers.”
Patrick’s session on pricing allowed founders to think about and look at pricing in a way that they may not have done previously, “again more light bulbs. Churn was interesting” and similarly with Jacco, his session has guests, “already implementing some of his tactics from his presentation.”
And what makes these areas (sales, pricing etc) function is, of course, the people in the business, so it’s understandable that a large number of our founders attribute their biggest single learning from the event to people and culture “success is defined by the people around you” and we were fortunate to have some fantastic speakers on this subject also, such as Yvonne Agyei, Chief People Officer at GoCardless, and Gibson Biddle, former CPO at Netflix, as well as other, fantastic speakers. And the learnings around people can get quite specific, such as, “the session on managing exec teams, improving yourself with a personal board, and the structure of exec team meetings was super helpful” and “ my biggest single learning was around people and culture as this is something we were trying to be better at as we expand the team. Took a lot of notes on what we need to do and prepare for as we expand our team.”
Things to do more of
The successes of the 2019 Retreat also allow for us to take a look back, to see where the gaps are and then to think about where we can make improvements for next year.
Allow for more unstructured time and informal interactions: “The schedule was pretty packed, possibly one less session on day one, allow for more time to network.” This was a priority for us this year and we hoped to find the balance between really adding value with the content and giving our founders those informal sessions, but there’s obviously still room for improvement and we want to ensure that all of our founders have as much time as they need to connect with their peers.
Find a speaker outside of the SaaS world: “Maybe have an inspirational speaker like last year to open the event”. When focusing on the feedback from previous years, we found that we potentially had too many speakers from outside of the industry and that, while the speakers were all engaging and fascinating, they weren’t necessarily adding value to the day-to-day running of our founders’ businesses. As such, for 2020 we’d like to focus on the balance between finding a world-class inspirational speaker and other speakers that focus on growing a SaaS business.
Offer more collaboration time: “Pre arranging some small group sessions could be powerful.” For the majority of the agenda, founders are listening to our wonderful speakers and absorbing vast amounts of information. Whilst what they’re learning is usually rated very highly, it’s also been suggested that take some time in small groups to digest and discuss the information could be a further way to add more value to the retreat. It also merges two key value areas: learning and networking.
As a way of qualitatively receiving feedback on the retreat, we also ask guests to give us a score out of ten. We’re thrilled that this year we were awarded with a NPS of 96, which is our highest ever. Whilst the score is great, what’s even more rewarding about it, is knowing that actioning the feedback we were given last year led to founders having an all round better experience. By comparison, last year’s score was 90 and the year before was 88. We therefore hope to action the feedback we’ve received from our 2019 retreat.
Whilst we’re delighted with how the 2019 Retreat went and the value gained from it by our guests, our mission is to now make 2020 even better. And, after the success of this year’s venue (which received 100% positive reviews) we’ve chosen to go back to Coworth Park. We’ve learned a lot from hosting the event at Coworth Park and feel that, by going back again, we can really focus on making the experience a better one, whilst also making the event unique from last year.
With having such a lovely venue, we also plan to use the space more, to allow guests some more time in the beautiful surroundings, which we hope will accommodate for that important free time and those key informal interactions.
We’re also planning to take on board all the feedback around speakers and content, and will come back with a refreshed plan and agenda.
It can only be described as a total privilege to host the Notion Founders’ Retreat. On the first evening, whilst listening to Tim Steiner’s (CEO of Ocado) address to the audience, it really struck me what an amazing position it was to be in. To be in a room, surrounded by some of the best B2B SaaS minds in, not only Europe, but from across the globe, all being addressed by the CEO and founder of one of the UK’s largest tech companies, is not an opportunity many receive and is a reminder of how lucky we are to be in the position that we’re in and how fortunate we are to have the fantastic Notion network and founders.
And lastly, a huge thank you to our founders, speakers and sponsors, for coming back every year, adding immense value, helping us all learn and being there to remind us why this job is so important.