When I joined Notion Capital at the start of 2016 to help build The Notion Platform (Notion’s value-add team), we talked about living up to our promise of being the best B2B SaaS investors in Europe; creating the conditions for success; and helping our portfolio of SaaS founders to fulfill their potential. In particular I wanted to do that by focusing on the most important, and most common, problems our founders and teams faced to help achieve those aims. But frankly I found it all quite overwhelming.
I believe in learning by doing and then reflecting. So first we did a lot of stuff.
“Sometimes I did wonder whether what you were doing was worthwhile”, said Jos White.
Me too. We ran 40+ workshops and meetups in 2016 and again in 2017 on a multitude of topics – leadership, go to market, revenue growth, product management and more – and created a lot of content and we started to see what resonated and what didn’t. We learned a lot by inviting very busy people to events, seeing who responded and tracking their feedback. So we did a lot.
But we also put in place regular institutional learning.
Notion had kicked off an annual founder survey at the end of 2015 – just before I joined – and we have run that survey every year since then. It has been invaluable to us to gather insights on what really matters to our founders, what they value and what they don’t. Our annual NPS Survey is invaluable. You can read more about our NPS results for 2018 here and for 2019 here. Every year we evolve our services and offerings based on the feedback we receive.
We also survey all our founders immediately post-investment to understand their perception and expectations of us. And we have recently put in place a “follow-on investment survey” to capture our founders’ experience and sentiment round to round.
Four things I’ve learned
- Founders want to learn and solve their most important problems and solve them fast;
- In our portfolio there are real commonalities to those problems;
- They want to learn from the very best; and
- They want to learn from and with their peers.
One of the breakthroughs for me was when we started to cross-reference those challenges and consolidate them into themes. Initially we identified nine, which was quite a few, but also left a lot out:
- Building Companies
- Creating Categories
- Growing Revenues
- Building Products
- Pricing on Value
- Raising Capital
Over the last few years we have been running regular events on these nine topics and developing content through our podcast programme, The Pain of Scale. So far we have released three full series of 10 episodes each (an introductory episode for each series, plus the nine topics above), and are now rolling out the fourth series 2020, with two episodes per week in June.
You can find all the podcasts here.
This programme does a few things that I find very helpful:
- It challenges us to find new, very well informed people to interview on each topic which is good for network building and addressing point 3 above “learn from the very best;”
- It keeps us on our toes, always learning more on each topic, exploring different experiences, understanding different models, taking different perspectives;
- And the discipline of recording and then writing up each interview allows us to synthesise the knowledge and share it at scale with our portfolio.
Our focus on SaaS makes life easier for us:
- Every one of our 60+ investments is a B2B SaaS company and while each company is unique they have much in common and their commonalities allow us to execute programmes at scale;
- Those commonalities also allow us to isolate world-class experts on different topics outside and inside the portfolio; and
- We create a lot of content and run multiple events each year – and will probably run more than 50 in 2020 – which gives our founders and their leadership teams ample opportunity to learn and connect with their peers.
Latterly, we expanded the list of nine challenges to twelve, in three distinct categories: 1) personal, 2) commercial and 3) strategic.
Within these three categories we have then broken out 12 distinct focus areas.
The Notion Founder Framework
- I want to become a better leader;
- Hire ever-better people to work alongside me; and
- Engage, align and enable everyone in the company.
- We need to build predictable, scalable revenue (three words investors love);
- Develop world-class products with a culture of excellence and innovation;
- Create a monetisation strategy that maximises value and creates an obsession with pricing excellence;
- Establish best-in-class unit economics (and SaaS finance fundamentals) to underpin future growth; and
- Design, develop and dominate the category we are creating.
- We need to develop vision, purpose and a strategy to shape our future;
- Internationalise in order to build a global business;
- Raise capital to fuel growth; and
- Plan long term to maximise value at exit or IPO, what we call Exiteering.
Furthermore, we have then taken these 12 challenges and defined a set of core capabilities as companies transform from Series A to Series B, but more on than another day.
We put the Notion Founder Framework into action in “The Pain of Scale” podcast and associated events. You can find some of those resources below:
Becoming a better leader
Hiring ever better people to work alongside me
Engaging, aligning and enabling everyone in the company
Pricing and monetisation
Unit Economics & SaaS Metrics
- I’m ashamed to say we haven’t recorded any interviews on this topic, which is something of an oversight, but we do now have our first episode scheduled on this topic which will be released shortly..
Shaping strategy and vision
Bringing it to life
Through 2020 and beyond we will be bringing the founder framework to life and making it a vibrant programme to support our current and future founders, as well as their leadership teams.