"The only time I have ever experienced technology as art is as a user of Notion."
That is the first sentence of my first note to Ivan, the founder of Notion over a year ago. I knew they were on to something special from the first time I used the product. Naturally, I endeavored to meet them. I promptly learned that the founders were not interested in being distracted, and had a particular (and well documented) reluctance to engage with investors. So, I wrote them a letter.
I deeply admire artists who get to the essence of things. Notion's product is just that - the fundamental building blocks a knowledge worker needs to create his or her own ideal workflow - nothing more and nothing less. Notion’s product reflects a philosophy of minimalism. The product facilitates a singular focus on the things that matter. Simplicity is hard to achieve— and using Notion is a reminder of that worldview every day.
The founders of Notion, Ivan and Simon, built from first principles. Users of Notion often start by taking notes as they would in a Microsoft Word or Google doc. Naturally, individuals want to share that content with their teams. Collaboration is at Notion's core. Users begin sharing and Notion quickly becomes an all in one workspace - first individuals, then teams and then entire organizations. The product has a familiar metaphor, a document, but the experience of using the product reveals its power, closer to a database. Notion's product provides structure and flexibility; the right balance between an opinion and an openness to individual creativity. Notion is democratizing tool making. It provides the essential atomic units and the user is the creator that generates the composition.
"In my view, Notion empowers each person to build the workspace they want to be a part of and that self-determination is extremely powerful for individuals, especially when experienced on a daily basis. With Notion, people can build and collaborate according to their own designs, both literally and figuratively."
That is from my second letter to Ivan, Simon, and Akshay (I was fortunate to get to know more of the team over time). As artworks can be reduced to color, shape, and form, Notion has reduced our workflows to the essential building blocks we need to store information and share ideas. In my view, this is the magic of their first principles design. And people all over the world want to truly create their own workspace to work the way they want to.
A new way to work is emerging — knowledge workers around the world are choosing the tools they want to use on a daily basis. It's clear that Slack and Zoom have become essential platforms selected by teams all over the world. Slack owns collaboration and Zoom is now connecting us all. I believe Notion is next. While Slack and Zoom provide synchronous communication, Notion is the workspace for asynchronous collaboration, beloved by teams across the world.
People who love the product as I do are hosting voluntary meetups in cities like Beijing, Berlin, Krakow, London, NY, Paris, Seoul, Singapore, Kyiv, and Tokyo. Undeterred by the inability to meet in person, the community has transitioned to digital gatherings for a total of 150+ meetups over the past year. This global community has embraced the product and is using it daily with engagement similar to Slack in the early days.
What I admire most about Ivan, Simon, and Akshay is that they are original thinkers with strong integrity. The team they have recruited reflects those superpowers including Weiheng, Roman, Brittany, Michael, Camille and many others, I look forward to meeting. My colleague Chris, who shares my passion for the product, has our entire team running on Notion. For years, I have been a daily user of Notion — it is the first product I check in the morning and the last at night. Over the past year, I have been fortunate to get to know the individuals behind the art. In getting to know the team, I have come to appreciate that the product today represents only a fraction of what is possible with this team of individuals. Their thinking is more original, their culture more inspiring and their product philosophy deeper than I had imagined.
The Notion team has taught me to never give up on the things I believe in and that dedication is contagious.
Image above is of the postcard I delivered to Notion's office despite their efforts to obscure their address. The postcard, of Marcel Duchamp's 'Bicycle Wheel Sculpture' is reportedly hanging in their office (according to this photo from Ivan). Roman on the Notion team is putting together a graphic novel on Duchamp, stay tuned...
By Sarah Cannon
April 1, 2020