Left arrow illustration
back to blog

Passionfroot AMA: How Notion Grew from 1 Million to 30 Million Users

Passionfroot AMA: How Notion Grew from 1 Million to 30 Million Users

Ben Lang's trust in the Notion platform isn't just profound, it's so deep-rooted that he uses the software to organize the details of his married life.

In April, Ben set the internet abuzz when he shared his uniquely crafted Notion template designed to keep his marriage organized. This comprehensive template goes beyond the usual suspects of grocery lists and daily to-do's. It dives into fun aspects like a matchmaking tab aimed at playing cupid for their single friends and a document dedicated to their learnings and experiences.

As an angel investor and the former Head of Community at Notion, Ben spearheaded initiatives that helped the software grow from a small user base into a large, vibrant community—and a multi-billion dollar company. Last week, Ben joined Passionfroot to discuss strategies for growth, community building, and creator marketing for startups.

The conversation covered a wide range of topics including:

  • The key initiatives that drove Notion’s monumental growth
  • The art of building a community for a new startup
  • Valuable insights into creator marketing
  • The do's and don’ts of community-building

Here’s a recap of his insights and how they can be applied to grow your startup.

The Story Behind Ben & Notion

Ben’s journey with Notion began with his genuine enthusiasm for the product. Long before Notion had template galleries, he built his own fan website to share his creations.

Ben: “I found Notion on Product Hunt and thought it was really cool. I started using it, tweeting about it, and built a website about it just for fun. That’s how I connected with the team and ended up working with them.”

His dedication caught the attention of the Notion team, leading to a formal role where he continued to innovate and build the community from the inside.

Notion’s Biggest Growth Initiatives

Notion’s explosive growth—from 1 million to over 30 million users in just three years—can be attributed to several key initiatives:

1. Template Gallery: Harnessing User-Generated Content (UGC)

Ben worked on the first iteration of the template gallery, sourcing community templates and encouraging users to build on Notion. This gallery became a valuable resource for new users, showcasing the software's versatility and driving engagement.

Ben: “I had been working on a template site before Notion had one, and the team thought it was interesting. So, I worked a lot on our first iteration of the template gallery and how to source community templates and get people to build stuff on Notion.”

2. Ambassador Program: Leveraging Natural Advocates

The ambassador program was designed to foster organic growth through voluntary membership. Unlike traditional influencer marketing, this program focused on people who naturally advocated for Notion, creating content and engaging deeply with the product. This approach helped build a dedicated and loyal community.

3. Consultant Network: Supporting User-Driven Businesses

An unexpected direction of growth for Notion were the businesses built on top of it, for example consultants who sold templates or taught new users how to use Notion—it created a win-win dynamic where both sides made money from each other’s growth.

Ben: “We saw a few people doing it and created a certification program and directory on our website. Over time, more people wanted to be part of it, so we scaled and created more processes. It was a big win early on because we had customers needing help, especially in other languages. Notion is a challenging product to start using, so having people out there doing that for our customers was a big win. If you have people wanting to be an implementation partner or consultant user, find ways to support it because it’s one of the best win-wins you can have.”

If your product has a steeper learning curve and there are community members eager to educate others, leverage this opportunity to receive external assistance for growth!

4. Freemium Model: Strategic Product Offerings

Implementing a freemium model was a game-changer for Notion. Making the product free for students and offering a free plan for consumers significantly increased sign-ups and user engagement. These strategic changes lowered barriers to entry and sustained growth over time.

Ben: “Before that, things like PR releases or Product Hunt launches made a huge difference. But after those two moments, the baseline number of sign-ups grew so much that everything else was almost negligible.”

While a freemium model may not be possible for every company, implementing strategic freemium offerings can dramatically shift a startup's growth trajectory, lowering barriers to entry and offering sustained growth.

Leveraging Influencer Marketing

One of the most effective growth strategies Notion employed was leveraging influencer marketing. These creators often have a substantial audience, and when they showcase the value they derive from Notion, it encourages others to try the tool.

Ben started to reach out to influencers, after having seen a couple of YouTubers mention Notion in videos: “I had just seen a couple of YouTubers like mentioned Notion in some videos. And so that's that's really where I got the idea to reach out to them and ask them if they would do like a full video about how they use Notion, and then see if we could find more YouTubers using Notion.”

Measuring Impact and Return

Initially, they tracked how many sign-ups they could drive from these partnerships, but the didn’t have a way to correlate that to revenue initially.

Ben: “The best we could do was give them a UTM link and track how many sign-ups a video would drive. We compared this to how our ads were performing on Facebook and Google. Pretty quickly, we saw it was 50 to 100 times cheaper than Google or Facebook. So, we decided to invest more in this and kept doing it.”

Work with Authentic Creators

Notion focused on working with creators who genuinely used and loved their product. Ben found these creators to be much more effective advocates.

To identify potential influencers, they looked for mentions of Notion on YouTube, checked on their customer support tool Intercom users with many Twitter followers, and reviewed support tickets. This targeted approach helped them find the most authentic and enthusiastic promoters.

Scaling Influencer Outreach

To scale their efforts, Notion brought on contractors to manage influencer outreach as they did not have a better way to find and reach out to creators efficiently. They offered premium accounts to influencers who were not familiar with Notion.

Ben: “We noticed many YouTubers used Notion to manage their channels, video pipelines, and podcasts. We collaborated with influencers like Ali Abdaal, which created a snowball effect. More YouTubers heard about and started using Notion, increasing our awareness in the creator world. We scaled by bringing on more contractors to reach out to more influencers over time.”

Leveraging Influencer Marketing in the Age of AI

In the evolving landscape of AI, influencer marketing continues to play a crucial role. From Ben’s perspective, AI is an invaluable tool that can augment productivity for both creators and brands. However, he emphasizes that the authentic connection and engagement provided by human influencers remain irreplaceable.

“AI is amazing for boosting productivity and helping creators and brands find new ways to create and partner. But at the end of the day, you can’t fake a genuine audience and engagement. Brands still want to reach real people, and that’s where influencers come in,” Ben explained.

In this AI-driven age, influencer marketing remains a powerful strategy for brands to connect with their audiences on a deeper level, combining the efficiency of AI with the authenticity of human touch.

Building Community as a Startup

For startups, building a community can be a powerful growth driver. Ben emphasizes the importance of a bottom-up approach, leveraging organic user discussions and behaviors.

Organic Growth

  • Ben notes that with Notion, community-building happened organically. Users were already discussing and sharing the product, so the Notion team capitalized on this natural momentum rather than forcing it. Observing user habits and encouraging genuine interactions is crucial for fostering an authentic community.

Determining the Need for Community

  • Not all products require a dedicated community for growth. Ben suggests that products with an element of user-generated content, like Notion or Figma, have greater potential for community-building. For more rigid products, consider creating communities around ideas or themes related to your product.

Do’s & Don’ts of Community-Building

Ben shared essential do’s and don’ts for building a successful community:

DO: Leverage Positioning

  • Many companies successfully leverage their positioning, especially around trending technologies like AI. This can capture significant search traffic and referrals.

DO: Work with and Serve Creators

  • Notion successfully leveraged influencer marketing by partnering with creators who authentically used and loved their product. As a product that serves creators, they also embraced the symbiotic relationship with notion-based businesses.

DON’T: Stagnate

  • Innovation is key. Simply replicating what others are doing won’t set you apart. Be at the forefront of your industry.

DON’T: Fixate on Immediate ROI

  • Community-building is a long-term investment. Instead of seeking immediate ROI, focus on testing and iterating. A strong community provides passionate fans and advocates, creating a valuable moat around your product.

Key Takeaways for Founders and Marketing Teams

1. Listen to and Support User Needs

Engage with user discussions organically and provide the tools and resources they need. Notion’s growth was driven by supporting users with template galleries, structured communities, and consultant networks.

2. Avoid Forcing Community

Understand the unique needs and behaviors of your users before attempting to build a community. Forced communities rarely succeed.

3. Leverage Authentic Advocates

Target your most passionate users as ambassadors and creators. Authentic advocates are more impactful and can drive significant organic growth.

4. Invest in Creator Marketing

Identify and partner with creators who genuinely use and love your product. This strategy can be far more cost-effective than traditional advertising and can create a lasting impact on your growth trajectory.

By following these strategies and insights from Ben Lang’s experience with Notion, founders and marketing teams can effectively grow their startups, build strong communities, and leverage creator marketing for sustained success.

Want to kickstart your creator-led growth?

Notion is on the frontier of PLG SaaS, and now one of the most forward-thinking creator-led SaaS companies out there. If you want to follow their lead and boost your growth with Creators - get access to Passionfroot now for free.

We’d love to help you grow!