What problems does Notion solve for the user?
Notions goal is to make it easy to build a workflow for anything. Whether that’d be a sprint planning, product roadmap, product spec, personal growth tracker, payroll tracker, Notion provides everyone with the tools to build any workflow.
What problems do they solve to attain this goal?
Easily create and configure workflows for anything — whether personal or team use.
Problem 1: Creating tools can be super inefficient. Finding the right product for your team or own specifications is annoying.
Problem 2: Switching between different apps like Asana, Google drive, Trello, notes app and Jira is unorganized and may create efficiency loss.
How does Notion accomplish these goals? What makes it “neat”? What makes users fall in love with it? Main strengths?
Notion solves this goal by having an intuitive way of adding lego-style builder blocks of features into your workspace. These are called ‘blocks’, which include anything from calendars, ticket boards, text blocks, timelines, to do lists and more. There are even more advanced blocks and embedding capabilities with products like Twitter, Google maps and Figma. It replaces a lot of functionality that existing products have and consolidates it into one workspace.
Notion’s Strengths and Advantages
In my opinion, Notion’s strengths and advantages can be separated into four main categories.
- You can configure workflows for anything
- Concept of “lego” builder blocks to add any feature into your custom workflow
- Removes the need to have a tool for each individual function. Rather than using Evernote for personal notes or Asana for creating task management boards, I can simply use Notion to replace those tools into one.
- Massive Reddit community with over 140k members, this community lends itself to a wealth of benefits. First, they can have a direct 1–1 feedback channel with their users. Second, it allows for free customer support because customers can ask questions and other customers can answer them for you. Third, the sharing of resources and templates on the community lends itself to network effects. More power users create templates/themes directly to the gallery → new users choose a template from gallery and are thus more likely to use new editing features to create more templates → recommend notion to friends and family to try out templates for their personal use since it’s so easy to get started. This natural viral loop was key in Notion’s early growth.
- Notion’s ambassador program was also useful in identifying power users and giving them early benefits.
- More on how Notion’s community helped drive their early stage growth here: https://foundationinc.co/lab/notion-strategy
Text Creation UX
- Their inline text creation UX flow instead of the traditional ribbon toolbar text creation (that you see on Word, Airtable, Google docs) improves a few things:
For those of you who don’t know, this is what I mean by “ribbon” vs “inline” text creation. More information here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribbon_(computing)
Notion’s Inline UX:
Inline text creation has a few advantages:
- Leads to easier discoverability of features — you can easily see all of the basic blocks, embeds and advanced blocks on one menu.
- Shaves a few seconds for a faster, simpler user experience — you do not need to constantly move your cursor up and down and find the text type you want to add.
- Reduces cognitive load on the use — you can find what type of headline, bullet point or tool to use, making the writing experience flow much more naturally.
- Looks cleaner by saving screen real estate — no need to have the massive “ribbon” on top.
- Notion currently makes money through a subscription model. They have 4 subscription options, two for businesses and two for individuals.
- What I love about Notion’s model is their limited usage of file uploads as opposed to block limits. It used to be block limits but I thought the switch was a brilliant business choice. With limiting just file uploads for their free tier, it doesn’t take away from the ability for anyone to build their own workflow since files aren’t required. Notion encourages users to heavily invest their time in building and customizing their own workspace using as many blocks as they’d like. This, even when users hit the file upload limit, does not block them from continuing to derive value from the product. Unlike other SAAS products like Slack, who hit their users with a paywall once 10,000 messages are made.
- With Notion once a user has built their workflow, it’s much less likely for them to switch to a competitor since they’ve already invested so much into the app. Thus when it does come time to to add more files or add more people to collaborate with, they are much more comfortable paying to upgrade. This, in turn, improves conversion from free -> paid.
Possible Improvements for Notion
- Before we try to improve the product, let’s first take a step back and remind ourselves what Notion’s goal is. Notion makes it easy to build a workflow for anything.
What are the problems?
- As it stands, I believe there’s a bit of difficulty getting started or even knowing where to start.
- When I was going through onboarding, I did not notice any team editing, goal setting, and problem-solving steps. When I finished, I realized you have to setup this on your own and as a first time user, it seemed a bit daunting with such a massive feature set.
- I found there was a steep learning curve with accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish.
Instead of diving too deep with customer interviews (if I had spent more time, I would’ve done user interviews on first time and recurring users), I decided to scour the web looking for negative reviews of Notion. I wanted to see if there were others who felt the same way. One recurring theme within the negative reviews was in fact, a lack of organization, a feeling of not knowing where to start, and difficulty searching for files. More specifically, people feel overwhelmed and intimidated after onboarding because they don’t know where to start.
Some negative reviews I found:
- “sometimes it is not intuitive to format things exactly how you want them. I would like the ability to minimize inline tables, and in general just more customization. sometimes it feels like a chore to make what I want happen”
- “It’s hard to make the pages look like the nice examples/samples they show. Not as easy as Google Docs. Lots of confusing formatting and page layering”
- “ Too many options. Too many features. Need time to learn and use and you ended up having to re-explain to your team too many times OR you must buy the course about that product…”
- “It takes time to set up, especially for team collaboration. Project teams need not only a capable solution but also one that works immediately with minimum configuration.”
I don’t have the data, but I’d imagine there could be an improvement in Day 1 or Day 1+ retention. Users may seem to just ‘give up’ during or after onboarding. Thus, I’ll focus on trying to improve that metric.
How would you solve the problem?
After brainstorming for a few minutes, here’s what I came up with that could help:
- As far as quick fixes, I’d make some edits to the onboarding experience. My goals during onboarding would be to:
- To better identify the user or team to give them a more personalized experience
- Generate and offer custom pre-made templates to save time
This is the current onboarding flow for personal:
And for team:
For the team and personal onboarding I’d want to keep the first two steps and implement three new modals after asking:
Modal 3. What their or their teams’ goals are? There could be a selection of common goals and also a text field where people could write down their goals.
Modal 4. Where they are in the process of solving that goal? (Do they have a lot of information written down already that simply needs to be transfered, or are they starting from scratch? )
Modal 5 (Final). Offer a set of templates as a final step that are hyper-personalized based off their earlier responses (they can leverage from their community gallery that you guys can check out here: [<https://www.notion.so/Notion-Template-Gallery-181e961aeb5c4ee6915307c0dfd5156d>](<https://www.notion.so/Notion-Template-Gallery-181e961aeb5c4ee6915307c0dfd5156d>))
Furthermore, they can leverage the public templates from their massive community or other companies that have prebuilt them. New “Notioners” can then adopt and edit a template accordingly without the hassle of starting from scratch. This will reduce unnecessary setup time. More often than not, someone has already built a template that has met all or most of their requirements. As an example, I really enjoy Squarespace’s implementation of this in their last onboarding step. Notion could implement something similar, where they could have selection of templates showing previews in a collection view.
Another improvement that may take more engineering time is a self organizer. Whenever you add many tables, pages or blocks at one time, Notion can recommend you the more efficient ways to format and organize your information. You can let Notion auto organize everything with a single click. This could be implemented as a push notification on the top left window.
Both of these solutions could solve a few things:
- Make it feel less “intimidating” to get started. We assume that this will increase the metric we want to improve and more people will return and continue building and editing their workspace.
- More likely to refer to friends and other teams
- By organizing information in the most efficient way possible, we can increase work speed
- Make it easier to search for certain files and folders
- Aligns with Notion’s goal of making it easy to create a workspace to solve anything
How would you validate your solution?
I’d build a super basic MVP version of the updated onboarding experience and run an A/B test, one group of users with the new onboarding and one with the old. Here are the metrics I’d like to measure to validate if the updated onboarding solution worked:
- Statistically significant Lift in N-day retention % (1–7–30 day retention rates) of the A/B groups
- Increase in DAU and MAUs
- Average lift in templates used
- Average in-app session time
- Average lift in # of workspaces started
- Onboarding conversion
- Average Increase in number of people inviting more people to the team
- Referral rates
There is no doubt that Notion is a phenomenal application for personal and small team collaboration. I personally use it for projects with friends, my journal, applications and even used it to write this article. However, for me, there is a bit of a learning curve and it did take more time than expected to really be efficient with it. The world is adapting to a hybrid model of remote and in-person work and it is paramount that people can stay as, if not more, efficient than they were in the office. With everything Notion has done so far, I have no doubt they can achieve this.