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Lessons from Notion: How to use your community to grow organically

Don't underestimate the power of your superfans, says Olivia Nottebohm, chief revenue officer at workplace app Notion

By Anisah Osman Britton

Anisah interviewing Olivia Nottebohm at Slush

Olivia Nottebohm is the chief revenue officer at Notion, everyone’s favourite workspace app. She has one hell of an impressive CV, having held leadership positions at Dropbox, Google and McKinsey. I chatted to her on the Founder’s Stage at Slush in November on all the things she’s learnt about organic growth at scaleups — and the role of community in that growth. Here are some of the key takeaways, originally shared in the Startup Life newsletter. You can also watch the whole conversation here.

Organic growth should be community led

You want people talking about your product to others — simply, the more people that love you and your product, the more people there are to spread the word. So your goal is to make the community feel wanted and needed.

Hire talent for community

We had two full-time people (out of a 50-person team) talking to ambassadors — which was unthinkable — but this is part of our success. We prioritise our community at a strategic level. It’s important to have excellent, experienced talent to build value for the community.

Embrace your community

Don’t underestimate the impact of even just one person who is incredibly excited about your product. We found 10 very excited people on Twitter and brought them together on Slack — that was the start of our community. In the early days, community managers knew every member, their dogs’ and partners’ names. We haven’t strayed too far from that personal touch to this day. Every time a new ambassador joins, they’re welcomed by the entire company on Slack, and people reach out for calls and for advice.

Resource your community

Give your community access to things standard customers don’t have. Resource and pay for things — we’re not talking lavish parties but paying for all the coffee at a coffee shop meetup, for example. Although not big ticket items, it makes a difference because someone doesn’t have to foot the bill themselves. It also shows appreciation for the work they put in.

Encourage community members to learn from one another

You’re not trying to educate each member of the community one-on-one. Yes, you must be there when they ask for support but if anything, you want them to be learning from each other. You lose learnings with a top-down approach — how are you going to find out how people could be using your product?

Market the community

Use your marketing budget to retell the stories your ambassadors are already telling and to add fuel to the organic growth that already exists.

Give startups freebies

If your product is something that can make startups’ lives easier, gift it to them. We don’t see it as a cost at the moment but in the future it will be a line in our marketing expenses. Startups are going to grow so the free or cheap offerings you provide them in the early days will pay for themselves numerous times over — $1k to $1.5k of free credits to acquire a customer is excellent in the grand scheme of things.

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Sifted’s Startup Life newsletter, which comes out weekly on Wednesdays. Sign up here.

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