Notion against Microsoft Office and Google Docs

Notion has a secret weapon against Microsoft and Google in its attempt to build the document publisher of the future.

As Notion’s fluid, interconnected document style has taken off – the app now has over 20 million active users – the two tech giants seem to have taken notice. Microsoft recently announced Loop, a Notion-style editor that integrates with Word and Excel. Google, meanwhile, made Docs more like Notion with interactive checkboxes, custom templates, and easier linking between documents.

To fight back, Notion now relies on its community of avid users, who share and sometimes even sell models that make the app more useful. These templates can instantly transform Notion from a simple document editor or to-do list app into a habit tracker, project planner, reading list, study system, and more.

[Image: courtesy of Notion]

This week, Notion is revamping its built-in template gallery to highlight just how extensible the software can be. Users can now submit their own models to the gallery, and they can even offer premium models by logging into external stores such as Etsy and Gumroad. The idea is that while Microsoft and Google could clone Notion’s core functionality, the enthusiasm of Notion users to create new things won’t be so easily copied.

“There is something very special when you have people who put in so much effort and who really feel like they have a strong emotional connection to software and what it creates,” says Ben Lang, Manager of the Notion community.

[Image: courtesy of Notion]

Building from the bottom up

As Notion would like to point out, its models have grown into a successful business in themselves. Markets like Notionery and Notion Everything list models that cost up to $ 79, including those for running a freelance business and starting a startup. During this time, a cottage industry of knowledge experts has emerged to sell courses on how to get the most out of software.

One of those experts is Marie Poulin, a former web designer and business consultant whose Notion online training has grossed around $ 500,000 over the past two years. Poulin says she discovered Notion in 2018 and quickly fell in love with it as “a place to think really, really messy.” She hosted a webinar on how to use the software, which prompted the company to ask her to manage live office hours on her behalf. After earning $ 40,000 in one year selling concept models, she sensed a larger opportunity and now employs five more people for her concept skills classes.

“I basically pivoted my entire business around Notion-related products and services,” explains Poulin.

Ben lang [Photo: courtesy of Notion]

Meanwhile, Ben Lang from Notion joined the company due to his work outside of it. After discovering the software on Product Hunt in 2018, he fell in love with it and started tweeting about its setup. Conversations with other Notion users inspired him to create Notion Pages, a model site that had attracted over 30,000 monthly visitors in just a few months. The company hired him to lead its community efforts soon after.

“When I connected with the Notion team, they realized, ‘Oh wow, there’s something really interesting here,’ Lang says of users’ passion for the app and its possibilities. . “The founders really decided to make it a priority very early on.

Lang believes that Notion’s open nature is key to the enthusiasm it generates. Software is largely what users make it – it can be as simple as a blank page, or as complex as a kanban board with branch pages, subtasks, and collaborators – and its users. more dedicated gravitate towards sharing their secrets on sites like Reddit and Twitter. (The Notion subreddit alone has over 158,000 members.)

[Image: courtesy of Notion]

At the same time, Notion tried to keep a certain distance from the community that was formed around its creation. The company doesn’t try to moderate discussions on channels like Reddit, Facebook, and Discord, and instead lets these communities manage themselves. He’s not interested in trying to bring discussions to his own platform, where he can control the conversation.

“We don’t want to force people to come to the same place. We want them to be able to be on their own platform, speak in their own language, and be empowered to come together, ”Lang said. I think that’s what made it successful.

Don’t call it a model store (yet)

Considering the amount of money changing hands between Notion users, you’d think Notion itself would want a share. But her new gallery only offers direct downloads of free models. It also lists the paid ones, but links to other storefronts like Etsy or Gumroad to handle transactions. Notion does not sell models itself and does not earn any sales revenue from its own software.

For now, that leaves subscriptions as Notion’s only business model. The basic service is free, but the company charges $ 5 per month for unlimited attachment sizes and guest editors, and offers team plans starting at $ 10 per month.

Olivia nottebohm [Photo: courtesy of Notion]

“Our goal is not to monetize creators,” explains Olivia Nottebohm, Notion’s chief revenue officer. “Our goal is to make sure that the underlying software is so incredibly valuable that people would want to pay us for it. “

Nonetheless, Notion has not ruled out possibly selling models, and there may be several reasons beyond revenue for doing so. Without a centralized model store, for example, users have no easy way to track which models they have added or purchased.

Notion currently has no way of preventing users from hacking models and selling them as their own, which Poulin says he’s seen happening on sites like Facebook. That’s not a major concern for her – the idea of ​​a smuggled model marketplace is fun enough, she says – but it could become a bigger issue as Notion shines a spotlight on paid models in its own app. . Poulin speculates that a centralized store could potentially give Notion more means to prevent model theft.

Notion spokeswoman Elaine Greenberg denies that smuggling is a problem, but doesn’t completely dismiss the problem.

“Our community is incredibly supportive of each other, but we will also explore ways to protect their intellectual property in the future,” Greenberg said via email.

The limits of models

While Notion’s focus on community gives it a unique selling point over Google Workspace and Microsoft Word and Loop, its success against the tech giants is not guaranteed. Not all people using Docs or Word may feel pressured to give Notion a try if they can have an experience close enough to the software they already know (and can pay for).

I have found that the best way to get into Notion is to start with a single blank page.

And even if they try Notion, the software’s tilt curve can be steep. Personally, I have found that the best way to get into Notion is to start with a single blank page and then gradually expand it into more elaborate documents as you become more familiar with the software. Notion sees its new template gallery as a shortcut to productivity, but it also risks adding even more complexity to an application that isn’t necessarily easy to understand initially.

Poulin says it’s a problem she deals with firsthand as a Notion educator.

“People think that just buying a model will solve their disorganization issues, but if they haven’t thought through the process, simply adopting someone else’s model won’t. really a big difference, ”she says.

[Image: courtesy of Notion]

But in the end, that could be another challenge for the Notion community to resolve. If people like Poulin continue to teach other users how to become Notion Wizards, the company could carve out a niche for itself that will stand up to the efforts of tech giants.

“It all happened in a very organic way,” Lang says. “It’s very unique and it’s very difficult to duplicate it the same way you would a template. “

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