Editors' Pick|Oct 8, 2021, 11:00am EDT|66,392 views

Notion Reaches $10 Billion Valuation, Boosted By Remote Work — And TikTok

Alex Konrad
Forbes Staff
Covering venture capital, cloud and startups

Notion's offices in 2021 may lack some strappings of Silicon Valley startup culture, but not canine friends.


Early this year, Notion experienced a problem unusual to enterprise software startups: it went viral on TikTok. On January 4, millions of users logged on to Notion to check their note-taking, to-dos and calendars to start the new year, only to find the service was down. A month later, it happened again. Twitter buzzed with "panicked" users.

Notion wasn’t new to growth – the app quintupled its user base of knowledge workers, note takers and personal organizers in 2020 as the pandemic pushed more work online. The company reached a $2 billion valuation that April. But it wasn’t prepared for Gen Z which, it turns out, loves a minimalist note-taking tool and workspace – to tune of tens of millions of views, and hundreds of thousands of likes. Each video led to thousands of unexpected signups pouring in. Notion was caught by surprise.

And with business users at customers like Adobe, Headspace and Figma suddenly restless, Notion faced a big problem, too. The startup spent the next six months overhauling its infrastructure to combat slow loading times and handle the next surge. "It has been an interesting challenge," says Akshay Kothari, Notion’s chief operating officer. "But we also found ourselves in a very fortunate position."

Notion’s popularity, and the online culture forming around it, continues to stoke interest from investors. After years of raising relatively small amounts, CEO Ivan Zhao, Kothari and team are now looking to pick up the pace. Notion has raised $275 million in a new funding round led by Coatue Management and Sequoia, with participation from Base10 Partners. Not counting the new money poured in, the investment values Notion at $10 billion.

In an interview, Kothari and Olivia Nottebohm, who joined Notion as chief revenue officer in June, said the funding would go towards Notion’s "platform" push to offer, and connect to, more applications, as well as staffing up its operations to meet its international and big-business demand. Based in San Francisco, Notion now maintains offices in Dublin, New York, Tokyo and Hyderabad, where it recently acquired startup Automate.io.

Notion did not share revenue numbers, but points to user growth that might be the envy of some consumer businesses. The company boasts more than 20 million users today, up from one million in 2019, and four million last April. Its subreddit community on social platform Reddit has 150,000 subscribers, nearly ten times the number of Slack’s, and six times the comparable group for Zoom. And with 80% of its users based outside the U.S. – and 70% of sales – its Korean language Facebook group counts more than 30,000 members, versus 50,000-plus for its Arabic-focused group.

Supporting that is a team of just about 200 people, up from 40 or so last spring. While Notion aids a growing number of independent consultants building their business on helping users navigate its tools, the company doesn’t plan to add professional services any time soon. Instead, the funds will help it add more local account support and salespeople, as well as staff to help expand its products to work better in large-sized businesses. Notion still has most of the $50 million it raised last year, says Kothari; the company may look to make more acquisitions as well.

Akshay Kothari (right, from 2016), says he's channeling a favorite quote from his former LinkedIn boss Jeff Weiner (left) to move on from Notion's new $10 billion valuation: "Next play."

© 2016 Bloomberg Finance LP

For the funding round, Notion turned to Coatue, the hedge fund with a growing startup investment practice that has recently emerged as one of venture capital’s most prolific players, and Sequoia, one of Silicon Valley’s more storied traditional firms. Coatue wrote a small check in Notion’s previous funding round led by Index Ventures; in subsequent months, its team ingratiated itself with Notion through coaching and introductions like Nottebohm, a former Google executive and Dropbox COO whom the firm connected to Kothari initially as an expert contact.

According to Coatue general partner Caryn Marooney, her firm was impressed that Notion not only had what Coatue’s investors believe is a beautiful product, but executed on what its leaders said they would do. "We saw that across the board with hiring and identifying important actions, then executing," she says.

Sequoia held a small piece of Notion through its Scout program, but partner Mike Vernal also knew Notion’s team personally from his days as an angel investor. Vernal also overlapped with Marooney for a number of years at Facebook, where he was a product and engineering leader, and she led global communications. Notion met Base10, the other new institutional investor in the round, through general counsel Hasani Caraway. The startup was impressed by a commitment by Base10, which is Black-led, to donate half of the carried interest from its most recent fund to support scholarships at historically black colleges.

While its valuation and backers stand out even in a moment of prolific funding and high valuations for buzzy software startups, Notion still competes in a crowded field that includes tech giants and other startups like newly-minted unicorn Coda and challenger Roam Research. (It also rubs shoulders with a number of other businesses like Airtable, a database-inspired productivity tool also backed by Coatue.) To Kothari, who says he counts the leaders of many of those peers as friends, the biggest difference today is Notion’s community. "There’s this real love and passion for the product that comes from people feeling like they can create things," he says. "Notion is becoming a product where people are creating amazing things and building businesses on top of that."

But Notion’s business prospects will hinge as much upon an age-old enterprise software issue: its ability to scale within large organizations without becoming unwieldy or more productivity drain than boon. Notion’s acquisition of Automate came as the company has recognized that in larger organizations, different teams were connecting Notion to tools specific to their work, such as a marketer connecting Marketo, or a support staffer integrating with Zendesk. In the future, Notion hopes to be a hub empowered to push new content and updates out to such apps from within its own software using APIs.

That will mean even more scrutiny for Notion’s load times, a concern voiced by customers in the past, and ability to handle the strain of new waves of users from TikTok or elsewhere. The company’s already planning for pandemic-fueled usage growth to continue. "A year ago we were wondering, ‘is this going to be permanent?’ And I think we’re a bit on the other side of that at this point," says Nottebohm.

And after revamping its infrastructure, Notion’s prepared for more spikes of users now, Gen Z or otherwise, Kothari insists. "I feel like the last 18 months have been something like Black Swan [event] after Black Swan. But I feel good about the next phase of scale," he says. "We’re ready to take on more TikTok virality."

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Editors' Pick|Mar 7, 2022, 10:24am EST|415 views

The Russian Invasion Provides A Glimpse Into Ukraine’s Formerly Robust Startup Market

Rebecca Szkutak
Forbes Staff
I'm interested in diverse VCs, micro VCs, startups, and LPs.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown the global market how large and robust the Ukraine startup ... [+]

Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has thrust Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky into the global spotlight as he gives speeches and updates on the current situation. But just a few weeks earlier, he could be found delivering a very different kind message. "We want to transform Ukraine into a country of startups," Zelensky said at the February 8 Kyiv-based Diia summit, meant to highlight the country’s technological advancement. "We expect the technology share of GDP to grow from 4% to 10% by 2025, up to $16.5 billion, making us the largest tech hub in Europe."

Prior to the last two weeks, the Ukrainian startup ecosystem was well on its way to fulfilling that vision. Investors say that the market had grown exponentially over the past few years and Ukraine’s prowess in computer science and tech have made it a hotbed for startup activity — especially in sectors including deep tech and artificial intelligence. The government has also become involved. It launched the Ukrainian Startup Fund in 2019, which provides non-dilutive grants to early-stage companies. Investment volume has been growing each year with multiple investors telling Forbes that they estimate there to be more than 4,000 startups in the country.

But the Russian invasion in which armored columns are besieging Ukrainian cities throughout the Texas-sized country has brought this progress to a halt. As Ukrainian founders and startup CEOs take to Twitter in droves to denounce the invasion and provide updates on the safety of their employees, their posts provide a window into the oft overlooked and underestimated market in this eastern European country. Multiple VCs who invest in Ukraine tell Forbes that global investors can play a role in helping Ukraine get back on its feet – assuming that stability and a viable business environment return after the tumultuous events now taking place.

According to Deloitte, more than $1.68 billion was invested into startups in the country during the first 11 months of 2021, its most recent data. "That is a huge amount of money for a market that is still relatively unknown to some extent," Andrew Wrobel, the founder of Emerging Europe, a platform that helps promote local startup ecosystems, says. U.S.-based PitchBook recorded only $9.4 million of investment for the entirety of 2021, which implies a drastically different situation to its venture capital users than reality.

Part of the disconnect is that many Ukrainian-founded companies incorporate in a country that is part of the European Union, such as Estonia or the U.K., so that they can avoid legal and tax burdens in Ukraine. This makes it less clear which companies are founded and built there. Until a few weeks ago, it didn’t seem that many people in the industry knew that editing decacorn Grammarly (valued at $13 billion) or recently public devops platform GitLab (currently trending at $6.4 billion market cap) were Ukrainian companies; startup data company Crunchbase lists both companies’ headquarters as being in San Francisco. Alexandra Balkova, a partner at Estonia-based accelerator Startup Wise Guys, says she and her colleagues have long recognized this dynamic. "We actually joke about the fact that Ukranians from Grammarly are teaching the whole world how to speak English," she says.

Investors like VC Borys Musielak, the founder of Warsaw-based SMOK Ventures, says the country’s specialties could help attract new investors too – assuming that a normal business environment is restored in the future. With a focus on areas including deep tech and AI, many of these startups take years to research and development to launch, which he says makes them less easy to replicate elsewhere.

He, along with Wrobel and Balkova, hope that realizations of the market’s strength and ability to produce valuable companies can bring in more outside investors — one of the largest voids in the current system. "That would be amazing for the founders, for the ecosystem," Musielak says. "I think the resilience they showed it’s hard to not take notice. It would be mad if they didn’t."

The huge, unanswered question is what Ukraine and its business environment will look like at the end of an increasingly devastating war in which more than a million civilians have fled the violence – and in which Russian President Vladimir Putin seems determined to bring the entire country under his control. But regardless of how things end up, the Ukrainian startup market isn’t likely to be overlooked any longer.

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I'm a New York-based reporter covering venture capital, startups and investors. I was previously a reporter at the Venture Capital Journal and