Community-Led Growth: Camille Ricketts on marketing at Notion

September 18, 2023

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Episode Summary

Camille Ricketts started her career as a journalist for The Wall Street Journal and VentureBeat before joining Tesla in 2010.

After leading content at Kiva for 2 years, she spent 5 years at First Round Capital, where she started First Round Review—one of the most iconic and lasting startup publications.

In 2019, she joined as the Head of Marketing at Notion, setting the foundations for the brand's community-led success.

You don’t go from unknown startup to household name without a great community strategy. That was definitely the driving factor behind Notion's growth.

As the 11th hire and Head of Marketing at Notion, Camille Ricketts built the brand foundations that enabled Notion to take off like a rocket ship.

On this week's episode, Alex and Camille discuss:

  • Positioning Notion as a broad product for B2B & B2C
  • Building and scaling an engaged community
  • Partnering with ambassadors and influencers
  • Infusing ubiquity and emotion into Notion’s marketing strategy
  • Advice for community-led growth

Links and References


Joining Notion

Alex Kracov: I'd love to start today's conversation with your time at Notion. So you joined Notion in 2019 as the first marketing hire and tenth employee. And today Notion is a household name with over 400 employees and a $10 billion valuation. I'd love to talk about the beginning. What were those early days like? Can you give us a sense of what was the vibe in the office, how big was the company?

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, absolutely. So just for putting an accurate point on that, I was employee number 11. I don't want to step on employee number 10. When I got there, it honestly felt like a family. I know that that's like a silly thing to say perhaps. But the way that the office was designed and the vibe, it was all, "Take your shoes off at the door. Let's all have lunch around the same table." There was an area where we did all hands that had a rug, that co- founder and CEO, Ivan Zhao, had in his house when he was growing up as a kid. It just felt like a space that was designed for people doing something really key and important together. The environment that was created, I think, lent itself to a lot of creativity and then also just a lot of cross population among everybody that was there, regardless of what their skill set was. I worked really closely with designers and the technical side of the house from day one. That was such a gift.

Alex Kracov: You mentioned Ivan Zhao, who's one of the founders of Notion. I'd love to kind of hear what your early conversations were like with him. What did Ivan say was your initial priority when you started? Do you remember what those initial goals were?

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, I remember. In particular, we had - so our first office was this big warehouse space. I think it had been like an auto body garage where the person who ran it actually lived above it. So it was like this big open space in the bottom, and then we had this apartment that was on top where all the meeting rooms were. We had one meeting room that had this whiteboard in it. He would draw out the funnel together and then be like, "Okay. Here's what we think needs to happen at every single stage of the funnel. Then if we do our work correctly, here, all the people at the bottom of the funnel are going to go back up and lend itself to all this awareness." So I think that that was not only good at helping us visualize what needed to happen but also was the kernel of what became this early community effort that I think has really defined the Notion experience - this idea that there were so many people who can be activated as advocates who already authentically love what the product was doing for them. And figuring out how we can work with them, nurture them, make it possible for them to amplify what they were doing with more people. Truly, that was sort of the nuts and bolts of what that early experience looked like. Then figuring out what were the strengths already on the ground. Social media was already proving itself to be a wonderful distribution mechanism for Notion to figuring out what is the tone of voice and velocity that would further build on itself there. Then, of course, a key part of this is realizing that ambassadorship was going to be a big part of the story. And bringing on Ben Lang to run community. That happened the month after I joined. So that was in quick succession.

Positioning a Broad Product

Alex Kracov: I'm excited. We're going to spend a lot of time talking about community. But before we get into that, I want to talk more at a high level about positioning Notion overall. Because it seems, to me, like a really hard product to position, especially in the early days. So many different use cases and personas. It's both B2B and B2C in some ways. It goes against all early-stage advice where it's like, all right, pick one wedge and stick with it. But that's also the beauty with Notion. And so yeah, I don't know. It must have been hard to explain. How did you approach that challenge?

Camille Ricketts: I think it made prioritization particularly thorny, figuring out where we wanted to invest. Because on one hand, the B2C side was just taking off internationally in a huge way. People were using Notion to plan their weddings, go to school, all kinds of long tail use cases. The ambassadors that we were able to recruit into that community were just so excited about all of the potential. They were wanting to run in-person meetups and all of that. Then at the same time, from the very beginning, we wanted the story to be about how this was a tool for teams, to making sure we were able to allocate enough of our energy and enough of our activity in that direction.

I think what was really beneficial about that early community strategy is, it was really able to drive forward a lot of the B2C messaging, particularly in markets where we would never be able to invest that early, while the team in-house which was very bare bones to start and then grew over time could be a little bit more focused on making sure that the website was messaged for teams, making sure that we were appearing across channels, and telling that story, and starting to assemble customer testimonials and case studies. All of that.

Alex Kracov: When you say teams, what were the use cases? What were the things the teams were actually using Notion for?

Camille Ricketts: A big part of that early effort was figuring out what that ICP and what the positioning for that ICP was going to be. And so really paying attention to all of the folks coming in through the website and who they were, making sure that our onboarding was oriented in order to capture that data and information. What that yielded for us was this visibility that the people who love Notion the most professionally and were really bringing it to teams and expanding were engineering, designers, and product marketers. And so, could we then create storytelling on the website that was really tailored to each of their specific needs? For engineers, it was definitely road mapping-oriented, project management. For product managers, a lot of documentation, use casing. Then making sure that out there in the world, we were appearing in events, appearing in newsletters, et cetera, that were all going to target those particular audiences.

Alex Kracov: I remember Lattice was - I don't know how early we were, but we started to use Notion fairly early on. And yeah, I think our main use case was like Wiki. It was like a place to organize all of our documentation and all the different crazy - we had no documentation as a startup before Notion. Then it really helped us professionalize that, distribute it to the rest of the company.

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, and I actually have to - I owe you a big thank you because you were one of those first early video use cases that ended up being the gift that kept giving. Because we decided to do a bunch of these videos. We did five of them, and Lattice was chief among them. It went to the office and interviewed a bunch of people. We had no idea that the next year the pandemic was going to descend, and it was going to be completely impossible to get that type of footage and that type of material. So those sort of five videos that we ended up capturing went on to have long, long, impactful lives. So I always tell people you want to do those, because then you can use every single part of them.

Marketing at Notion

Alex Kracov: It was also good credo for my friends to make fun of me where they're like, "Wait, why are you with this ad for this company? What's going on?" I'm like, I do the case study thing. That was very funny. I'd love to talk about building the marketing program over time. Because you started with community content and design and didn't invest into things like performance and demand gen until much later. How did you think about building the marketing program over time, and why did you structure your investment in that way?

Camille Ricketts: I think that we saw that the organic wave was going to serve us pretty well early on, and so we wanted to ride that as much as possible. Notion has always been, I think, really efficient in the way that it approaches things and understanding how it can scale strengths and scale and certain systems. And so it wasn't necessarily until 2020, December of 2021, we brought on our very first performance marketing hire, Fab David. That's when things really started turning. But that was sort of 18 months into what we were doing. So much of the growth program prior to that - I can't take any credit for this. Jamie Clint was running Growth at the time and is a genius of that - was about making sure that the tooling was all set up correctly, that the website was performing optimally. All of that. We had started doing some newsletter sponsorship, running some experiments with SEM. But we really didn't turn the key on it until later, and relied heavily on all of those organic programs.

The two that I'll call out, two among sort of an array of things that we were doing, was the startup partnership program. So really capitalizing on channel partners that reach the startup audience - I'm happy to go into more detail there - as well as influencer, and really making sure that we were leveraging folks who are already authentically really engaged with the product out there.

Community at Notion

Alex Kracov: Let's get really in the weeds around community. I'd love to start with maybe definitions. Because community can be an abstract and nebulous concept for a lot of folks. I feel like it can mean everything, from social media to your email list. How do you think about defining community at Notion?

Camille Ricketts: I think the community can be defined in many, many different ways. Also, you have to be really precise about what form of it is right for you. I think that Notion, we ended up going with a fairly traditional, I would say, look and feel of community where we truly did build a Slack room. That was just a lot of really talkative folks that were constantly helping each other troubleshoot, coming to the group with opportunities, wanting to host things, wanting to expand their involvement of it. So it's very classic. That's not going to be the case for every single company. It's depending on how enterprise-oriented or what exactly what it is that you are trying to sell out there.

But at Notion, we definitely wanted to not only take advantage of how excited and how purely creative this group of people was in wanting to elevate them as part of this, but also recognizing that there was actually an asset that most of them were creating that was super shareable in the form of templates. Really, the atomic unit of all of this behavior was folks wanting to build something. Getting really excited about how beautiful and useful it was, and then showing it to other people through all these various means. And so we wanted to help people do that as much as possible.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, it's amazing the number of people who have created a business off of Notion. There's course makers and consultants. There are so many people, as you said, make these Notion templates to share with other folks. Was that a deliberate strategy for Notion or more organic and then you sort of help foster it into the future?

Camille Ricketts: I would say that Ben is a very strategic-minded person, so I think that he saw the seeds of these things that were going to be able to be expanded upon. But I think he would agree with me when I say that we tried to follow people as much as possible. Whenever we saw a new behavior emerge among them, we figure out what would the life of that look like and how could we invest in it more. So community has at Notion given rise to a few of these programs - influencer, obviously, the consultants, the course makers, the template sellers, all of that. But then also, all of these folks who just want to teach Notion in various ways as certified experts and wanting to give people an actual certification process that they could go into and get badges and all of that.

I think that we really tried to concentrate on like, oh, what are we seeing people do without us necessarily pushing them in a direction? A really good example of this that I think is also a bit contrarian to how some people think about community is that certain ambassadors that we were working with wanted to go be community managers on their own external to the walled garden of the Notion ambassadors. They wanted to go found their own Facebook group. We had somebody who was running the Subreddit, which is now wildly popular. I think that there's almost 300,000 people in that Subreddit. And figuring out how we could not only empower them and remove friction from them being able to do that, but also connect them with resources to become even better at this skill that they wanted to build with community management.

Notion's Ambassador Program

Alex Kracov: And so what was this ambassador program? Was it a really formal program where people had to sign up, and then they get a badge that they're a Notion ambassador? What did that actually look like from a program perspective?

Camille Ricketts: Early on, it kind of felt the way that Notion felt early on, which was very family-esque and very we're all in this together. We're all trying to learn from each other to get better at this thing that we're all trying to do. So it started very informally. It started with Ben inviting 20 people who we saw being really vocal across Twitter and YouTube, et cetera, into the Slack space. Then he just jumped on Zoom for an hour with each of them essentially and was like, "Why are you here? Why is this exciting? Why have you started being so vocal about this product? What would you ideally like this space to become?" We learned so much there around what people wanted to do, and why they wanted to meet one another, and what they wanted to learn.

I think Ben did such an excellent job then crafting the conversation and the moderation of this group around those particular things. A good example of that is just hearing that people wanted to meet other Notion fans in their particular local area and then creating a playbook. That was like, okay, if you want to host a small coffee chat, this is what that looks like. If you want to host a workshop, here's what that looks like. So it's just easy for people to replicate. Then supporting them to order pizza for everybody, or find the right venue, or generate an invite list, that type of thing.

Alex Kracov: Got you. So you basically use these ambassadors to have local meetups around the world, right? So it sounded like you would give them a little bit of money to help them through these events. Then they could be out there and be your salespeople on the ground, if you will, going to convert other people into Notion evangelists. Is that kind of how I think about it?

Camille Ricketts: I mean, at the same time, it couldn't be more authentic. Because these are folks that are - they themselves are not compensated. There's many incentives, I think, built in because we would actually give them early access to features. They were really looped into the feedback cycle with our product managers. They had access to AMAs with a lot of the folks actually building day to day. So there were a lot of reasons, I think, to join this. But I think it felt less like they were selling on the ground and more they just wanted to show off what they were able to do with this thing. It was so so cool to see that some of these early in-person gatherings occurred in markets like South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Paris and understanding how international by default this was going to be.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, that's an amazing just like grassroots movement around Notion and building the brand. Did you use this group of ambassadors for product feedback as well? Were you funneling in their voice back to the product team?

Camille Ricketts: Absolutely, yes. Early on, Notion, I think, fairly classically or visibly did not have product managers for a very long time. Kind of the stripe model of, we have incredible technical prowess on the team. Then they're interfacing directly with go-to-market. So PMs didn't necessarily join until I think 2020, 2021. And so it really was having engineers who were actively building these features in the ambassador group being able to see what the chatter was whenever we shared something.

To give you a sense of how committed we were to this, there were some elaborate feature flagging that had to be built into the shipping process in order for us to provide a preview for this select group before shipping to the broader user base. But it was really important for us to do that because we understood that they had, I think, intimate understanding of what folks wanted to do with the product, what was going to be exciting, what rough edges we should sand off before shipping things.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, that's a great example of how you can just engage your really core user base. Then once you do that and make them happy, it's like the YC thing. Build something that 10 people want and then go from there. Notion was actually doing that all the way up, it sounds like. Where you had this core evangelized group, and then you make them happy. Deliver what they need, then it builds this amazing organic growth engine, as you're describing. It's really cool.

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, I think it can be such a benefit to understand. I'm borrowing this term from a woman named April Dunford who's written the best treatise on positioning. I'm sure you're very familiar. But she talks about best fit customers, which are essentially the folks that you want to replicate. If you could have 10,000 of this type of person, fantastic. That's who we were so excited to have in these community spaces to really understand what their psychology and motivations were.

Alex Kracov: Was there any interesting moments where you realize people were making a lot of money off of Notion? Are there any example? Because that'd be crazy to be, where it's like, alright, I built this thing. Then it's like, oh, somebody else is earning a living off of this product. Any moments that stand out?

Camille Ricketts: Absolutely. I would say that some of the more fantastic celebratory moments for me and Ben, and then Francisco who eventually joined the team on the community side, was being so and so quit their job to do this full time. We would Slack each other and be like, "Another one did. Now that's 24 people who are now doing this full time." I remember seeing an article. We didn't actually know about this before we saw the article on Mashable. That was about one of our users making, I think, something like $35,000 having sold one template over a four-month period. We were just like, wow, this is really taking off in a way that we never could have estimated. I think that that had been done even prior to us having this robust template gallery on the website. People have started selling Notion templates on Gumroad and Etsy and all of these other platforms. It just taken on a life of its own.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, that's an amazing story. That must be such a fun feeling even going beyond just people actually using the product. But actually, quitting their job and having a livelihood based off of it, wow, that must be awesome.

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, also so rewarding. I feel like in addition to being able to serve this customer base, it was like we have changed lives in some really extraordinary ways. In turn, the people who we count among those ranks had changed the trajectory of the company for us. So it was really this beautiful symbiotic experience.

Notion's Influencer Program

Alex Kracov: You had mentioned this a little bit earlier in the conversation. You used influencers quite a bit to help jumpstart the community-led growth. Can you talk about how you approached the influencer program at Notion?

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, that's, I think, an instance of real organic strategic growth for us, where we started observing that some folks were just out there doing this. I think I remember Ben talking about seeing the data on Amplitude. I forget exactly what country it was. But it was something like, why did 700,000 people from Belarus arrive at the website today? It probably wasn't Belarus. But it was some geography where we were like, why would there be this massive spike in traffic? It was because a YouTube video had dropped that was targeted toward that audience and was really influential for them. So that was when I think we got serious around like, oh, let's investigate how to do this. But neither me or Ben was a professional influencer manager, so it really was us reaching out to people cold, understanding what the pricing looked like, being like, what can we rationalize on this?

One of my favorite moments here is, we reached out to a productivity influencer on YouTube. They were like, "Well, you should talk to my agent Dave." We were like, "Your agent Dave?" Then we went to Dave. Dave was like, "Oh, I represent multiple people that have this profile." Then we were like, oh, can we get in front of those folks? So we worked our way or stepped our way through understanding how this work. Over time, it became an incredibly robust skill set for Ben and then started taking off where there were like a dozen of these influencer activations a month. Then we hired this truly miraculous woman, Lexie Barnhorn, at the end of 2021, who I think is maybe the best influencer manager in tech. She came from Curology. Now I think they're running more than two per day activations on influencer. It's really ended up scaling massively.

Alex Kracov: It's amazing. Was YouTube the main channel, or were there other channels that you found productive to work with influencers?

Camille Ricketts: Early on, certainly, YouTube was the one that was front and center for us. But then, TikTok sort of came in in a huge way. We realized how cost-efficient that was, where you could maybe spend $400. And because the way the algorithm worked, somebody who maybe didn't have the biggest follower count would still be able to get over a million views on something. So we really saw that your investment could scale really nicely on TikTok. One of the great win moments there was - we didn't know this was happening in advance. But The Verge published an article. The title was literally TikTok Teens' New Obsession is Enterprise Software.

Alex Kracov: I remember that one.

Camille Ricketts: We thought to ourselves: had we tried to do this ourselves, we couldn't have threaded the needle more perfectly on the B2C, B2B divide. What an amazing validation of what we were trying to do.

Alex Kracov: Do you think TikTok drove actual leads and signups to Notion? Was it more talent recruiting play to get in front of a younger audience? It's something I wrestle with myself. I see the crazy viral potential on TikTok, but I'm like, oh, should I do more Dock stuff over there? Do people care about sales and marketing enterprise software on TikTok? How do you think about this?

Camille Ricketts: I think you can safely say that somebody is not going to buy a massive number of enterprise seats in a piece of software because they happened to see a video on TikTok. I don't think that that direct tie necessarily exists. Maybe it has happened, but I don't think that that's necessarily the backing of that strategy. What it does do I think is lend itself to this bigger concept, that we were very dedicated to at Notion, around ubiquity. And just, can we make this thing as ubiquitous as humanly possible, where people feel like they are hearing about it from all sides? They saw a billboard. They saw it on Twitter. They heard about it from a friend. We wanted to surround sound as much as we possibly could. I think TikTok did that to such a degree that it ended up de-risking a lot of these enterprise interactions. Folks were like, "Oh, I've heard about that from so many people at this point." Yes, I do feel comfortable entering into this size of deal, just because it's obviously so established and so vibrant.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, when your product just becomes part of the cultural zeitgeist, it makes everything a lot easier, right? It makes those sales conversations easier. That's so much of just marketing's job. It's just getting the product into the considerations that when somebody's thinking about buying this type of software.

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, and it wasn't a rare occurrence for us to hear from folks who are C-suite or VP-level executives that they heard about it from their kid. Or, that we had reached out to them, and then they happened to mention it at the dinner table, and their teenager was like, "Oh, my God. That's so cool. You have to work with them." It's amazing how some of those interactions still remain so human and are not just like cut and dry the way you might think that they are.

Alex Kracov: I'm curious how you think about the budget around influencer program. Because I'm thinking about this for myself at Dock. You mentioned it a little bit in one of your answers where it's like, okay, it could be maybe $400 for some. But then I've talked to some influencers on LinkedIn, and it's like $50,000 to do a podcast, a YouTube. It's so expensive. I don't know. How do you think about that budget range and dividing spend enough? If I was to experiment with this at Dock, do you need to do it with 5 or 10 people and place a bunch of bets and see how it works? How do you think about getting the strategy going?

Camille Ricketts: I am by no means an expert on this. Lexie would have a far more precise and scientific response. But the way that I saw her and Ben operate was having your bedrock of, like, okay, we know that if we make these types of investments that we're going to see a payback. We're going to see it through the number of clicks on a link in the description on YouTube, or we're able to attribute enough that these are pretty direct bets. But then every so often or on a quarterly basis can we do some things that are outside of that range just to see if it has outsized payoff. So can we pay $50,000 to work with an influencer who seems to just have incredible not only relevance for our audience but reach, and see how much that drives? So I think it's sort of a combination of the two, where you want to be as aware as you possibly can on most of what you are investing in, but then always giving yourself that latitude. To be like, should we work with MrBeast? Should we try to get in front of those folks? You never want to be like, oh, we can't do that because we're so tied to this particular type of payback schema.

Alex Kracov: At Notion, MrBeast will be interesting and crazy. I mean, it's just crazy that he even said recently, his brands can't even pay enough for what my videos are worth. That's why he's creating Feastivals and all these other products for him to sell himself. It's wild.

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, now he has multiple channels where it's like, well, you can't be on the main MrBeast channel, but you can be on this offshoot channel. It's pretty incredible to see.

Notion for Students

Alex Kracov: You mentioned Notion has a lot of credit programs for startups and channel partners. Then you also do - I think Notion is free for students, right?

Camille Ricketts: Yeah.

Alex Kracov: Can you talk about this strategy? It seems like you're really trying to seed Notion early on with folks early in their careers or company lifecycle. Is that right?

Camille Ricketts: Absolutely. That was actually one of the first big campaigns that I worked on. It was sort of the back-to-school window in 2019. The logic there was: we were seeing so much early traction among students, and they were also the loudest. Far none, they were the most vocal across all of the social media channels about their experience, what they were doing with it. Even though I was given a lot of advice - I think we all were - that students churn fairly easily, and you may never realize revenue from them, it's absolutely an audience that is worth it to invest in. Especially if you are running any sort of creator tools, business or community, I think students are just like incredible advocates and are incredibly active on your behalf. So that was the idea there. We just removed the barrier to entry for them.

They would create so many beautiful examples of how the product worked. Then I think we have validated since that time that they do in fact enter the workforce and then pound the table and demand to use the tools that they love. We've heard about a few rogue movements inside of larger companies where people have said, "No, we really have to use Notion. We refuse to use Google Docs." Their IT departments end up bending to their will. So we're very thankful to the folks who went through that arc with us.

Alex Kracov: It makes so much sense. It's such a good lesson in just the long tail that's powering amazing software businesses like Notion. That's what it makes product-led growth so powerful too. It's like you have a group of people who can help spread your message and push your product out in the world. It might not be where you make your money in the short term, but it's probably where you make your money over the long term and how you build a generational company.

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, I think it does go back to that ubiquity piece, where it's just so important to think through how your company can appear to be everywhere at once. With the startup program you mentioned, I think that there's now a significant - I don't know the exact percentage. But back at the time when we launched the program, something like 28% of all startups on CrunchBase that had raised over a million dollars were using Notion to some degree. I think the reason it feels so ubiquitous among startups is because we were able to identify these partnerships with incredible VC firms - with AWS, with Stripe, with folks who were really super connectors among this audience - to offer Notion at a significant discount and get people going, and then seeing how it just took root in a lot of places that have now since scaled massively.

Content at Notion

Alex Kracov: You're one of the best content marketers in tech and created First Round Review before you joined Notion, which is one of my absolute favorite publications for startup advice. I'd love to know more about how you approached content marketing at Notion. What was your editorial strategy? What were the different content types? How did you think about it?

Camille Ricketts: Well, that is very, very kind. It means a lot to me coming from you, so thank you for that. Content was very different at Notion than it was at First Round. When you are at a VC firm, your MO is to create as much awareness as you possibly can so that a lot of startups will want to raise their hand and come in and say hello to you. At Notion, it was really making it possible for content to be very purposeful in a driving certain results sense, where we wanted content to be useful in driving conversions, obviously, but also activation, providing enough education in order for people to really make the most and get the most value out of the product.

Again, I can't take a ton of credit for this. We started content marketing and Ernest, actually a year after I joined, because there was so much to do between those two points in time. Nathan Martens came on at the end of January and really started driving this, and Ernest. We started with customer stories just because it was going to be, I think, the highest priority to demonstrate to our teams, our prospective team customers, what this actually was capable of doing for them. So it really started with that, and then dual investment in all of this user education. So starting to create tutorial videos and written guides and using our templates as centerpieces on unpacking how they worked and why they were so good in ways that other people could then graft to their own organizations. That was the early strategy with content, and not so much a focus on thought leadership or other sort of nuts and bolts of getting people in the door and then helping them be successful.

Alex Kracov: How did community eventually relate to content? Were you sort of using the ambassadors or the things you're learning in the community to actually create content?

Camille Ricketts: Absolutely. I think that content and community, honestly, among all the functions inside of marketing, they are capable of forming this incredibly virtuous cycle, where the community, so many stories are being generated by them about how they're using things, what that's made possible in their lives, how can we use social media and storytelling to amplify those experiences. Then at the same time, all this content that we create, can we share it with the community in a way that makes them excited to go out and share it with even more people? I think they were such an excellent distribution powerhouse for us. I'm so thankful for that.

But at the same time, we were constantly looking for these sorts of anomalous or fun stories of what Notion had done for people that we could then tell through various means. I would say content at Notion was not just like this written side of things or video side of things, but also social media. I can't overstate the value of social media for Notion as its own distribution channel. I'll call out Alex Howe who runs now a massive empire of social media for Notion. The last thing I'll say on that and then I'll stop rambling about it is that, we saw the value of visual storytelling and how that should really take the lead on social media. So you'll see that almost all of Notion's posts actually include a visual that isn't just a flat, like, oh, yeah, that's a GIF of how this feature works but has its own little story microcosm where you can imagine the person who's using the product. They're doing it for some specific reason. All of that, I attribute to Alex and David Tibbits who pioneered that.

Alex Kracov: Notion has such a unique brand aesthetic, as you mentioned. There's the emojis, the black and white characters. You mentioned one example in social media. How did you think about that design aesthetic and Notion's creative direction overall?

Camille Ricketts: I was so fortunate to step into the role when the illustration aesthetic already existed. I love the story of how that came together. We have this incredible artist, Roman Muradov, who was like a New Yorker-level illustrator who needed some studio space. Because Notion's first office tended to be a little large for the group that was there, he was able to work in that space and then became incredibly close to Ivan. I got the benefit of working with him. His vision has really, I think, defined a lot of that. I was telling people that sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and would just be like, "How is Roman," to make sure that he's having the best life ever. Because he was so important.

But beyond that, I think that we also created some sort of aesthetic rules that just gave the brand a consistency and the memorability. A good example is that whenever we were telling these stories visually, we only had a handful of websites that we would actually show that dovetailed with this monochromatic, or elegant, or elevated, or cultured concept we wanted to perpetuate. Like the MoMA website or the New Yorker website. We would really go for sort of these high design prioritization of beauty and craft. We would tell stories based on those types of things. So we had a whole design playbook that delineated a lot of this.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, it's amazing when you have a fabulous designer at your company. Luc Chaissac was the one at Lattice. I made him my co-founder at Dock, because it's just like, these people are so talented. They define the brand aesthetic, and it's really hard to find people who can make magic happen. That really stands out in the world. So much a design can blur together.

Camille Ricketts: Absolutely. The thing that blows my mind about Roman's work is just how timeless it is. It doesn't feel like of a particular era, and so I don't think it's feeling aged at all. The thing that I love so much - we didn't really know how to feel about it when it first started happening, but now I would say it's a definite strength - is people wanting to do their own image in that same style. And so now you see on Twitter a bunch of people who have done that, and it just feels really pervasive.

Notion's Brand Campaigns

Alex Kracov: Let's talk about brand campaigns. Because as Notion grew up and scaled, you started to run more brand campaigns. Every time I go to an airport now, I see some Notion ads. I think there was one I saw. I was trying to remember. It was like recipes and a product roadmap side by side, which is a good example of the B2C and B2B. Then you started to do some video campaigns. And so can you talk a little bit about what the strategy was behind the brand campaigns?

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, I think there's been two, I would say, concerted or more holistic brand campaigns that I'll just call attention to. There's been more since then. But the two that I was there for, both of them were really dedicated to this idea that Notion was good for both work and life. We really saw this as a key differentiator for us, that it was something that people would love to use across that chasm. Also, I think during these weird few years, folks were seeing sort of life and work more blended. Could they have a tool that made them feel better about that or more in control of that experience?

The first campaign that sent that message - I worked on this with this woman, Andrea Lim, who's now a Brand Manager at Notion still - was all in the interface, was all telling the story inside the interface. We had a dad who was going on paternity leave. One of his Notion instances, he was planning with his wife how they were going to assemble all of their to-dos. Then on the other was working with his team to figure out the coverage plan for his paternity leave. We had one where these girls decided to quit their job in order to found a startup together. Then we're putting everything together inside of Notion. It felt really kinetic and also emotional. I think that it really underscored for us that there is an emotional center to this product that doesn't exist all the time, that is really special and unique, and how can the brand campaigns really orient themselves around that. I won't go into as much detail, because I didn't work on it as much as the existing team. But the extension of that was this four-year life's work campaign that ended up being highly visible, I think, on billboards and digitally. But taking that sense of like, okay, now live action. How can we see how people are managing their life and work with this?

Alex Kracov: Yeah, I remember so well all the Notion ads and billboards. Because it's such a remarkable job of showing the product in a way that worked well on a billboard. We ran a lot of billboards at Lattice. We never put the product really on the billboard because it was so just so hard to do. But Notion, I think, you really threaded the needle there. It was awesome.

Camille Ricketts: We tried to keep it as simple as possible. I remember us constantly being like, "No, simpler. No, it has to be - It's just a checklist." We really tried super hard on that side of things. And then credit to Ivan and Akshay, who's another one of the co-founders and is COO there. They really gave me a lot of latitude to experiment with things that were sort of far afield when it came to these outdoor marketing campaigns. We had a few really big murals in San Francisco, in New York that just said software should be beautiful. That was a campaign that got extended to London and a few other places. The idea was to create this curiosity gap but also really get to that emotional crux of like, think most people do want their digital experience to be more beautiful and that they deserve that. I wanted them to be like, what is this Notion thing? They seem to understand something implicitly.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, that's what also made Notion as such a special piece of software. It's that there's a certain craft and attention to detail behind it that is missing in Google Docs and Word and all the other platforms. You mentioned London here, so I want to talk a little bit about marketing international. Because I think I saw a stat. I don't know if this is right. But 80% of Notion's users are outside of the US. How did you think about international marketing? I imagine you did this way earlier in the lifecycle than most companies do.

Camille Ricketts: Incredibly early, Notion was absolutely international by default when I arrived there in January 2019. South Korea was the next largest market outside of the US and then very fast follow with Japan and the UK. It was one of those staggering things where we wondered, how are we going to be able to increase this momentum when we couldn't have a massive budget? Certainly, we're so far away from having enough headcount on the team in order to serve those markets very specifically.

Obviously, I've talked about this a lot now already in this interview, but community was hugely helpful for us. Then we really did turn the key on internationalization, I think, way earlier than most people do. In fact, when I tell people, they're like, "Oh, when was your first localization launch?" It was August 2020 in Korea. That was honestly a year and a half after we were just a team of 10 or 11 people. Folks were like, we were 400 people when we even started contemplating that. I think that we were under 100 still. With that, it was just really like, can we be really scrappy but at the same time really polished? The ambassadors who we had in South Korea at the time were just instrumental. The day that we launched, we did a press conference. Then later in the day, there was this live stream that two of them hosted that 8,000 people tuned in for. That was all about Notion and what we wanted to make possible for the Korean audience.

Alex Kracov: That's such a crazy story. I don't know. It's an amazing story. Again, share the power of community-led growth. That if you can empower these different ambassadors and people around the world, they will actually just grow those market for you. Because I would just like to ask a question of how you understand these local markets. I guess you didn't even really need to because you had these ambassadors who were there who really understood it and talk about Notion in a really authentic way for South Koreans, or the UK audience, or whoever it was.

Camille Ricketts: I cannot thank them enough. Because not only did they help us with Mindshare that way, but they also helped us understand what we needed to make possible in those ecosystems and what was going to be important to those folks. Because brand campaigns have to be so nuanced. So helping us really understand what was going to connect with people the best, they really channeled a lot of that knowledge back to us. It's beyond grateful.

Selling Notion

Alex Kracov: I'd love to switch gears and talk about how Notion actually sold into enterprises and teams. Does Notion have a sales team? How did that path look like? Because I imagine you had all of these champions that were within organizations. Like at Lattice, it was Emily Smith who drove the adoption. But yeah, I don't know. What sort of programs did you put around to actually convert all this free usage into paying customers?

Camille Ricketts: I got very lucky early on because I call him my work sibling. Our head of sales got hired. I think he started two months after me. This is David Apple. He's, I think, just one of the OGs and one of the best people who knows this space so well. He and I really got to partner very closely. He was so thoughtful about how we should approach this new enterprise motion. We were able to really work closely together on messaging. He did a ton of jobs to be done, interviews, when he first arrived, with these customers that were probably going to be either large team deployments or maybe even starting into the enterprise category to really know what that mindset was. Also, what product features we were absolutely going to have to be able to check the box on before having a lot of those conversations. Then that team started to grow. I would say that the marketing and sales team got to stay pretty close knit, because the tone was set that we were partners from the very beginning.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, I always like to think one team, one dream. All the sales and marketing fighting is such nonsense, right? It's like, we're all working on the same goal, which is driving pipeline and then revenue. It's like, we're all on the same team working towards the same thing. So yeah.

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, and then I would be completely remiss if I didn't mention that in January of 2021, I got joined by a co-head of marketing, Rachel Hepworth, who then brought her incredible enterprise experience from Slack where she had been for multiple years, and really started bringing in demand gen and a lot of that quantitative muscle that helped us more specifically, I would say, drive MQLs in a very concerted way, in a more classic way than I was experienced with. I couldn't have asked for a better partner and say enough nice things about her.

Alex Kracov: When you're building a marketing, there are so many functions in marketing, right? You can't be a master at all of them. And so it's like you have to build complements around you to accomplish all the different things. You only scale by growing the team around you. That was definitely a lesson that I learned at Lattice myself.

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, marketing is so horizontal that I think folks spike on the art side, spike on the science side - not to be too reductive, but that tends to be the case - or the math side, or the messaging side. I think just being really self-aware as a marketing leader and knowing what you have to bring onto the team to compliment yourself. A lot of people are like, "Oh, is that a very common thing to have? Like co-heads of marketing is sort of split in these ways?" I was like, no, that is not very common. I'm not sure that it would have worked had she and I not had the dynamic that we had.

Scaling from 10 Employees

Alex Kracov: What was the Notion experience like for you on a personal level? Because it must have been pretty crazy scaling this company, being part of a company that grew from 10 people to a pretty big company. How did you handle this maybe emotionally and personal growth? How did you sort of keep up with the company's growth curve?

Camille Ricketts: That is such a good question. I feel like that question is so seldom asked, so thank you. When I stepped into this, I was not a very traditional profile for this type of role. So I'm really, really grateful and amazed that Ivan gave me the opportunity to do this. He really saw what I had done at First Round and saw what potential there might be for me to think about the storytelling for this company early on. But given the fact that I had not been through a classic rocket ship arc, and I certainly hadn't been first-hand exposed to a ton of later-stage enterprise motion, it was this experience of having to execute while learning on my feet constantly. I don't think that that is by any means a unique or special experience. I think that everybody working at a startup is doing that to some extent. But I do think it's this really sort of dig deep experience of how can I scale myself as fast as humanly possible while continuing to get things done. Then when you add management into the mix and a lot of folks who are going through this type of high growth, high personal stretch experience, you also have to provide a therapeutic space for a lot of folks who are going through a lot of the same things that you are at the same time.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, it gets very Meta, where you're going through it yourself, you're learning how to be a manager then director, then leader. Then you also have to empathize with the people on your team who are also going through that and pushing themselves. But I think that's how I build trust in my team, where it's like, hey, I go through this too. We're all going through this together. I think that's what makes this startup rocketship such a special experience that we all sort of look back on.

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, I don't know about you. I'd be so interested to hear. But there are so many moments when you just have to say I don't know. I don't know. Let's all get into a room and try to reason from first principles.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, absolutely. It's like, you just got to be honest and figure it out. That's the best part of people. You just can figure it out. And if they don't know themselves, they can go talk to people or go in line. I don't know. Just somehow, someway, get it done.

Camille Ricketts: I think that that's the biggest thing. Something that I did not know was going to play such a big role was being able to field this cohort of mentors that were just going to help me on a daily basis so that I could text them and be like, "How do you buy a billboard? Do I call the 1-800?" Then being like, "No, here's my friend, Sam, at Clear Channel. I'll set you up." All of that.

Community-Led Growth

Alex Kracov: Yeah, so true. You need the community around you, for sure. I'd love to end today's conversation with maybe advice for other startups or founders who are thinking about community-led growth. Notion is definitely a special company and a special product. But are there any broader frameworks or ways that companies can maybe think about community-led growth for them?

Camille Ricketts: Yeah, I've shared this framework before, so I don't want to belabor it. But maybe I can also send it to you afterward.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, we can put it in the show notes.

Camille Ricketts: Knowing where you are on the spectrums of how B2C are you, how enterprise are you, where are you in your journey with product market fit, and how can you create the form factor of community - that's basically going to not just sort of amplify your profile in the market but maximize your learning per unit time. Especially if you're still approaching product market fit, how can you convene a community that is really going to help you learn as fast as you possibly can about what people want and need, and how you're going to replicate that type of customer? So it could be a customer advisory board. It could be a focus group that you bring together every so often. It could be a champions community where you are trying to bring together a bunch of people who are very excited about you, side of your customer companies. You can lean on them to help expand all of that.

But a few things that I think really came up for me in terms of learnings that are maybe cutting across all those things, having somebody who is sort of full-time dedicated to the care and feeding of this community, if it is a priority for you and is going to be a growth lever for you, you can't overstate the case. The fact that Ben joined so soon, it's 100% the reason we succeeded. Then also being able to start small. I see a lot of folks who believe that their success metric is, oh, we brought together many thousands of people in this space. But there might not be that same sort of velocity of engagement or active use, because folks are not sure who else is in that room with them, et cetera. So being able and giving yourself the permission to start small and then learn from that group, and then move out to that next concentric circle and learn from them, and then move out from there. If you have sort of the buy in and the time to do that, I think it's really helpful.

Alex Kracov: Well, thank you so much for the wonderful conversation, Camille. If people want to follow up and reach out to you, where's the best social media channel to find you?

Camille Ricketts: I'm still holding it down on Twitter, man.

Alex Kracov: Nice.

Camille Ricketts: I'm at @camillericketts. I'm still there. I love to be helpful and chat about this type of stuff, so I hope I get to meet some of your listeners after this. Thank you so much for having me on. This was so fun.

Alex Kracov: Thank you.

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