Reflecting on the transition to an online ecosystem.
Back in March, we were planning to host our first ‘Notion Live’ event - taking the Notion Capital experience on the road across Europe. Our aim? Connecting with a wider pool of founders from across the European ecosystem and really getting to know those local markets. The wonderful team at Mews had kindly agreed to co-host the first event with us at their office in Prague and we were all very much looking forward to a day of keynotes from SaaS experts, panel discussions, while connecting with local founders and of course enjoying some Czech beer to round off the day.
As the first couple of weeks in March progressed we were torn as to what to do for the best, perhaps not having grasped the magnitude of the Coronavirus situation, but then the Czech Republic closed its borders, which made our decision for us. At the time, we were of course very disappointed that our event wasn’t going ahead and it looked increasingly unlikely a second Notion Live we had planned in Lisbon in June with Unbabel would be going ahead too. We hastily made the decision to temporarily move all of our events online. However, as the months progressed we began to notice that this move online may have actually been a blessing in disguise - pushing us to do something we always knew we needed to do, to better support our portfolio companies around the world and connect directly with a wider European ecosystem. We’d never quite got round to doing this before with the gusto it deserved.
The pandemic allowed us to host 15 events online in April (compared to 2 in-person ones in January for comparison). We had speakers from across the globe, such as Gibson Biddle, Dave Peterson, Jacco vanderKooij, Mic Huebl, Daniela Kurrer and Patrick Campbell, covering a range of topics including product, culture, category creations, sales, remote working and pricing. The situation particularly afforded us easier access to some speakers on the West Coast of the US, who would usually have to plan a workshop with us far in advance, to allow time for travel arrangements and so on. It also meant that those in our portfolio, who aren’t based in London, also no longer had to travel to access these great speakers and the Notion Family. This events programme continued to grow throughout the following months, with more speakers such as Aaron Ross, Leah Anathan, Pat Phelan and Dan Glazer, covering a wide range of hot topics.
With the aforementioned Notion Live programme still preying on our minds, we decided to trial a similar online event in June, which we branded as Notion Now. Rather than focusing on one European region, we would open it up to SaaS founders and leaders from anywhere, bringing them together for an afternoon of talks and discussions led by a global speaker list. The first event had attendees from 8 different countries and an NPS of 82. With this positive feedback, we decided to host a second Notion Now in July and managed to reach any audience of 14 countries, with an increased NPS of 93. It was a delight to see these results, as any uncertainty we had about how the content would translate online was mostly alleviated. We’re therefore planning to continue running our Notion Now programme, every 6 weeks or so, and in doing so hope to learn how to make online experiences ever better.
Yet, whilst the move online has been a great and beneficial one in many ways and something that we’ll continue to ensure is an integral part of our platform offering, this doesn’t mean we’ll scrap in-person meetups all together. We still appreciate the value of those in-person meetings, particularly founder to founder relationships, and the informal discussions that can grow out of an in-person workshop but we’ve learned that the balance between the two, online and offline, will be paramount moving forward. Whilst we want to continue to facilitate those in-person connections, we’ve been provided with an opportunity to open up our network and events to a wider ecosystem across Europe and to work more readily with some world-class speakers.
An example of the balance between online and offline is our annual Founder Retreat. We’ve postponed our 2020 retreat to October 2021, where we’re hoping (pandemic permitting) to be able to bring all our founders together again. We considered putting the whole retreat online for this year, but were conscious that those organic ‘bumping into each other in the hallway’ moments may not be as natural online, a sentiment that was reflected by our founders when we sent a speculative virtual retreat survey.
So instead we’re hosting a ‘Founder Friday’; an online afternoon session for founders only in October. This is to allow our founders to connect remotely and have an afternoon packed with great talks, but still acknowledges the unique nature that the face to face experience of the retreat affords. We don’t want to try to replicate the in-person event online, we want to make it the best possible online experience it can be. Plus, we all know it’s easier to lose people over Zoom if the session is deemed too long!
The past few months have taught us a lot. Some of the things we’re doing now, we perhaps already knew we should be doing, but had never given it enough attention. It’s a common theme from our founders that, in many ways, this crisis has accelerated changes they were already considering or making, and we feel the same. Amongst many other things, it’s certainly shaped our strategy for our meetups, events and the founder community moving forward. What normal looks like after this pandemic, none of us know yet, but what we can now say with a degree of certainty is that our portfolio, network and ecosystem is a very resilient one and will continue to adapt to the challenges presented to them. We can only hope to play a small part in that, by providing them with access to peers, speakers and a community. We are very much looking forward to continuing our (online and offline) work with them!