Inside Notion's 'secret' San Francisco office, where the startup hides from VCs that were literally knocking at the door and employees take their shoes off before entering
Katie Canales/Business Insider
- Notion is an enterprise software startup that offers an "all-in-one workplace" to help you keep your work management tools, like Slack and Google Docs, organized.
- With over a million users, the company has garnered some buzz in Silicon Valley's investor scene, so much so that VCs were showing up at the company's former office asking to invest.
- Notion has since moved into a new office space, and to avoid any unexpected visitors, the company decided to keep its address hidden from Google Maps.
- We paid a visit to Notion's "hidden" new office in San Francisco's Mission District, where employees take their shoes off before entering, walk around in socks on heated floors, and drink Kombucha on tap in a high-ceilinged building that was once a garage.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
What do you do when your startup has drummed up so much buzz that VCs come literally knocking on your door clamoring to invest? Don't tell Google your new address when you move into a new office.
Silicon Valley investors have aggressively sought after Notion, an enterprise software startup that offers an "all-in-one workplace" to help you keep your work management tools, like Slack and Google Docs, organized.
Why the hullabaloo? With over a million users, including Hearst Media, and being the go-to platform for thousands of startups, Notion has lofty goals for its product to become "as ubiquitous as Microsoft Office," CEO Ivan Zhao told Business Insider in an interview earlier this year.
VCs apparently picked up on the hype and started showing up at the company's former office location inquiring about investing. So when the software company moved to a new building four months ago, Notion kept its address on the down-low.
Notion's new office is in the same neighborhood it's been all along: the city's Mission District. And the workspace has all of the fixings of a Silicon Valley startup competing for the region's tech talent with out-of-the-box office perks.
Employees take their shoes off when they come into work, walk around in socks on heated floors, and drink Kombucha on tap in a century-old garage-turned-office, complete with exposed brick walls and natural light.
Zhao said he had a lot of say in how the space was going to look and feel. "If we're going to make software for other people, it should feel more chill," Zhao told Business Insider.
Take a look inside.
Notion's office sits in San Francisco's Mission District, a historically Latinx part of town where trendy retailers and apartments housing tech workers have flocked in recent years.
But the neighborhood hasn't gained as much notability for housing tech offices — that reputation belongs mostly to downtown and the city's SoMa district, just north of the Mission District.
Notion, however, is one of the Mission's long-time office tenants.
About four months ago, CEO Ivan Zhao moved his 25-strong team from another Mission office to this new, "secret" location wedged among residences along a tree-lined street.
Zhao himself moved to the neighborhood seven years ago, he said, and his goal for the company has always been to stay in the community.
"It just feels more cozy," Zhao told Business Insider. He said he's able to walk to work.
Apart from the company's unique neighborhood of choice, Notion's workspace has all the fixings of a Silicon Valley startup vying for the best of the region's tech talent with non-traditional office perks.
Strict dress codes are waived, and employees take their shoes off when they enter. Zhao said he grew up in a household with a no-shoes policy.
Most Notion employees wandered around in socks, with some opting for slippers of some kind.
Either way, the floors are outfitted with radiant heating to keep workers' feet toasty.
And foot cushions were placed beneath most desks for workers to prop their feet on.
Employees work at desks grouped together in rows against one wall.
A couple of office mascots keep them company.
The nature of the building takes the open floor concept to the next level.
The structure used to be a garage, with part of it serving as an apartment to a family with five kids and two dogs.
The former garage's high ceilings and natural lighting make for a modern, cozy vibe.
A communal dining area of picnic-style tables sits behind the rows of desks so workers can eat together.
But another, perhaps more enticing, lunchtime option is venturing out into the Mission's signature burrito scene.
"I know all the burrito spots," Zhao said. "I think that everybody in the company knows all the burrito spots."
And of course, there's Kombucha on tap.
The company's former Mission location is where they had some venture capitalists showing up wanting to invest.
The company politely declined time and time again, though Zhao told Business Insider in a previous interview in early 2019 that he isn't "anti-VC."
Notion accepted an undisclosed amount of venture capital in a seed round and has been profitable for over a year now.
And this summer, Notion announced that it was raising $10 million in a new funding round with an $800 million valuation.
The extra capital was used to close out convertible notes, a form of short-term debt financing, that were given to early investors.
The company is also still focused on maintaining a small team. Despite the low headcount, however, Zhao said this new office space is not quite big enough for company operations.
So he and his team are already on the lookout for a new office location in, unsurprisingly, the Mission.
"You walk by and there are still truly neighborhood people," Zhao said.
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