The Road to Building a Successful Product: Insights from Notion Co-founder Ivan Zhao


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 07, 2023

3 min read


The Road to Building a Successful Product: Insights from Notion Co-founder Ivan Zhao


Building a great product is essential, but it's not the only factor that determines success. In an interview with Ivan Zhao, co-founder of Notion, he shares his thoughts on the key points of product development, hiring, and creating value. This article aims to highlight the commonalities between Zhao's insights and the principles outlined in the Reforge article "The Road to $100M."

The Importance of Attention to Detail and Craftsmanship:

Zhao emphasizes the importance of attention to detail and craftsmanship in creating a successful product. He believes that this mindset is crucial in every aspect of work. Before working in Japan, Zhao already had a passion for paying attention to the smallest details. Living in Kyoto further reinforced this mindset as he witnessed the meticulousness and simplicity in people's daily lives. The influence of Japanese culture and the concept of hospitality also shaped his perspective on software as a service. Zhao believes that providing a product goes beyond just offering a solution; it involves providing support and service to customers.

Market Product Fit:

Both Zhao and the Reforge article stress the significance of market product fit. While many believe that product market fit is the only thing that matters, Zhao suggests focusing on the market and problem first before searching for a solution. Understanding the category, target audience, problems, and motivations within the market is crucial for achieving market product fit. Zhao also highlights the importance of having a clear core value proposition, expressing it in simple terms, and ensuring the target audience experiences value quickly.

Product Channel Fit:

The Reforge article introduces the concept of product channel fit, which involves aligning the product with the right channels. Zhao echoes this sentiment, emphasizing that products should be molded to fit the channels, rather than the other way around. He believes that the channel defines the rules, and products should adapt accordingly. Furthermore, Zhao highlights the importance of finding the right distribution channels, as one successful channel can make a significant impact on a business.

Channel Model Fit:

Both Zhao and the Reforge article discuss the importance of channel model fit. This involves aligning the channel with the business model, considering factors such as how the product is charged, average annual revenue per user, and the relationship between acquisition cost and average revenue. The Reforge article introduces the concept of the ARPU-CAC Spectrum, where businesses need to find the right balance between customer acquisition cost and average revenue per user. Zhao emphasizes the need to understand the relationship between market size, customer capture percentage, and average revenue to assess model market fit.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Focus on the market and problem first: Before diving into product development, thoroughly understand the market, target audience, problems, and motivations. Let the market lead the way in the ongoing process.
  • 2. Mold products to fit channels: Rather than trying to make channels mold to fit the product, adapt the product to align with the rules and dynamics of the channels.
  • 3. Find the right distribution channels and business models: Identify the channels that best suit your product and business model, and ensure a balance between customer acquisition cost and average revenue per user.


In conclusion, Ivan Zhao's insights align with the principles outlined in the Reforge article. Both emphasize the importance of market product fit, product channel fit, and channel model fit. By paying attention to detail, understanding the market and problem, and aligning products with the right channels and business models, companies can increase their chances of building successful products.

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