Growth August 5, 2020

"Ah, so like Notion?" When a huge player launches in your field.

Wim Cools @wim

Today is a big day for us, we just launched our wiki product Papyrs on ProductHunt (! We had been coding pretty much non-stop on the product for the past two years. We spent countless days on placing every pixel in every dialog, crunching out every millisecond of response time (you know how it goes when you get obsessed with getting it right :), but we are happy with how it turned out!

There was just this one thing that happened while we were building... Another player launched in the space, and they had a pretty similar vision. This happens all the time of course. In fact there were a bunch of well-established players in our space (Confluence/Sharepoint, in case you know those) but Papyrs is different enough that we didn't have to worry about getting directly compared to them.

So, back to today. Polished all the PH text and images, double-checked it all. Clicked "Launch!". Scary, what are people gonna say! Wow the first comment!! And .. yep, it's about.. how does Papyrs compare to Notion... 😅

Are we worried about this? No, not at all. When we see competitors get a ton of press and traction that only proves that the market for products like ours is growing. And any successful product is bound to get real competition eventually! In fact, the very first version of Papyrs is older than Notion, but now it looks like we're the new kid on the block :)

So how does anybody compete with a bigger and well-funded competitor? Well, first of all, you need to have your own vision and ideas of course. But we've been working on this problem for a long time, and we're sure there are teams and companies out there who prefer our approach. We would never consider cloning a popular product simply from a motivational standpoint, but it's also very hard to win when building a clone because that you never fully understand why products are designed the way they are. You end up copying flaws and mistakes of your competitors, and that's a huge mistake.

They always tell you to not spend too much time worrying about competitors, and just design what you think your customers want, and stick to your own vision. So that's exactly what we did, and to be honest we had never heard of Notion (this was years ago!) until the new Papyrs was half-way done. Some early users gave us "ah so like Notion?" comments. A fellow indie maker even asked why we would move in such a space with such a big player. But here's the interesting part: they weren't even there yet when we started. So by that logic Notion would also never have launched because we were already there! (our v1 with a similar vision was already public at that time). That would have been the wrong move obviously as it became a well-received product! Everyone is unknown and starts from 0 at the beginning, including those products that are big and established today.

Besides, having a well-established competitors makes it easier for people who are new to the market to understand what the space is all about. Innovation is great but if you innovate too much you'll just confuse your users. At least now we don't have to worry people won't understand what Papyrs is for.

So we never felt discouraged by seeing our competitors gain traction, as we knew we would still attract users who prefer our approach. We'll continue to focus on our long-term vision, and we won't let any new (or existing) competitors stop us. The world is such a big place after all. The way we see it the most important thing is that you have people who love your product, the rest will just fall into place.

Let me know your stories :)!

  1. 3

    Cool product. I know how hard it must have been to build being a maker myself.

    I actually talked to Ivan Zhao -- the founder of Notion today. He asked me an interesting question about my product, he asked me if I plan to attack teams because that is where the money is at.

    I hadn't really thought about it. It seems like they might be hitting teams up ferociously. So move fast!

    Do you have paying customers?

    1. 2

      Thanks so much! Story Creator looks really nice as well!

      Hah, small world! Yep agree with Ivan on that one. Individuals are really nice as a market because of the sheer numbers. It's just so fun to see a lot of people use your app. But.. in my experience, really difficult to build a business on, especially if you're bootstrapped (not sure if you are?). You need to compete with VC-backed freemium products on the one side, and open source on the other.

      We eventually decided to simply make our personal version free, as we think it would be hard to make the numbers work. We're bootstrapped but we can do this because we've been focusing on teams from the beginning, and have been profitable for a while that way (so yep, paying customers!).

      In your case I can see that even for individuals it would still be used for their business (influencers/marketeers/etc), so charging those seems like a good idea (for us most individuals just use it as a personal wiki/site, so that's why we just made that free). For larger businesses: you can probably charge at lot more than $99/mo :)

  2. 2

    During the two years you've worked on this, how did you interact with potential customers/users? How heavily were they involved in your design and development?

    1. 2

      To be honest, we didn't do any interviews or long conversations or "research" with users like that. It of course helps that we are also scratching our own itch and that we use the platform ourselves on a daily basis to work together, so we had plenty of ideas on what to build. I don't know what you'd call the inverse of the "lean startup" approach, but we probably did that :).

      We do listen quite a bit to feedback from customers though, but mainly to know what areas to focus on or give some extra thought. So for example, in the old version customers had quite some questions about managing permissions better, so we knew that was a sign we had to redesign it for the new version.

      In our experience customer feedback is great for identifying a problem, but not so much for a solution ("faster horse", and all that). We've had many suggestions with "why just not place an extra button here, it takes one minute", but then an app becomes unusable. Of course that's why we're all building here in the first place so we can offer users a polished solution without them having to be experts at designing a one :)

      1. 1

        Front-loaded startup? :)

        Good insights; there are surprisingly few lean startups (ones that truly follow the lean scientific method) I came across that ended up being successful.

  3. 2

    If how Papyrs compares to Notion is one of the things you know your potential customers are concerned with, have you thought of addressing that on your landing page?

    1. 1

      Yep, that's a good point, and it's something we've been thinking about in terms of adding some comparison pages (comparing our approach and features to several other solutions).

      1. 1

        Yep, help them with their research on finding the best option for them 😊

        Good luck!

  4. 2

    When I read the "Are we worried about this? No, not at all. " part - that was a huge relief to me

    My philosophy about the competition is that... there's no competition, actually, A product is not an only player. There's also a team, its mission, buyer persona, marketing, expertise, etc. So it's kinda difficult to cope the whole approach, right?

    1. 2

      Totally right. all of those are such an important part of your product!

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